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Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov: A New World to Come

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Torem of Riminov was born in 5605 (1745) to Rabbi Yosef Harif of Neustadt, Germany, and to his mother, Liba, the daughter of Rabbi Natan Shapira, who was the grandson of the Megaleh Amukot of Cracow. When he was young, he studied in Berlin under the tutelage of Rabbi Daniel Jaffe and later, under Rabbi Shmuel Shmelkeh of Nicholsburg, who influenced him to adopt the teachings of Chasidut. After the passing of his Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel became a chasid of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk and is considered one of the key figures in the development of Chasidut in Poland, together with the Seer of Lublin, the Maggid of Kuzhnitz and the Ohev Yisrael of Apta. After his marriage, he moved to Fristik (Freistadt), where he lived in great poverty.

After the passing of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, he became a chasidic Rebbe in Fristik. Many of Rebbe Elimelech’s chasidim came to him and accepted him as their rebbe. Later, he moved to Riminov (Rymanów). As a chasidic Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem Mendel put great emphasis on modest dress, kashrut, and preventing cheating in business. His disciples described the fear that they would feel in his presence. Rebbe Menachem Mendel was famous as a holy miracle worker and even non-Jews came to him for healing and salvation. For decades, he taught Torah thoughts on the portion of the Torah that describes the manna, which is considered a spiritual amplifier for a good livelihood. And indeed, with these Torah thoughts, he drew sustenance down.

On Lag Ba’omer 5675 (1815) Rebbe Menachem Mendel purified himself and said that he is leaving the world and would return the favor to whoever would light a candle for his soul. He even left instructions to bury him at the top of a hill overlooking his town and to open a window in the structure that would house his grave, so that he could watch over the town. The next day, on the 19th of Iyar, Rebbe Menachem Mendel passed away and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Riminov. He was succeeded by his disciple, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of Riminov.

Before he became famous as a tzaddik, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Riminov married the daughter of a wealthy man in Fristik. He was supported by his father-in-law and served God with holiness and purity, studying Torah, and serving God day and night. He would fast and afflict his body by rolling down the mountain in the snow.

When his father-in-law saw that he was conducting himself like a chasid and was not supporting his family, he directed his daughter to ask him for a divorce. His daughter, however, would not hear of it. The father-in-law then drove them out of his home and disinherited them from his possessions. The family moved out and lived in dire poverty.

 Rebbe Menachem Mendel’s pious wife suffered everything in silence. She attempted to sustain the family with work as a seamstress but did not make much money. Once, three days passed and she did not earn anything. They did not even have money for a loaf of bread. “If we sit here alone,” his wife said to herself, “we will die of hunger. I will go to the baker, perhaps he will be willing to give me a loaf of bread on credit, and I will bring it to my pious husband, who has been in the study hall for three days without eating a thing.”

The baker initially refused to give Rebbe Menachem Mendel’s wife the bread, and she left the bakery in tears. But then the baker called her back and said, “If you give me your portion in the World to Come, I will give you the bread.” The woman made her decision: “I will not let my husband die of hunger, no matter what.” She turned to the baker and said, “Give me bread and cheese and I will give you my portion in the World to Come.”

The baker gave her the bread and cheese and she went to the study hall, spread a tablecloth, and set the bread and cheese before her husband. In the meantime, she remained standing there, which was unusual, because she would usually just set the food before him and leave. Rebbe Menachem Mendel washed his hands, made the blessing, and ate. “Why are you still standing here?” he asked his wife.

“Oh, my dear husband!” she replied. “You know how hard I worked to merit the World to Come. And now I have lost my portion there…,” she related the entire chain of events. Her husband comforted her and said, “Have no sorrow. Just before you came, I was so starved that if you had not brought me food, I would have died. So, with this bread, you saved my life and now have a new portion in the World to Come. You don’t need your old portion.”

Rebbe Menachem Mendel’s relationship with his wife was very special, and many stories are told about it. Interestingly, this pious couple is one of the very few couples that are buried next to each other, which might reflect Rebbe Menachem Mendel’s continued attention to his wife’s concerns about her portion in the World to Come. Instead of explaining this story, which speaks for itself, we will bring a teaching attributed to Rebbe Menachem Mendel that discusses the portion of the World to Come given to those who assist tzaddikim:

“Serving of the Torah is greater than its study”[1] (גְּדוֹלָה שִׁמּוּשָׁהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה יוֹתֵר מִלִּמּוּדָהּ). I heard from Rebbe Menachem Mendel of righteous memory that the reason for this is because when a person performs a physical mitzvah in this world, he merits to also create his spiritual World to Come (and this is his eternal reward, constant pleasure, “the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah,”[2] as it seems to me).

Indeed, Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi said: “Those who served me in my lifetime will serve me in my death.” What is serving him in his death? Just as when he was alive his assistant provided him with the things that he needed to live, such as food and drink, so it is in the Garden of Eden. Likewise, the spiritual life of the souls, their sustenance, comes to them from the effluence of the Shechinah. Indeed, the assistant receives these rays first, so that he can bring them to the Torah scholar. (And I will add some more: spirituality does not move from place to place. Instead, it increases. Hence, the effluence of the Shechinah also remains with the assistant). Thus, it is the assistant who receives the effluence first before the Torah scholar. If so, its service [bringing the effluence to the scholar] is greater than its study.”

Even if in this world the wife assists her husband as a “helpmate opposite him,” in the afterlife, her lofty level continues to bring abundance to her husband and she is revealed to be more elevated than him. This lofty level is alluded to at the end of the seventh blessing with which we bless the bride and groom: “He who brings joy to the groom with the bride.” The groom participates, as accompaniment, in the joy of the bride. The joy comes to him through her. This is the secret of “A woman of valor is her husband’s crown”[3] that will manifest in the future, on “the day that is nothing but Shabbat,”[4] which represents the ascent of the sefirah of kingdom (malchut), symbolizing the feminine, above the masculine.

Rebbe Menachem Mendel’s words about the lofty level of those who assist the tzaddik are also expressed in his decision that proves to be quite unique in the Chasidic world: He did not appoint any of his sons as his successor, but rather, his primary disciple who was also his personal assistant, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaKohen, who was, even as a rebbe, known by the title Tzvi Hirsch Mesharet, meaning, Tzvi Hirsch—the Assistant.

[1]. Berachot 7b.

[2]. Avot 4:2.

[3]. Proverbs 12:4.

[4]. Sanhedrin 97a.

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