Peshis’cha – Greatness and Humility ‎

What is the Meaning and Purpose of Life? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 0

			Hasidut had been through four generations by around 1815. This first was that of the Baal ‎Shem Tov and his sphere of influence. The second was the school ‎of Dov Ber of Mezritch (the Maggid of Mezritch), the mentor of the group that ‎spread Hasidut to wider regions than its birthplace in the Ukraine. The third generation was ‎the students of the Maggid, among whom are the most famous names of early Hasidut, ‎including Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk. Rav Elimelech developed a doctrine that would almost ‎define the future course of Hasidut - the doctrine of the ‘Tzadik’ (Righteous Man). This ‎doctrine realigned Hasidut from a popular movement in which God was equally accessible to ‎all, to a movement based around a single master who had unique access to God. There is no ‎question that this realignment was a major factor in the popularity of Hasidut among the ‎masses of Eastern European Jewry. But there is also no question that it came at a price. ‎
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It essentially took the immediacy of God out of the hands of the common person by putting ‎the Tzadik in as an intermediary. Rav Elimelech’s successor, the Seer of Lublin, furthered this ‎doctrine until it became the central feature of most‏ ‏of Hasidut. The Seer died in 1815, ‎completing the fourth generation, but not before his student, Yaakov Yitzchak Rabinowicz, ‎broke off from this trend to form his own brand of Hasidut in the town of Peshis’cha. Better ‎known by his dramatic nickname, the Holy Yid (Jew), he set the Peshis’cha school off in a ‎direction that eventually reached what almost became a historical dead end, but never quite ‎died out altogether. The Yid’s idea was that Hasidut had gone off course with the ever-‎increasing reliance on the Tzadik. Each Jew had the perpetual task of struggling to become a ‎‎‘Jew’. This could only be done on one’s own. A Tzadik could be a guide, but not an ‎intermediary. Hasidut had come full circle. ‎
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The Yid died at the early age of 48 after only a few years of leadership. His main student was ‎Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshis’cha, an unlikely choice for a Hasidic leader. Upon the Yid’s ‎death, he accepted the mantle of leadership in Peshis’cha and guided his Hasidim for 12 ‎years. He stressed individuality and self-perfection, deep thought and intellectual purity. But ‎most of all he stressed humility. His was not a path for the masses. Only certain individuals, ‎all gifted scholars in their own right, were accepted to his inner circle. He expected them to ‎develop themselves according to his lofty standards, and not simply rely on him, or any ‎other Tzadik, to intercede on their behalf. ‎
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When he died in 1827, he left behind a large number of devoted followers, several of whom ‎became Hasidic leaders on their own. Among them, and probably the greatest one, was a ‎Menachem Mendel Morgenstern. He took over the leadership of the most gifted group ‎of Peshis’cha Hasidim and set up shop in the nearby town of Kotzk. He was by far the most ‎unusual of the many colorful Hasidic leaders. In fact, he was so unusual that he almost defies ‎description. The ‘Kotzker’, as he is popularly known, expected nothing less than absolute ‎dedication from any follower who called himself a Hasid of Kotzk. His critical outlook ‎became famous, almost legendary. ‎
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He suffered a spiritual breakdown of sorts in 1839 on a Shabbat night. Exactly what ‎happened has become part of Hasidic lore – meaning it is impossible to really know what it ‎was. Versions range from ‘no big deal’ to blasphemy, but all agree that the Kotzker was a ‎changed man from the experience. He went into seclusion, either self-imposed or enforced by ‎his family, for the remainder of his life (until 1859). It was a tragic end to an incredibly gifted ‎mind. Though he left many students, some who became major Hasidic leaders, none ever ‎replaced him as a mover of a generation. ‎
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All of these men, the Holy Yid, Reb Simcha Bunim and the Kotzker, left no written works. ‎The most famous expression of the Holy Yid was that God expected nothing else from him ‎other than to be a Jew. From the other two, however, we do have plenty of ‎sayings. Simcha Bunim is associated with a comment with which we are already familiar: A ‎Hasid is a person who has notes in his two front pockets. On one it says, ‘The entire world ‎was created for me’. On the other it says, ‘I am but dust and ashes’. Among the better known ‎stories of the Kotzker is the following dialogue he had with a student: ‘Tell me, for what ‎purpose was man created?’ The student replied, ‘To purify his soul’. ‘It is not so’, replied ‎the Kotzker, ‘It is man’s duty to elevate the heavens’. ‎
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Analysis ‎
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To be a Jew, notes in two pockets, elevating heaven – what is the common theme? Starting ‎with the two pockets idea, this is the appointed path for those few who really want to go all ‎the way. ‘The entire world was created for me’ is not an ego-driven selfish impulse. It is an ‎expression of human greatness. I am worthy of this entire world. I possess within me the vast ‎potential to be the purpose of all creation, the justification for reality. That is a heavy load to ‎carry on one set of shoulders. ‎
