From the History of the House of Kozienice
by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Brumberg, Jerusalem
In the following article, I shall attempt to describe the entire dynasty of the House of Kozienice, as well as its two offshoots, Mogielnica and Grodzisk. Beginning with the dynasty's father and founder, Rabbi Yisrael Hopfstein, known as the Maggid of Kozienice, it concluded with his descendants, who continued the line for five generations up until the Nazi holocaust of our own times.
The Maggid of Kozienice and his contemporary, the Seer of Lublin, were the first to disseminate the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and found hasidic centres in Poland, and they are therefore considered the fathers of Polish hasidism.
As Lublin, the headquarters of the Seer, so Kozienice, the Maggid's headquarters, attained to considerable fame over the course of the generations, because the teachings of its righteous and brilliant founder went out over the length and breadth of Poland and beyond.
The Maggid was short of stature and thin of body, nothing but skin and bones. All his life he was sickly and bedridden, wrapped in downy quilts, but his spirit stormed the heavens, and tens of thousands of Polish Jews waited upon his word. Not for nothing did he become the guide of thousands in his day, and he left a legacy behind him for the generations.
In this article, I have provided only a summary of the Maggid's activity, for it has already been documented by others. I have rather applied myself to a delineation of his descendants, who have not been written upon; I found only shapeless material before me.
Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Beriah
First of all is the Maggid's son, Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Beriah, who remained hidden during his father's lifetime. His character was not appreciated, and after the death of the Maggid, the townspeople wished to employ him as a bath attendant in Kozienice. Thanks only to the intervention of the Seer of Lublin, he was restored to his father's place. He led the community for thirteen years (18151828), and left eight books behind him. These were published in the fifty years after his death, and we can see from them that he was a master of both revealed and hidden teachings.?
The Seraph of Mogielnica
After the death of Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Beriah, the Seraph of Mogielnica, first of the Maggid's grandchildren, inherited his seat. He was the son of Perele, the Maggid's daughter, was educated at the Maggid's and was eminent in Torah and khasidus. He led the congregation for twentyone years (18281849). Although he left no books behind him, his son, the Godfearing Rabbi Elimelekh, founder of the Grodzisk branch of the dynasty, as well as his grandson, Elimelekh's son, the saintly Rabbi Yisrael, who was killed at the hands of the Nazis, published their books in their lifetime.
Rabbi Elazar, the son of Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Beriah, and the Maggid's second grandson, continued the dynasty for thirteen years (18491862) after the death of the Seraph of Mogielnica. He was deeply versed in hasidic doctrine, but left behind him only one small book, Khidushei MaHaRa (The Novellae of our teacher Rabbi Elazar).
Rabbi Elazar was succeeded by his sixteen year old son, Rabbi YekhielYaakov, who began to follow his own individual path of khasidus. Of interest in this connection is his saying, Why is it written, ‘We will go in our youth and our old age’ rather than the other way round? The time will come when the aged tzaddikim will go after the young ones. He was among the younger tzaddikim, but he was plucked up in the noontide of his days, at the age of twenty, having reigned but four years.
Rabbi Yerakhmiel Moshe
His son, Rabbi Yerakhmiel Moshe, the fifth generation of the dynasty, lost his father at the age of five and was educated in Stolin by his stepfather, Reb Asher, and his stepgrandfather, the Beit Aharon. At the age of twentyfour, he returned to Kozienice, thus restoring the glory of the dynasty to its former condition. He passed away in 1909 at the age of fortynine.
The Maggid inherited the hasidic fervour of his teacher, Rebbe Reb Elimelekh of Lizensk and this, in combination with his own keen intellect, enabled him to lay the foundations of Hasidism in Poland. He saw his task as an errand, and used to say, I stand before the Lord like a messenger boy ready to do his bidding at any and all times. His grandson the Seraph said, If any Jew should attain to the level of selfabnegation, and is as nothing in his own eyes, behold, he is able to receive more from heaven than from his own faculties.?
Rabbi Yerakhmiel Moshe, whose spiritual development had been influenced by his great forebears of Kozienice and Stolin, was prepared to give his life for the sake of Torah and Hasidism. During the Revolution of 1905, when Jewish workers began to breach the boundaries of their faith, he stood in the breach with great selfsacrifice.
Polish Hasidism built a strong wall against any ordinary or extraordinary wind blowing upon any area of Jewish life. The teachings of the Kozienicer Maggid served the Jews of Poland as a guide and beacon in their difficult struggle for survival.
Love of the Land of Israel
An especial strain of love for the land of Israel runs like a scarlet thread through all the generations of the House of Kozienice, beginning with the Maggid himself and ending with the sixth generation of his descendants, Rabbi Yisrael Elazar, who was the originator and founder of Kfar Khasidim in Israel.
It is told that when the time of Rebbe Reb Elimelekh of Lizensk's death had drawn high, he rested his hands upon the heads of his most outstanding students, and imparted his spirit to them. To the four who were closest to him, he gave also of his faculties: his intellect to Rabbi MenakhemMendel of Rimanov; his power of speech to Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta; his eyesight to the Seer of Lublin; and to the Maggid of Kozienice, his heart.
The Maggid's heart was indeed on fire, and it burned with three loves: love of God, man and Torah. He joined and interwove these loves until they became one huge flame blazing like an eternal and inextinguishable fire on the altar of his heart. The fire of his own heart kindled and enflamed those of all Israel. Not for nothing was he known as the second Beshteven their names were the same, and the Maggid was born as a result of the Besht's blessing.
The Maggid's Dream
Although the Maggid was born during the Besht's lifetime and was twentythree at the time of his passing, he differs from other disciples of the Besht in never mentioning any encounters with him. In one place only, in his book Avodot Yisrael (page 96), does he mention that he saw and spoke with the Besht in a dream.
Once, he says, I saw the Besht in a dream and asked him why it was that at the beginning of my service, when I had first gone to learn from the tzaddikim and their deeds and had accustomed myself to serve the Lord, I felt a daily change for the better within myself as a result of study of the Torah for its own sake, concentration on my prayer, and all such remaining activities; and why I now felt no change at all, and each day seemed the same as the one before.
He answered me with a parable: ‘When a child learns the alphabet or prayers or khumesh, the change in him becomes apparent from day to day, as he learns more every day. For example, last week he learned one parsha, and now he is learning two, and so forth. Should he continue to grow, this is not the case: if he can learn three parshas with commentary by himself, he has become very acute and no change will be discernible from day to day.’
Reb Shabtai the Bookbinder
The Maggid was born about 1737 in the town of Apta (Opatow), Poland, in the old age of his parents, Shabtai and Pearl.
His father, Reb Shabtai Hopstein, was a bookbinder who scarcely made a living from his craft. Although he was poor all his life, he did not want to have recourse to the gifts of flesh and blood, and thus never accepted anything from the poor boxes. He was a simple and upright man, and served the Lord in joy and fear.
His wife, Pearl, was also satisfied with the little her husband earned at his labour, and did not come forth with grievances or complain of their want and distress.
Reb Shabtai and his wife lived out their days in quiet and contentment. They were saddened by only one thing: they yearned greatly for a son. Even though they were already old, they did not despair of their hope's being fulfilled, and they were indeed visited with a son in their old age, the Maggid of Kozienice, who enlightened the eyes of Israel with his righteousness, teaching and piety.
His birth is enveloped in wonderful tales. It is told that once on Yom Kippur a fight broke out in the synagogue in which Reb Shabtai was praying, and the congregation hit one another with their makhzorim until they tore them. Meanwhile, Reb Shabtai was absorbed in his prayers as usual, beseeching the Lord to give him a son who would enlighten the eyes of Israel with his teaching.?
