156th Yahrzeit of the Kotzker

This coming Tuesday night, February 3, 2015 and extending into Wednesday February 4, 2015 is the 156th Yahrzeit of the Kotzker.  The following is a piece I wrote last year and did not have a chance to put it on my website.  I offer this as my 2015 Yahrzeit speech for the Kotzker.

THE KOTZKER AND THE GRA

The Vilna Goan known as the Gra – Reb Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman – lived from 1720 to 1797.  The Kotzker – Reb Menachem Mendel Ben Yehuda Leib lived from 1787 – 1859.   The Kotzker was 10 years old when the Gra passed away.  The Gra was the first Mishnagid while the Kotzker was a Chassidic master.  The Kotzker grew up in a non-Chasidic family and knew about the greatness of the Vilna Goan.   The Gra signed the excommunication against the Chassidim.

Yet I believe that the Kotzker had a grudging admiration for the Gra.  Both were more alike than different and it is a tragedy of Jewish history that the Gra agreed to and signed the excommunication thereby creating a split between the Gra’s world and Kotzker’s  world.   Had they met, they would have embraced in the kiss of Hashem and perhaps brought a new era to the Jewish people.

The Kotzker did interact with the community at large, albeit in a more limited way in the Kotzker ’s later years.   The Gra had almost no contact with the community at large.  The greatness of the Gra was preserved  for later generations due to his 10+- students,  primarily Reb Chaim Voloziner.  Yet the beacon of light extended from Vilna during the Gra’s lifetime, and from Kotzk in the Kotzker’s lifetime.

I question whether anything good came out of this excommunication.  It led to people turning other Jews over to the government and feeling that they are doing holy work by turning people in on charges,  after all there is a ban against Chassidim.    How can someone sign a ban, when his protagonist is equal to him in piety, learning, leadership, and Yiras Shaminaym.  It is the height of arrogance to say that I am Lesham Shamayin, when his opponent, his equal and a leader of men is not for the sake of Heaven.  I believe  the evil effects of the excommunication lasted all the way to the destruction of European Jewry in 1939 – 1945.  This should be a lesson  today of the need for unity.

Page 249 of the book  Amud Haemes brings down one of the only times the Kotzker mentioned the Vilna Goan  The story  is as follows:

One time the Chidusshei Harim and Reb Moshe Michel of Biala were sitting and analyzing a Tosefes.  The Kotzker comes by and says that according to the explanation of the “thief”  of Vilna the words of Tosefes are answered.  When they asked the Kotzker why he called the Goan of Vilna  a “thief”, the Kotzker answered:  At the time the Torah was given and Moshe ascended to the heavens, a number of Souls hid under the cloak of Moshe, went up with Moshe and heard the entire Torah.  One of them was the Goan from Vilna.

I felt that the Kotzker could not come out directly and say how much he admired the Gra, so he did it in a backhanded way. 

I was at Kesser Ma’ariv in Skokie this past Shabbos – March 2014.  The Rabbi is Rabbi Louis Lazovsky, a friend from my days in Brisk Yeshiva.  His mother and my mother worked on the Brisk Yeshiva ad books in the late  1970s.    I found a Sefer in the Shul’s library titled, “The Goan of Vilna and his Messianic Vision” by Dr. Arie Morgenstern.  I am trying to reach Dr. Arie Morgenstern to determine if I am related.  The title was fascinating and I was not disappointed.

How do we picture the Gra?  We picture the ultimate Misnaged, a rationalist cut of the same cloth of the Rambam. Someone who did not delve into Kabbalah and the Messiah.    He is the teacher of Reb Chaim Volzhin, the person who wrote the Nefesh Hachaim to counter the Tanya.  The Gra was the intellectual and theological father of Volzhin and Brisk, Brisker Torah, the Bais Halevi, the Soloveichiks, and the cold rationality of Halacha.

However,   Dr. Arie Morgenstern dispels this vision of the Gra and turns it on its head.  According to Dr. Arie Morgenstern the Gra was a major Kabbalist, believed that the coming of the Messiah was imminent, and would happen on or around 1781, felt that he was a vessel for Hashem to bring the Messiah, made plans, and started the journey to move to Eretz Yisroel and got to Amsterdam when he turned back.   How does Dr. Arie Morgenstern’s description of this aspect of the Gra square with the historical Gra known to the Yeshiva world?  It does not at all.  It seems as if this side of the Gra was purposely suppressed because this side of the Gra seems to be a textbook Chassidic master.    The  Gra who rejected and excommunicated Chassidim appears to be no different than the Besht and the Chassidic masters.  

