Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
The Life and Teachings of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk By Boruch Twersky
Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-1787) was an early Chasidic master whose powerful example set a template for inspired leadership that became standard in Chassidic courts throughout Poland and Galicia.
He and his brother, Rebbe Zusha of Anipoli, were devoted students of the Maggid of Mezrich, who led the Chassidic movement after the passing of the Baal Shem Tov.
Reverently referred to as "the Rebbe, Reb Elimelech," and a spiritual guide to many thousands, he was a "rebbe of rebbes." Among his students were some of the most influential leaders of the next generation: Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak, the Chozeh ("seer") of Lublin; Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel, the Ohev Yisrael ("lover of Jews") of Apta; Rebbe Yisrael Hopsztajn, the Maggid ("preacher") of Koznitz; and Rebbe Mendel of Riminov. Each of these students had many of their own students who also became rebbes, and in this manner, his approach and teachings spread across Poland and beyond.
Reb Elimelech's teachings are laid out in his book, Noam Elimelech, a classic of Chassidic thought, highlighting his emphasis on the Rebbe and his role in shepherding his flock and interceding on their behalf.
To this day, thousands visit his gravesite in Lizhensk, Poland, especially on his yahrtzeit, Adar 21.
His Mother's Legacy
Many stories are told about R' Eliezer Lipa and Mirel, who were blessed to have Rebbe Elimelech as their son. The Alter Rebbe told the following story:1
Beggars came to the home of Reb Eliezar and Mirel and asked if they could bathe there. The hosts heated water for them.
One of the beggars was a leper with wounds all over his skin, and the other beggars refused to help him bathe.
Mirel had pity on this beggar, and she helped him by handing him the ointments and dressings he needed.
The beggar told her, "Since you helped me so devotedly, I give you my blessings that you should bear a son who is like me!"
That was the last thing that Mirel wanted to hear. But suddenly, the entire group miraculously disappeared.
She understood that these were special, holy people. A year later, Elimelech was born.
Love for Others
Born in the merit of kindness, Reb Elimelech's teachings emphasize the mitzvah to love one's fellow.
A prayer he composed includes the line, "Put into our hearts that everyone should see the qualities of their fellows, and not their faults."
Rebbe Elimelech's student, Reb Zecharyah Mendel of Shedisnshov, described the love that existed among his students, which is certainly due to Rebbe Elimelech's influence:
There is a lot of love between them. The love is greater than the love a father has for his son or the love a husband has for his wife. They are completely one; they practically share the same wallet. They love their friends' children as their own, and one almost isn't able to discern who are the parents…2
Rebbe Elimelech's son wrote, "My father would constantly bless Jews, and he was moser nefesh for them all the time…"
His ahavat Yisrael was a focal point in his life; deeds of kindness and praying for others was how he served G‑d.
The Call to Teshuvah
Early one morning, the Maggid of Mezritch said to Rebbe Elimelech, "Did you hear the message proclaimed in heaven? They said the mitzvah to love your fellow is to love a rasha (wicked person) just as you love a tzaddik (righteous person). A tzaddik can rouse … people to teshuvah, and a minyan of the tzaddik's students can rouse a great rasha to teshuvah."
Reb Elimelech repeated this conversation to the other students of the Maggid, and they were studying the lesson in depth when a rasha came in. He heard them say that they could influence a rasha to do teshuvah, and he laughed. "What are you talking about? Teshuvah? Me? Never."
As he mocked them, the holy students prayed tearfully, chanted Psalms, and beseeched G‑d to arouse the man to return to the Torah's ways.
And indeed, he had a change of heart and did complete teshuvah.3
Rebbe Elimelech and his brother, Rebbe Zusha, often traveled from town to town to rouse people to teshuvah.4
In fact, Rebbe Shalom (the "Saar Shalom") of Belz said, "The teshuvah that people did, currently do, and will do is all from the empowerment of the Rebbe, Reb Elimelech."5
A wagon driver was once driving chassidim to their Rebbe, and he told them, "Years ago, when Elimelech was alive, I brought chassidim to him in this very wagon."