After the service the congregation approached and told him jokingly that he would be helped this year, that it would be a good one for him. Reb Shabtai did not understand what they were referring to, for he had neither heard the scuffle nor seen that all the makhzorim had been torn, so he took their words at face value as a blessing that he have a good year and be helped with a son, for he was childless. Thus did heaven prepare a year of prosperity for him, a year in which everyone brought him their town makhzorim for repairs, a year in which he was blessed with a son.
Poverty dwelt with Reb Shabtai. He did not have enough work to live on, and he and his wife actually starved all week. Things came to such a pass that once they did not have enough for the necessities of shabbes, and they were left without wine, Khalla and candles. They decided that if God did not want to give them enough for shabbes, they would fast, if only to avoid having to borrow.
On Friday afternoon Reb Shabtai went to the synagogue as was his wont, to read Psalms, review the week's Torah portion and prepare himself to receive the Sabbath. After the services, he stayed in the synagogue until everyone had left and then walked home alone, in order that his neighbours not besiege him with questions. What, then was his surprise on approaching his house and seeing the light of shabbes candles shining through the window? And how did his astonishment increase when he entered the house and saw the table laden with bread and wine, meat and fish, and all the delicacies of the Sabbath. He did not wish to interrogate his wife as to where all this had come from, but she nevertheless felt her husband's astonishment and dismay, and joyfully told him how the deliverance of the Lord had come upon them in the twinkling of an eye.
After Reb Shabtai had gone to the synagogue, she began to sweep the house in honour of shabbes. Suddenly there sparkled out at her from a corner some golden buttons sewn onto a pair of old gloves. She took the buttons and sold them, receiving a decent price, and then went out and bought what they needed for shabbes.
When Reb Shabtai heard his wife's story, he saw that deliverance had indeed been sent down from heaven so that their shabbes might not be just another day, and he began to dance for joy.
Why did the Besht Laugh?
Hasidic legend goes on to tell that at the same time as Reb Shabtai was dancing around his shabbes table, the Baal Shem Tov was in Medzibozh with his company of disciples, sitting at his shabbes table and celebrating the festive meal. Suddenly he started laughing. His disciples were amazed by their rebbe's strange laughter, but none dared ask what had caused it.?
The next evening after havdala, the Besht's senior disciple, Reb Ze'ev Wolf Kitzes, approached him and asked for an explanation of his mysterious laughter. The Baal Shem Tov did not reply, but told him to order the wagon driver to prepare for a journey.
The Besht's disciples boarded the wagon in ignorance of both the purpose and destination of their trip. They arrived in Apta the next morning, and the Baal Shem Tov sent immediately for Reb Shabtai the bookbinder. When the latter had come, the Besht commanded him to tell what had happened to him on Friday night.
Reb Shabtai told him the story from beginning to end, and when he had finished the Besht said, Know that the whole of the heavenly household shared in your rejoicing. And now, say what you desire, and it will be granted you. Reb Shabtai replied that he wanted neither silver nor gold. He wanted but one thing of the Lord: to be visited with a son who would live. At this, the Baal Shem Tov blessed him with a blessing which was fulfilled.
And the Child Grew
A son was born to them that year, and the Besht came and held the child at his bris. The child was named Yisrael, after the Besht, for it was by virtue of the Besht's blessing that he had come into the world.
And the child grew and became a man, and enlightened the eyes of Israel with his teaching and with his righteousness. For this was Reb Yisrael, the Maggid of Kozienice, known also by the cognomen The Second Besht because he was as great a wonder in his generation as the Besht had been earlier.
Although he was a feeble child, his body skinny and thin, he was distinguished by his talents. A great soul dwelt in that puny frame, a sharp mind on top of it. In his earliest childhood he was recognized as having been created for greatness. His grasp was quick, his desire to learn Torah strong. Despite his poverty and want, Reb Shabtai spared no expense in his son's education, hiring the best teachers in the city for him. The boy soaked up everything he learned and went from triumph to triumph until, still a small boy, he gained renown as a prodigy in the city of Apta.
Apta was considered a city and mother to Israel, and there were many khevrot (societies) for Torah study there. Reb Shabtai, the bookbinder, was among the directors of a khevra called Ner Tamid shel Shabbat, or The Eternal Light of the Sabbath. This was a khevra of craftsmen, and its preceptor was Rabbi Moshe Natan Shapiro. When Yisrael had attained the age of seven, his father enrolled him as a member of this society, in order that on shabbes and in the evenings he might hear the lessons of the aforementioned rav. He is listed in the khevra's register: During the intermediate days of Passover, 1744, the young boy, Yisrael ben Shabtai, was received into the organization, his father advancing the sum of three zloty. And so the child of seven sat at the same table with already aged students to hear a lesson in Torah
The boy was young in years, but could already swim the sea of the Talmud and its interpreters like one much older. He made the nights as days: by day he learnt in yeshiva, by night, after hearing the rav's lesson, he would sit learning by himself in the study house like an expert and experienced scholar. In spite of the fact that the boy wasted no time away from his studies, his father still kept an eye on him, for he burned for his son to be a great scholar.
I did not Wish to Benefit from the Glory of the Torah
It is told that at Chanukah time his father because anxious lest the lad be enticed to play cards with the other children in the house study, as was the custom among Jewish children during the long Chanukah nights. Since, however, the boy had promised his father that he would not play, the latter bought him a threecent candle which would give enough light to study by but, or so he thought, go out quickly enough that there would be not time to play cards. He gave Yisrael permission to go to the study house, expecting him home again within a short while.
Nevertheless, heaven seems to have taken great joy in the sight of the prodigy absorbed in holiness and purity, in his wonderful diligence at study. A miracle was prepared for him: the candle did not go out, but burned the whole night through. As long as the candle was lit, the boy would not forbear his studies, and he kept on with them, not realizing that the night had passed.
Towards morning he returned home and went to bed. When his father saw him, he became very angry and vented his wrath upon the boy, because he suspected him of having wasted the night playing cards. What did he do? He took a leather strap and beat him until the blood flowed. The boy took it in silence. Truly, said the Maggid, recounting this tale of his childhood, Had I told my father that I had not played but was studying the whole time, he would have believed me and would not have beaten me. But I did not wish to benefit from the glory of the Torah.
Wandering to a Place of Torah
When Rabbi Dov Berish HaCohen Katz, the grandson of the Shach (Shabtai ben Meir haCohen, 16211662, author of a standard commentary on the Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah and Khoshen Mishpat), became rabbi of Apta, the young prodigy went to study in his yeshiva. While there, the Maggid became friendly with his son, Yitzkhok A v rah am Katz, who was later head of the rabbinical court in Pinczow and author of the responsa Keter Kehuna.?
At the age of thirteen, the future Maggid left Apta to wander to a place of learning. He went first to Ostrowice, near Apta, to study in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yekhezkel, father of the author of Har HaKarmel. He did not remain there long, as Rabbi Yekhezkel died in 1750.
From there he wandered farther to the city of Horochow in Volhynia to study with Rabbi Mordekhai Tzvi Horowitz, son of Yitzkhok HaLevi Horowitz, head of the rabbinical court of HamburgAltona. He also studied with Rabbi Menakhem of Tarla, whom he cites in his book Tehillot Yisrael.
He became known as a sage throughout Poland, and many attempted to marry him into their families. One of the leading rabbis of the day, Rabbi Aharon bar Meir of Brisk, the author of Minkhat Aharon, came to take him home as a bridegroom after having tested him and seen his great talents. However, the match did not come about for various reasons. The Maggid married a woman in Pshiskhah. After his marriage he lived by teaching in the villages.
At His Father's Grave
In 1761, when Yisrael was twentyfour, his aged father departed this world. His tombstone is engraved as follows: Here lies a simple and upright man, the aged Reb Shabtai son of Ze'ev Wolf, who passed away on Friday, Shevat 25, in the year 5521 since the creation of the world.
