So earlier this year I get a chance to write about Rebbe Reb Zusha and now I get to write about his brother Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-1786) whose yahrzeit is today. Interestingly in a Jewish leap year, the yahrzeit happens twice! The two brothers are famous for their adventures together, but why are they both called “Rebbe Rebs?” No other Rabbis are known by that double-name. Seriously if you know, please tell me!
Both brothers were part of the Maggid of Mezrich’s “Holy Society” which also included the Baal haTanya. This third generation of Chassidim were instrumental in the spread of the Baal Shem Tov’s philosophy across Europe and beyond.
Perhaps the great impact of the brothers were through their epic journeys together. R.R. Zusha would model a joyous “simple saint,” while R.R. Elimelech would model the wise and restrained ascetic. It is told that they took this journey, a mystical exile of repentance to atone for all the Jewish people. Along the way, they sought to refine themselves and to uplift the Jewish people around them. Throughout their adventures they were beaten up by antisemites and even imprisoned, but they shared so much light along the way.
There was once a poor Jewish innkeeper, and his poritz (landlord) was demanding 15,000 ruble. This jew, Moshe, went to R.R. Elimelech for advice. He was shocked when he was advised “Mosheleh, listen to me. When you get back home, you tell the poritz that if he doesn’t give you 15,000 rubles, you’re going to leave his town.
This was shocking considering that that was a small fortune at the time, and of course the poritz beat him up when he heard the demands. However, the poritz’s wife was upset, “You beat up Moishkeh? Are you crazy? Don’t you know that Moishkeh is my favorite Jew? Whenever I need something I ask Moishkeh, and he tells me where I can buy it for the best price, and where the quality is the best. You stupid fool, go beat up another Jew, but leave my Moishkeh alone.
In short, the demands went through and Moishe was not just saved, but enriched with the confidence-boosting advise of Rebbe Reb Elimelech.
Parsha in a few words: Ki Tisa – Holy Cow? How now?
With gratitude to Manny Saltiel for sending out a weekly newsletter of Jewish history that helps inspire these thoughts. Also a big shout out to Wikipedia for all the endless blackholes of history. If you have any feedback on my new blog please let me know!
Alex is the Operations Director at TJE. With a degree in History (B.A.) and a schmaltz in Judaism (N.J.B.), this weekly “Blast from the Past” is a fun way to combine and share how the past can inform our future.