Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Kotzker

The Chassidic movement, which started with the Baal Shem Tov in the early 1700s, was known for its joyous attitudes, its focus on good deeds and the celebration of miracle makers. Whereas much of the Jewish world was focussed on rigorous learning, Chassidut focussed on a more personal relationship with the Divine. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern, better known as the Kotzker Rebbe, brought these two worlds together. By the time he was 13, he had completed the study of the entire Talmud. Although his family was not Chassidic, he was drawn to this fairly new movement and became a student of Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshicha. When Reb Simcha Bunim passed away, many of his students chose Reb Menachem Mendel, now living in Kotzk, Poland, as their new rebbe.

The Kotzker Rebbe was known for his impatience with false piety and for his down-to-earth, sometimes sharp-witted, statements. Two examples of his world view are:

People are accustomed to look at the heavens and to wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves to see what happens there. 

Do not be satisfied with the speech of your lips and the thoughts in your heart, all the promises and good sayings in your mouth, and all the good thoughts in your heart, rather you must arise and do.

Beginning in 1839, the Kotzker Rebbe left his followers and went into seclusion until his passing on 22 Shevat 1859, at the age of 72. He was succeeded by his son, Rabbi David Morgensztern. The Kotzker Rebbe left no written works (and burned his manuscripts when they were completed), but, later, his teachings were collected and published by his students.

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