From time to time the Maggid would go to prostrate himself on the grave on his father's yortsayt. Once, he leaned against the stone and was silent. After a while, he emitted a small laugh, and said to the beadle who accompanied him, My father was a bookbinder, and just now I, too, have bound and joined all the worlds together.
Whenever he visited his father's grave he would stay with his friend, the tzaddik Reb Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta. It is told that one year there had been a great snowfall (Rev Shabtai's yortsayt falls in the winter) and Rabbi Heschel ordered his congregants to make a path in the snow from the door of his house to Reb Shabtai's grave, in order that the Maggid be able to walk there. And so it was done.
It is also told that whenever the Maggid came to prostrate himself on his father's grave in Apta, the townspeople honoured him by letting him deliver a sermon in the synagogue. Once, when they asked him to do so, he replied, Did my previous sermon have no effect? They were unable to
answer him, and went away in great sorrow. A man from the crowd, a simple craftsman, then approached and engaged him in conversation. The rabbi has said that his sermon of last year had no effect upon us. Well, Iíve come to bear witness that from the time I heard him say that every man of Israel must observe the precept of ‘I have set the Lord before me always,’ from that time the Lord has stood always before my eyes, like a black fire on a white fire, and I tremble and am in awe of Him.
His Intimacy with Reb Shmelke Horowitz
After the death of his father, Rabbi Yisrael moved to Pshiskha, in the district of Radom. The local preacher, Rabbi Avraham, was a disciple of the Besht, and he taught Yisrael how to preach and brought him near to Hasidism.
At the same time, he made the acquaintance of the great Rebbe Reb Shmelke Horowitz, who was then rav of the nearby town of Ricziwol. Rabbi Yisrael learned both revealed Torah and khasidus from Reb Shmelke, who was among the greatest of the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch. Reb Shmelke also showed him a new way of studying Talmud which did not depend on pilpul, and Rabbi Yisrael became very close to him.
The rav also esteemed his student greatly. It is told that at the time when Rabbi Yisrael was studying with Reb Shmelke in Ricziwol, the misnagdim sent two messengers to ask him (i.e., Shmelke) to give his consent to the placing of a ban on the hasidim. The messengers promised him that those among the hasidim who were great in Torahhimself, his brother, Pinkhas, author of Baal HaHafla'ah, Rabbi Mordekhai of Neskhiz who was the grandson of the Megale Amukot, and other suchwould be exempt from the ban.
And how will you know who among the hasidim is great in Torah? asked Reb Shmelke, and pointing out Rabbi Yisrael, who was present, he added, Do you see this young man here? He is one of the greatest of the hasidim in Torah. The messengers went back the way they had come, and the ban was dissolved.
Another story from his time with Reb Shmelke: Once a bookseller came to Ricziwol, bringing with him a copy of Magen Avraham, which had just been republished. Rabbi Yisrael bought the book and fixed a time for its study with another young man. After the first session the hearts of both were suddenly enflamed more than usual, and they were frightened by the illumination of their faces. They decided to ask Reb Shmelke whence these lights had come. Rabbi Yisrael went in to him, and even before he had finished asking, Reb Shmelke said, Your appearance gives you away, Yisrael. You have been studying Magen Avraham. Know that the study of this book brings great illumination to the hearts of all scholars.?
Rabbi Yisrael also became known to Reb Shmelke's brother, Pinkhas, at this time, and they had dealings with one another concerning responsa.
In the Camp of the Maggid of Mezritch
Under the influence of the brothers Shmelke and Pinkhas, Rabbi Yisrael began to prepare himself for the journey to Mezritch and the Great Maggid Dov Baer. Before departing, he went over eight hundred books of Kabbalah, got together some money, bought a horse and wagon and hired a driver.
The journey lasted several weeks. The first time he went in to the Great Maggid, the latter asked him where he was from. From Kozienice, near Warsaw. The Great Maggid said, With your coming here, they will begin to say Keser Yitnu Lechah instead of Na'aritskha in the shabbes musaf in Warsaw, because the power of hasidism will be strengthened there.
And so it was. In the time of Rabbi Yisrael the Maggid, the majority of hasidim in Warsaw were Kozienicer hasidim. Among them were rich men, community leaders and important mediators with the nonJewish world, such as Reb Mikhel HaCohen, father of Rabbi Elazar, head of the rabbinical court at Poltosk, and Yaakov Moshe Muskat, father of the saintly Rabbi Yishaya Muskat of Praga.
The Maggid of Mezritch rejoiced greatly in his new student, saying to his disciple Rabbi Shneour Zalman of Ladi, author of the Tanya, Blessed be God for sending me this young man to proofread the manuscript of the Ari's siddur! He prevailed upon Rabbi Yisrael to proofread the siddur, and Rabbi Yisrael stayed three months in Mezritch proofreading the manuscript and preparing it for the press, besides learning Kabbala and khasidus from the Maggid of Mezritch.
While at the Maggid's, Rabbi Yisrael met and befriended many of his great and famous students, the leaders of their generation. They are mentioned in his books, especially Rabbi Avraham the Angel, son of the Mezritcher, Rabbi Avraham Kalisker, Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karl in, Rabbi Yisrael of Polotsk, Rabbi Pinkhas of Koretz, Rabbi Shneour Zalman of Ladi, Rabbi Levi Yitzkhok of Berdichev, Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizensk, and others.
And He Knew that his Ways were Pure
After the death of the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Yisrael decided to attach himself to Rebbe Elimelekh of Lizensk. It was accepted among the disciples of Rebbe Reb Elimelekh that if he went out to meet them, it was proof that their conduct was governed by considerations of holiness, and if he did not, they were not yet worthy.
When Rabbi Yisrael reached Rebbe Elimelekh's house, he found him asleep. He returned to his inn, greatly saddened and weeping bitterly. Suddenly he saw that Rebbe Elimelekh had come to the inn. He comforted Rabbi Yisrael and said, An Angel awakened me, so that I could come to console you. After this, Rebbe Elimelekh asked him how many parasangs distance Kozienice was from Warsaw. Twelve, replied Rabbi Yisrael. Rebbe Elimelekh was astounded and said, There's a hasid like you only twelve parasangs from Warsaw? With that, Rabbi Yisrael was comforted, and knew that his ways were pure.
His Friendship with the Seer of Lublin
Rabbi Yaakov Yitzkhok Horowitz, the Seer of Lublin, was a friend of the Maggid from the time of their youth. They met while still in Mezritch, and later became disciples of Rebbe Elimelekh of Lizensk. Both began to lead congregations in 1787, after the death of Rebbe Elimelekh. They were the first to spread the teachings of the Besht in Poland, and they founded hasidic centres in Lublin and Kozienice. Both died in the same year, first the Maggid on erev Sukkos, 1815, then the Seer on tisheb'Av of the same year (5575 from the creation of the world). Their friendship continued for their whole lives.
And Behold, It was a Miracle
The Seer of Lublin held the Kozienicer in great esteem. When the Seer's second wife was nagging him because she had not managed to have a son by him, he advised her to go to his friend the Maggid, whose prayers and blessing would help her.
She obeyed and went to Kozienice. The Maggid commanded her to eat and drink; by doing so, his prayer would benefit her, and she would be visited with a pregnancy. He added that, at the birth of the child, he was to be godfather.
And thus it came to pass. She returned to Lublin and did as the Maggid had told her. When she had given birth to a child, the Seer sent a special emissary to Kozienice to invite the Maggid to the bris.
The Maggid's trip to Lublin excited great publicity. Thousands of people came out to greet him everywhere he passed. Prince Adam Czartoryski came in his carriage and invited the Maggid to his palace.
On his arrival at Lublin, the streets were in a tumult due to the numbers of people who had come out to greet him, among them Christians, and among these the nobility. They all wanted to see the holy man.?
A certain princess came to him with her son who was suffering from polio. Both his legs were withered, and he was unable to walk. She pleaded with the Maggid to give the boy his blessing so that he would recover from his illness. The Maggid said to her, If you promise that you will exact no increase from your Jewish tenants, and will let them remain on your manor, then I expect your son will be cured.
