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Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak
~The Chozeh of Lublin~
born: Shbarshin, Poland, 1745
died: Lublin, Poland, 1815
Rabbi Yaacov Yitzchak, the Chozeh of Lublin, is one of the truly beloved figures of Chassidism. He merited the title of Chozeh, which means seer or visionary, due to his great intuitive powers. For example, he had the ability to discern a petitioner's character, his past deeds, and the root of his soul by glancing at his forehead. It was said that the Chozeh could look into the future. He could see, it was said, "from one end of the world to the other." He could see events taking place, far away from where he was sitting. On the day he left the world (9th of Av), he prophesied that 100 years from this day, the Russians would lose their reign over Poland. And so it was to the date July/20/1915 (9th of Av), the Austrians conquered Lublin, and the Chozeh's prophecy was noted in the Polish newspapers.
During his stay in Lublin, the Chozeh was opposed by a big rabbi, the Gaon - Rabbi Ezriel Halevi Horowitz. Because of his great sharpness in learning, he was called "the Head of Iron". He used to go to the Chozeh of Lublin and bombard him with questions, with the complaint that he knew that the Chozeh wasn’t really a Rebbe, and even so he grouped after him a congregation to follow in his customs. The Chozeh once replied to him that it wasn’t really his fault. The people used to follow after him on their own. The Gaon said to him: "On the following Shabbat, publicize before the congregation that you aren’t a Rebbe, and then they will stop following after you." The Chozeh liked the Gaon's advise. On the coming Shabbat, he lowered himself with a broken spirit before the congregation of Chassidim, and told them how worthless he really was. However, the words of the Chozeh inflamed the Chassidim to bring about in themselves the aspect of humbleness, and they attached themselves to the Rebbe even more than before. When the Rebbe and the Gaon met again, the Chozeh told the Gaon how he did as he was advised, but it didn’t bring about anything. The Gaon replied: "Now I see why, the way of Chassidim is to love humbleness and to stay away from haughtiness, therefore tell them of the great respect they should give you, for you are a true Tzaddik. Then they will leave you. The Chozeh replied to him: "In truth I’m not a Rebbe, but I’m also not a liar. How will I be able to say that I’m a true Tzaddik?... Before Rabbi Ezriel died, he regretted opposing the Chozeh, and not getting to know him better.
à "G-d should shine his countenance upon you and pleasure you."
[in the Priestly Blessing; Bamidbar, ]
The Chozeh explains the word V'yechuneka [and pleasure you] as, "G-d should make you like Choni the Circle Maker" [of whom the Talmud says that his prayers were always answered. This is a play on words in Hebrew, "V'yechuneka" coming from the same root as "Choni"].
Time for a Story…
The Chozeh's boyhood teacher...
The Chozeh of Lublin and his disciples had set out on a long journey. As the holy Shabbat quickly approached they found themselves at an unfamiliar crossroads. Dismounting from their wagons, they debated the question of which way to turn. The Chozeh interrupted the discussion, and advised them to let the horses' reins go free and let them go where they would. They did as he said, and they traveled quite a few miles on the road before meeting a peasant who told them that the town which they had reached was not the one they had been searching for.
Nevertheless, as Shabbat was quickly approaching, they had to stop over and find some lodging for the night. At that point the Chozeh announced to his chasidim, "This Shabbat I am not to be known as a rebbe." From this they understood that he wanted to be inconspicuous for some reason of his own. It was also understood that they would be on their own in finding appropriate accommodations. So, they entered the town and made their way to the synagogue, knowing that, according to time-honored custom, strangers always received an invitation from some villager for the Shabbat meal. Sure enough, they all received invitations, except for the Chozeh who, in his usual fashion prolonged his prayers until all the other congregants had left.