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It is important to recognize that Reb Simcha Bunim stressed that this message should be ‎carried as a note in one’s pocket. Who needs the note? A note is there as a reminder of ‎something that needs reminding. This message needs reminding. We forget, in the hustle and ‎bustle of life, in the maze of distractions that we wade through every day of our lives, this ‎basic truth. Each one of us must carry this reminder around and look at it periodically to ‎remember who we are and what our place is in the world. I am important, I am needed, I am a ‎human being. I may be, on the one hand, a collection of chemicals mixed with some water ‎and some other stuff; but on the other hand I am a soul with a will whose spiritual stature ‎rivals that of the angels. This note is not merely a pep talk to get us out of a stupor of ‎depression, though it may help in that situation. It is also the truth – each one of us is vital to ‎God’s great plan. ‎
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The other note fends off the possibility of all this self importance intoxicating the ego into ‎taking this the wrong way. We all have a need to feel proud of ourselves, and all too often ‎this need boils over into self-infatuation. ‘Dust and ashes’ is not quite the same as ‘flesh and ‎bones’. Our egos have no problem dealing with the latter. Everybody is flesh and bones, so ‎why shouldn’t my flesh and bones be better than anybody else’s flesh and bones. Dust and ‎ashes is an entirely different story. It means we are no different from the rocks and the mud ‎that we walk on, the air we exhale, or the waste we excrete. This is not just an ego-stopper for ‎those moments when we get too full of ourselves. It is a glimpse of the truth. We are dust ‎and ashes. We are nothing in the big picture, despite all of our beliefs and desires otherwise. ‎We must carry this note around also as a reminder of our place in the great scheme of things. ‎
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How does one carry around these two notes at once? What if a person somehow pulled them ‎both out at the same time?  Either one of these notes alone is difficult enough to fulfill, but ‎the two of them together seems downright impossible, or superhuman. Has the Peshis’cha ‎Hasid been given an impossible task? Perhaps this is where the Kotzker comes in. We were ‎not meant to be mere human beings, purifying our souls and then going our merry way to the ‎next world. That is all well and good, but it is not why we were created. The Kotzker held us ‎to a higher standard – he demanded that we set our sights on elevating heaven. ‎
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God needs us to accomplish something that only we can do. This task is beyond the ‎capabilities of the angels. Even God would find it daunting. We have to take those two notes ‎and make them one. Only we, who are truly dust and ashes, can take that dust and ashes and ‎make it worthy of creating a world. It is true that those two reminders are on separate notes ‎and in separate pockets. But they are just reminders. We must remember them together, ‎without the notes. This is a truly superhuman feat, one that God needs us to accomplish ‎without any help from above.  To transform that dust into spiritual gold is our eternal ‎overriding task in life and in doing so we will be filling in a great gap in creation. If we ‎cannot cause that transformation then nothing can, not even God. This is what it means to ‎‎‘elevate heaven’. God does the godly things and we do the human things, and we need each ‎other. We need God to make and run a world. God needs us to transform that world. ‎
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Practical ‎
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This path is not recommended for everyone. Nobody really knows what happened to the ‎Kotzker that night, and nobody has pieced together why he went into seclusion. His regiment ‎of unyielding subservience to truth and superhuman standards may have been too much even ‎for him. Maybe God does need us, but God may not want us to lose our minds to upgrade ‎heaven. Everyone has to know his or her own limitations. Perhaps the Kotzker went too far in ‎his mission. Perhaps one lesson that everyone must learn from his semi-tragic life is that God ‎can only ask of us what we are capable of and no more. Hasidut went on after the Kotzker. ‎His descendants became leaders and his students carried on his teachings. But more than ‎anything else, he is remembered for his puzzling collapse. Beware of going too far in the ‎spiritual journey. ‎
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In addition to this warning, there is another very practical lesson that survived the upheaval of ‎Peshis’cha. There are many different roads to the same goal. The Kotzker challenged us to ‎elevate heaven. Reb Simcha Bunim demanded of a Hasid that he carry the weight of those ‎two notes. Both, in a sense, were offshoots of the simpler goal of their teacher, the Holy Yid. ‎His goal, the task he set for himself, was to be a Jew. He could ask no more or no less of ‎himself than this one thing. Perhaps Reb Simcha Bunim and even the Kotzker would have ‎said that they were merely filling in a few details of what it means to be a Jew. ‎
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But maybe they would have said that they were following a Hasidic tradition that dates ‎back one generation earlier to the legendary brother of Rav Elimelech, Rebbe Zusha of ‎Anipoli. In a sense he was the alter ego of his illustrious brother, stressing his own humility ‎over the lofty power of a Tzadik. His motto, as it has come down to us, was the following: ‎‎‘God will not ask of me why I wasn’t Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. They were who they were ‎and it was not my task to be them. But God will ask me why I was not Zusha.’ This is a ‎question that we will all be asked – to what degree have we succeeded in becoming who we ‎can become. It is a question that demands of us both greatness and humility. It requires ‎greatness to see and achieve our potential, and humility to desire nothing more than that. ‎
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Food for Thought ‎
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This meaning of life stuff is pretty hard. These guys ask an enormous amount from us.  If it is ‎so difficult, how can it be the purpose of ‎life?             
		


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