The princess agreed, and promised to fulfill these conditions. At once the Maggid held out his pipe to the boy and told him to bring him an ember with which to light it. As soon as the boy had taken hold of the pipe, he rose and walked upon his feet. And behold, it was a miracle.
On his return from Lublin, the Maggid, as he had promised, made a detour to the palace of Prince Czartoryski, where he was received with all the honour due a king.
Concerning the Maggid's relations with the Seer of Lublin, it is told that once, in the week during which parshas Bekhukosay (Leviticus 26:327:34) is read in the synagogue, the Seer said to his hasidim: it is good to spend this Sabbath with the saint of Kozienice because he makes the curses of the Lord's rebuke into blessings. The holy Rabbi Mordekhai, author of Maamar Mordekhai, heard this and went to Kozienice.
That shabbes, while the Maggid was reading the Torah, Rabbi Mordekhai stood opposite him, the better to hear how he changed the curses into blessings. And when the Maggid reached the verse (Lev. 26:31), And I will lay your cities waste, and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing odors, he rose and said in a loud voice, Our father in heaven, would that we might merit to be alive at that time!
The Maggid also esteemed his friend the Seer, and looked upon him as a holy man of God.
His Friendship with Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok of Berdichev
He held his teacher Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok of Berdichev in similar esteem, and cites him often in his books, usually referring to him as the pious rav, our teacher Rabbi Levi Yitzkhok rather than my teacher and master. According to hasidic tradition, the reason underlying the Maggid's reluctance to be referred to as Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok's pupil was due to the fact that the Berdichever was said to have the soul of Rabbi Akiva, and it is well known that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva did not live long.?
As is known, before his arrival in Berdichev, Reb Levi Yitzkhok suffered many persecutions at the hands of the misnagdim. Once, while he was rav in Ricziwol, he was forced to flee on Hoshanna Rabba with the four species still in his hand. He sought refuge with his friend and disciple the Maggid of Kozienice.
It is told that Reb Levi Yitzkhok once came to Kozienice for Shavues. Very early in the morning, before the sun had come up, he called to the Maggid to go with him to the mikve. The Maggid said, I was quite apprehensive about going with him, for our ways were so different. His was ardent, a burning fire; mine was of rest and quiet. Reb Levi Yitzkhok answered him, If so, then I will walk in your way of quiet.
They went to the mikve. The mikve was at the base of a mountain, on the other side, and they had first to ascend, and then to go down. But when they had reached the peak, Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok said, Lomir firn di kale in mikve arayn, let's lead the bride into the mikve, and, with no delay, he rolled down the mountain to the wall of the mikve.
Once the Maggid asked Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok when he davened shakhris. The Berdichever replied that he davened late, especially on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur when special preparations were necessary. The Maggid said that he, on the other hand, was accustomed to daven early. Reb Levi Yitzkhok replied, Even so, I'll blow the shofar before you.
That Rosh HaShana, the Maggid was preparing himself to blow the shofar when he sensed great accusations and denunciations in heaven. He plunged himself into the holy work of uniting the spheres in order to mitigate the sentence, and as a result of this effort of selfsacrifice, he grew weary and fell into a deep sleep. In his dream he saw himself in heaven, listening to dire accusations. Of a sudden, he heard a great voice splitting the firmament. What, he asked, is this great voice? The Berdichever Rebbe is on his way to immerse himself in the mikve before blowing the shofar. By doing this, he makes the evil decrees null and void. When the Maggid awoke he said, If things stand thus, we are obliged to wait until the rebbe from Berdichev has blown the shofar and mitigated the sentence and turned the accusation away; then we will be able to blow it without any trouble.
Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok Stays with the Maggid
It is also told that the Evil One once brought a great accusation against the rebbe of Berdichev. It was said in the upper worlds that Reb Levi Yitzkhok made use of the intentions and unifications (i.e., meditations before prayer) which the High Priest used in the Temple on Yom Kippur. If
such a thing were done in the Exile, then most assuredly, when the Redemption came and the Temple was restored, he would be able to raise up all the worlds. Were he to do so, the strictest justice, the letter of the law, would demand that the General Redemption of the universe follow immediately.
The Evil One was furious and claimed that the Berdichever's righteousness stemmed wholly from the supernal intelligences (mokhin ila'inin Lurianic Kabbalah, the first or upper three sefirot of keter, khokhma and bina, the crown, wisdom and understanding) which illuminated him, and were these to be taken away, he would not be such a big shot.
Deprived of all his levels of sanctity, the Berdichever became a simple man, his prayer that of the man in the street. He arose and went to the Maggid, who prepared special quarters for him in which he remained for half a year. He lingered over his prayers, not on account of intentions and unifications, rather to understand the simple meanings of the words themselves.
One shabbes the Maggid was leading the prayers, and when he came to the passage yismakh Moishe bematnas khelkoy (let Moses rejoice in the gift of his portion), he went back again and said, yismakh Reb Levi Yitzkhok bematnas khelkoy (let Reb Levi Yitzkhok rejoice …), and the latter was immediately restored to his pristine condition. He was filled with fervour, and began to run back and forth in the house of study, as had formerly been his wont.
After shabbes, when Reb Levi Yitzkhok felt that he was in the fullness of his spiritual strength, he went in to the Maggid in order to bid him farewell. The Maggid asked, Where does my teacher and master wish to go? He answered, saying that since he had been invited to a debate with the misnagdim but had not had time, he wanted to fulfil his obligation and go. The Maggid was amazed and asked, How will you be able to debate with them? The Berdichever replied, What do they know that I don't? They have no knowledge which is beyond me. The Maggid said: Well, I, too, have something to ask you. Why do you daven the shmoneesrei with your eyes open? Sertze, ze'en mir den? replied Levi Yitzkhok, You think I see anything, my dear? Said the Maggid, You're right. We know that we see nothing while we daven the shmoneesrei because all our thoughts are given over to the upper worlds, completely removed from mundane reality, and that no sense of physical sight is at all operative. But they, the misnagdim, will not believe that my teacher is not looking about him during his prayer.
Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok admitted that the Maggid was correct, and did not go. Then the Maggid asked him to stay for Passover, and he did so.
The first night of Passover had come. Reb Levi Yitzkhok wanted to celebrate the seder together with the Maggid, but the latter objected that, given the difference in their customs, this would be rather difficult, especially as he had no wish to make the Berdichever deviate from his normal routine. He had, therefore, arranged a table for him in a separate room, at which he could conduct the seder according to his own wishes and habits.
As soon as Reb Levi Yitzkhok had begun his setter, he reached the summit of his fervour; a sacred flame had taken hold of him he overturned the table. The Maggid said that he had foreseen that such a thing would happen. Reb Levi Yitzkhok apologized, and promised that he would restrain himself henceforth and conduct his seder quietly.
Rabbi Yaakov Arye of Radzimin, who in his youth used to visit the Maggid and was present on this occasion, bears witness to the arrangement of this seder. He tells that he wished to see how each of the Great tzaddikim conducted his seder; each was in a separate room, so he stood in the doorway between these adjoining rooms, candle and hagadda in hand, and listened to each of them in turn. He went out that night full of enthusiasm, and told his impressions of it all his life. He used to add, I have no more hope of hearing such a seder in this world. Perhaps I will be worthy to do so in the next.
The Maggid Laments his Misfortunes
Before he became known to the world, the Maggid, too, suffered great distress. Once he went to his friend and teacher, Reb Levi Yitzkhok, who was then rav in Zelechow, and told him of his troubles. When he departed, Reb Levi Yitzkhok went to escort him. It was winter, and very cold. The Maggid was wearing a warm overcoat, but Reb Levi Yitzkhok was clad only in a light garment. After they had gone a certain distance (it was difficult for Reb Levi Yitzkhok to part from his friend) the cold began to bother him. He asked the Maggid to lend him his coat. They went on together some distance more. Now the Maggid was beginning to feel the cold. Reb Levi Yitzkhok returned the coat and said, Reb Yisroelkhl, warm up already. From that moment on, said the Maggid, his condition changed for the better.