The chassidim cringed when they heard the driver say Rebbe Elimelech's name without using the appropriate title. The wagon driver was a simple, unlearned person, and he didn't know how to properly respect tzaddikim.
"I was curious to know what this rebbe is all about, so I went to see him Friday night," he continued. "The prayers were very energetic, and I didn't understand why everyone was so thrilled. The tallit fell off Elimelech's head and I saw his neck; it was red like a beet. I thought, 'Oh, so that's what it's all about! The Rebbe probably drank an entire bottle of vodka!'
"But then the Rebbe turned around (at the end ofLecha Dodi) and I saw that his face was white like the dead. I couldn't understand it. If the Rebbe drank so much, and his neck was so red, why was his face so white? I'll tell you the truth, until today I don't understand this."
And then, the driver said with a cracked, emotional voice, and with tears streaming from his eyes, "But when Elimelech sang LechaDodi, it was something to listen to."
The driver sang to them the song he heard Rebbe Elimelech sing 50 years before.
The chassidim in the wagon said to each other, "This shows us Rebbe Elimelech's ability to rouse people to teshuvah. Look how this simple Jew cries when he reminds himself of a song Rebbe Elimelech sang 50 years ago."
Rebbe Elimelech managed to rebuke people, making sure never to condescend or humiliate them. One way he did so was by telling stories, which contained messages directed to each individual present.
Once, Rebbe Elimelech was standing outside his house telling a story, and many people gathered to listen. Each person felt the Rebbe speaking directly to him, addressing the particular sin he needed to rectify, and tearfully resolved to do so immediately.6
Rebbe Elimelech taught, "The way of the tzaddik is to rebuke himself, always. He tells people that he has committed terrible sins. He is really listing the sins that others have done, but when he says that he committed those sins, it causes people to fear G‑d and to return to His ways."7
Once, in Nikolsburg, many people came to hear Rebbe Elimelech's speech, and he lamented before the crowd, "Elimelech, Elimelech! Remember the sin you committed on that day… And the sin you committed in that place…" This was how he told the listeners about their sins, because they were the ones who had committed those sins at those times and in those places. He didn't humiliate people, but they got the message and took it to heart.8
In his own words: "When a tzaddik wants to rebuke someone, he should speak about the sin in front of many people. In this way the person [who needs to hear these words] will hear them."9
Greatness for All
His son, Reb Elazar, wrote, "I trust everything my father, Reb Elimelech, tells me, because I know that for all the money in the world, he wouldn't tell a lie … He said that a person can easily attain ruach hakodesh (Divine revelation), as long as he's a scholar who knows Gemara with Rashi … and if he knows it with pilpul (in depth), even better."
Instead of knocking people down with harsh rebuke, he built them up, telling them that high levels of spiritual connection were in reach.
Before the Baal Shem Tov began to teach Chassidism, people regularly practiced self-affliction—excessive fasts and even rolling in the snow—as part of their Divine service. The purposes for these afflictions were: (a) to teach the body obedience, so it would agree to follow the laws of the Torah, (b) to purify the body from the blemish of sins, (c) to weaken the yetzer hara, (d) to protect oneself from needing to be punished more severely from Above.
But this was not Rebbe Elimelech's way.
"Rebbe Elimlech commanded us not to fast except for the fasts established by the rabbis," wrote his student, "because in today's day and age we don't have the strength to fast …"10
So, how can we attain the benefits which come from affliction?
One way is to undergo very minor discomforts, for example, "When a person wants to eat, but postpones the meal for an hour or less, and in the meantime he studies Torah… And when a person refrains from speaking something he wants to say…"11
However, Rebbe Elimelech, himself, fasted and afflicted his body all the time. Tzaddikim said, "From Avraham until Rebbe Elimelech, no one undertook so many afflictions."12
Rebbe Elimelech said that because of his own frequent self-affliction, from now on others can use very minor self-discomforts to reach the same spiritual level as those who used to afflict themselves immensely.
An opponent of Chassidism asked his colleague, the Alter Rebbe, "Do you know the author of Noam Elimelech? I heard he also studied under your master, the Maggid of Mezritch. I am curious about him, because I have his book in my home. I keep it under the bench, upon which I sit."
