Yitro: The Kotzker-Mitzvah 30 – Concept 28
The 22nd of Shevat is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859). Born in Goray, near Lublin, Poland, Rav Menachem Mendel received a thorough Torah education from his father, Leibush Morgenstern, a zealous opponent of Chasidus. After his marriage at 14, his father introduced him to the world of Chasidus. Thereafter, he became an ardent follower of the Chozeh of Lublin and Rav Simcha Bunam of Pshis’cha, whom he eventually succeeded.
R’ Menachem Mendel was a new type of chassid. If the Baal Shem Tov embodied chessed, Reb Mendel represented din. While the Baal Shem sought to reach all the people, Reb Mendel knew that what he sought could only be attained by the elite. The Baal Shem lifted the people up, Reb Mendel rebuked them for their inadequacies and always demanded more.
Reb Leibel Eiger was entranced by Kotzk, to the despair of his father, Rav Shlomo. Reb Mendel and Reb Mordechai Yosef of Ishbitz had been close friends and disciples of Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshischa. After Reb Bunim’s passing Reb Mendel became Rebbe.
However, because of Reb Mendel’s extreme aloofness the two friends were traveling on a collision course. Finally, on the Simchas Torah of 1840 there was an irrevocable split between the two and Reb Mordechai Yosef left with his chassidim to form a new chassidus. Most prominent among his students were the Chidushei Harim of Ger and Rav Chanoch of Alexander.
“You shall not prostrate yourself to them.” (Exodus 20:5) We are forbidden to worship idols in the four ways that we worship God. (Rambam, Hilchot Avodah Zarah – The Laws of Idolatry and Paganism)
Said the Kotzker: The prohibition against idol worship includes within itself the prohibition against making idols out of our service of God and the Mitzvot. We should never imagine that the chief purpose of a Mitzvah is its outward form, and that its inward meaning should be subordinated. The very opposite is the position we should take.