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The major personality who was opposed to the Hassidic movement was Rabbi Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon ("Genius of Vilna") and also the Gra (acronym for the "Gaon Rabbi Elijah") who lived in this time period (1720-1797).
The Ba'al Shem Tov (who was also known as the Besht) was a poor orphan child who worked in the Carpathian Mountains as a laborer.
During this time he studied with a secret society of Jewish mystics, the Nestarim, and he eventually became a revered rabbi.
He traveled from community to community, developing a reputation wherever he went as a spiritual holy man and mystical healer, attracting a huge following.
His teachings revolutionized the demoralized, persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe.
There were many significant personalities in this group.
(For those interested in reading about them, see Chassidic Masters: History, Biography and Thought by Aryeh Kaplan.) We will mention just a few: Hassidic sects have names like Kotzk, Sanz, Belz, Satmar, Lubavitch, Skvar.He had forgotten to note one thing-perhaps because it was so obvious-that first he must ignite a spark to kindle the fire.He had to return to the master, who reminded him of the first principle which he had forgotten.(1) Trying to infuse one's life with spirituality in all aspects caught on very rapidly among the simple Jews in particular.And this is what the Ba'al Shem Tov sought to change.His teachings (he left no writings) brought about a whole movement which emphasized the idea of bringing God into all aspects of one's life, particularly through intense prayer and joyous singing.The movement had a huge impact in spiritually revitalizing the Jewish world.