Light A Candle For Kotzk

Tonight is the yahrzeit of Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (aka The Kotzker Rebbe):

Menahem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859) was one of the outstanding and most original leaders of the hasidic movement. Born near Lublin into a non-hasidic family, he was attracted to the movement in his youth and became a disciple of Jacob Isaac ha-Hozeh (“the Seer”) of Lublin, of Jacob Isaac (“The Holy Jew”) of Przysucha, and later of Simhah Bunem of Przysucha. His teachings, although part of Hasidism and in some ways continuing its classic lines of thought, are in other ways diametrically opposed to the teachings of the founder of Hasidism, Israel ben Eliezer Ba’al Shem Tov (the Besht). Menahem Mendel indeed meant a revolution within Hasidism, and would-be followers flocked to his side. While the Besht emphasized love, joy, and compassion for this world, Menahem Mendel demanded constant tension and an unmitigated militancy in combating this egocentricity. The Baal Shem Tov was kind to everyone, and Menahem Mendel was harsh. In Medzibozh there was light, but in Kotsk there was fire where furious zeal of the prophets of old came back to life. Classical Hasidism tried to reach all the Jews, while Menahem Mendel was interested only in the select, the few. Above all in importance to Menahem Mendel was the quest for absolute truth which he taught could be reached only through utmost freedom. Such freedom meant not to give in to any outside pressures, it meant not to conform, nor try to please oneself or anyone else. Adopting a non-hasidic approach for the day, Menahem Mendel taught that truth could be discovered through in-depth study of Torah and Talmud, a method touted by the Lithuanian mitnagdim, the ideological rivals of the hasidim. Finally, Menahem Mendel taught that the true worship of God is not in finding the truth, but rather in the honest search for it.

Source. Nods to Esti for the heads-up.

7 thoughts on “Light A Candle For Kotzk

  1. Man, this guy was intense. I purchased a book of his sayings a while back…wow.
    Chris Rock: “We need a leader. Every since Malcom X all we’ve has is substitute teachers.”
    I feel the same when I read bios on Rabbis like the Kotzker.

  2. Dan,
    That’s so friggin cool!!!!!. You’ve got Chassidish blood in your veins. Nice. Dan…now you must buy a shtreimel. And some white knickers to boot. Now that’s stylin’.

  3. The Kotzker gets my vote as most fascinating Chassidic thinker (and there’s lots of competition). I’m glad he existed, but I wouldn’t want him as my rabbi. He seems to represent a kind of ideal standard, possibly one to be approached by a very few individuals, but his refusal to make any concessions to human weakness strikes me as outside the mainstream of classical Jewish thinking.
    I’ve been looking for more info (books, websites) on the Kotzker, from both Orthodox and secular perspectives. Anyone have any recommendations?

  4. Yup. I purchased “The Sayings of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk” by Simcha Raz a few years back. Forget where. It’s a lovely book that features a small bio and sayings like:
    “Death is actually nothing,
    it is like a person who moves fromone house to
    only, the wise one chooses for himself
    a house finer than the first one.

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