Like the Berdichever Rebbe, the Maggid spoke in defense of Israel. Once a woman came to him, complaining that her husband hated her and thought her ugly. The Maggid said, Perhaps you really are ugly. Woe is me! she cried. I was pretty enough under the wedding canopyhave I all of a sudden turned ugly?
When the Maggid heard this he sighed and said, Master of the Universe, is this not the complaint of the Congregation of Israel? When they stood before you at the foot of Mount Sinai and said, ‘We will do and obey,’ they were as a beautiful bride in your eyes and you chose them above all peoples. And have you now, perish the thought, grown tired of us?
O Rock of Israel, come thou to our aid.
by Tzvi Meir Rabinowitz
(from his book, The Maggid of Kozienice: His Life and Teaching)
After drinking deeply of the springs of Hasidism at Mezritch and Lizensk, Rabbi Yisrael returned to the Polish interior to become preacher of righteousness (maggid mesharim) in Kozienice, a small town with 1300 Jews. Its Jewish settlement dated back to approximately 1661. In 1878 a great fire destroyed much of the town, including the synagogue. Even before this, the community was not numbered among the older and richer of the Polish congregations.
An Itinerant Preacher
As the Maggid's salary was too small to suffice for his livelihood, he also accepted preaching posts in the nearby communities of Magniszow and Grica, and went about the locality preaching in synagogues, admonishing the people in the ways of Torah and repentance.
Unlike the other preachers of his day who terrified their listeners with accounts of the torments of hell and the punishments of the world to come, the Maggid of Kozienice preached words of pleasantness and love. He was opposed to the way of earlier preachers before the age of Hasidism, and he demanded that the preacher not reprove them (the people) with words bitter and hard as wormwood, but rather with sweet and pleasant words of appeasement. His discourses were thus liberally spiced with pleasant and homely example determined by the capabilities and concerns of his audience.
He soon gained renown as a first rate preacher. Vast multitudes flocked to hear words of awe and wisdom from his mouth, and their hearts were broken within them through reflection on repentance and good deeds.
His influence increased from day to day, and people came from far and near to hear him. His heavenly powers of abstinence and selfrestraint, as well as his outward appearance, also had their influence upon the multitudes. He was thin of body, and very frail; small of stature and chronically ill; yet a youthful vigour bubbled in his soul. Day and night he studied and spread Torah among young and old; his personal prayer, uttered loudly and with fervourthe prayer, as it were, of the first Hasidimmade a particular impression.
He used to say that he experienced no pleasure like that of a good prayer well prayed. His cleaving to the divine during prayer brought him to the highest plane. He attained to a puttingoff of corporeality, his entire being clove to and was fused with the upper worlds, and ascended the ladder of holy degrees in the fire of his enthusiasm, until, by means of unifications, he had reached the source of life, the light of einsof, the infinite.
Multitudes Gather at His Door
Tens of thousands soon began to flock to Kozienice to receive his blessing. There was always a great number of paupers, the oppressed and cripples hanging about his door, and as soon as he went out, they would kneel before him and ask his blessing. He was obliged to help them with charitable donations, support and intervention on their behalf. To the sick and the crippled he gave amulets. Polish gentiles also came to him to be cured, and they guarded his amulets against any contingency.
This giving of amulets aroused the wrath of the misnagdim in Kozienice, and that of the town rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo, the grandson of Rabbi Abish, head of the rabbinical court of Frankfurt, in particular. After the dispute between Rabbi Yonatan Eybeshutz and Rabbi Yaakov Emden, every giver of amulets was suspected of Sabbatianism. They therefore began to persecute him in the city and also to write letters to the rabbis of the region concerning the new baalshem, or wonder worker, who had arisen in Poland.
The Misnagdim Restore Rabbi Yisrael
He was set upon particularly by the wellknown enemy of Hasidism, David of Macow. He spent all the arrows of his wrath on the Maggid, and tried to prevent the printers in Warsaw from printing his book Zamir Aritsim (Cutting Tyrants Down to Size).
These provocations bore fruit, and the misnagdim gathered against him one shabbes and set upon him with such vehemence that he was forced to hide in a mill. After shabbes he fled from Kozienice to his friend Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok of Berdichev in Zelechow.
The Berdichever was zealous for the honour of the Maggid, and wished to excommunicate Rabbi Shlomo of Kozienice. But Hasidic legend relates that Rabbi Abish of Frankfurt came to him in a dream and warned him not to punish his grandson.
Under the influence of Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok, the misnagdim of Kozienice, with the rav at their head, repented and received Rabbi Yisrael back as preacher and restored him to his earlier honour.
The Maggid continued on his new path, the path of BeshtianLizenskian Hasidism, with great exaltation, and his opponents gradually became his admirers.
After the death of Rebbe Dov Baer of Mezritch (1772) and Rebbe Levi Yitzkhok's reception as rav in Berdichev (1775), the Maggid of Kozienice became preeminent among the disseminators of Hasidism in Poland. His name spread far and wide as a leader of Hasidism, wonder worker, halakhic genius, expert in kabbalah and Jewish learning (torat yisrael), and, thanks to his manifold connections with the Polish nobility and his great influence on Polish Jewry, as a worker for the benefit of all Israel.
The Maggid of Kozienice in the Political Life of the Jews of Poland
The Maggid of Kozienice had a powerful influence in shaping the character of Jewish political life in Poland. With all his devotion to Torah and Kabbalah, to the dissemination of Hasidism and the writing of books, he yet found time to concern himself with the political and economic conditions of the Jews of Poland. In his opinion, The way of the tzaddik is to pray for all Israel, to give freely of his soul and might and to be pained when he sees himself well off and Israel come to grief.
On this account the Maggid took part in all the activities carried on to dissolve the evil decrees of the kings, nobles and burghers of Poland, and he therefore sent special emissaries to the neighbouring towns to keep an eye on those matters which pertained to the Jews.
The Maggid sought peace, for he knew that in time of war the Jewsand the Jews of Poland were already experienced at these sorts of hardshipsstood first in suffering, robbery and despoilment. It was incumbent upon them to heed the words of the king and to pray for responsible government. We must pray, he said, that fear of his royal majesty be placed upon the people, and that they not worship him with a love devoid of fear; if they do, they will follow their desire in all things, saying that the king loves them and will not punish them.
These words are a sign of the times, of the political realities of Polish life. In the deterioration of the king's position and the rise of the nobles, who had organized themselves into confederations engaged in internecine war, the Maggid perceived the giving over of the Jews of Poland to plunder. Although the king, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, supported the Jews, he was unable to save them from becoming lambs upon the altar of the decline of Polish kingship.
His Attempt to Abolish Military Service
In their distress, the Jews appealed to the king and influential nobles to dissolve the evil decrees. The Maggid worked especially for the abolition of military service. Delegations appointed by the hasidim presented themselves to the minister of defense, Josef Poniatowski, according to hasidic legend an admirer of the Maggid, in 1812. Through his influence, military service was converted into an annual tax of seven hundred thousand pieces of gold. The Jews of Poland, and especially the hasidim, rejoiced greatly in their freedom from handing their sons over to a government which subjugated and oppressed them.
In 1811 a meeting of representatives from all the Jewish communities of Poland, similar to the Council of the Four Lands, chose twenty delegates to present themselves before the minister of finance and the king and ask that the shekhita tax (slaughter tax) imposed upon the Jews be abolished. Local government officials had been arbitrarily raising the tax and lining their own pockets with the money of the poor of Israel. Among the scholars and community leaders chosen was the Maggid of Kozienice, but the representative of the district of Radom informed the financial ministry that the Maggid was unable to take part in the delegation because of his age and extreme sickness.
