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Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov: Just a Glimpse

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov was born in 5543 (1783) in Galicia. His father, Rabbi Pesach Langsam was a descendant of Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropoli. His mother, Rachel Minah, was the niece of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and of his brother, Rebbe Zusha of Anapoli. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech married Rebbetzin Chana Mindel, the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel of Tzitash. He was a disciple of the Seer of Lublin and of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, and then of the Maggid of Kozhnitz (Kozienice, Poland) and the Ohev Yisrael of Apta. He was closely connected to the disciples of the Seer of Lublin, mainly Rebbe Naftali Tzvi of Ropschitz and Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch of Ziditchov. Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech served as a rabbi in Dinov, Robitch, Strizhov, Halitch, and Munkatch. He was very active in disseminating the Kabbalah and strongly opposed the maskilim. Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech passed away in Dinov on the 18th of Tevet, 5601 (1841), at the age of 58. He was survived by three sons and three daughters. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech’s son, Rebbe David, succeeded him as Rabbi of Dinov.

The chasid, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovber HaCohen of Shebershin related that he heard from Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov that when they were at Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov’s, at the third Shabbat feast, Rebbe Menachem Mendel said that he heard a Heavenly decree that whoever was alive in the generation of the Maggid of Kozhnitz and did not see his face would not merit to see the face of the Mashiach. When Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech heard these words emanating from his holy mouth, he waited for after the Havdalah ceremony and then went to his holy Rebbe Menachem Mendel to bid him farewell. He took his walking staff and his pack and immediately set out for Kozhnitz to see the face of the Maggid. For what if the Mashiach would come and he would not yet have seen the face of the Maggid—then he wouldn’t merit to see the Mashiach! He did not rest day or night and did not stop anywhere to sleep. He kept walking and walking so that he would see the face of the Maggid.

When he reached Kozhnitz, he went straight to the Maggid’s study hall, still with his walking stick in his hand and his pack on his shoulder, for he was afraid that if he would tarry, and first go to an inn to put down his belongings, perhaps Mashiach would come in the interim and he wouldn’t merit to see him, for he had not yet seen the Maggid. When he reached the study hall, he asked where the Maggid was. The people there told him that he was in his small room next to the study hall. So Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech went straight to the small room with his walking stick and his pack. When he came to the room, he could not see the Maggid because of the many people standing around his bed, waiting for his blessing. He was afraid that by the time the Maggid would bless each of those people, Mashiach would come and he would not be able to see him. So he went over to the back wall, leaned on it and used his stick to prop himself up so that he could see the Maggid in his bed. And when he saw him, the Maggid raised his head and said, “Just a glimpse is enough to acquire all that you seek.”

The story ends here, but we can certainly ask: Were all of Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech's efforts for naught? After all, he never did merit to see the Mashiach.

The Maggid of Kozhnitz already answered this question. “Just a glimpse is enough to acquire all that you seek.” With that glimpse, a fleeting moment of seeing the tzaddik, Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech acquired many lofty acquisitions—including seeing the face of Mashiach. How is that?

Why Do We Need to Connect with a Tzaddik

Many people find it hard to understand the connection to a tzaddik. After all, there are many holy, important books from which we can draw fear of Heaven and guidance in our service of God. Why is it important to journey to see the tzaddik and connect to him?

The truth is that without connecting to a tzaddik, the ability of a person to disconnect from the evil within him is very limited. Chasidut explains the verses relating to annihilating Amalek. In one place the Torah commands us, “You shall erase the memory of Amalek.”[1] But elsewhere the Torah writes that erasing Amalek’s memory is up to God Himself, “I will erase the memory of Amalek.”[2] True, we must do all that we can to eliminate the evil inside us, but our ability is limited to the most external aspect of the service of God. The absolute elimination of evil in the soul is possible only with help from above. It is this help that we receive from the tzaddik.

Another parable for this is the two stages of circumcision. First the coarse foreskin—the obvious, conspicuous evil, is removed by one’s own effort. But the removal of the thin, inner membrane, representing the subtle evil in the soul, can only be accomplished with outside help. In this example, as well, several verses express this division. One verse says, “And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your hearts.”[3] This refers to the removal of the coarse foreskin. It ensures that the second stage will also be accomplished: “And God will circumcise your heart.”[4] This is the stage of the removal of the thin membrane, which nullifies all the evil traits in the animal soul.

Can just a short glimpse of a tzaddik make such a change in the soul? The answer is yes. When Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, brought Rebecca from Haran and she saw Isaac approaching them, she was so moved that she fell from the camel – even before she knew who he was. For her, this was the moment of the removal of the thin membrane – the moment that she completely separated herself from the evil deeds of her father’s house.

Now we can understand why it was vitally important to see the Maggid as a prerequisite to seeing the Mashiach and how Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech merited this gift. When one is rid of the foreskin upon all its layers, his true inner soul—the spark of Mashiach in him—is revealed. When he sees the face of the tzaddik and connects to him, the chasid welcomes two aspects of Mashiach: The spark of Mashiach in the tzaddik (more visible in the tzaddikim who are leaders of Israel) and his own spark of Mashiach, which becomes ignited and revealed.

 

 

[1] Deuteronomy 25:19.

[2] Exodus 17:14.

[3] Deuteronomy 10:16.

[4] Deuteronomy 30:6.

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