Rebbe Zusha and Rebbe Elimelech: Nothing Worse than Doubt

Rabbi Meshulam Zusil of Anapoli, better known as Rebbe Zusha, was a senior student of the Maggid of Mezritch. Brother of the renowned Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhansk, Rebbe Zusha is known to have been a Torah scholar and a genius in earnestness and sincerity. Many of the stories about him highlight his earnest nature. He passed away on 2 Shevat, 5560 (1800) and was brought to rest in the gravesite of the Rav the Maggid of Anapoli.

 Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, author of the “Noam Elimelech,” was the brother of Rebbe Zusha of Anipoli. Rebbe Elimelech was born to his father, Eliezer Lipa and his mother Mirel in 5477 (1717). Following in his brother, Rebbe Zusha’s footsteps, Rebbe Elimelech became one of the greatest disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch. His book was known as, “The Book of the Righteous” and Rebbe Elimelech himself was called “The Little Ba’al Shem Tov.” In many ways, Rebbe Elimelech fashioned the chassidic ways of Poland in its entirety, delineating the persona of the tzaddik and the way to connect to him. His disciples were the chassidic masters of the next generation. Rebbe Elimelech passed away on the 21st of Adar, 5547 (1787) in Lizhensk. His son, Rabbi Eliezer, served as a rabbi after his father’s passing, but did not assume the mantle of Rebbe.

Once, Rebbe Zusha and his brother, Rebbe Elimelech sat together and asked: It is known that all the souls were included in the soul of Adam. That includes us. How could we have possibly allowed Adam to eat of the Tree of Knowledge? “We did it on purpose!” they concluded. “We allowed Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, to transgress God’s commandment and to bring death to the world until the resurrection of the dead.” Why? “It is worthwhile for a person to eat the forbidden fruit, thereby transgressing God’s will and even die as a result, along with all the generations of the world, just so that there would be no doubt in his mind that if he had eaten from the fruit, he would have become God.

The doubt that concerned the holy brothers is the imaginary picture that the serpent drew for Eve—a picture of the enticing reality that would come to be after she would eat the fruit of the tree. Similarly, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that the evil inclination should now be called by a new name: “the power of imagination” (כֹּחַ הַמְדַמֶּה) [whose value, incidentally, is the same as “the Golden Calf” (עֵגֶל הַזָּהָב)]. The primordial serpent sheds his skin and turns into the Satan. The Satan transforms into the evil inclination and the evil inclination into the angel of death. Now, says Rebbe Nachman, he has appeared in a new costume: Imagination. This is the power that is the other side of doubt. It too, by its means, undermines the trust between man and his Creator. While doubt causes the powers of might (gevurot) in the sefirah of knowledge (da’at) to reject and suspect God’s credibility, imagination causes the powers of loving-kindness (chassadim) in knowledge to accept and intensify the claims of the evil inclination.

Doubt is more bitter than sin (and death), say the holy brothers. Doubt erodes the faculty of knowledge. The revealed balance of the mitzvah as opposed to the sin is merely a result and expression of knowledge. The husk of Amalek blemishes this internal connection between man and God. Without wholehearted devotion to the Creator, all the mitzvot are undermined. This is even worse than a painful fall, which often leads to increased clarity of thought. The primary battle is the “war of God against Amalek.” God will completely eliminate all the evil in the world, which is the result of serpentine doubt. “As His Name is sure, so is His praise.”[1]

Image by Dominic from Pixabay


[1] From the piyut “V’chol ma’aminim.”

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