The Maggid had a great influence both in governmental circles and in the court of King Stanislaw August. Also among his hasidim were the Jewish magnates of Poland, Reb Josef a Mendelsburg of Kuzmir, Shmuel Zwitkower, Berko Bergson and his wife, Tamar, who had both access to and influence upon the king.
Reb Josefa, the Maggid's Friend
Reb Josefa was a native of Apta and a boyhood friend of the Maggid. They studied together at the Ricziwol yeshiva under Rebbe Shmelke of Nickolsburg. Nevertheless, their ways parted: the Maggid took the path of Torah and khasidus, Reb Josefa that of commerce and contracting. He settled in Josefow, in the district of Lublin, where he dealt in wood and exported trees through the port at Danzig. He also had a royally appointed monopoly on the products of salt mines. Five hundred families were employed in his industrial enterprises. He received two medals from King Stanislaw Poniatowski as a sign of friendship and esteem. Yet his wealth and nearness to the king did not distance him from the Maggidhe was among his friend's most loyal hasidim.
In his old age he settled in Kuzmir, in the district of Lublin, where he continued in the tradition of Torah study and fear of heaven based upon the teachings of Rebbe Shmelke of Nickolsburg. He chose the most brilliant young men of Poland for his daughtersone of his sonsinlaw was Rabbi Meshullam Zalman Ashkenazi, head of the rabbinical court of Lublin.
The Maggid received first hand reports from Reb dosefa on the government's programs concerning the Jews, and in times of need his connections gave him the opportunity to dissolve evil decrees.
Reb Shmuel Zwitkower Purchases his Portion in Paradise
Shmuel Zwitkower was considered the wealthiest Jew in Poland. He was a dealer in animals and skins, a factory owner, supplier to the army and mediator in the courts of Friedrich of Prussia and Poniatowski of Poland. He was also known for his good works on behalf of the congregation of PragaWarsaw. He built a synagogue and mikve, and established a cemetery in Praga.
He attained to especial renown during the Kosciuszko rebellion of 1794. The Jews of Warsaw, under Commander Berek doselewicz, founder of a separate Jewish regiment for the defense of the capital, fought side by side with the Poles. A great battle between the Poles and Sovorov's Russians broke out near Praga.
Despite the valour of the Jews and Poles, the Russians were victorious. Fifteen thousand Poles, together with the Jewish regiment, which numbered about six hundred, fell dead on the battlements of Praga, the streets of Warsaw and the waters of the Vistula.
Legend has it that after the battle, while the Russians were still prepared to slaughter all the inhabitants of Warsaw, Reb Shmuel sat in his courtyard, a barrel on either side of himthe one filled with gold coins, the other with silverand made a proclamation to the Cossacks that he would give three golden rubles for every living man, and one of silver for every corpse. The Russian army flocked to Reb Shmuel, bringing with them both the living and the dead. The barrels were emptied within a short time, and hundreds had been saved from death.
The Maggid of Kozienice was not satisfied with Shmuel Zwitkower's general conduct, for people grumbled against him in matters of commerce and religion. However, with his rescue of Praga, he had purchased his portion in Paradise, and the Maggid esteemed him highly for this.
The hasidim tell that one time when the Maggid came to the Sabbath prayer El Adon, he began to sing it to a beautiful melody they had never heard before. When they asked him to explain the tune, he said, This is the tune with which the angels led Reb Shmuel Zwitkower to Paradise. The merits of his rescue work tipped the scales of judgment and outweighed all sins he committed, and his soul went up to Paradise in holiness and purity.
The Maggid Goes to a Wedding in Warsaw
Shmuel Zwitkower's son, Berko Dov Bergson, was also a government contractor and distinguished magnate, as well as a community worker for the welfare of the Jews of Poland. He and his wife, Tamar, were admirers of the Maggid, and Tamar, especially, gave help to distinguished disciples of the Maggid and the Seer of Lublin by appointing them as officials in her business enterprises. Among those so appointed were Simkhe Bunem of Pshishkha, Yitzkhok of Worke and others.
The Maggid's influence on the Bergson family grew, and he was invited to Warsaw to officiate at the wedding of Dov Bergson's daughter to Reb Yissokher Baer Horowitz, the grandson of Rebbe Shmelke Horowitz of RicziwolNickolsburg. The wedding was celebrated with great pomp, and the hasidim tell that the Maggid did not go up to the khupe until he had "repaired" the soul of Shmuel Zwitkower to make it worthy of being joined with that of the Maggid's teacher, Rebbe Shmelke.
The groom was among the most learned men of Warsaw, one of the Maggid's most distinguished pupils, and a friend of Reb Yitzkhok Meyer Alter, the Gerer Rebbe, who was likewise an outstanding student and was brought up at the Maggid's.
The Czartoryskis as Hasidim of the Maggid
Aside from his connections with the aforementioned Jewish magnates, the Maggid also had his influence among the leading figures of the Polish nobility. The wellknown Czartoryski family was numbered among his followers. The head of the family, Adam Kasimir Czartoryski, was a candidate for the kingship after the death of King August in 1763, although the position finally went to his rival, Stanislaw Poniatowski. After the first partition of Poland he was appointed Marshal of the Polish army. He fought vigorously for Polish freedom, and was an opponent of Russia, which was interfering in the internal affairs of Poland.
Hasidic legend elaborated on the cordial relations obtaining between the Maggid and the Czartoryskis. The Maggid referred to Adam Czartoryski as my Adam. Before the birth of his son, Czartoryski went to the Maggid and asked him to pray for the birth of a male child. The Maggid said, Master of the Universe, you've got plenty of goyim, one more won't hurt.
Adam's brother, Constantine, was not a hasid, and he expressed doubts as to the efficiency of the Maggid's wonders. He attempted once to prove to his brother that the Maggid was not gifted with the holy spirit. He devised a prank, and went to Kozienice, where he mentioned his son who, he claimed, was dangerously ill, although he was not really sick at all. But the Maggid said, Go home quickly, while you still have a chance to see your son before his death. And thus it was on his return home, Constantine found his son dead.
When the Maggid went to see the Seer in Lublin, he was invited to Czartoryski's palace and received with great honour.
The Maggid is also mentioned in the memoirs of Anna Potocka, who tells that a Swedish astrologer and mystic came to Poland to learn Kabbalah from the renowned Rabbi of Kozienice.
The Maggid did not Reveal the Secret to Czartoryski
Leon Dembowski, one of the commanders of the Polish army, gives an interesting account in his memoirs of Prince Adam Czartoryski's visit to Kozienice.
The prince's secretary, Skowronski, was once sent to Danzig to collect eleven thousand ducats. He hid the money in a small barrel which he put between his legs during the trip back to Czartoryski's palace at Polawy. En route, Skowronski and his retinue fell into a deep slumber, during which they passed through two stations. At the third station, Skowronski awoke to find the money stolen. All his searches were in vain, and he returned to Polawy empty handed.
Several years passed, and the loss had been forgotten, when out of the blue Prince Czartoryski received a letter from the famous rabbi, the Maggid of Kozienice, who was considered a saint by the Jews, informing him that the lost money had been found and would be returned to him on three conditions: a) that the prince would pardon the thieves; b) that he would be satisfied with only ten thousand ducats, as one thousand had been lost, and c) that he would not press the Maggid to tell him how it had been recovered.
The prince agreed to these conditions and the money was returned to him. After this, the prince decided to pay a call on the Maggid. I was present, says Dembowski, at this visit, along with Lord Czelski. We went to Kozienice with a retinue of some number, as the prince never travelled without an escort. While we proceeded to the house of the Maggid, which was located among the town's filthy streets, a mass of Jews followed behind us, evincing their great satisfaction that the Marshal of the Austrian armies and so important a ruler had come to visit their holy man. Some let out shouts, others sang and danced. Amidst this tumult, we entered the Maggid's apartment, going straight from the corridor into his salon.