The Alter Rebbe replied, "I can tell you about him. Even if you were to place him under the bench instead of the book, he wouldn't protest, because he is so humble."13
Indeed, Rebbe Elimelech's humility was truly phenomenal. Although he prayed most of the day with all his heart and soul,14 was a giant in Torah knowledge, deeply attuned to spirituality, and served G‑d with vigor and devotion, he always felt he wasn't doing enough, and that his intentions weren't pure enough.
These quotes are just a sampling of examples that show the depth of his humility:
"They will need to create a new Gehinom for me, because the Gehinom that exists now isn't large enough to punish me, due to all my sins."15
"After my demise, when I stand before the divine court, they will ask me whether I served G‑d. I will answer that I didn't serve G‑d, not even for a moment. The court will reply, 'You speak the truth. In that merit, you can go straight to Gan Eden.' "16
"I wish my mother gave birth to a stone instead of me, because a stone doesn't anger G‑d, but I make G‑d angry."17
"I'm already 60 years old, and I haven't done one mitzvah."18
Once, he reviewed his deeds and felt like he was the worst person in the world. He was on the verge of becoming ill, because of his intense distress.
There was a bottle of wine on the table. He said, "Master of the World! I never served You before, but I will serve You now! I will bless You with all my strength."
He took a cup of wine and said the blessing with all his soul. This good deed revived him.19
Even as thousands streamed to him, requesting his prayers and blessings, he remained humble and unassuming. "They are telling me their troubles because it is my fault," he would say. "My many sins polluted the world, and that brought all these sorrows." And then Rebbe Elimelech would pray for them.
Humility is an essential virtue, but it can also cause a person to falsely assume that their efforts are not valued On High.
Therefore, "holy pride" is also needed at times.
When people asked Rebbe Elimelech to pray, he would say to himself, "I can save him with my prayers, and no one else can." He built up his belief that his prayers were essential.20
Rebbe Elimelech once said (regarding an evil government edict), "The decree was established before Elimelech was in the world. But now Elimelech is in the world, and I don't agree to it."
He knew when to be humble, and when to have holy pride.
Fear of Heaven
Tzaddikim said that Rebbe Elimelech's fear of Heaven could be compared to the fear that the angels have in heaven.21
Many Jewish prayers begin with the words baruch atah, "Blessed are You." When he said "baruch," he would be seized with such reverence that he couldn't say "atah."22
Rebbe Elimelech once fell on a nail, and he showed the wound to his wife, to ask her how deep it was.
Her first thought was to shout out in distress, because it was a very deep wound. But she learned from her husband the importance of maintaining a joyous mood. So she steeled herself and said, "Kein ayinhara, you can put an entire bale of hay in there."
Rebbe Elimelech laughed, and said that the laughter helped cure him.23
Stories of Tzaddikim
Rebbe Elimelech wrote, "It is a good sign for a person when he hears stories … of tzaddikim … and his heart is inspired to serve G‑d. This is a good omen that G‑d is with him."24
May the stories told here and the lessons gleaned accomplish this goal!
Searching through prayerbooks of other religions, nowhere could I find a blessing for a rooster.
But in the Hebrew prayerbook, it is the very first blessing that a religious Jew recites upon beginning the morning devotions. "Baruch ata Hashem Eloheinu Melech ha olam asher natan la sechvi bina l'havchin bain yom u'vain laila"…. "Blessed are You our God, King of the universe, who has given wisdom to the rooster to distinguish between day and night".
What kind of a blessing is this for a rooster? Who makes a prayer on behalf of a rooster? A religious Jew does. Why?
In the days before alarm clocks were invented, observant Jews needed a wake-up call at a specific time to begin their morning prayers. The rooster was the caller. "Rise up, o Jew, and bless your God".
When a Jew arises and opens his eyes after a good night's sleep he recites the "Modeh ani"… "I thank you, my God, for restoring my soul unto my body". Thus in these few words, the Jew thanks God for another day of life before he commences the formal shacharit (morning) prayers.
