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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Elimelech’

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part IV)

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk was considered one of the finest students of the Baal Shem Tov’s successor, the Maggid MiMezretch. When the Maggid passed away, his disciples gathered for the funeral and then had to decide who would succeed their master. The consensus was that there was a need for a leader that was robust and energetic, articulate and charismatic, who would know how to watch over his flock and even, if necessary, to engage in battle. Once these guidelines were established, the question of succession would become a mute one.

Unanimously the disciples elected to crown Reb Elimelech, and they chanted in unison, “Yechi adoneinu v’rabbeinu – Long live our master and teacher, Reb Elimelech!” From Mezeritch the group of chassidim departed to Lezhensk, with Reb Elimelech at the head of the procession. The group continued until evening descended, and it was necessary to lodge for the night. They entered an inn along the way and requested a single room for their newly appointed master.

To the great astonishment of the chassidim Reb Elimelech requested pillows and covers from the innkeeper – as if he were planning to retire for the entire night. Several hours later the chassidim were, well, appalled that their new master was still sleeping like a commoner.

The Maggid who had preceded him had never allowed himself more than a few hours of sleep. Without anyone saying a word, there was a profound sense of regret over their choice of leader. Still, no one had the temerity to arouse Reb Elimelech. But when several more hours passed and Reb Elimelech remained sleeping, they knew they had to do something. They summoned Reb Zusha, who was with them at the inn, to awaken his brother.

“Waking Rebbe Elimelech is the simplest thing in the world,” he commented, as if he was just asked by the trembling chassidim to tie a shoe. And with that he entered the room where his brother was sleeping and placed his hand over the mezuzah in the room. At that instant Reb Elimelech jumped out of bed.

The confounded chassidim asked Reb Zusha to explain what they had just beheld. “As you know,” Reb Zusha began, “man must envision the name of God before his eyes at all times. But what is one to do when he slumbers? The answer is that he relies on the ineffable name inscribed in the mezuzah.

“Thus, when I covered over the mezuzah, my brother no longer had anything to rely on, and he was therefore compelled to awake and envision the Almighty before his eyes.” All of the chassidim released a pent-up collective sigh of relief.

With Reb Elimelech at the helm, Lezhensk became the Jerusalem of the chassidic world. Like Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Elimelech could establish instant rapport with both scholars and the masses.

Similarly, when he detected the need, he would take up the wanderer’s staff and visit far off villages and distant hamlets. In this way he came to understand the economic struggles, as well as the spiritual needs, of his people.

In the course of 13 years, Rabbi Elimelech armed his followers with weapons that enabled them to survive the onslaughts of the misnagdim. These weapons were prayer, kindness and compassion. Not undeservedly was he called not only Rebbe Elimelech, but also “the Second Baal Shem Tov.”

Because Reb Elimelech devoted all of his time and energy to serving the Lord, he didn’t have the means to support his family. There was never enough to eat, and the most modest and essential needs were barely met.

There was one businessman who davened in the same minyan as Reb Elimelech and he could not fail to notice the plight of the young man who spent his entire day immersed in Torah study. Therefore, every day he would discreetly place a coin into the tallis bag of Reb Elimelech. After awhile the businessman realized that his financial dealings were improving and his profit was increasing.

It didn’t take long before it became manifestly clear that his support of the poor scholar was a source of untold blessing. Hence he began to up his donations, and the increase in his personal income was commensurate to his contributions. In no time he had become a wealthy man.

One day Reb Elimelech was absent from shul. The businessman nervously inquired about the whereabouts of his goldmine and was informed that Reb Elimelech had departed to visit his rebbe, the Maggid of Mezeritch. The man made a quick calculation. If he had done so well by contributing to a student, then he would surely gain by donating to the master! Accordingly, he set off for Mezeritch and handed the Maggid a handsome donation. The man returned home confident that he had made the greatest investment of his lifetime.

Bilgoraj Landsleit Reunion

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

     For the last few weeks, I have been writing about the efforts of survivors and second- generation Jews from Piotrkow in going back to their hometown to preserve/restore the remnants of the town’s Jewish history. While Piotrkow is one of the most active and oldest of the groups, it is by far not the only one active in such work. One other group is that from Bilgoraj. As there is great interest in what is being done in Poland I am happy to present to my readers a report of a recent trip to Bilgoraj by the International Landsleit.

