Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk
Rabbi Elimelech Weisblum of Lizensk, the “Rabbe Elimelech of Lizensk,” (born near Tykocin, Galicia 1717, died Leżajsk, Galicia 1787) (Lizensk is the Yiddish language name for the town, while Leżajsk is the Polish spelling) was a Chassidic master and leader in the third generation of the Chassidic movement, as well as the author of the central Chassidic work, the “Noam Elimelech.” Amongst the adherents of the Chassidic traditions he is referred to with the deferential title of “The Rabbi, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk. He is considered to be one of the central founders of the Chassidic movement in Galicia and Poland. Rabbi Elimelech spread the philosophy of Chassidism throughout Galicia.
His father Rabbi Eliezer Lipa Lipmanzer Lipa and his wife were financially well-off small town merchants, and they used their resources to engage in charity-work and good deeds. Rabbi Elimelech was the eldest of the six siblings born to his father and mother. He developed a special relationship to his older half-brother Meshulam Zusya, son of his mother’s previous marriage, who would in time become a great master in his own right, Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol.
The two boys engaged in Torah-study together, and after learning in the Talmud and commentaries, they began still in their youths to learn the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, according to the philosophy of the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak ben Shlomo Luria Ashkenazi).
The two brothers spent eight-years traveling in self-imposed exile, wandering from town to town spreading Torah and inspiring people to mend their ways and repenting for the sake of the entire Jewish people and the exiled Shechinah, or Divine Spirit. During this time they lived a life of hardship, poverty, penance and fasting. However, Rabbi Elimelech would later instruct his followers that they should not imitate those practices of his, as they would not lead them on a path to perfection. In the course of his journeys, he joined with his older brother for studies in the town of Równe under the tutelage of the Chassidic movement’s second leader and master, the Maggid of Mezeritch. Rabbi Elimelech became a devoted disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, the main spreader of Chassidism in his generation, who was the successor of the holy Ba'al Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement.
After studying with the Maggid of Mezeritch, Rabbi Elimelech returned to Galicia where he worked to spread the philosophy of Chassidism despite the strenuous opposition of the Mitnagdim, the opponents to Chassidic influence in Jewish communal life.
Rabbi Elimelech passed away in Lizensk on the 21st of Adar, 5547, (1787 CE), and was succeeded in the town’s rabbinate by his son, Rabbi Eleazar.
Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk’s primary composition is the “Noam Elimelech,” which is among the first great Chassidic works; it teaches the principles of his lifelong philosophy. Every Shabbat, the Sabbath during the third meal, Rabbi Elimelech would give over to his students a lecture on the weekly Torah-portion. His son, Eleazar who eventually would succeed him, would memorize the lectures and copy them down after the Shabbat. Eleazar showed the work to his father and received his blessing; however Eleazar did not print the compilation of lectures and produce the book until after his father’s death, in accordance with his father’s mystical reasoning-based instructions, and despite the pleas of his students for the work. Over 50 editions have since been published.
The “Noam Elimelech” is divided into two parts: an exegetical commentary on the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, and the “Yalkut Shoshana,” a commentary on the remainder of the Hebrew Bible, the Books of Prophets and Writings, as well as on the teachings of the Jewish sages.
A demonstration of the esteem he as well as his book reached is well demonstrated in the statement of the great Chassidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says in his book, “Likutei Moharan,” that:“The level of holiness of the holy Rabbi Elimelech is transcendent high above anything seen or understood within his book.”
A student of Rabbi Elimelech, the Maggid of Kozhnitz, Rabbi Yisroel Hopsztajn, is reported by his son not to have ever begun the Shabbat without first learning something from the “Noam Elimelech.” Another student, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, said that only on the eve of the Shabbat, and only after a purifying immersion in the mikvah, or ritual bath, could he begin to comprehend the depth of wisdom of Torah in the book.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi referred to the “Noam Elimelech” as the “Book for the Righteous.”
Yitzchak Ginsburgh in his book, “Transforming Darkness into Light: Kabbalah and Psychology” talks about three main Chassidic compositions and describes each as serving a different type of person:
The Likutei Moharan, by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, is described as a book for giving hope and encouragement to those trapped in problems, through the Rabbi’s personal and creative articulation of problems in life.
The Tanya, by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidism, is considered a resource for people of average level. Its focus is on a coupling of intellectual comprehension and of esoteric understanding.
Rabbi Elimelech’s “Noam Elimelech” is held as the handbook of a righteous Master of Chassidism. His book teaches those special few the path to both mystical leadership in Chassidism and temporal leadership of the lay flock. The development of the phenomenon of the Tzaddik, or righteous master, as a concept in Chassidic thought attached to the Rabbi’s leadership position, was significantly influenced by Rabbi Elimelech’s book.In the book Rabbi Elimelech stressed an idea that the Tzaddik’s role is “to give life to all the worlds by virtue of his Divine soul.” He also believed that the Tzaddik’s personality should play a central role to the Chassidic follower.
Chassidism subsequently adopted the book as a central pillar of study, and it is weekly learned by many on the Shabbat. It was also used as a charm for women bearing children, and the book would be placed beneath the birthing woman’s pillow.
Endorsements of the book by the greatest leaders of the community heaped praises on Rabbi Elimelech and his work.
