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Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Halevi of Nikolsburg

(Mentor of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak )

Born: Chortkov, Galicia, 1726

Died: Nikolsburg, Moravia (now Czechoslovakia), 1778

The firstborn son of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh of Chortkov, Shmuel Shmelke traced his ancestry back to the prophet Shmuel (Samuel). In their early years, Shmuel Shmelke and his brother Pinchas - who was also to become a famous rabbi - studied Torah in nonchasidic Lithuanian yeshivot; but after traveling to Mezritch and meeting the great chasidic master Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid, they became his ardent followers.

After serving as rabbi in Ritchval and Shiniava, Shmuel Shmelke was invited, in 1773, to become the rabbi of Nikolsburg in Moravia, where he made a powerful impact. His strong attachment to Chassidut aroused the ire of many members of the community, which led to bitter quarrels that were quelled as a result of the personal intervention of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk.

Rabbi Shmelke established a major yeshivah that attracted numerous outstanding students. Among these were such luminaries as the Chozeh of Lublin, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rymanov, Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz, Rabbi Mordechai Banet and Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov.

His homilies and novellae were published in Divrei Shmuel, and anthologies of his Torah thoughts were published under the titles Imrei Shmuel and Shemen Hatov.

On his deathbed he said to his disciples,... "You should know that my soul is that of the prophet Shmuel (Samuel). Proof of this is that my name, like the prophet's is Shmuel. The prophet was a Levi, and so am I. The Prophet Shmuel lived to be 52 years, and I am today 52 years old. Only the prophet was called Shmuel, but I have remained Shmelke."

Rabbi Shmelke asked: How does one develop simchah (joy)? The primary source of joy should be the knowledge that God has chosen us from among all the nations and that He has separated us from those who have strayed. He has distinguished us from those who are lost, who wander around aimlessly, searching, seeking, lost without any clue as to their past, their future and even their present.

Loving those that harm you

How is it possible to fullfil the mitzvah of loving your fellow when he has done something evil to you? All the souls of Israel are united together like one soul. Sometimes it happens that a person will by accident strike himself. If the person would then take a stick and hit his hand or feet, the part of his body that had struck him, we would all look upon him as one who was mentally deficient. Why should he be hurting himself more? The same is here. He is actually one soul with his friend. This friend acted that way through his own lack of understanding. If he should do something to this person, it is as if he did something to himself. [Instead of being angry and doing something to this person] he should realize that everything is from HaShem, and He has many agents to do his will. (from Imrei Shmuel)

Helping The Poor

Once, a poor man came to Rabbi Shmelke's door. There was no cash in the house, but the Rebbe knew the man was desperate for food. So R' Shmelke looked through his wife's drawer, and found a beautiful ring and promptly gave it to the beggar. When his wife came home, she screamed, "How dare you give that ring, it was worth fifty dollars! Now go and run after the beggar!" Which Reb Shmelke promptly did, whispering in the beggar's ear. "I have just learned that the ring I gave you is worth fifty dollars. Make sure you don't get less for it."

Rabbi Elimelech Helping Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk was once walking along with another man on his way to the mikvah, when a heavenly voice was heard, promising a spiritual reward in the World to Come for whoever would help to free R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg from the bitter opposition of his antagonists.

"Did you hear a voice just now?" Rabbi Elimelech asked his companion.

"Nothing," said the other.

"Since only I heard it," thought the tzaddik, "it is clear that I am the one who ought to go to Nikolsburg."

Arriving there, he asked R' Shmelke for permission to preach in the synagogue in order to rebuke the congregation.

Said R' Shmelke: "What good can that do when they never listen to any words of rebuke?"

But since his guest entreated him earnestly, he finally gave his permission.

Soon enough, the synagogue was filled with people who were eager to hear the guest preacher. In the course of his sermon, Rabbi Elimelech proved to them by all manner of specious arguments that there were ways and means of voiding various prohibitions specified in the Torah. He used the style of the ingenious hairsplitter mentioned in the Talmud who succeeded in finding one hundred and fifty pseudo-logical justifications for pronouncing a reptile ritually clean. This kind of teaching was very much to their liking. The guest announced that on the morrow he would preach again, and almost all the townsfolk flocked to hear him. He ascended the pulpit, and proved to them, this time with genuine arguments, that the previous day he had not taught them the truth; that in fact it was forbidden to transgress not only those prohibitions explicitly set out in the Torah, but also the slightest prohibition ordained by the Sages.

His words, proceeding from the heart, aroused a feeling of repentance in the hearts of all his listeners. They wept, contrite, and said to each other, "He's telling us exactly what our rabbi had been telling us all along, but we didn't want to take notice. We really ought to go to his house and ask for his forgiveness!"