The saint lay in bed behind a partition, swathed in bedclothes. He was an old man of about ninety (!), dressed completely in white, with a snow white beard that reached to his waist. His face was small, thin and wrinkled. The prince approached his bed and began to speak in Polish. The Maggid nodded but did not reply. Thinking that he understood no Polish, the prince tried German. He was met with the same silence. The commander then began to speak Hebrew, for he knew that language too, but with the same results.
When he realized that it was impossible to get a word out of the saint, we returned to our inn for lunch. Hordes of Jews escorted us as before, demonstrating their admiration for the Maggid. 'Our Maggid is a great sage! they said often. I don't know whether they considered his stubborn silence to be wisdom, but in any event, the Maggid was a good and benevolent man. Wagons bringing offerings poured into Kozienice from every corner of the land. He accepted everything, but distributed it to the poor every Friday.
We later discovered that the money had been stolen by a postal clerk who, seeing the men asleep, took the ducats and hid them under a tree. He afterwards resigned his position, got married, and spent one thousand ducats to set up housekeeping. How the Maggid came into contact with him, and how he obtained the rest of the money has remained a mystery.
It appears that Czartoryski asked the Maggid about the details of the theft. Having promised the Christian official that he would maintain secrecy, the Maggid kept his word with a wonderful dignity. He did not submit to so exalted a personable as the Marshal of the Polish army and his band of retainers, and did not answer the Prince's questions in any of the three languages. The Maggid overcame the commander with silence. A similar story is found in a slightly different version in hasidic sources.
Such connections with prominent Jews, the Polish nobility, military commanders and high governmental officials enabled the Maggid to utilize their influence to abolish compulsory military service and the prohibition of the liquor trade to Jews, two decrees which threatened to undermine both the spiritual and economic lives of the Jews of Poland.
The Hasidic Version of the Theft
The prominent Reb Shlomo of Konskiwoli used always to trade in the forests of Prince Czartoryski. Once his wagon drivers brought barrels of golden ducats from Paris to Pulawy but two barrels were missing on their arrival. The prince told Reb Shlomo to go with him to Kozienice so that the two barrels might be returned to him.
When they came to the Maggid, he said, I am weak and bedridden, and did not steal them. The prince replied, I know, but your prayer will restore the stolen goods. Said the Maggid, If you promise not to ask where I got it, it will be restored to you.
By means of his prayer, a dispute broke out between the thieves and the corrupt wagon driver, and they went to the Maggid to have it settled. His teaching convinced them to sanctify the name of heaven and return what they had stolen, and they did so (Eser Orot, p. 76).?
Gog and Magog
After the third partition of Poland in 1795, when there seemed to be no hope of deliverance from the predatory claims of its neighbours, Polish hope was reawakened by the victories of Napoleon. Mighty nations bowed before his armies, great states collapsed and fell. Napoleon, who fought against the dividers of PolandPrussia, Austria and Russiapromised the Poles a revival of their independence in return for military aid.
Twelve years after the defeat of Poland, in 1807, Napoleon took one of its territories from Austria and set up the Principality of Warsaw, with Friedrich August, King of Saxony, at its head. Two years later, after the defeat of Austria, part of that territory was also annexed to Poland.
A liberal constitution was imposed upon the new Poland which had arisen under the aegis of Napoleon. Two legislative houses, the Sejm and the Senate, as well as Napoleon's legal code, were introduced. According to this code, all citizens of the country were equal under the law, without regard to race or religion, and had equal rights and duties. The Jews of Poland began to believe that their hopedfor time had come at last, and that with the rise of Napoleonic influence on the government of Poland, their suffering was at an end.
A Song in Honour of Napoleon
When Napoleon reached Warsaw, the Jewish community presented him with a Hebrew hymn from which we can devine their attitude toward him. In it, the Jews of Warsaw express their great admiration for the victories of the conqueror who crushed nations under his foot, and their certainty that Napoleon would deal justly with the tormented and oppressed Jews of Poland:
Your hand is spread out upon lands full of injustice; the nations are bowed to the dust, they will live in your shadow; your might will prevail, nations will dwell in your hands. Behold a bright light in the heavens. And the Lord said, Let there be light upon a land of darkness!
We, the hunted lamb of Warsaw, have heard of your great loving kindness, Napoleon; the ends of the earth have told us. Therefore have we dared to come forth to greet you, for your goodness is greater than life itself in restoring the soul of the oppressed. Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, Jacob shall take root.?
Orthodox Circles Afraid of Equal Rights
Only the small enlightened (maskilim) and assimilationist groups hoped to profit by the attainment of equal rights under Napoleonic law. Orthodox and hasidic circles were very much afraid of equal rights. They understood that the few economic rights, the granting of which was very doubtful, would impose numerous duties touching on the realm of religion on the Jews of Poland. The hasidim were afraid of the spirit of free thought and enlightenment which the armies of Napoleon brought to the lands they had conquered, and especially of the compulsory military service which was considered a hard blow to the Jews of Poland. Military training with goyim who despised them, eating treyf and violating shabbes in the barracks, and the removal of youth from yeshivas to battlefields were all considered by the hasidim as the hardest of the decrees of the exile.
Rebbe Schneour Zalman of Ladi gave expression to this fear in a letter to Rabbi Moshe Maisels of Vilna: Before musaf on the first day of Rosh HaShana it was shown that if Bonaparte were to win, the wealth of the Jews would be increased and their welfare exalted, but their hearts would be separated and estranged from their father in heaven. If, however, our lord Alexander (Czar of Russia) should win, poverty would increase, welfare fall for the Jews, but their hearts would be bound and tied and joined to their father in heaven. And this is a sign: we will no longer be the apple of their eye, and they will begin to take soldiers from among the children of Israel.
In the opinion of the Rav from Ladi, Napoleon attributed everything to his own strength and might, to the power of his intellect in this manner of procedure and to organization in military matters, and to the power of his success, in that in his majesty and haughtiness he mocks faith in the Lord and dismisses providence and faith and trust in God. He was afraid that, were the French to prevail, atheism would increase in Israel, and none would remain within the faith.
The Postponement of Equal Rights
Polish hasidim shared this attitude to equal rights. Under the influence of the Seer of Lublin and the Maggid of Kozienice, the question of equal rights was deferred for ten years by virtue of Napoleon's shameful Writ of Religion of 1808, which was enacted throughout the French empire.
Residents of the Principality of Warsaw, said the writ, of the Mosaic persuasion, are banished for ten years from the political rights they were about to receive, in the hope that within this time they will uproot from among themselves those particular signs which so distinguish them from the rest of the population.?
The government, and even such welldisposed nobles as Adam Czartoryski, considered national and cultural assimilation, the change of dress, language and customs to those of the Polish Christians, to be the sine qua non for the reception of equal rights. Naturally, the orthodox were unable to pay so high a price for the sake of a dubious equality. The effort for release from equal rights and military service continued until 1812, when the Polish dews were freed from military service. The Maggid played a leading role in this endeavor, both in the collection of funds and the persuasion of the nobility.
The Maggid Opposes Napoleon
Before the defeat of Napoleon in the FrancoRussian war, opinions were divided with respect to the war of the nations. Legend tells of the struggles between the mighty supporters and opponents of Napoleon. The tzaddikim of Poland took part in the historic battles of Moscow at Waterloo (1813), not with armed power but with prayers and unifications. The Maggid and the Seer of Lublin stood opposed to Napoleon, and tipped the balance against him.
