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Rabbi Naftali of Ropschitz: Family Lineage is Just the Beginning

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz of Ropshitz (Ropczyce) was born on the holiday of Shavuot in 5620 (1760)—the very day that the Ba’al Shem Tov passed away. Rabbi Naftali’s father was Rabbi Menachem Mendel and his mother was Baila, the daughter of Rebbe Itzikel of Hamburg, under whose tutelage Rabbi Naftali learned Torah when he was young. Rabbi Naftali then studied under Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. After Rebbe Elimelech’s passing, he learned Torah from his student, the Chozeh Seer of Lublin and also studied under the Maggid of Kozhnitz and Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov. He was a rabbi in Ropschitz and additional cities, and after the passing of his rabbis, Rabbi Naftali became a chassidic Rebbe.

Rebbe Naftali was known (to be smart, and endowed with a sharp wit. On his tombstone, it is written that he was “unique in his generation in Divine wisdom.” He would dress his wisdom in humor and clever sayings. Among his disciples were Rebbe Chaim of Tzanz, Rebbe Shalom of Kaminkah, Rebbe Hanoch Henich of Alesk, Rebbe Yosef Baba”d, author of the ‘Minchat Chinuch’ and more. He authored the books, ‘Zera Kodesh’ and ‘Ayala Shluchah.’ Rebbe Naftali passed away in Lantzut on 11 Iyar 5687 (1827) and was buried there.

When Rebbe Naftali of Ropschitz came to Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk and asked to study under his tutelage (at the start of his journey in Chassidut, before he studied under the Seer of Lublin), Rebbe Elimelech rejected him with various excuses. When Rebbe Naftali persisted, Rebbe Elimelech spelled out the problem: “I don’t want people with illustrious family lineage (yichus) here.”

Rebbe Naftali came from an illustrious lineage. His father was a tzaddik from a famous rabbinical family. After Rebbe Naftali heard Rebbe Elimelech’s answer, he exerted much effort and cried until he vomited blood – “he vomited his blue-blooded lineage” and then Rebbe Elimelech accepted him.

Why did Rebbe Elimelech make it so hard for someone whose only sin was belonging to a good family? This opposition to yichus, which was the approach of the first generations of Chasidut, can be better understood with the following story about the Maggid of Mezritch:

When he was a child, the Maggid’s family’s home burned down. An ancient book of family lineage, which was very dear to his mother, was also lost in the fire.  The Maggid’s mother was very saddened, and he tried to comfort her: “Don’t be sad, Mother,” he said. “Now the yichus begins from me!”

Rebbe Elimelech said “I don’t want people with yichus” while the Maggid related to yichus as a valuable asset. Nonetheless, there is a connection between the two stories:

For the yichus to begin with you, it is necessary to “burn the book of family lineage” or to “vomit the yichus.” It is only in this manner that a person will invest all his strength, without relying on previous generations. This approach to yichus will also safeguard the coming generations so that they will maintain the same attitude and invest all their efforts in the service of God, as if the yichus begins with them.

Hard work, however, is just one side of the equation. To understand yichus in depth, we will study it with the help of a primary triplet of concepts:

Three levels in marriage: Yachas, yachad, echad. (relation, togetherness, one).

Yichus is connected to the level of yachas  (relation) in which the couple stands opposite each other as separate beings who relate to each other. While this is not the ultimate purpose, it is an important basis for married life. In Kabbalah, yachas is the rectification of the world of chaos that was broken. (The days of the Counting of the Omer, during which we engage in the rectification of our character traits and their interinclusion, is the most apt time for this).

In the world of chaos, distrust, suspicion, and fear of infringement on our territory reign. Hence, there is no real yachas between the giver and the receiver. In the language of the Zohar, this is a situation in which “they did not look face to face.” The rectified yachas is full of mutual trust and making space for the other. The rectification of the broken situation is by interinclusion of the attributes (for example: lovingkindness in might, kingdom in foundation, etc.). In married life, this is expressed in the mutual yachas of giving and receiving.

Above rectified yachas, which is relatively contracted consciousness (or of “intellect that is associated with the attributes) is the level of yachad (“togetherness” – the expanded consciousness of Imma), such as in the verses, “Together the tribes of Israel”[1] and “Brothers dwelling together.”[2] Yachad  is built from contemplation on our mutual source and living in a consciousness of brotherhood and birth-connection. When this is the case, it is possible to overcome the small-minded calculations of reciprocity and of each person having his separate place.

Yachad, however, is not the ultimate purpose. Ultimately, the goal is to reach echad (oneness – the expanded consciousness of Abba [Father]). The recognition that yachad in and of itself is not the ultimate goal is reflected in Chabad in the melody of the Keter Kedusha prayer: As opposed to other chassidim, who raise the volume of their prayers to emphasize the word “yachad” in the prayer, in Chabad, the melody emphasizes the word “echad” in the continuation of the prayer: Hear o’ Israel, God is our God, God is Echad” (One). (In association with this, we note that the yachad in the Kedushat Keter prayer relates to the souls with the angels. The level of the angels is less than that of souls, which can reach the level of echad).

On the night of the Passover Seder, the rectification of yachas appears in the three matzahs that allude to the different yichus lines in the Nation of Israel: Kohen, Levi and Israel. Each of those is a separate family yichus. They do, however, relate to each other and influence each other. The yachad and the echad, conversely, are relevant to the messianic light of the seventh day of Passover: Mashiach Ben Yosef (who receives from the intellect of Imma) is the secret of yachad, while Mashiach Ben David (who receives from the intellect of Abba) is the secret of echad.

Another example of the superiority of yachad and echad over yachas is in the change that evolved in Chasidut regarding yichus. Initially, as above, the tzaddikim rejected any special preference for yichus. Slowly but surely, with the development of chasidic dynasties, the tzaddikim themselves were born into great yichus and valued and nurtured it. Time and again, however, the dynasties that married only into each other contracted and sadly, some of them even disappeared altogether. The rectified yachas can create one vessel, limited and very specific. It does not, however, have the ability to give birth to the multitude of vessels that are necessary to contain the chaotic lights of the Mashiach. The more that unity gains momentum – in the soul of man, between married couples and in the entire nation – so the source of multiplicity in simple oneness is manifest – with a multitude of children, both spiritual and physical.

[1] Deuteronomy 33:5.

[2] Psalms 133.

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