Ahavas Yisrael, the genuine love of one Jew for another, stood at the center of Reb Elimelech’s teachings. He always found a way to speak in praise of a fellow person and elevate the status of the Jewish people.
Reb Elimelech learned from his rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, how dominant the love of a fellow Jew must be and how much energy must be invested into this goal. One time the Maggid called Reb Elimelech into his room and said, “Melech, I will reveal to you what is said in the Heavenly Assembly: ‘Ahavas Yisrael means to love a complete evildoer. It is incumbent upon the tzaddik to work upon rectifying his soul until he feels compelled to do teshuvah.’ ”
Reb Elimelech may be best remembered for the words of his prayer, that later were transformed into a haunting melody, Adrabba: “On the contrary, place in our hearts that we may see only the assets of our fellow man in a straight and pleasing way before You. May hatred never enter our hearts, challila. Strengthen us in our love toward You – as all is well known before You – that we may be a source of pride for You.”
Reb Elimelech’s zealously in the observance of Shabbos is the stuff of legend. From midday on Friday, the arrival of Shabbos was heralded by a ringing in his head that was so sharp that he was forced to cover his ears. His extraordinary caution for the sanctity of Shabbos affected everyone in his surroundings.
All of the workers in his household and court knew very well that from midday on Friday everything had to be completed, and profane activity may no longer be performed. If one even attempted to do a mundane act after midday, it would be jinxed in one way or another.
One non-Jewish maid testified that the workers were always arguing and fighting with each other, but from Friday at midday – inexplicably – there was never any tension, and harmony reigned. “This was not lost on us,” she recollected, “and we understood that it was in the merit of the Godly man that we worked for, and his commitment to Sabbath observance.”
Reb Elimelech’s magnum opus, the Noam Elimelech, was written by his son Elazar during his father’s lifetime. The book consists of the transcription of the talks Reb Elimelech delivered, arranged according to the weekly Torah portion.
Elazar, wishing to know if his father was pleased with his work, placed one transcription on his father’s desk. “Lazshe!” cried Reb Elimelech upon discovering the writings. “Who said these things?”
“Why father,” answered Elazar hesitantly, “you said this yesterday.”
“What?” questioned Reb Elimelech, incredulously, “I was certain that these are the words of angels and celestial beings!”
From that day forward Elazar had secured his father’s consent to record what he had said at times of tremendous spiritual ascent. The book was brought to press two years after the passing of Reb Elimelech.
The book remains one of the most important works of chassidic literature and has been published nearly one hundred times. The great tzaddikim have extolled this volume with extraordinary praise.
Once, Rebbe Heshel from Tlust was visiting Rebbe Chaim from Kasov, when the former was engrossed in a holy work. “What are you learning?” the guest inquired.
“The Noam Elimelech.”
“Do you truly comprehend the depth of what is stated in this book?” Reb Heshel pressed.
“I do not,” replied Rebbe Chaim. “They say that whoever can understand this book has the power to resurrect the dead.”
Rebbe Heshel from Tlust corrected his colleague. “Whoever can resurrect the dead can begin to understand the Noam Elimelech.”
Whilst he was still alive, Reb Elimelech divided his inheritance to his successors. The gifts were not monetary or of temporal value; neither the Rebbe nor the disciples would ever ascribe any meaning to such presents. What he bequeathed to his close chassidim were his spiritual assets.
To the Chozeh M’Lublin he bestowed the light of his eyes and the ability to foresee the future.
To Reb Yisrael M’Koznitz the strength of the heart.
To Reb Avraham Yehoshua Heshel M’apta the power of the lips.
All of his disciples inherited their rebbe’s centrality of ahavas Yisrael and the desire to worship the Lord without interference.