Today is the yahrzeit of R' Elimelech of Lizensk. I usually don't write about stuff like this, but once in awhile it doesn't hurt to make an exception, esp. since I've already offered my 2 cents on the fact that you can now fly first class and enjoy glatt kosher gourmet catering and the finest in luxurious comfort should you choose to personally visit R' Elimelech's kever (see previous post). If you can't make it, you can always do the next best thing and leave a comment on R' Elimelech's facebook page. I am sure R' Elimelech would be thrilled. Must popularization always entail cheapening that which is special? I could ask that same question about so many other phenomena in our modern Jewish world. Zechuso yagein aleinu, because we really need it.
"Vayisa Aharon es yadav el ha'am va'yevarcheim, vayeired mei'asos hachatas v'haolah v'hashelamim." Aharon celebrated the inauguration of the Mishkan by giving a blessing to the people after he went down from offering the chatas, olah, and shelamim. Why does the Torah need to tell us that Aharon's blessing was given after he went down, ostensibly from the altar, after his offerings? Because, explains the Noam Elimelech, the Torah is telling us a message about the avodah of the tzadik, not just a historical recounting of what Aharon did. The tzadikim are up there, close to Hashem, offering their korbanos, doing their avodah, in some supernal world that is far apart from the everyday world most of us live in an encounter. But the tzadik doesn't remain in that ivory tower. "Vayeired..." -- he comes down to bless us. The only thing perhaps more valuable to the tzadik than his love of G-d is his love of the Jewish people. And so, the tzadik takes a step back into our world and brings to us a blessing, a taste of heights we might not reach on our own; he pulls us into his world, even for a moment, in the hopes that the glimpse he can provide will inspire us to climb higher ourselves.
There are neshomos that seem to not belong in our world. Nonetheless, "Vayeired...," they are sent down to bless us with their presence, to uplift our spirits, to bring us a taste of higher ideals to aspire to.
In Parshas Tazria the Torah tells of the person afflicted with leporasy who must visit the kohen. "V'ra'ah hakohen v'hinei mareihu shafal min ha'or." R' Elimelech explains that the Torah is not not speaking here of how the skin blesmish looks to the kohen, but rather how the kohen looks to his visitor. There are people who see the kohen, who see a tzadik, "v'hinei shafal," and all they see are the defects, the blemishes, the chisronos.
יש בני אדם הבאים אל הצדיקים הגדולים וקשה להם על הצדיק קושיות ... ואעפ״כ ״הפך לבן״ ר״ל אחר כל מחשבותיו וקושיותיו על הצדיק גמור, יגרום לו קדושתו של הצדיק ההוא שיהפוך גם הוא ללבן
R' Elimelech speaks of coming to the tzadik filled with questions, with doubts -- what can this guy really do for me? Skepticism, doubt -- the hallmarks of modern scientific rational thought -- fight against the whole notion of an oracular soothsayer who can somehow cure our spiritual ills (not to suggest that is what the tzadik is, but that is sadly how many see him.) Yet, "Af al pi kein..." I can't explain how and R' Elimelech here doesn't explain how, but simply being in the presence of the tzadik, despite the questions, despite the doubts, despite the misgivings, has a profound spiritual influence. The tzadik doesn't care if we love him or not. He doesn't need our trust, our confidence, our pedestal. The gift of bracha will reach us no matter what our feelings our attitude is in return.
Skepticism can undermine the most precious religious truths. If only we knew how to answer all those wandering close to the edges of the derech in danger of falling off! Maybe what R' Elimelech is saying is that we really don't need answers -- we just need to be there. The presence of the tzadik, and there is a spark of tzidkus in each of us, which is not only receptive, but is willing to even bless the harshest critics and doubters, is a magnetic force that can prevent others from drifting away.
It seems that the only ingredient necessary to receive the kedusha of the tzadik is, "V'ra'ah hakohen..." R' Elimelech speaks of those "ba'im el hatzadikim," those who come to the tzadik. Come with your skepticism, come with your doubt, come with your mind half closed already -- but you have to show up. The Besh"T taught that a person is where his/her machshava is. A kid in school might really be in Yankee stadium if that's where his mind is. A person sitting at home is considered to be residing 2000 amos away where his eiruv techumin is because that is where his mind is. You don't need a first class ticket to Lizensk to be with R' Elimelech -- you just need a functioning mind (the first class ticket may be easier to come by.) You might consider spending a few minutes with a copy of the Noam Elimelech today, even if you don't like chassidishe Torah, even if you believe a Rebbe's yahrzeit is just like any other day, even if you doubt R' Elimelech was anything special. Who knows what the result might be?
ואעפ״כ ״הפך לבן״ ר״ל אחר כל מחשבותיו וקושיותיו על הצדיק גמור, יגרום לו קדושתו של הצדיק ההוא שיהפוך גם הוא ללבן