Friday, August 17, 2018

A Special Yom Tov

Rabbi Gershon Shaul Yom Tov Lipmann Heller was born in Bavaria, Germany, to a renowned rabbinic family. He received a traditional Jewish education and studied under the legendary Maharal of Prague. By the age of 18, he was ordained a rabbinic judge in Prague. His itinerant rabbinic career brought him to Moravia, Vienna, Prague, Nemirov, Ukraine and Ludmir, Poland. He ended his rabbinic career in Kracow, Poland, succeeding the renowned Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640). He served Kracow’s Jewish community during the devastating Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1649.

In 1629, prior to his move to Kracow, Rabbi Heller was arrested and falsely accused of insulting Christianity, and was sentenced to hard labor. An influential “court Jew” paid 12,000 thalers for his release, conditioned on his departure from the country and his position. As a result, Rabbi Heller instituted two annual observances. On the 5th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the initial day of the difficulties, he would fast. On the 1st of the Hebrew month of Adar, the anniversary of his appointment as rabbi of Cracow, he created a mini Purim celebration where he would read from a special megillah he wrote, entitled Megillat Eivah (scroll of hatred). Rabbi Heller’s descendants continue to observe these dates annually.

Rabbi Heller authored a commentary on the Mishnah, entitled Tosafot Yom Tov, and wrote Ma’adaney Yom Tov, a commentary to Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel’s halachic code. Additionally, he is the author of a prayer recited publicly to bless those who avoid unnecessary conversation during prayers. Rabbi Heller passed away on the 6th of Elul, corresponding to August 19, 1654.

A story is told about Rabbi Heller’s burial site. The burial society begged a miserly man on his deathbed to donate some of his fortune to the desperate communal organizations. Were he not to accede to their request, they threatened to bury him in the far corner of the cemetery. When the “miser” passed away without offering any support, the burial society felt the need to carry through with their threat. A few days after his death and burial, all the anonymous donations offered at all the local communal institutions suddenly ceased. The connection to the “Holy Miser” was clear. Rabbi Heller instructed the burial society to bury him at the corner of the cemetery, next to the “Holy Miser,” where he lies in repose to this day.

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