Rebbe Menakhem Mendel of Rimanov Sides with Napoleon
The only Jewish religious figure of any importance to take the side of Napoleon was Rebbe Menakhem Mendel of Rimanov. He saw this war as the struggle of Gog and Magog, the birth pangs of the Messiah. The tzaddik, who had spent his life dissolved in tears over the hardships of the exile and the difficulties of subjugation to the nations, thought that the time of Israel's redemption had come. He used to say, It is good that the blood of Israel be spilt, if only the end of our exile might come.
Nevertheless, his disciple, Rebbe Naphtali Tzvi of Ropschitz, opposed him with all his might and mocked his advice. Rebbe Mendel had said to his students, Pray that the Lord might lengthen my days until after the year 1814, and have no doubt that you will have the grace to hear the shofar of the Messiah!
While the decisive battles between Napoleon and the Russians were raging near Moscow, Rebbe Mendel redoubled his prayers on behalf of Napoleon. He shook the worlds; almost the whole household of heaven took his side. As each matzo was taken from the oven, he said, Another five hundred Russians have fallen!
Napoleon was on the threshold of victory over the Russians when the Ropschitzer suddenly burst in, crying, Rebbe, Napoleon is unclean, and the unclean is postponed until the second pesakh! After speaking these words, he ran out of the rebbe's and travelled hurriedly to the Seer and the Maggid, so that their prayers would hasten the downfall of the unclean Napoleon. The Seer took his side, and from Lublin he went to Kozienice to enlist the Maggid in order to insure Napoleon's defeat.?
The Maggid Between the Hammer and Anvil
His work was difficult indeed. Who saw the suffering and torment and depression of the exile like the Maggid? Who hoped, who waited with impatience for the redemption as he did? On the other hand, he knew that the advent of the Messiah was connected through its birth pangs with suffering and bloodshed for Israel. He thus found himself between hammer and anvil, so to speak.
Legend has it that he once announced to his household, It is in my power to bring on the Messiah, if I wanted to.
Nu, go ahead, replied his daughter Margalit (Perele).
Yes, my daughter, the blood of Israel will be spilled like water. They will search for a single Jewwith candles, yet!but will find none, not even a pearl like yourself.
If so, then too bad for one Jew, too, she answered.
The Maggid was distressed. On the one hand, he saw the Jews suffering in the Napoleonic wars as the signs of redemption, the birth pangs of the Messiah. In his marginalia to the Maharal's G'vurat HaShem, he writes: you must understand that after the troubles that came upon us after the composition of this work, we are finished with the wars of Gog and Magog. These can be further explained only in person.
It is to be supposed that the echo of Napoleon's proclamation of the gates of Jerusalem promising the establishment of a Jewish state if the Jews were to aid him, had also reached Poland and fired the hearts of the Jews to believe that their redemption depended upon him. It appears that the Maggid bore Napoleon no love, and did not suppose that he would build Israel up. His opinion was similar to that of the Rav from Ladi.
According to hasidic tradition, twenty years before the rise of Napoleon the Maggid prophesied that a hero and conqueror of nations who will rule the world is about to arise, but in the end he will be defeated.
The Battle Between the Maggid and the Rav from Ladi
A Chabad legend tells of the battle which broke out between the Rav from Ladi, who opposed Napoleon, and the Maggid, who supported him. Napoleon's fate hung in the balance. Neither side would budge from its opinion, so they finally agreed that on Rosh HaShana each would attempt to bring the matter to a decision. Each would perform his duties in his own place and in his own way, and the one who blew the shofar first would win the palm for his side.
On the first day of Rosh HaShana, the Maggid awoke early, hurried through his preparations before prayer, went to the mikve and immediately afterwards began to pray, in order to reach the shofar blowing before the
Rav from Ladi would have started praying. The Maggid was to blow the shofar, and when he brought it up to his lips, his heart melted, and he realized that the Rav from Ladi had already finished his blowing.
The Litvak got there before me. He hurried and snatched the blowing from my hand, and beat me. The Rav from Ladi had decided to blow the shofar before he prayed, and by means of this device he brought Napoleon's defeat nearer.
The Maggid Prophesies: Napoleon Will Fall
Hasidim in Poland and Galicia describe the events with a legend somewhat closer to the truth. After Rebbe NaphtaliTzvi of Ropschitz had convinced the Seer of Lublin to oppose Napoleon, he went to Kozienice. He arrived on Friday afternoon while the Maggid was at the mikve. The Ropschitzer lay down to rest in the Maggid's bed, and when the Maggid returned and found him there, the Ropschitzer refused to get up until the Maggid had prayed for Napoleon's defeat. The Maggid agreed to do so.
That night, when he reached the prayer, Mizmor Shir LeYom HaShabbes (Psalm 92), the Maggid cried out, They say that the French have passed from Moscow to Berzina, and I say, They are doomed to destruction forever, all evildoers shall be scattered, and Thou, O Lord, art on high forever!
The next morning he read Exodus 18:17, navol tivol, you will surely wither away, as Napoleon tipol, Napoleon, you will fall.
After this historic Sabbath, Napoleon's downfall began. The Russians were victorious, the Prussians and Swedes rebelled, and Napoleon's sun began to set.
The Maggid Foresees the Subjugation of Poland
Hasidim say that the Maggid foresaw the subjugation of Poland from the first. The Prince of Poland has no head, he used to say, Poland has no lamp.
When Marshal Josef Poniatowski, commander of the Polish Army, passed through Kozienice, all the citizens of the town came out to meet him, with the Maggid at their head. When he asked if he would succeed in the struggle to revive Poland with the help of Napoleon, the Maggid answered in the negative. When they parted the Maggid sighed and said, Woe to this righteous one from among the righteous of the nations! He freed the Jews from military service, but will neither return to his home nor die in his bed!
The Maggid Weakens
These events weakened the health of the Maggid, not robust at the best of times, to the point where he could not get out of bed. In his last years he referred to himself as a bag of bones. He stopped eating entirely, and made his condition known to the Seer of Lublin, who commanded him to endeavour to halt the progress of his illness.
The Holy Jew once sent two of his choicest musicians to revive his spirit. The Maggid was very happy, and thanked the dew for bringing him into the world of melody. Their playing on Sabbath night restored his spirit.
The Maggid complains of his health in a letter to Rabbi Yisrael of Pikov, the son of the Berdichever Rebbe: At present I am very weak, and, with all due thanks to the Lord who has helped me thus far, am unable to persevere in Torah and worship as I have always done. I have therefore requested that, in order to raise my memory for the better, you pray on my behalf, and also command the downhearted to go to the graves of the tzaddikim to pray for me. Is it not the glory of your blessed father to arouse the sleepers to ask mercy for me, so that the Blessed Lord will send me a complete recovery, and 1 return to my health and vigour with great strength and abundant might in order to be joined with the Lord's inheritance, which is my portion for all my labour.
The Maggid continued to weaken, and in a short time his life's objective to be joined with the Lord's inheritance, was fulfilled. All his life he preached the basic tenets of Hasidism: clinging to the Lord, love of Torah and Israel. All who walk in this way are assured that they will die out of love of the Lord.
At the beginning of the year 5575 (late 181(f), the same year in which the Seer of Lublin and the Maggid had wished to bring on the Redemption, the angels triumphed over the mortals, and on the fourteenth of Tishre, Erev Sukkos, the Maggid passed on to a better world.
A structure was erected over his grave, and the stone bears the following inscription:
The Crown of Israel's Glory
is the man upon whom this monument has been raised. He was active in his life in performing the work of the Lord and his rulings for Israel. The Torah was on his lips, and he pulled many out of sin. He served the Lord with his strength, and enlightened the land with his glory. He was our master and teacher, the pious scholar, famous man of God, the wonder of his generation, a man of great achievements, a lover of God and of Israel, as his father Shabtai had been.
This is his memorial from generation to generation: the tzaddik and maggid mesharim of Kozienice passed away on the eve of sukkos in the year Ga'al Yisrael [5575 in gematria].
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