There was, however, one very old man who also remained in the shul and sat singing the traditional Shabbat tunes. The old man noticed the stranger and asked him, "Where will you be having your meal?" The Chozeh replied, "I don't know yet." "Well, I would suggest that you have your Shabbat meals in the local inn, and after the Shabbat ends, I will go around and collect the money to pay the bill." "No," replied the Chozeh, "In that inn, they don't even light Shabbat candles. No, I wouldn't make kiddush in such a place." "Well, I would invite you to my own home, but we really don't have much of anything to eat or drink." "Don't worry, I don't eat very much, and I don't drink very much either." "All right, so, you'll come home with me." said the old man, still sitting with his prayer book in his hand. "Tell me, where do you come from?" "I come from Lublin." "You don't say! Why, you don't happen to know the tzaddik, the Chozeh, do you?" "It so happens that I know him very well. I spend all of my time with him." The old man's eyes lit up like a fire. "I would like very much to be able to see him in his glory, but I don't know how it can be. I'm very poor and I've become weak in my old age, so it is impossible for me to make the journey to Lublin. Nevertheless, my desire is so strong, I fast one day a week that I should have the merit to see him with my own eyes. Please, what can you tell me about him?" "Well, what kind of things do you want to know?" asked the Chozeh. You see, many years ago, when he was just a little boy, I was his teacher. In those days he was a regular boy, just like all the rest, nothing special about him. But now, I hear he performs miracles and is a great tzaddik. Every day when his turn came to read from the siddur, he would be missing. And when he would finally turn up, I would always spank him. Then, one day I decided to follow him. I was curious to see where he went all the time. So, I walked a little distance behind him, and followed him into the forest. There, he sat down and cried out from the depths of his heart, 'Shma Israel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!' From that day on I never spanked him again."
The Chozeh was greatly moved by the old man's recitation, and it was clear to him why God had directed his path to this out-of-the-way little village. He revealed to the old man his real identity, and the old man fainted away. After he was revived, the tzadik told him not to reveal to anyone else who he was. After the end of Shabbat the Chozeh and his followers continued on in the originally intended direction. They arrived at an inn and enjoyed the Melave Malka meal, bidding goodbye to the Shabbat Queen. When they had finished, the Chozeh told them, "Let's return to the village now, for it is time for us to pay our last respects to the old man I stayed with. He has just departed from this world." They returned and said the eulogy for the old man who had such a burning love for tzadikim, that Gd granted him his greatest wish.
His writings are contained in three books: Divrei Emet, Zot Zikaron, and Zikaron Tov. In a compilation of these works, entitled Torat HaChozeh MiLublin, his commentaries are alphabetically arranged according to topics and according to the weekly Torah portion.
Shalom Shachna(d. 1558), was a rabbi and Talmudist, and Rosh Yeshiva of several great Acharonim including Moses Isserles, who was also his son-in-law. He was a pupil of Jacob Pollak, founder of the method of Talmudic study known as Pilpul. In 1515 Shachna established the yeshiva in Lublin, which had the third largest Jewish community in Poland in this period. Shachna became famous as a teacher, and students came to Lublin from all over Europe to study there. The yeshiva became a center of learning of both Talmud and Kabbalah; the Rosh yeshiva received the title of rector and equal rights to those in Polish universities with the permission of the King in 1567. (This, as well as the great scholarship of those who studied there, have led some to refer to Lublin as "the Jewish Oxford".) Shachna was succeeded as head of Lublin Yeshiva by Solomon Luria, (the Maharshal).
Only one of Shachna's writings, the treatise Pesachim be-Inyan survived.
Rabbi Shlomo Luria - the Maharshal (1510 – 1574)
Popularly known as Maharshal, the initials of Morenu ha-Rav Shlomo Luria. Talmudic commentator.
The Maharshal was descended from a prominent rabbinical family which traces its genealogy to Rashi, and was related to many of the prominent rabbis of his era, among them R' Moshe Isserles and R' Meir Katzenellenbogen.
Known as the Maharshal, Rabbi Luria was one of the great Ashkenazic poskim (halachic authorities) and teachers of his time. He served as rabbi in various communities in Poland and Lithuania. His major work of halacha, Yam Shel Shlomo, covers sixteen tractates of the Talmud. However, it is extant on only seven tractates. In it, Maharshal analyzes key sugyot (topics) and decides between various authorities as to what the practical halacha should be. He emphasizes the importance of the Talmud as the ultimate source. In his introduction Maharshal alludes to the fact that he was able to study when there was insufficient light as if he were being guided from Heaven.
