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Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum of Satmer: Happiness and Sadness Simultaneously in the Heart

Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum of Satmer Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, the father of the Siget-Satmer dynasty and one of the main disseminators of Chassidut in Hungary, was called the Yismach Moshe, the name of one of the books that he authored. Rabbi Teitelbuam was born in 5519/1759 in Galicia to Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch and Chanah. He studied Torah with his uncle, Rabbi Yosef of Kolvesov and Rabbi Aryeh Yehudah Halevi, the Rabbi of Strizov. At the age of 25, Rabbi Teitelbaum was appointed as the Rabbi of Shinwa in Galicia and later, as the Rabbi of Oheli in Hungary. Upon the influence of his father-in-law, author of the ‘Aryeh Debai Ilaai,’ Rabbi Teitelbaum became a chassid of the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin. He would also travel to study with the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Mendeleh of Rimanov and the Ohev Yisrael of Apta. Rabbi Teitelbaum wrote many books, including Yismach Moshe on the Bible, Responsa Heshiv Moshe, Yayin Harokeach on Pirkei Avot and more. His disciples included: His son, Rabbi Elazar Nissan, Rabbi Yoel Ashkenazi, author of “Melo Haro’im”, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Peannet of Desh and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of Liska. Rabbi Teitelbaum passed away on 28 Tamuz, 5601 (1841) and he is buried next to his wife in Oheli.


The following story was told by Rabbi Teitelbaum’s grandson, the “Yitav Lev:”

When the Yismach Moshe was learning the ways of Chassidut, the chassidic custom to always be happy perplexed him. After all, it is explicitly written in the Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum of Satmer 219 Code of Jewish Law, “It is befitting for every person who fears Heaven to be sorrowful and worried in his heart over the destruction of the Holy Temple!”

Before one of his trips to his mentor, the Chozeh of Lublin, the Yismach Moshe prayed to God: “You know my thoughts and the depths of my heart… Help me so that when I come to the holy tzaddik, he will answer my question.” Immediately when he entered the Chozeh’s room, the Chozeh said to him, “Why are you looking so weak today? True, it is written in the Code of Jewish Law that ‘It is befitting for every person who fears Heaven…’ But the wise man (in the Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Behayai Ibn Pekuda 1050-1120) has already said, ‘Jubilation on my face and mourning in my heart’…”


The division between an external façade of joy and internal seriousness and concern is actually taken from the inner world of God, Himself, as in the words of Jeremiah, “And if you do not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret (mistarim) because of pride, and my eyes shall weep and shed a tear, for the flock of God has been captured. In the Talmud (Chagigah 5:2), the Sages explain this verse as follows:

“The Holy Blessed One has a place called mistarim (‘secret,’ as in the verse above) [and it is there that He cries]. What is ‘because of pride?’ Rabbi Shmuel Bar Yitzchak said, because of the pride of Israel that was taken from them and given to the non-Jews. Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman said, because of the pride of the kingdom of Heaven. And is there crying before the Holy, Blessed One? Rabbi Papa said, there is no sadness before the Holy Blessed One, as it says, “Majestic aura and splendor before Him, vigor and exquisite joy in His place!” This is not a difficulty, one place refers to His inner chambers and the other place refers to His outer chambers.”

In God’s inner chambers, in the secret place called ‘mistarim,’ He figuratively enters His inner self and cries over the destruction of the Temple and the lowly state of His beloved children. But outwardly, in the place where He is revealed to His creations, he shows a smiling face of “vigor and exquisite joy.”

This fits the description of the chassid, who has “jubilation on his face and mourning in his heart.” On the outside, he fulfills the directive, “Serve God with joy,” (Psalms 100:2) and as a true ‘happy chassid’ he does not sink into lethargy or laziness for even a moment. Inside, however, his heart is broken. In the inner sanctum of his soul, he cries bitterly over all his shortcomings and over the sorrow of the Shechinah. In the place that he feels the depth of the exile, he is engulfed with mourning. (The Hebrew word for ‘exile’ is ‘galut,’ which has the same numerical value as ‘avelut,’ which means ‘mourning.’)

A chassid like this is a fitting ‘vessel’ for the revelation of the secrets of the Torah: “We only convey the secrets of the Torah to someone whose heart worries inside him.” His “heart worries inside him” and his “jubilation is on his face.”

Nevertheless, we may still think that there is some sort of ‘division of authority:’ Joy is only external while in truth, in the deepest depths of the soul, the heart is irreparably broken, without a drop of joy. Is this the true face of the situation? Is all the joy nothing more than an act? Is the service of God with joy not true and heartfelt?

Let us continue the story:

The Chozeh of Lublin continued: “Believe me, I say the Midnight Lamentations with tears and mourning. But nonetheless, it is all with joy. And this is what our holy Rabbi, Rebbe Shmelkeh of Nicholsberg, taught us. There is a parable of a king who was taken captive and exiled to a distant land. The king rested from his long journey at the home of one of his loving subjects. When the subject saw the king in captivity, he cried uncontrollably. Nevertheless, he was happy that the king was staying with him. And the moral of the story is clear, for the Shechinah is with us…”

These words of the Seer completely reassured his disciple, who, from then on, cleaved to his holy rabbi. (Perhaps this is the reason why he was called “Yismach Moshe,” which means, “Moshe will be happy,” after he merited to understand the secret of joy.)

The Chozeh of Lublin testified about himself—“Believe me,”— and we certainly do believe him—that he said the Midnight Lamentations with tears and mourning. When saying the Midnight Lamentations one is directed to “sit on the ground… remove his shoes and put ashes on his head, in the place designated for the tefillin. Then one recites chapters of Psalms that are lamentations: “On the shores of Babylon, there we sat and also cried…God, non-Jews have entered Your Land…” remember what has happened to us…”

What happens then, when the Rebbe is sitting on the ground and crying over the destruction, over the exile of the Shechinah? On the surface, all the outward joy has completely disappeared and all that is left is the sorrow, alone, “In mistarim my soul cries.” The joyful mask was removed and he cries profusely. But that is not the case! The Chozeh added in the same breath, “Nevertheless, it is all with joy. Even in the midst of the Midnight Lamentations, I am happy!”

In order to explain this, the Chozeh uses the wondrous parable of his rabbi, Rebbe Shmelkeh (who was one of the greatest disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch), about the king going into exile. Here it is already clear that the two apparently conflicting emotions, happiness and worry, are in the heart simultaneously. The loving subject of the king “cries uncontrollably” because he sees the king in his present situation, but on the other hand, at the very same moment, he is filled with silent joy that he has the merit to host the king in his own private home.

This secret is written in the holy Zohar: “On one side of the heart there is sorrow and worry and on the other side, vigor and exquisite joy, happiness and jubilation. Both exist in the heart simultaneously.

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