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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Chodesh’

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part VI)

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

History recounts that the Baal Shem Tov did not appoint a successor, so when he passed away on Shavuos 1760, his only son, Zvi, became the leader for a full year. According to tradition, on the first yahrzeit of his father, the Baal Shem Tov’s son disclosed that he had had a vision of his father relating that the Shechinah (God’s holy presence) had moved from Mezhubesh (the court of the Baal Shem Tov) to Mezeritch and then symbolically removed his white coat and placed it on the shoulders of Reb Dov Ber from Mezeritch.

The Maggid was a masterful imparter of his master’s teachings, but because he was physically weak, restricted to crutches and an ill individual, he could not go out and intermingle with the people. The center of chassidus was transplanted to Mezeritch and whoever was thirsty to hear chassidic teaching would travel there.

Because the Maggid could not physically take the message on the road and to the people like the Master before him, he appointed shalichim (agents) to act on his behalf.

These shalichim entered study halls and they entered beer halls – virtually anywhere that the commoners could be found. When they encountered a Torah scholar they would offer no rest until he would agree to visit the Maggid in Mezeritch, who would invariably enchant – converting a skeptic into a chassid.

Many of these scholars, after having personally imbibed the world of chassidus, would head out to the field and metamorphose towns into chassidic centers.

By the time of his death in 1772, the Maggid had attracted to his center of learning in Mezeritch some of the most brilliant minds, extraordinary personalities, and dynamic leaders of his day. He would mold them into inspired teachers and holy men. The Maggid was able to take a man of outstanding potential and develop him into “the tzaddik” that the Baal Shem Tov had described, the very key to the success of chassidus.

The popularity of the rise of chassidus did not go unnoticed by those who did not share the same allegiance. As long as the movement was limited to the commoner and isolated in a few pockets of Poland no one perceived it as a threat. But all of this had changed by 1772.

Because of the outreach work of the Maggid’s agents the movement flourished and expanded beyond all assumed, natural geographic borders. It extended to Central Poland and Galicia, Lithuania and White Russia.

But the nascent movement of chassidus not only leapt passed geographic boundaries, but it also flowed up from the commoners and impacted upon important scholars and leaders. Suddenly the non-chassidic mainstay of Polish, Lithuanian and White Russian Jewry felt threatened. Overnight, everything the chassidim did was suspect.

The hitherto reluctance to consult kabalistic texts was disregarded by the chassidim, creating panic and alarm that the influence of Shabbetai Zvi and Jacob Frank lingered yet. There was also concern that the unprecedented emphasis upon prayer would shift time-honored priorities. It had previously been assumed that only a scholar familiar with all of the intricate minutiae of the law could be considered holy and close to the Almighty. Suddenly chassidim had hoisted the unschooled commoner to an equal level of closeness to God by opening the gateway of prayer.

Prayer did not require erudition or diligence, only sincerity. The story is told of an ignorant, shepherd-boy who entered a synagogue on Yom Kippur and was taken by the sincere devotion of the congregation. He too wished to offer up his voice in prayer but was unschooled in how to pray – even how to read from a prayer book. He therefore took out his recorder and began to offer the only profound expression that he knew how to articulate.

The worshippers in the synagogue were shocked, disgraced and appalled at the boorish behavior of this simpleton, who desecrated the Yom Tov with his simple flute. A shonda, they cried in unison and derision!

Only the Baal Shem Tov came to his defense, chastising those present by admonishing, “I could see that the prayers of this shul had almost made their way to the high Heavens, but they were lodged impenetrably at the gates. It was only this sincere and utterly pure blowing of the recorder that was able to hoist and transport all the prayers of this assembly into the portals of Heaven.”

(To be continued)

Chodesh tov – have a pleasant month!

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part II)

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

The parents of Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk, Eliezer Lipman and his pious wife, Mirish, emanated from families that could trace their lineage all the way back to Rashi, Rav Yochanan Hasandlar of Talmudic fame and even King David. They lived in the townlet of Lapachi, not far from Tiktin.

As Mirish was illiterate in the holy tongue, she would recite her blessings by heart. Reb Zusha testified that at the time that his mother prayed, the Divine presence could be found in the home. On Erev Shabbos she would travel to Tiktin to dispense alms.

One story tells of a group of destitute beggars who came to her home, including a leper covered in ghastly boils. While everyone else distanced himself or herself from this wretched discomfiture, Mirish reached out and saw to his needs. Just before the group’s departure the leper blessed her: “May your children be like me.”

Before she could respond to this worrisome blessing, the entire entourage vanished. She then understood that she had been tested from Heaven.

One day, the Baal Shem Tov – who would travel from town to town and address assemblies of the commoners regarding the value of prayer and the sanctity of the synagogue – visited Eliezer and Mirish’s village. This marked a turning point in their lives. From that day on, they faithfully provided candles to the shul and were meticulous in prayer, as they beseeched the Almighty to open the hearts of their four sons and one daughter to the Torah.

On the sad day that Eliezer Lipman passed from this world, his children gathered for the week of mourning. At the conclusion of the shiva the sons divided their father’s inheritance in the following way: Avraham received the cash and the house was given to Nosson. The jewelry and housewares went to Elimelech and the outstanding debts were to be collected by Zusha.

The division had been thus contrived for Zusha, who was very clever at disguising his ways and who appeared to have plenty of time on his hands. It only seemed fitting that he should be the one to go out and collect the debts.