His Chochmot Shlomo, glosses on the text of the Talmud and comments, is printed in the standard editions of the Talmud. However, it should be noted that the original separately printed version of Chochmot Shelomo is far more extensive and contains much more material.
Maharshal’s responsa contain a good picture of the contemporary questions of the day. There are a number of responsa to Rabbi Moshe Isserles for whom he had great respect but with whom he sharply differed in some areas. He was particularly critical of R' Isserles' affection for philosophy, which he strongly opposed. Rabbi Isserles’ controversial view was that in many areas kabbalah and philosophy are grappling with the same problems but using different terminology.
Maharshal's enigmatic view on the use of the Zohar as a source of halachah illustrates his independence of thought and uncompromising devotion to the truth as he saw it. Maharshal was a devoted follower of the kabbalah and ranked the Zohar on the same level as other midrashic literature. Nevertheless, when he was asked to rule upon the question of wether the teffilin should be fastened to the arm while sitting, in accordance with the Zohar, Maharshal adamantly refused to entertain such a notion, citing the example of the sages of previous generations who had not changed their custom to accord with the Zohar in this matter, not in the matter of putting on tefillin on the intermediate days of Yom Tov (chol ha'moed; Teshuvot Maharshal ,98)
The Maharshal was an extremely humble person. Even as the rabbi of such outstanding communities as Ostroh and Lublin, Maharshal did not hesitate to appoint a preacher whose duty it was to reproach him for any wrongdoing and preach to him on the ways of the righteous, and whenever this preacher would enter his home, the eminent Maharshal would immediately sit before him in a most humble manner and listen to his exhortation as would any common person.
Almost all of the greatest rabbis of the time were disciples of the Maharshal.
A Story of Awe...
"This is a story that must be told," Rabbi Meir Shapira told his disciples. "It is a story never before published which I discovered in the records of the Lublin Jewish community and deserves publicity since it concerns the greatness of tzaddikim and what they are able to accomplish."
Rabbi Shlomo Luria had a disciple whose wife died in her prime, not having left behind any children. The man mourned her for the proscribed seven days but when he later persisted in his black gloom and deep depression, people took note. The Maharshal summoned the man to him and asked what was bothering him.
"Just before my wife died, she made me promise her never to marry again," he wept. "But I am still young and have never been blessed with children..." The rabbi reassured the man that it was permissible to marry, which he did before long.
Shortly after his marriage, however, the man suddenly, inexplicably died. All of Lublin seethed with the news. As soon as he heard of the death, the Maharshal summoned the chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society) to him. "Prepare him for burial as usual," he instructed, "and lay him inside the grave. But do nothing further. Just notify me and I will come."
His instructions were filled to the letter. When the body had been lowered into the grave, the chevra kadisha sent for the Maharshal. He came to the cemetery, wrote out a note and placed it in the dead man's hand.
"Shalom! Peace unto you, O heavenly hosts! How can this be possible? Does not a positive commandment of the Torah overrule a negative one? I decree in the name of the Torah that you return this man to me!" The Maharshal signed the letter, then told the people to leave the grave uncovered and leave the cemetery.
After about an hour had elapsed the entire city was aware that something most unusual had happened. The young man, just laid in the newly dug grave, was suddenly seen walking in his shrouds along the city streets as if nothing had happened. People could talk of nothing else. The Maharshal's stock reached higher levels that it had ever before, even in a community that revered him highly.
But this was not the end of the story. The young man could not find another woman willing to marry him. It was no simple undertaking to consent to wed one that had cheated the grave, Seeing this development, the Maharshal took further action. He called upon the angel of forgetfulness to obliterate all memory of this incident in the minds of the Lublin community. And that is exactly what happened. After a few days people stopped talking about the matter and forgot it had ever occurred. The young man went about his way as if nothing unusual had happened and in due time remarried and fathered children who studied Torah and continued in the Jewish tradition. (Rabbi Meir Shapirah)