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Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Serving Hashem with Simcha [Joy]…and Song

Today is the 12th of Elul, the 179th yahrzeit of Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshischa, author of Kol Simcha, (1767-1827). Rebbe Simcha Bunim studied in the yeshivos of Mattersdorf and Nikolsburg under the guidance of Rav Mordechai Banet.
Having been introduced to Chassidus by his father-in-law, he became the follower of the Maggid of Kozhnitz. After working as a manager of a timber producer and later as a pharmacist he was influenced and by the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin, becoming his closest disciple. When Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchak, also called "the Yid HaKodesh [Holy Jew]", left the Chozeh's circle to establish his own Chassidic court in Pshischa, Rebbe Simcha Bunim followed him there, and upon the Yid's death he succeeded him. Thousands of Chassidim were attracted to the Pshischa approach to Chassidus that Rebbe Simcha Bunim advocated, accentuating Torah study, introspection, and self-searching. This new direction in Chassidus was continued by his successor, the famous Kotzker Rebbe; by Rebbe Yitzchak, the Vorker Rebbe; the Chiddushei HaRim of Ger; and by Rebbe Chanoch of Alexander.
Collections of his thoughts on the Torah were published by his followers under the titles Kol Simcha, Ramatayim Tzofim, Chedvat Simcha, and others.

adapted from an article by Rabbi Berel Wein:
For the first century of the Chassidic movement, many of the Rebbes were chosen in a democratic, meritocracy-driven fashion by the Chassidim of the group itself. Thus, some great but unlikely Rebbes appeared and on the whole were quite successful…The most noted unlikely Rebbe, in my opinion, was the great Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshischa. In the 1840s, he was a licensed pharmacist -- some say that he was the only Jewish licensed pharmacist in Polish Russia -- as well as formerly being a merchant and customs agent in Danzig. He wore Western style "short" clothing, knew a number of European languages, had attended concerts and the theater and was an accomplished bridge player. (In today's Chassidic society, none of these attributes would be considered necessary or desired for the position of Rebbe.) Nevertheless, he was one of the most dynamic and successful leaders of Chasidic Jewry in the nineteenth century.

Rav Wein’s history CD on Rebbe Simcha Bunim can be found here where he adds:
Rebbe Simcha Bunim was an atypical Chassidic master; in earlier stages of his life he was world-traveled and secularly-educated. Yet he earned the esteem of the Holy Jew of Pshischa and became his successor, bringing Pshischa to its highest point and turning it from a counter-revolutionary movement into the normative Chassidus of Poland.


In this week’s parsha, towards the end of a long list of curses that are punishments for disobeying Hashem and His Torah [Devarim 28:45], the verse [28:47] says that these punishments are “tachas asher lo avadta es Hashem Elokecha b’simcha [uv’tuv levav] – [literally,] because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy [and a good heart].” The Gemara [Erchin, 11a] comments that this refers to Song: “what type of [Divine] service is with joy and a good heart? You must say, Shira – Song.”

Rebbe Simcha Bunim has a number of explanations of our verse. “The Torah does not specify the sins for which the Jewish people will be punished. The only one that it mentions specifically is ‘because you did not serve the Hashem your G-d joyfully.’ ” (Iturei Torah).

Upon the same verse, Rebbe Simcha Bunim explains it with a Chassidic twist: “Why were they punished? Not only did they not serve Hashem, but they rejoiced in their not serving Him, and for that they brought upon themselves all these curses. The verse is explained like this: because you did not serve Hashem, (and you did so) ‘with joy’. You should have fallen upon your faces (out of shame), not rejoice!” [Siach Sarfei Kodesh, Midrash Simcha]

The sefer Iturei Torah brings this in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe, as follows: “You rejoiced in that you did not serve Hashem, your G-d. The ‘casting off of the yoke’ [of Heaven] was with joy and a good heart.”

The sefer continues: A Kotzker Chassid became very ill, and realized that his end was nearing. Turning to his fellow Chassidim who were at his bedside, he said, “There is one thing that really distresses me now, which is, that I cannot get up and dance with you now. Since I see that it is Hashem’s will that I leave this world, it’s a mitzva to fulfill His will – and mitzvos need to be done with simcha!”

Yismach lev m’vakshei Hashem – those who seek Hashem are joyous-hearted [Divrei HaYamim 16:10]. When a person is looking for a lost object, he is usually distressed, and only when he finds it does he rejoice. But those who seek Hashem are already joyous in conducting the search – in seeking him out. – [Rebbe Simcha Bunim, in Iturei Torah].

One of Rebbe Simcha Bunim’s Chassidim was a rather unpleasant character: he was very short-tempered, complained a lot, and prone to depression. One time he arrived in Pshischa on Motzaei Shabbos [Saturday night, after nightfall], explaining that although he wanted to be with the Rebbe for Shabbos, he had trouble along the way, and was forced to spend Shabbos on the road.
Rebbe Simcha Bunim explained: “Shabbos is a great hostess. When Rosh Chodesh comes out on Shabbos, Shabbos welcomes its guest by giving it Maftir and Musaf. When Yom Tov comes on Shabbos, Shabbos gives it all the Tefillos [prayers] as well as the Torah reading. And if Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos, in addition to all of that, Shabbos gives away its meals and joins it in fasting.”
“But if Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos,” he continued, “Shabbos doesn’t give it anything. On the contrary, it is pushed aside until Sunday. For Shabbos does not want to receive a guest that is prone to depression. It is better for him to come after Shabbos.”

for Elul and the Yamim Noraim [High Holydays]:
People are not to blame for the fact that they sin. Indeed, they withstand great temptation though their strength is negligible. They are, however, to blame for the fact that they do not repent their evil ways, because they always have the ability to do so. [– Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshischa]


Finally, regarding Song, Rebbe Simcha Bunim taught:
All the plagues that the Egyptians suffered were a strike at the Egyptians, and a cure for the Jewish People. At Kriyas Yam Suf – the splitting of the Reed Sea – this too occurred. When Hashem casts the horses and their riders into the Sea, ga’avah [haughtiness] was removed from the Jewish People. Horses are symbolic of haughtiness.
It is impossible to sing to Hashem if a person is haughty. A person needs to know that Pride belongs to Hashem alone. Thus the verse [Shemos, 15:1] says, “I will sing to Hashem, for He is truly proud.” That is, one can sing to Hashem when he realizes that all Pride belongs to Him, and this happens when the [Egyptian] horse and rider are cast into the Sea, and [the Jewish People] are cured of their haughtiness. [Kol Simcha]

Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al kol Yisrael – May Rebbe Bunim’s merit protect us all!

Wonderful post, Yitz. Important to remember.
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