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Elimelech of Lizhensk

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Ohel Leżajsk 01

Ohel of Elimelech of Lizhensk

Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhensk (Polish: Leżajsk) (1717–1786) was an Orthodox Rabbi and one of the great founding Rebbes of the Hasidic movement. The second leader of the movement, Dov Ber of Mezeritch, assembled around himself a close circle of saintly followers, called the "Chevra Kadisha" (Holy Society), who became the joint third generation of leadership of the new movement after the passing of the Maggid Dov Ber in 1772. They spread out to appointed areas of Eastern Europe to spread the new path of Hasidic Judaism.

Rabbi Elimelech was a leading member of this circle and authored the classic Hasidic work Noam Elimelech. It fully developed the Hasidic mystical theology of the doctrine of the Tzaddik. Alongside Nachman of Breslov's Likkutei Moharan (Popularly seen as the Hasidic book to give hope and encouragement to those trapped in problems or the impurity of "wickedness"), Schneur Zalman of Liadi's Tanya (Subtitled the Hasidic book for the "intermediate" person between the "wicked" and the "righteous", who has ease to contemplate Hasidic philosophy), Noam Elimelech is popularly regarded in Hasidic lore as the "book of the righteous". It instructs select people of great spiritual ability in the mystical paths of the Hasidic Rebbe. Because of this, Rabbi Elimelech led the proliferation of Hasidic dynastic leadership in the "Mainstream Hasidic" path, and his book is considered the archetypal guiding work of the General Hasidic path.[1] Many of the followers of successive generations in Mainsteam Hasidism became future Rebbes in their own right. Rabbi Elimelech was the first leader to bring Hasidism to Poland, from its original centre in the Ukraine. Through his teachings, Hasidic dynasties flourished in successive offshoots in Poland in the 19th century.

Biography

Lizhenskgrave

The Biala Rebbe of America praying at the Grave of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk

Rebbe Elimelech was born in Galicia (Central Europe). He died in Leżajsk, Poland. He was known as a Tzadik who devoted his life to studying and teaching the Torah, as well as encouraging people to draw closer in return to God. He was an ascetic, who believed in staying away from alcohol.

The brothers Rabbi Elimelech and Reb Zushya

Rebbe Elimelech was a prominent student of the Maggid of Mezeritch, and was brought under his tutelage by his illustrious brother the famous Tzadik and Rebbe Reb Meshulam Zushya of Anipoli. Both brothers are central figures in Hasidic tradition and Reb Zushya is especially beloved for his sincerity and fervour. The two offered a contrast in the model of the Hasidic Rebbe, with Elimelech the ascetic scholar, and Zushya giving the impression of the charismatic "saintly simpleton", although he too was well versed in Hasidic philosophy. Of all the students in the Maggid's "Holy Society" it is told that only Zushya could contain his dveikus (fervour) and remain in the room as the Maggid revealed fiery new teachings. The other students would faint or run out of the room in ecstacy.[2] The two brothers would travel together in mystical exile of repentance to atone on behalf of the whole Jewish people and the exile of the Shechinah (Divine Presence). Famous Hasidic tales are told of their encounters.

On one occasion Rabbi Elimelech and Reb Zushya were staying at an inn. Each night non-Jewish peasants would enter their room and jestingly beat the one who lay nearest the fireside, Reb Zushya. One night, Rabbi Elimelech offered to change places with his brother so that he could take the beatings instead. Sugesting that Reb Zushya had suffered enough of this "Divine admonishment" the agreement was made and Rabbi Elimelech lay next to the fire instead. That night, the common gentiles again entered to begin their jest. This time, however, one of them said that the one by the fire had taken his fair share of the treatment, and now it would be better to jest with the other one! Again Reb Zushya took the beatings. Afterwards, he told his brother that whatever is decided in Heaven transpires!

Hasidic Leadership

After the death of the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Hasidic movement avoided one centralised leader, as had characterised it under the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid. Instead the great leadership of students of the Maggid dispersed across Eastern Europe, from Poland to Russia, taking with them their different interpretations of Hasidic worship. Nonetheless, in this third generation, Rabbi Elimelech was considered by most of the Maggid's students and followers as his successor. He began the dissemination of Hasidism in Poland, which subsequently increased to a much greater extent under his foremost disciple, the Chozeh of Lublin.

Many of Rebbe Elimelech's students (talmidim) went on to be Rebbes in their own right. The most famous are the Chozeh of Lublin, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, the Kozhnitzer Maggid, the Apter Rov, the author of Maor veShemesh Rabbi Kalynomus Kalman Epstein, Rav Naftali of Ropshitz, Rebbe Dovid Lelover.

To this day his grave in Leżajsk, Poland, is visited by thousands of those faithful to Hasidism, particularly on the anniversary of his death, the 21st of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years).

Noam Elimelech

As is common amongst great Rabbis, he is most commonly known by the name of his popular book Noam Elimelech, a commentary on the Torah. This book is one of the principal works of Hasidism. The sefer was called Sefer Shel Tzadikim, (a Book for the Righteous) by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of the Lubavitch dynasty).

The book has asterisks or stars placed in random places over words. Tradition has it that these stars have some meaning. In Devarim Areivim (another Hasidic classic), the author, Rabbi Dov Ehrmann, wrote: "In the first edition of the sefer, there are in many places small stars which allude to some secret meaning". The Klausenberger Rebbe once said that the stars in the heavens are a commentary to the stars in the book Noam Elimelech. As such, all subsequent printings have included these stars. The Noam Elimelech also wrote Tzetl Koton, a seventeen-point program on how to be a good Jew as well as Hanhagos HaAdam a list of customs for all pious Jews to follow.

References

  1. Breslov creative faith and Habad intellectualism are regarded as separate Hasidic paths from "Mainstream Hasidism". This three-part division of the Hasidic movement and their three archetypal texts is cited in Transforming Darkness into Light: Kabbalah and Psychology (The Teachings of Kabbalah Series) by Yitzchak Ginsburgh. Gal Einai Publications
  2. Cited in The Great Maggid by Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Kehot Publications

External links

Preceded by
Magid of Mezritsh
Hasidic Rebbes
1772-1786
Succeeded by
Chozeh of Lublin, Rabbi Yisroel of Kozhnitz
et:Elimelekh Liženskistru:Элимелех из Лежайска

yi:אלימלך פון ליזשענסק

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