After the initial blessing for the rooster, the prayer continues with a series of blessings expressing our gratitude to God for having chosen us to be His special people.
One need not be a religiously observant person to mutter a brief prayer of thanks for a new day and for renewed life.
Our religious texts instruct us to consider each day as if it were our last day. This provides us with an opportunity to do all the things and say all the words which our heart directs us.
We need to remember our loved ones by telling them that we love them, that they are important in our lives, that we are grateful for all that they do and share . The words are not holy but the intention and the thought is.
How wonderful it feels, after the rooster (alarm clock) has awakened us to begin the new day with expressions of love and gratitude.
While driving down residential streets made attractive by the beds of flowers surrounding them, I offer a prayer of thanks to God for having created such beauty, for giving my eyes the pleasure to behold them. "Thank you, o my God, for creating such beauty in your world for Your children to enjoy".
How strange people are ! We rise up in the morning preparing to go to work or to school. We look out from the window and we see the sun shining brightly in the heavens and we say nothing.
On other days we rise up preparing to go to work or to school and we again look out from the window. We see that it is raining heavily, strong winds caused branches to fall to the ground, the temperature is extremely cold and we say "What a rotten day. Do I have to go to school today? Can I go into work later when the weather improves and the heavy rains diminish? I hate this weather".
We curse the darkness but we fail to bless the light. And we forget the words from a Hebrew psalm, "Zeh hayom asa Hashem, nagila v'nismecha bo"…. "This is the day which God has created, let us be glad and rejoice in it."
God made the sun to shine and the rain to fall. We do not praise one but we curse the other.
The rooster's call, like the blasts of the shofar, is a call to us to awaken from our slumber, to give thanks for life and love, to appreciate the blessings which God and family have bestowed upon us.
We can thank the rooster but he does not hear nor understand. We can thank God who hears and who blesses.
About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical
literature & history of Israel. er redeems his child from a
Kohen, a member of the Aaronic holy family of Jerusalem Temple priests
two thousand years ago.
What are the duties of a great-grandfather? To love and to cherish his great-grandchild. To pray that God will help him to grow from infancy, to childhood, to youth, to adolescence and to adulthood healthy and strong, dedicated to serving God with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his might.
Facing reality, I understand that I will be unable to watch him grow. At the age of 88 I hope for a few more years of life which will still separate me from Elazar's growth and development. Better fewer than none !
But for this precious time of my old-age, I pray to be able to hold baby Elazar Shalom in my arms, to kiss his head and face instead of only photos.
And I thank my heavenly Father for granting me a life in which I can be called "great" for a good reason.
Long life and much love to my infant two-week-old grandson Elazar Shalom. Welcome into the Ben-Sorek tribe!
About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical
literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew,
Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very
"The King is in the field." This is the phrase that describes the month of Elul, the month leading up to the High Holy Days. The King is in the field. OK, we know that the King refers to G‑d. What about the rest? What is the field? What does it mean that G‑d is in the field? And what am I supposed to do about it, if anything?
To start to understand, we need to go back a few months.
Remember Shavuot? Remember staying up all night learning Torah? The anticipation leading up to it while we counted the 49 days of the Omer. The fabulous cheesecake we ate way too much of (well, maybe that was just me). On Shavuot, we celebrated the receiving of the Torah. Before G‑d even told us what was in the Torah, we said: na'aseh v'nishma, "We will do and we will hear." This was our wedding. We formed an everlasting covenant with G‑d, binding ourselves to Him and His Torah for all time.
So, Shavuot we stay up all night learning Torah, just like our wedding night.
It feels like this is it. There's nothing left, this marriage is over
too excited to sleep, and besides, just as we feel about the one we are
about to marry, we say, we want to know everything about You, G‑d. So
we study His Torah, which is the best way to learn about G‑d.
We live in this honeymoon state for a little while. But a month-and-a-half later, things start to change. We have our first row. On the 17th of Tammuz, we fast. It is a day of mourning. On this day, the walls of Jerusalem were breached in 69 CE. On this day, we realized that G‑d would not allow our infidelity to go unnoticed and was not unconditionally protecting us as we expected. On this day, we saw things were not perfect. The honeymoon is definitely over. For three weeks, we continue to be in mourning.