Rabbi Elimelech is also famous for another, small composition known by its Yiddish name, “Zetl HaKatan,” which means “little note.” The work contains seventeen instructions for a pious Jew’s behavior in daily life.
He also wrote a list of customs for devout practice called “Hanhagot HaAdam.”
Rabbi Elimelech composed a supplication meant to be said as a preparation for Shacharit, the daily morning prayer service. The prayer bears his name, “Tefillat Rabbi Elimelech.”
Beliefs & Legacy
Rabbi Elimelech was known as a righteous Master of Chassidism. He spent his life studying and teaching the Torah, and especially encouraging the common Jews to draw closer in repentance and return to G-d. He was an ascetic and avoided partaking in alcohol. Rabbi Elimelech engaged constantly in kindness and good deeds, and distributed all of his wealth as charity for the poor. He elevated the souls of his Chassidim and raised the spirits of those who sought his blessings, and his seat at Lizensk became the center for those who pursued spiritual growth.
Rabbi Elimelech’s primary students were the Seer of Lublin, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, the Maggid of Kozhnitz, Rabbi Yisroel Hopsztajn, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, and Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt. These four pupils were his successors and continued to spread the legacy of Rabbi Elimelech, each one of them in a different and unique way. They eventually established their own Chassidic courts of thousands of Chassidim, and their dynasties are preserved to this day.
In addition, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensks’s students also included Rabbi Naftali Zvi of Ropshitz, Rabbi David Lelover, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov, and his son, Rabbi Eleazar Weisblum. His youngest student was the “Maor veHaShemesh,” Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman HaLevi Epstein of Krakow.
Rabbi Elimelech’s unique path of pure fear of G-d, extraordinary humbleness and exceptional self-sacrifice for each and every Jew drew countless Chassidic followers to his court which had profound and everlasting influence on them. Thousands of followers continued in his path and sought out his blessings, his guidance and his advice. But above all, they absorbed his ways of repentance, improvement and spiritual growth.
Rabbi Elimelech’s Death & Tomb in Chassidic Thought
Upon Rabbi Elimelech’s gravestone there is no year of death. Instead, the Hebrew acronym for “rest in peace” (תנצב”ה) is written, which has the same gematria, or numerical value, as the Hebrew year of his passing, 5,447 (תקמ”ז).
After his passing, Rabbi Elimelech was interred in the city of his death, Lizhensk, Galicia. The site became the focus of adoration and pilgrimage of thousands of Jews from around the world.
There is a tradition in which Rabbi Elimelech promises that whoever will visit his grave will be deserving of salvation and will not pass away from this world without first repenting. A multitude of tales are preserved in Chassidic lore in which Jews would reach a ripe old age even after illness so severe that they begged death’s embrace. They would remain alive until they repented wholly and completely, and only then would they find eternal peace.
The tradition is one reason why so many Jews embark on pilgrimages from near and far in order to prostrate themselves on Rabbi Elimelech’s grave.
Another tradition relays that Rabbi Elimelech requested that he not be raised too high in heaven once his spirit passed on, as he wanted to remain as close as possible to the Children of Israel in this, the temporal world.
A story is told in Chassidic circles of Rabbi Elimelech’s tomb in the Holocaust of European Jewry:
When the Nazis entered Lizhansk they found a group of Jews praying at Rabbi Elimelech’s tomb. When the Jews saw the Nazis they dispersed in a terror and the Nazi soldiers approached the tomb so as to desecrate it. The soldiers first removed the stone cap from above the grave and then began digging. When they uncovered Rabbi Elimelech’s corpse, they saw a body pure and whole as on the day of his burial, and whose face radiated a heavenly aura. Upon witnessing the holy phenomena, the Nazi soldiers themselves then dispersed in a terror, and thus were the Jews who had been praying spared certain doom.
Following the end of the Second World War, the current building housing the tomb was built. In Chassidic tradition such a building is referred to as an ohel, or tent.
Pilgrimage to his Tomb
Rabbi Elimelech’s tomb in Lizensk acts as a magnet to thousands of Jews seeking comfort and salvation, and is filled with worshipers throughout the year, but especially before the Jewish High Holidays and the anniversary of his passing, the 21st of Adar.
The Chassidic master Rabbi Shlomo HaKohen Rabinowicz of Radomsk, author of the “Tiferet Shlomo,” is said to have stated that “on the anniversary day of Rabbi Elimelech’s death, the Rabbi Rabbi Elimelech stands upon his tomb and blesses with both hands those visiting his grave.”
Due to the thousands of worshipers who visit the tomb of Rabbi Elimelech, a number of facilities including a synagogue and study hall, or beit midrash, have been created for their service. A ritual bath, or mikvah, even operates there and is appropriately maintained, while the synagogue provides guests with a daily, warm lunch. With the exception of the anniversary of Rabbi Elimelech’s passing, when the tomb is kept open 24 hours a day, it is accessible only through coordination with the local guard.
Adapted and quoted from http://lizensk.com/biography-of-rabbe-elimelech-of-lizensk/
Yartzheit (the anniversary of death) of the Rebbe Elimelech of Liznesk marked By his descendant the Shenyitza Rebbe