Bilgoraj Landsleit Reunion By Yechiel Baum


     On March 8, 2008 a group of Bilgoraj survivors and their families checked in at LOT Polish Airlines at JFK for their first trip to the city of their birth, since their escape 68 years ago. Rabbi Nachman Elbaum of Ideal Tours, N.Y. arranged the program beautifully and also provided us with kosher food and modern accommodations throughout our journey.

   Looking at survivors, you saw anxious faces of “what to expect – respect or hatred/danger, bad memories of the last days before expulsion or the fond memories of parents caring for their children – of days of peace, tranquility with only daily life and Jewish learning on the agenda.” In the faces of the American generation of Bilgorajer, looks of concern of how their fathers will react upon reaching their childhood home and actually seeing what was discussed at every Shabbat table when they reminisced about life “in the heim” that was Bilgoraj.

     On board the Boeing 747 plane were many chassidim who were going to Poland to visit the kevarim of their revered rabbis, parents, and ancestors. With all this and kosher food being served, one would have thought we were aboard an El AL flight going to Israel. The passengers and crew were very respectful and welcoming. In fact, we were able to daven with a sizeable minyan without any fear.

     After several hours, our jumbo jet landed in Warsaw and we were greeted by our Polish driver and tour guide, who knew more about Jewish history, than any other gentile I ever met.

    A quick tour of Warsaw, and then to the shul where our Mr. Huff and Dr. Nathan Bryks was the shaliach tzibbur for Minchah and Maariv, respectfully, and then we were joined by 150 Israeli soldiers – boys and girls – who had came to Poland to learn why they are so important in our lives in protecting Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Michael Shudrich who works tirelessly in Poland spoke to all of us and then we saw the monuments the Poles erected to the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and Shoah.

    We then visited the Chabad of Warsaw where we enjoyed a homemade kosher meal and then went to our hotel.

    In the morning, after davening, we visited the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery and I was surprised that our guide knew where each of the gedolim is buried and his importance in Jewish history. After some prayers at the kevarim, we departed Warsaw for Lizhensk and prayed at the kever of Rabbi Elimelech. Once again we met with the Israeli soldiers. Even those who were not religious understood the meaning, and wore kippot and even prayed with the rest of us. Then we drove to Bilgoraj where we checked into our hotel.

    In the morning, I met the Huff brothers and I remarked “Moshe, you and your brother slept in the same room under the Bilgoraj moon” just like you did in your childhood. Mr. Huff responded, ” I felt the holy presence of both my parents hovering around us and kissing us good night.” Mr. Huff’s older brother said, “I felt the exact same way. How good my sleep was – the best in 68 years!” I imagined life with my grandparents, great-grandparents, mother, uncles, aunts, with love and devotion, making a Jewish life in a predominately Jewish town of 5,000 Jews and as many non-Jewish Poles.

   We went to the Rynek and were greeted by the mayor of Bilgoraj, the president of the provincial council, and other dignitaries who warmly welcomed us and escorted us to the city hall and also around our Bilgoraj. We were informed that there are still Jews in Bilgoraj, however, distant from tradition since most of them were hidden as children. And they were unclaimed after the war, but they now know who they are, and their true identities when the Russian records were recently released.

    On November 16, 2008, the Bilgoraj Society will commemorate the 66th yahrzeit of the Shoah and reminisce of the life in Bilgoraj. It will take place at the Ocean Avenue Jewish Center – 2600 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, at 11 a.m. We will discuss the positive outcome of our meetings concerning our properties, cemeteries, and records of search for survivors as well as those murdered. We must discuss how to address the situation where brother/sister, nephew/niece, who miraculously survived, be reunited with surviving family.

     In addition, we must also talk about the Rynek streets to be renamed for our families, the reunion, the relationship between Bilgoraj families from around the world and our joint effort with the landsleit in Israel. Heimeshe refreshments will be served.

    It is vital that all Jews from Bilgoraj and the surrounding towns of Frompol, Tarnagrod, etc attend with their children and grandchildren to experience their heritage before it is lost forever.

     For more information, contact Yechiel Baum at (718) 376-4508 or e-mail: BilgorajSociety@aol.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns//2008/10/29/

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