However, Zusha was in no way suited for this mission, and without a penny from the inheritance, was left destitute. Bereft of any means of support, he decided to travel to his uncle who was an assistant to the Maggid of Mezeritch.

Lodging with his uncle meant constant exposure to the Maggid and, in no time, Zusha became an ardent chassid. In the meantime, Elimelech had moved to his wife’s hometown of Shineva.

After his stay with his uncle in Mezeritch, Zusha departed for his brother, Elimelech. The very long and arduous journey took its toll on Zusha’s attire. His worn-out tatters were far shabbier than those that clad the poorest of beggars.

Ever vigilant of the honor of his in-laws, Elimelech was ashamed to allow his dreadfully-appearing brother into his home. He therefore arranged accommodations for him at the home of a local baker.

However, Zusha’s night was not earmarked for mundane sleep. Those precious hours were devoted to learning, prayer and the loud recitation of tikun chatzos. Zusha’s nocturnal agenda effectively brought an end to his tenancy at the baker’s house and Elimelech had no other recourse but to invite his brother into his own home.

It was there that he was able to observe Zusha’s ways first-hand. This sparked within Elimelech the desire to draw close to the Maggid of Mezeritch.

Reb Zusha convinced his older brother to join him in a self-imposed exile that they would devote to elevating the people that they would encounter. Attired in the clothes of exile, they would travel from village to village to persuade, direct and inspire the people to desist from sin and return to their holy roots. The exile would also, as the Talmud teaches, purify their souls.

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part I)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Just when it seemed that the Jews could never recover from the ruinous events of the 17th and 18th centuries, their plight was worsened yet, by even heavier taxes imposed by the Polish government. The townsfolk were increasingly hostile, and the police were indifferent to attacks upon Jews and their possessions. As a matter of law, Jews were banished from most professions, forcing a large number of them to engage in agriculture. But they were not allowed to own the land.

They worked for what might be compared to a feudal lord, and was referred to in the colloquial parlance as a “Poritz.” Invariably, the Poritzs were interested in squeezing whatever money they could out of the Jews and mercilessly punished, with full government endorsement, any delinquency in tax or rent.

One of the many Jews who had incurred the wrath of his Poritz had an outstanding debt of 3,000 golden coins. It was off to prison for him and the Poritz made it very clear that he would never see the light of day until his debt was paid in full. These were never vain threats, and the kindhearted and benevolent Reb Eliezer Lipman learned of this poor soul’s plight.

Reb Eliezer engaged in many acts of chesed, including the supreme mitzvah of redeeming Jews from captivity. This time it would be an august challenge, for he only had 1,000 golden coins. Still, he did not falter in his quest and asked to speak with the Poritz.

As he was making his way to the Poritz’s doorstep, he heard torturous moans that he gathered were from the Jewish prisoner held in the mansion’s dungeon. Those awful moans only further strengthened Reb Eliezer’s resolve.

The visitor was shown into the Poritz, who was cordial until he learned the purpose of the call. Any trace of geniality evaporated at the very mention of the prisoner. “The stinking Jew owes me 3,000 golden coins,” the Poritz fumed, “for all of the time that he hasn’t paid his debts. He will rot in the cell to the last of his days, until every coin is received!”

Eliezer attempted to reason with the hardened landowner. “What have you to gain from a prisoner who dies in jail? You are after your money, and this will not return it. Let me pay you all the money that I have, 1000 golden coins, for the freedom of the prisoner and surely the Lord will bless you so that you will not lose out from this deal.”

But the Poritz would not budge; nor would Eliezer give up. Finally, the determined ba’al chesed prevailed, and the prisoner was released.

The Poritz was impressed both by Eliezer’s negotiations and that a perfect stranger would spend 1,000 coins of his own money to redeem a fellow Jew. “I see that you are an upright man,” the Poritz commented, “and I am therefore going to offer you a break. Since you are a flax merchant I recommend that you travel to my brother-in-law who is a flax distributor. I will write you a letter of recommendation encouraging him to give you a substantial discount.”

“Thank you,” Eliezer responded softly, “but I parted with my last coin in order to redeem your captive.”

“In that case,” reflected the Poritz, “here is your money back; invest it wisely with my brother-in-law!”

Joyously, Eliezer departed to the flax distributor armed with his letter of recommendation. The new Poritz read the letter and was amenable to making a sale at a fair price. He had Eliezer escorted to his warehouse so that he could personally inspect the material. Eliezer was impressed by the quality of the flax and it’s low cost.

Just as they were leaving the warehouse, Eliezer heard a tormented shriek and wail from somewhere nearby. “What is that noise?” Eliezer Lipman wanted to know.

“Oh that,” the worker said with a flip of his hand. “It’s hard for me to believe that old Jewish farmhand is still alive. Ever since he was imprisoned he has made such a racket that we have denied him food and drink to quiet him down. Eventually, I guess, it will work…”

Upon hearing this Eliezer dropped the bolt of flax and rushed out of the warehouse to speak with the man he had just negotiated with. Using the money that he had brought for his purchase, Eliezer Lipman managed to redeem the prisoner.

The captive was released in a dreadful state, and Eliezer had a doctor summoned and food gingerly administered. He then invited the man to come to his house for the holiday of Passover that was imminently approaching.

Grateful that he managed to save a fellow Jew before it was too late, Eliezer and his guest were about to set off when the wholesaler called out, “Hey, what about our deal? Don’t you wish to purchase some flax?”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/chodesh-tov/reb-elimelech-mlizhensk-part-i/2011/10/19/

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