Next week is the first week of Adar, the month of Purim and joy. So here are some words from Heschel about the Baal Shem Tov, who restored simcha to the center of Judaism:
The Baal Shem Tov was the founder of the Hasidic movement, and Mezhbizh was the cradle in which a new understanding of Judaism was nurtured. When millions of our people were still alive in Eastern Europe and their memory and faith vibrated with thought, image, and emotion, the mere mention of Reb Israel Baal Shem Tov cast a spell upon them. The moment one uttered his name, one felt as if his lips were blessed and his soul grew wings.
The Baal Shem Tov made being Jewish a bliss, a continuous adventure. He gave every Jew a ladder to rise above himself...Rarely in Jewish history has one man succeeded in uplifting so many individuals to a level of greatness...The Baal Shem Tov brought about a radical shift in the religious outlook of Jewry. In ancient times the sanctuary in Jerusalem had been the holy center from which expiation and blessing radiated out to the world. But the sanctuary was in ruins, the soul of Israel in mourning. Then the Baal Shem Tov established a new center: the tzaddik, the rebbe -- he was to be the sanctuary. For the Baal Shem Tov believed that a man could be the true dwelling place of the Divine.
When we listen to the Baal Shem, we hear words issuing without premeditation from an overflowing heart, like the strains from the harp hanging over David's bed...The Baal Shem Tov was the Song of Songs of his time, intoxicated with the love of God.
--from A Passion for Truth (1973)