So they went to Rabbi Shmelke and fell on their faces and asked him for pardon, and promised to heed his words from then on for the visiting preacher had shown them that he had been in the right.

As for Rabbi Elimelech, he took his leave of Rabbi Shmelke and took to the road. A little way out of Nikolsburg, he was addressed by a voice from heaven: "Because you helped R' Shmelke, whomever you will bless during the next 24 hours will be blessed"...

It Once Happened...

The Rav of Yanov was a great scholar. As a young man he had been the friend of R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg, and their friendship had endured in spite of the young man's terrible obstinacy and inability to concede the correctness of anyone else's viewpoint.

Once, the Rav of Yanov was traveling to his son's wedding together with an impressive party of illustrious well-wishers. The Rav and his party stopped at a lovely site on the outskirts of a forest to say the afternoon prayers. The Rav chose a secluded spot under the trees some distance away from the others, and he lingered over his devotions. The members of his traveling party waited patiently for him in the carriage, but when darkness descended, they began searching for him in the surrounding groves of trees. Their search proved unsuccessful and though they were a bit concerned, they assumed that he had accepted a ride from one of the many other carriages in the wedding party.

Their anxiety was borne out when they arrived at the site of the wedding and the Rav was nowhere to seen. There were all kinds of speculation, but there was nothing to do other than to proceed with the wedding without him. The sad group returned to Yanov without the Rav and in fact, without a clue of what might have happened to him.

Meanwhile, the Rav was wandering around in the depths of the forest unable to find a way out. He had unwittingly lost his way in the forest. As hours became days the Rav became more despondent and disoriented. He lost track of time and set about preparing for Shabbat a day early.

Finally, with G-d's help, the Rav found his way home and rejoined his jubilant family which had begun to fear the worst. When Thursday arrived the Rav busily set about preparing for Shabbat. When his family explained that it was Thursday and not Friday, he argued hotly that they were all mistaken. They tried patiently to explain that in the course of his wanderings he had somehow lost a day in his reckoning, but he just became more and more infuriated. His family invited many acquaintances to try to convince the Rav, but to no avail. What could they do, other than to allow him to celebrate the holy Shabbat on Friday. He celebrated with all the traditional foods and prayed the Shabbat prayers, and when Shabbat actually arrived he donned weekday garb and set about his usual weekday activities while his horrified family helplessly looked on.

Many weeks passed while he persisted in his mistaken behavior in spite of the steady stream of visitors all endeavoring to convince him otherwise. One day word of his strange fixation reached his childhood friend, R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg. R' Shmelke set off at once for Yanov, making sure that he would arrive on Thursday. The Rav was thrilled to see him, and hastened to invite him for Shabbat. R' Shmelke accepted enthusiastically, eager to implement the plan he had devised.

R' Shmelke quietly gathered the Rav's family and outlined his plan to them. Needless to say they were anxious to do anything to bring the Rav back to reason, and so, in addition to the usual bountiful Shabbat fare, they also prepared some bottles of strong aged wine and set them on the table. The masquerade was carried out as the whole family and their many guests gathered to celebrate a festive Shabbat meal. After each delicious course R' Shmelke poured a generous cup of old wine into the Rav's cup. Now, this was a heavy, red wine known to induce a deep slumber in the drinker, and R' Shmelke didn't stint on the "L'chaims." Toward the end of the meal, the Rav fell into a deep sleep. R' Shmelke sat back and relaxed with his pipe, telling his fellow diners that they could now return to their normal activities without worry, for the situation was under control. He took a soft cushion and placed it under the head of the sleeping man and settled down to guard the Rav throughout the night and into the following day.

On the next night, which was truly the Shabbat, the same guests returned and sat down at the table to enjoy the real Shabbat repast. When it was time to say the Blessings After the Meal, R' Shmelke gently roused the Rav, who sat up and remarked, "It seems as if I've been sleeping for a long time." He then joined in saying the prayers and everything continued in the usual manner through to the conclusion of the Shabbat. The family and townspeople were overcome with happiness at the result of R' Shmelke's visit and thanked him profusely. For his part, R' Shmelke made them promise that they would never reveal the true happenings of that Shabbat.

The Rav never had an inkling of what had transpired. In fact, he was very proud that everyone else had come to the enlightened conclusion that his calculations had been correct. He was however, careful to credit his old friend R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg for helping lead his mistaken congregants and family to the right conclusion, saying, "Thanks to my friend from Nikolsburg, they were able to comprehend the truth. Isn't it amazing how impossibly stubborn some people can be!"

May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg protect us all, Amen.