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Rebbe Moshe of Lelov: The Image of the Tzaddik

Rebbe Moshe of Lelov was the son of Rebbe Dovid of Lelov and the second Rebbe in the Lelov dynasty. He married the daughter of the “Heilige Yid” of P’shischah. All his life, Rebbe Moshe yearned to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. He was one of the founders of Kollel Varsha whose mission was to support the inhabitants of the Holy Land. In the year 5610 (1849), Rebbe Moshe began his journey to the Land of Israel, reaching its shores in the month of Tishrei 5611 (1850). He lived 74 days in the Land of Israel, equivalent to his number of years at the time. Before he died, he gave instructions to bury him adjacent to the grave of the prophet Zechariah ben Berechiah. On the 13th of Tevet, when he saw that his illness was worsening, he asked to be carried in his bed to the Western Wall. However, as his entourage approached the Wall, Arabs pelted them with rocks, forcing them to retreat. Rebbe Moshe passed away later that day.

Before Rabbi Moshe of Lelov made aliyah to the Land of Israel, he journeyed to many tzaddikim in Poland to receive their farewell blessings. One of his most important stops was to visit the illustrious Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin, who Rabbi Moshe considered his Rebbe—even though Rabbi Moshe himself was a Rebbe. Before Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin bade Rabbi Moshe farewell, he remarked to his disciples that the chassidim of Poland are foolish for allowing their beloved Rabbi Moshe to leave them. He quoted the mishnah in the tractate of Shabbat, “It is prohibited to check for lice by the light of the candle [on Shabbat]” (Shabbat 12a). But in Hebrew the word for “checking lice” is “polin,” which is also the Hebrew and Yiddish names for “Poland.” Thus, the words can mean, “Poland is not by the light of the candle.” Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin used this play on words to conclude that apparently, Poland was not worthy of the light of its candle, Rabbi Moshe of Lelov.

Rabbi Moshe’s chassidim escorted him to the train station as he departed for the Holy Land. Before he boarded the train, he said to them: “Take a long, deep look at my face. Remember my face always (photographs were uncommon then). This will be a segulah that will last your entire life so that you will benefit in both the material and spiritual realms.”

Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin’s words correlate to the saying that when a tzaddik leaves a city, “its splendor turns away, its light turns away, its grandeur turns away” (Rashi to Genesis 28:10). The beauty and light in the face of the tzaddik emanate upon the place where he lives and interacts. But when he leaves, the light leaves as well and all those left behind are in danger of sinking into the darkness of the world. The antidote for this is to engrave the image of the tzaddik on the soul, just as the image of the face of Jacob appeared to his son, Joseph, in his moment of trial and prevented him from sinning. When a person is connected to a tzaddik, his fear of Heaven and love of Israel are strengthened whenever he recalls the tzaddik’s image.

Chassidut explains that for Moses, fear of Heaven is a minor thing. When we are connected to a tzaddik, fear of Heaven becomes simple. The Be’er Moshe of Kozhnitz said “If a person wants to see the form of Moses, he should look at him [at Rabbi Moshe of Lelov].” This manner of connecting to tzaddikim was also expressed by Rabbi Moshe’s great-grandson, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai of Lelov. Rabbi Moshe Mordechai encouraged his chassidim to always carry a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe with them as a segulah for fear of Heaven.

Rabbi Moshe’s request to be buried next to the prophet Zechariah expressed his deep connection to him. His day of passing, the 13th of Tevet, is just three days after Zechariah’s date of passing on the 10th of Tevet. The book of Zechariah is the 11th of the 12 short books of the prophets. The book of Zechariah with its special style and the prophet’s unique dreams is reminiscent of Joseph, the master of dreams, who was also the 11th of the 12 tribes of Israel. Rabbi Moshe’s disciple, the Tiferet Shlomo of Radomsk said that his Rebbe’s longings to make aliyah to the Land of Israel were because he was, like Joseph, the “husband of the princess” referring to the Land of Israel which corresponds to the attribute of kingdom, the Shechinah. As such, the Land of Israel symbolizes the entire people of Israel. The tzaddik is the attribute of foundation, drawing down an effluence of God’s blessings and giving it to the attribute of kingdom. Rabbi Moshe of Lelov’s yearning for the Land of Israel was thus like the yearning of a husband for his beloved wife. Interestingly, Rabbi Moshe passed away during the week in which we read the Torah portion of Vayechi, the portion in which we read about the death of Joseph, the consummate tzaddik of his generation whose final request was that his bones be taken to his beloved land, the Land of Israel.




Image: Zechariah's Tomb, next to which Rebbe Moshe is buried: By Deror avi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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