But instead of doing teshuvah, and repenting and fixing our holy marriage, we turn against each other. On the 9th of Av, our Holy Temple—the house we built for so that He would dwell among us—was destroyed. The reason our sages give us is baseless hatred against each other. It was a very low point for all of us, and still is. And it feels like this is it. Our House has been destroyed, there's nothing left, this marriage is over.
But then comes the month of Elul. And we hear the words "the King is in the field." In the old world, where kings ruled and peasants worked the land, there was very little interaction between the two. The king ruled from his walled palace, and the peasants kept to the fields. But now it is Elul. And we are truly peasants. We work hard in our fields, barely lifting our heads from the dirt of this material world. But if we do, if we chance to take a moment from our everyday routine and just look "up," we will see there, in the field, the King. The King of the world above, here in our world; the King ready to listen, to forgive, to love.
This is our chance to repair our broken marriage. And indeed, the first thing a spouse needs to say is "I'm sorry." But for those of you who are married, you know that "sorry" by itself is never enough. Because the next question is always, "Sorry for what?" And this is what the month of Elul is for: 29 days of talking to the King, going over all the hurt, pain and misunderstanding. And we can put ourselves in our loved one's fields. Go to our spouses, our siblings, our parents, our friends, our children, ourselves. We do all this so that when we come to face G‑d on the High Holy Days, when we leave behind the materialism of the field and enter the spiritual world of the Palace, when we say we're sorry, not only will we know what we are sorry for, but G‑d can smile and answer, "I know."
On a personal note, forgiveness can be so much more encompassing than we know.
One Yom Kippur I was praying alone, feeling nothing. Exhausted, hungry, disappointed and, if I'm really honest, angry
Yom Kippur I was praying alone, feeling nothing. No tears, no heartfelt
apologies and no true forgiveness in my heart. I sat down exhausted,
hungry, disappointed and, if I'm really honest, angry. Then I started to
feel guilty for feeling all that, which made me feel it even more, and
the cycle continued. I began speaking to G‑d as though He were in the
room listening to me. And I said it all. I told G‑d that I was hungry. I
told Him I was tired. I said that if He wanted me to be a more
spiritual person, then He should have made me that way. I told G‑d that
if He wanted me to be someone other than who I was, then He was at
fault. He created me as I am. Then I said the thing I was most afraid to
say. "G‑d, I'm angry at You. You've made me with so many faults. You
have given me so much pain. You've taken away people I love. You've
broken my heart." But then, once I said it, I wasn't angry anymore. In
fact, a feeling swept over me that I hadn't intended at all. And before I
could think about it, the words came out of my mouth. "G‑d, I forgive
I know that logically, G‑d does not need my forgiveness. In fact, I truly believe that everything G‑d does for me is all a blessing, even if I can't see it. It wasn't G‑d who needed me to feel forgiveness in my heart; it was me. With those words, I was able to reach into all areas of my life and find forgiveness for those in my life I didn't even know I needed to forgive. I forgave my 2-year-old for all the pain he caused me, through pregnancy and birth to sleeplessness and endless crying. I forgave my parents for not being perfect like I felt they should have been. I forgave my husband for not being the exact man I wanted him to be. And I forgave myself for being deeply flawed, making mistakes and not living up to my own expectations.
Have a beautiful and blessed Elul!
By Tovah Kinderlehrer
R A B B I M E I R K A H A N E
ON JEWS AND JUDAISM
2 Elul 5737 - September 2, 1977
The Jewish calendar is full of notations, red letter days that are meant to be both particular reminders as well as part of a uniform one: time is passing; the sands of life have run out just a bit more; the beard is a little grayer and the limbs just a touch heavier. Time. The Jewish calendar is a watchman of time, ram's horn that blows not once a year but every time that a new time cycle begins.
Every week is marked by a Sabbath that notes not only the end of the week passed but the beginning of a new one. It is both a reminder of seven full days passed out of our life – so soon! – as well as the opportunity to make the next period fuller, more meaningful, a reason for being.