I believe that the Kotzker perhaps desired  the world that the Gra created.   The Gra had few students, did not mix with the general public, hid himself from the world, and was free to devote himself to learning Torah.  As described by Dr. Arie  Morgenstern and detailed below the Gra was also a Kabbalist,   Mishicist, tried to determine when the Messiah would come, and worked to bring the Messiah.  The Kotzker and the Gra were exactly the same:  Great Torah masters, both in the revealed and the hidden parts of the Torah.   Both were also similar in their view of the world which while deeply spiritual  they  had very rationalistic views.  The Gra learned science and mathematics.   The Kotzker gave advice that was practical.  The Kotzker did not go as far as the Gra to bring about the Messiah, in fact little is mentioned on this subject by the Kotzker.
Dr. Arie Morgenstern in his book on pages 292 and 293 talks about the nature of the Gra and about who the excommunication against the Chassidiym. It is attached below.   Read it in sheer amazement, especially what Yehuda Liebes wrote how Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov regarded the Gra.  Read what R. J. Z. Werblowsky wrote.  Haflah VePhlah.  Wondrous.

Dr. Arie Morgenstern writes on page 316, “Everyone contemplated the genius of the Rabbi Elijah of Vilna in amazement and considered his very advent on earth a supernatural act.  Several of his disciples said repeatedly that the Goan earned the revelation of the secrets of the Torah and the true Halacha not only by limitless toil and superhuman talent but also as a reward form God for his prodigious effort, in a chain from the patriarchs to Moses and the prophet Elijah.”

The Goan’s genius is attributed as a supernatural act, almost from God himself.    The Kotzker is his comments above acknowledged the same by stating that the Gra was a “thief” when he ascended to Heaven with Moshe, also attributed the genius of the Gra directly from God in a backhanded way.

Both the Kotzker and the Gra believed that Moshiach can come in a supernatural act or Kimah, Kimah – natural means but having people start making Aliyah and through building up the land. The Gra through his students who made Sliyah (the Rivlin and Solomon families, Reb Menacham Mendel of Shklov and his brother) and the Kotzker through his grandson’s Sefer, Shoelm Yershalim, and his grandson’s desire to start an agricultural community of 1,000 families.

 

Postscript – Last week I was in Israel and on January 27, 2015, I was fortunate to meet with Dr. Arie (Aryeh) Morgenstern.   It was a great meeting.  I received an autographed copy of his Sefer, The Goan of Vilna and his Messianic Vision.   Dr. Arie Morgenstern has written at least 10 books.  He is one of the authors on the recent book on the history of the Chuvra Shul, written in conjunction  with the rebuilding of the Chuvra Shul in 2014.   Dr. Arie Morgenstern has lectured on the Goan and the history of the Jewish community in Israel over the last 200 years.  We are probably not related.  Dr. Arie Morgenstern’s grandfather was named Menachem Mendel, however, usually, the family would have had a tradition that they are descendants from the Kotzker and Dr. Morgenstern has no such tradition.  Even though,  Dr. Arie Morgenstern’s family is from near Lodz and some of the Kotzker’s grandchildren from his second wife settled in the Lodz area.

 

 

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Our Posek is Auschwitz, Dachau, and going hungry for 5 days

11 Tamuz: Tonight and tomorrow is my father’s 11th Yahrzeit.

My father’s will states:

Upon donations made with my money the following shall be stated:

“This is a donation from the late Mr. Israel J. Morgenstern, who was continuously hungry since September 1, 1939, when Hitler and his German army with his German Luftwaffe (air power) attacked Poland, until May 7, 1945, when he was liberated from Dachau Concentration Camp by the American Army”

My father’s Posek is Auschwitz, Dachau and going hungry for 5 days.

In 1994, when I visited my father in Los Angles, we walked by a homeless man. I grimaced and my father said that in America, the wealthiest country in the world, it is a shame that we cannot house and feed everyone.

Heaven forbid we should be in need of food and livelihood.

Synagogues from time immemorial were always places of refuge. A Jew could always find comfort, food, and friendship. In 1982 at Kesser Israel in Georgetown, D.C., I was very impressed when, after Shabbos Morning Prayer services, they announced that anyone who needing a place for Shabbos lunch see the Gabbai.

About 5 years ago, I noticed a sign in a Synagogue on Pico Boulevard in LA that people collecting money cannot collect during services. I was outraged. Who are these people to limit when a Jew needing money can collect? Be hungry for 5 days and then tell a person   that he cannot collect during prayer services. A Synagogue is a place of Chesed, not a place where we put restrictions on a Jew who needs money, needs food, and needs sustenance. Do the members believe that their prayers are so holy that they cannot be bothered during davening for charity?  I was so angry that I called their national headquarters in New York and gave the Rabbi in charge of member services an earful. He assured me that the Synagogue in question is charitable. Not a good answer. A few years later I saw a similar sign in Chicago.   I found the right person and a few years later the sign was taken down. I just heard of another Synagogue in Chicago banning collecting money during services.

