A Guide to Keeping Heaven Happy: Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch of Rimanov

By Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch Hakohen of Rimanov was the student and successor of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov. Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch was orphaned at a young age and when he came to the beit midrash (study hall) of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, the Chassidim there felt sorry for him and learned Torah with him. Eventually, Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch became Rebbe Mendele’s personal assistant, and he became known as Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch the Assistant.  Rebbe Menachem Mendele instructed that Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch should succeed him, and after his passing, Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch became the leader of the Rimanov Chassidic congregation and many other Chassidim, including the tzaddikim of that generation, would travel to see him. Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch passed away on the 30th of Cheshvan 1846. He is buried in Rimanov, Galicia, which today is in Poland.

When Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch was a young boy, his parents passed away and little Tzvi Hirsch was sent to learn a trade with a tailor. Even at that young age, the boy’s heart burned with desire to serve God, to be connected to tzaddikim and to lead his life according to the teachings of   the Ba’al Shem Tov.  After a short time with the tailor, young Tzvi Hirsch ran away and came to the beit midrash (study hall) of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, where he began his life as a devoted follower and Chassid.

As a child, Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch would pray with intense devotion and concentration. Even after he matured and became Rebbe Mendele’s personal assistant, he continued to pray with intensity. Often, when his ardent fervor would overflow, Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch would run from end to end of the synagogue, still completely focused on his prayer. If he would run into someone or something while running in this state of divestment from the physical, he would simply pick him or it up and continue running with fervor and devotion to God, unaware of the additional passenger in his arms.

Once on Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the Hebrew month), a wealthy man came to see Rebbe Mendele. As is the way with the wealthy, this man was dressed in fine, expensive clothing. He did not know Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch and was not prepared for what happened next. When the man entered Rebbe Mendele’s beit midrash, Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch was running from end to end with his intense devotion. Suddenly, he ran into the man, and without missing a beat – as he was in a state of divestment from the physical – Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch picked him up and proceeded to run with him from end to end. Not only that, but while he was running, the edge of the man’s fine coat was torn. The flabbergasted man was quite beside himself. But he saw that Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch looked very righteous and thinking that perhaps he was Rebbe Mendele’s son, decided not to make a fuss about it.

After the prayer service, the Chassidim sat down to the festive Rosh Chodesh meal. The wealthy man saw that Rebbe Mendele called Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch to serve the food and understood that the young man who had torn his coat was simply the Rebbe’s assistant and not his son. The man became angry and indignantly turned to the Rebbe, “What is going on here? Your assistant is a damage-causing ox! The Rebbe keeps an ox who rams into people here!” The man continued to tell the Rebbe how his assistant had run with him in his arms during prayers and how he had torn his coat. “And why don’t you reprimand him?” the man demanded of the Rebbe.

Similar to stories of the Alter Rebbe and other tzaddikim, Rebbe Mendele entered a state of devotion to God, leaned on the table with his head in his hand and stayed that way for quite some time. Eventually the Rebbe raised his head, turned to the man and said to him, “In Heaven, they are not angry at Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch, and I should be angry at him? Even though he was over-energetic and even caused you some damage and tore your coat, I cannot reprimand him and tell him to stop, because in Heaven, they are not angry with him. On the contrary, it seems that his fervent prayer generates great joy in Heaven. And you want me to be angry at him?”

Whoever Does Not Resort to Anger does not Provoke Anger

We can learn many things from this story. First of all, we see that Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch prayed with complete seriousness. He was not fooling around or acting wildly. He was simply serving God with devotion. Rebbe Mendele said that in Heaven, they were not angry with Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch. This teaches us a major principle in Chassidut: Whatever we do here on earth, takes place in Heaven Above, as well. To use the idiom of the Zohar (1:88a), “An awakening from below engenders an awakening Above.”[1] Heaven conducts itself toward you in the manner that you conduct yourself here on earth. If in Heaven they were not angry with Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch the reason apparently was that he himself did not ever become angry with anyone here on earth. And in fact, Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch testified about himself at the end of his life that, “All my days, I did not become angry and never felt acrimony toward anyone.” The fact that a person never becomes angry and does not feel acrimony toward others frees him to serve God with utmost devotion, like a freed prisoner. Then, even if he runs into somebody and they do not understand what is happening, in Heaven they are happy with him, smiling and laughing together with him. Even if someone does feel acrimonious toward him, like the wealthy man in our story, Heaven determines that they are not displeased and thus, there is no reason to be displeased here on earth.

Even a Simple Boy can Become a Rebbe

There is another very important lesson that we can learn from Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch. Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch was a simple boy who came from a simple family. His father was a tailor and he started out as the assistant of Rebbe Mendele of Raminov. How did that happen? One time, the young Tzvi Hirsch had the merit to make up Rebbe Mendele’s bed. Rebbe Mendele, with his holy, inner understanding, realized that there was something very special about Tzvi Hirsch and from that point on, he became the personal assistant of the great Rebbe.

When Rebbe Mendele passed away, he gave instructions that his successor would not be one of his sons or one of his great disciples, but rather, his assistant, Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch. Even the simplest Jew from the simplest background can be a Rebbe.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that in our generation, everyone has to be a Rebbe. What is a Rebbe? Someone who takes responsibility upon himself to bring another Jew closer to God.

[1] See also Tanya c. 27 and Or hachaim to Exodus 19:3.

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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