Every month is marked by a Rosh Chodesh, the consecration of the new beginning of yet another lunar cycle. The wheel of heaven has revolved yet another thirty days – so soon! – and we are that much older. The L-rd now gives us another month to prove that we are also that much wiser. It is not only another month, it is a new month. Above all, it is called Rosh Chodesh, the "head" of the month. Is there perhaps here a hint to see how much wisdom has filled our heads during the mistakes and sins of the past one…?
And every year has its Rosh Hashana, that peculiarly Jewish day in which there are no parties and drinking and abandonment of restraint; in which there is no hilarious laughter and noise that is a frantic and frenetic attempt to convince all (and oneself) that he is happy; there is no frantic clutching at pleasure before it escapes and – worse - before I pass on; too soon, too soon. There is Rosh Hashana, the time past. Another year gone by – already? So soon! – and it is a time to see what the gray hairs and the added wrinkles and the slower reflexes have taught us. Rosh Hashana is one step closer to the gateway out of this world and into the next one. It is a time to rehearse the speech that we will make – all of us – some day, before the Supremes of Courts, as we attempt to explain the meaning of our lives below.
Life is too short for fools. It is too long for those who know it was not given for happiness (if that comes, how wonderful, but how often does it appear, only in insignificant measures and at rare times, as drops of rain that fall on a parched desert leaving no impact, changing nothing so that the traveler never knows it fell). Life was given for holiness and sanctity, so that we might rise above ourselves; so that we might consecrate and hallow that animalism within us that threatens at every moment to escape and express itself in selfishness, ego and greed – sins that are themselves only the corridors to the crimes of cruelty and hurting others. Life is not a happy thing – it is a beautiful thing, and when one becomes the artist and artisan of that beauty that is called holiness, when one practices the supreme holiness that comes of loving and giving of oneself.
"Ani l'dodi v'dodi li…" "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine…" the words of the greatest of love poems, Song of Songs; great because it is that purest of love, between the Almighty and the House of Israel. Consider them, for do they not contain the essence and the secret of true love? "I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine." When I am my beloved's, when I give to her and give of myself and live to do for her and make her happy – then I am guaranteed that she is mine for she will, in turn, be doing the same for me. The lovers who think of giving to each other must receive from each other. This is love, this desire to give, this desire to sacrifice and do for the other.
Not for nothing was the Song of Songs called by the incomparable Rabbi Akiva, "the Holy of Holies" of all the books of the Bible. For the kind of love expressed in it IS holiness. Holiness is to escape from the selfishness and greed of the animal; it is to smash the passions and desires of the ego; it is to master the will that makes man seek only his own gratification. And is not love just that, in practice? Is not love exactly that, if it is true love?
And not for no reason did the rabbis see in the Hebrew letters of the month of Elul the first letters of "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li – I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine." Elul is the month of Tshuva, return and introspection. It is the month of scraping away the ego that has settled and crusted on our hearts and souls. If Passover calls for searching out he leaven in the home, Elul decrees removing it – the yeasty and bloated ego – from the soul. It is a time to note the calendar, the graying and aging, and to realize: Not for nonsense was I born and not with nonsense must they bury me.
Be good. Love. Love selflessly; cease speaking evil, cease thinking evil; cease searching out evil in your fellow human beings. Cease seeking to grow at the expense of others. For one who climbs on top of the man he has just chopped down is not taller. He is the same dwarf standing on his victim's height. Be wary lest you hurt the one you love. Think before you act towards the other person. Be good as a person, as an individual, and your part of the world will become holy. Then, if others emulate you, the world will suddenly and automatically turn beautiful and hallowed. It is Elul. Think of your beloved – all the people of the earth – and think of your particular beloved. Give of yourself and you will receive that which no amount of grasping and scheming can ever bring you: self-respect. Love the other and you will learn to like yourself. Be holy, for the One who made you is Holy and for this He placed you on this earth. It is another Elul, yet another one. How many more are left?
May Elul bring all health and peace for Israel and Jews everywhere.