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Rebbe Meir of Premishlan: The Miracle Worker

Rabbi Meir of Premishlan was born in 5540 (1780) to Rabbi Aharon Aryeh Leib, one of the sons of the great Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, a disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Rabbi Me’irel, as he was known, was one of the primary disciples of Rabbi Mordechai of Kreminitz. After the passing of his father in 5573 (1813) Rabbi Me’irel took the mantle of the leadership of the chassidic community upon himself. From a young age, he focused on charity and caring for the poor. He was known as a simple and humble tzaddik, who relayed his Torah teachings on a level that could be understood by the average person and even spoke in the local language. He was also famous for his great love of his fellow Jews and would find good points in sinners as well. Rabbi Meir’el was known for his Divine inspiration (ru’ach hakodesh), as well, and for the countless miracles that he drew down into reality. He passed away on the 29th of Iyar 5610 (1850). His Torah teachings and stories about him were written in the books “Or Hame’ir,” “Divrei Me’ir” and “Marganita DeRabbi Meir.”

Once a Jew whose business was processing and selling hides went to the holy Rebbe Meir of Premishlan for a blessing. The prices of the hides had fallen greatly, causing him significant losses, and he came to pour out his troubles before the holy rebbe. He requested a blessing that his fortunes be restored as before. Rebbe Meir of Premishlan told him not to worry at all and that the hides would soon appreciate in value. He cited the verse from the Scroll of Esther, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor”[1] (לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשֹׂן וִיקָר). The word “light” (אוֹרָה) when read as if it starts with an ayin, means “hides” (עוֹרָה). So, the beginning of the verse then means “the Jews had hides.” The next words two words, “and gladness and joy” mean they need to live joyfully! But how could one be joyful if the price of hides had depreciated? The final word, “honor” can also mean “expensive,” meaning that hides will indeed appreciate in their value very soon… And so it happened, that the hides appreciated in value, and he made a great profit.

Indeed, one might ask how it is appropriate to interpret the verse in this way. After all, the word for “light” is written with an alef (אוֹרָה) and “hides” is written with an ayin (עוֹרוֹת)! However, it can be said, according to the Midrash,[2] that in the Torah scroll written by the sage Rabbi Meir—one of the leading sages of the Mishnah period—they found that the words “garments of skin”[3] (כׇּתְנֹות עֹור) were written with an alef, transforming them into “garments of light” (כׇּתְנֹות אֹור). We see that Rabbi Meir had the power and authority to transform the letter ayin into an alef, and likewise, he had the power to turn an alef into an ayin. It seems that the holy Rebbe Meir of Premishlan was a spark from the soul of the holy sage Rabbi Meir, and therefore he had the power to interpret “The Jews had light” as “The Jews had hides.”

Rabbi Meir of Premishlan greatly loved teachings and miracles based on linguistic cleverness. He did not hesitate to include spoken languages such as Yiddish and Polish in them, and he also performed miracles while drinking his tea—explaining that tea (תֵּה), pronounced taiy in Hebrew is like the word “May it be” (תְּהֵא) pronounced tehaiy. Thus, while drinking tea is a good time for “May it be that this hour be a time of mercy.” The storyteller marvelously connects this with the character of the Tana Rabbi Meir, whose own Torah scroll contained such linguistic ingenuity!

Indeed, even his name, Meir, is a form of linguistic innovation.[4] This name does not appear as a first name at all in the Bible, and therefore it is an important part of the innovative persona of the Mishnaic sage, Rabbi Meir. His Torah is not something understood intuitively: about Rabbi Meir it is said that “he would enlighten the eyes of his fellow sages in the law,” yet still, “his colleagues could not fathom the depth of his arguments.” Actually, the initials of his name (מֵאִיר) stand for “the spirit of our life, the Mashiach of God” (רוּחַ אַפֵּינוּ מְשִׁיחַ י-הוה), which hints at his innovative teachings.

A title, “the master of the miracle”[5] (בַּעַל הַנֵּס) was also added to his name. This title is also very fitting for Rebbe Meir of Premishlan who was known for the many miracles he performed, which even sparked controversy among some of the tzaddikim of his generation.

The soul connection is not limited to these two tzaddikim: Rabbi Meir of Premishlan is the grandson of Rabbi Meir the Great, who was also referred to exactly as his famous grandson. Afterward, the name Meir continued through his lineage to Rebbe Meir of Kretchnef, the son of Rebbe Mordechai of Nadvorna, and up to Rebbe Meir Isaac Isaacson, the author of Mevaser Tov. All this suggests that the name Meir has a special connection to the reincarnation of souls—as exemplified by the well-known story, which the Chabad Rebbes very much cherished:

The mikveh in Rabbi Meirel’s town was at the bottom of a tall mountain. When the ground was muddy and slippery, the townspeople would walk around the mountain so that they would not fall when they descended the mountain. Rebbe Meirel however, would walk straight down the mountain. Once, several young men who were not great admirers of tzaddikim were guests in the town. When they saw Rebbe Meir’el walking straight down the mountain, they attempted to do the same. They slipped, fell, and were injured. “How do you walk straight down the mountain while no one else can descend without falling?” they asked Rebbe Meir’el. Rebbe Meir’el responded, “When you are connected up above, you don’t fall down below.”

Rabbi Meir always remained bound above, to his previous incarnations, and did not fall below, a hint to his future incarnations [which do not fall from the level of holiness of his prior lifetimes]. Possibly,  this is also related to the soul of the Ramban (Nachmanides), who, among the medieval sages, was a major proponent of the belief in reincarnation. However, Rabbi Meir of Premishlan was not only aware of his own reincarnations but also of all the souls connected to him and their transmigration—for better or for worse—as the following story demonstrates:

Rabbi Meir of Premishlan came to stay at the home of one of his followers. During their conversation, he asked to see his horses. Rabbi Meir chose one of the horses and said to the chasid, "This horse finds favor in my eyes, give it to me."

"Let our Rabbi choose another horse and I will give it to him. But this horse I cannot give away, for it is the best of all and on it my livelihood depends," the chasid replied.

Rabbi Meir was silent. After some time, he asked to see the chasid’s promissory notes. He picked one note and said to him, "Give it to me as a gift." "The holder of the note has already passed away and there is no one to collect from, and this note will be of no use to our Rebbe," replied the chasid.

"Even so, give it to me," Rebbe Meir insisted. The chasid gave him the note. Rebbe Meir took the note in his hand and tore it into pieces. Immediately, they heard the cry of the servant: the good horse had fallen and died. The chasid realized that there was more to the matter and asked Rebbe Meir for the meaning of what had happened. Rebbe Meir told him, “The person who signed the note was taking refuge in my shadow, and since he died and did not pay you the debt, it was decreed that he reincarnate as a horse to work for you. I wanted to redeem him from your hand. However, since you refused to give me the horse, I asked you for the note. And the moment the note was torn, you forgave the debt, and he was no longer obligated to work for you. Hence, he died and his souled attained its rectification."

[1]. Esther 8:16.

[2]. Bereishit Rabbah 20:12.

[3]. Genesis 3:21.

[4]. The Talmud (Eiruvin 13b) notes that the name his parents gave him was not Meir, but perhaps Nehorai, or Nechemiah, or some other name.

[5]. Lamentations

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