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Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch of Ziditchov: Taking a Costume Seriously

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Eichenstein was born in Sambor, Poland in 5523 (1763) to his father, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac. He was a famous chasidic Rebbe, a noted Talmudist, Kabbalist and author of novellae on Torah and responsa, and founder of the Zidichov chasidic dynasty.

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch was a disciple of Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, the Maggid of Koznitz and the Seer of Lublin.[2]

Among Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch's disciples were his nephew Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Komarna, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (the Bnei Yisaschar), his nephew Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Zidichov, Rabbi Shimon of Yaruslav, and Rabbi Shalom of Kaminka.

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch was passionate about studying Kabbalah, Zohar, and the writings of the holy Ari, in particular. He invested tremendous effort in encouraging Jews to study these works. With the assistance of his students, some yeshivahs in Galicia added the study of Kabbalah to their curriculum. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch blended the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov with the Kabbalah of the Arizal. He passed away on 11 Tamuz, 5591 (1831).

It was customary during the month of Adar to appoint a special "Rav" (rabbi) for Purim, as well as "judges," "officers," and "leaders." During the days of the holy Rabbi Tzvi of Zidichov, the congregation of Zidichov appointed Rabbi Tzvi's nephew, Rabbi Koppel, as the "state minister" who legislated laws and decrees for Purim. He, the "minister," chose his "advisors" from among the insightful, God-fearing chasidim, and they treated him with royal honor.

Rabbi Koppel, dressed as the "state minister" along with his "advisors," all of whom were, of course, intoxicated with wine, came to his uncle, the holy Rabbi Tzvi. His holy uncle treated him with royal honor and pleaded with him to issue a "royal decree" to cancel the candle tax and meat tax that the government had imposed that year. The "minister" agreed to this request.

The Rabbi further requested of his nephew to cancel the order to draft Jews into the army, but he refused. His uncle spoke sternly and gently, imploring him to agree, but he adamantly refused. He closed his ears, and all the pleas and entreaties were to no avail. The chasidim approached him, speaking both harshly and softly, and he remained firm in his refusal. His holy uncle left angrily and refused to look at his face for the entire Purim.

The next day, when the wine had worn off, all the chasidim asked him: What happened to you yesterday, that you disregarded the words of our holy Rabbi? He swore by God's name that he remembered nothing of what had happened to him the previous day. Everything they told him seemed like new information, and he could not believe that such events had occurred.

That year, the government canceled the candle and meat taxes; however, the decree to draft Jews was not abolished. The people saw that this was from God.

Why didn't Rabbi Koppel cancel all the decrees? And why didn't he remember anything that happened?

These events hint that a person who meticulously fulfills the commandment of "Ad d'lo yada" (drinking on Purim until one does not know the difference between Mordechai and Haman) in its literal sense merits the revelation of the root of his soul. It is impossible to consciously sense the yechidah (“the singular one” – the highest level) of the soul. Only the unconscious serves as a vessel to it. In this state, memory and rational consciousness simply disappear, and a person can act in ways that he never imagined: canceling decrees on one hand and contradicting the Rabbi on the other…

But Rabbi Koppel did not rely solely on drunkenness; he also dressed up. What does a costume do to the soul?

The sense associated with the month of Adar, according to the Sefer Yetzirah, is the sense of laughter. Laughter implies joy and play – "playing before Him at all times. Playing in the world, His land."[1] In Adar, and specifically on Purim, we are all actors who dress up as various characters, and while in disguise, we also search. For whom?

Consider this: In Hebrew, we use the reflexive form of the verb to say that a person who dresses (lovesh) himself is ‘getting dressed. (mitlabesh).’  If he cuts his hair (mesaper), he is getting a haircut (mistaper). And if he is searching for himself (mechapes)? He is mitchapes, which also means ‘dressing up.’

Hence, the costume is also a way to search and find one's true self, the essence of the soul. Surprisingly, this happens precisely through playing and dressing up as someone completely different from you – just as Jacob our father dressed in Esau's clothes and thus managed to 'deceive' his father and receive the blessings belonging to him from the root of his soul. This level of our soul plays before God at all times. It hears the announcements from above, knows the future, and can cancel decrees. So, what is going to be your costume this year?

[1] Proverbs 8:30.

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