Two other incidents bothered me. When my nephew wants to irritate me, he has me look at a web site that claims to promote Cheriedai values; however, you can always rely on that website for anti-Zionist views, anti Achdus opinions, and self-righteousness.

Two years ago the web site had a video of a question that two “kids” from Lakewood posed to Rabbi Eliyashuv TZL, a question I considered a question of Eisav Harashah. These two kids are in charge of giving out certificates that allow a person to collect money. They asked can they put in a restriction in the certificates, that money cannot be collected during Krias Shma (reciting of the Shma prayers). I was appalled and thought, what is it their business when people can collect money. Their only job is to make sure the person needing money is worthy. If someone does not want to give during Shma, he can ignore the person, or do what I do, have money ready. These two “kids” had a look and sound of stupidity or as my sister says to me when she feels I am being foolish, “Narashah Lachin”.

These two kids brought down the esteem of Reb Eliyashuv TZL. The web site thought that the video showed the greatness of Rabbi Eliyashuv, when it actually showed him in a poor light. I e-mailed the editors of the web site and had a debate with them. After a series of e-mails they responded to me, we have our Posek, you ask your Posek. My Posek is Auschwitz, Dachau and going hungry for 5 days. The shame is that Lakewood is a city full of Tzedakah.

About two months ago I saw a incident that continues to bother me. A Rabbi from Israel was a guest at this Synagogue for Shabbos in one of its members’ home. He was collecting for his institution in Israel. He was an elderly Jew and had the look of an important Rabbi. Sunday morning this Rabbi was in the Synagogue looking for someone. A Synagogue official went to him and told him to leave the Synagogue, as per the Board of Directors. To my shame and others around me, no one said anything, no one defended this Rabbi. This Rabbi went over to the Gabbai and said, you have acted as they did in Sodom, meaning you have exhibited unnecessary cruelty. I did not know what to do. I went to a Board member and told him about the incident. Here you have a beautiful Synagogue that is full of Torah being soiled by pettiness and Midas Sodom.   I am embarrassed to admit that I said nothing, I froze.

In honor of my father’s Yarhzeit as Jews we have to be kind to one another and that

Our Posek is Auschwitz, Dachau and going hungry for 5 days.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Morgenstern, TZL

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Morgenstern, TZL

1858 –  2/18/1920 – 29 Shevat  5680

ktozk 2This Shabbos was the 83rd Yahrzeit of my great Grandfather, Admor Tzvi Hersh Morgenstern of Lukav.  Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Morgenstern was the great grandson of the Kotzker.  The Kotzker Reba was his Sandek.  Continue reading “Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Morgenstern, TZL”

Kotzker Rebbe’s Yahrzeit 2011

Family e-mail:

January 26, 2011

It is now 7:44 PM and I have just finished for the day.  I did go to Sidney for Mincha and Maariv.

I gave the Daf Yomi Shiur last week and enjoyed it.  To prepare I used the Daf Yomi shiur on ou.org, the most widely listened to Daf Yomi in the world.  It is given by Rabbi Moshe Elefant.  His 45 minute Shiur turned into a 1.5 hour study session for me.

On 2/1/11, just 6 days from now, registration opens for the 2011 Chicago marathon.  A ray of sunshine in this bleak winter.  Walking the miles and miles of 2010 Chicago Marathon,  I was  in terrible agony, and told myself  that I will never do this again.  However, the sights, sounds, and smell of the marathon keeps beckoning to me and I am going all in.

Tonight and tomorrow is the 152st Yahrzeit of the Kotzker Rebbe.  I like to write something novel or something that I did not know about the Kotzker every year. Continue reading “Kotzker Rebbe’s Yahrzeit 2011”

Kotzker Rebbe’s Yharzeit 2013

154 years

22 Shevat 5619 – January 27, 1859

Takhe Kotzk (click to listen)

This Shabbos is the Kotzker Rebbe’s 154th Yharzeit. Everyone is invited to the Glenner residence for a Yhazeit seudah this shabbos after minchah. Years ago my father sent me a Cantor Paul Zim tape of Yiddish songs that included the song Takeh – Kotzk. A beautiful song which captured Kotzk, its reverence, its holiness, and its greatness. I received Cantor Paul Zim’s phone number from Seamach Records and called him. Cantor Zim told me although he sings Takeh-Kotzk, it is not his song. The person who knows the song and has “ownership “ is Chazzan Moshele Kraus who lives in Ottawa, Canada. Continue reading “Kotzker Rebbe’s Yharzeit 2013”