HaRav HaKadosh Reb Kalonymus Kalman Epstein
Born: 1754 in Neustadt
Died: 1 Tammuz, 5583 (1823) in Krakow.
HaRav HaKadosh Reb Kalonymus Kalman Epstein was the Rav of Krakow and author of “Maor VaShemesh.” He was sometimes referred to as the “Maor Vashemesh” and also called, “Reb Kalmish.”
Reb Kalmish was one of the foremost disciples of the great Chasidic Rebbe, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk who recognized Reb Kalmish’s extraordinary aptitude, uncanny abilities and extreme piety. Rebbe Elimelech sent Reb Kalmish to assume the mantle of Chassidic leadership of the great city of Krakow.
Upon his initial arrival in Krakow, Reb Kalmish was met with great opposition by the “Misnagdim” (opponents of the Chassidic movement) and suffered greatly from them. However, over time even Reb Kalmish’s fiercest enemies and detractors recognized his prodigious greatness. Rumors began to spread throughout the region of western Galicia about the great and holy Rabbi Kalmish of Krakow who came to be known as an extraordinarily great and G-dly Mekubal (holy leader and miracle worker). Jews from far and wide came to him in herds like sheep in a flock, to hear the profound words of Torah from his mouth, for his guidance and for his blessings. Over the years Rabbi Kalmish succeeded in propagating Chassidus throughout Western Galicia. Indeed, during one visit to Lizhensk prior to the death of his beloved Rebbe Elimelech, the “Rebbe” removed his “Atara” in the presence of all of his students and placed it on Rebbe Kalmish’s shoulder and requested that Rabbi Kalmish assume the mantel of leadership of the city of Lizhensk. Although aware of his own greatness, as with many great men throughout history, Rebbe Kalmish in his modesty did not feel worthy of taking over for Rebbe Elimelech and gracefully declined.
Many great Chassidic leaders have referred to his monumental Sefer, the Maor Vashemesh, as the “Shulchan Aruch of Chassidus.”
When Reb Kalmish, was but a young child, Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev visited his town. The young boy hid beneath the Berditchever’s tallis as children do, to see what the Rebbe was doing as he prayed. The manner and conduct of the tzadik left such an impression on Reb Kalmish, that from that point on a holy fire burned within him!
When Reb Kalmish grew up he became a well-known talmid of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. Reb Elimelech once met the Berditchever in Reb Kalmish’s company. Reb Elimelech prided himself on having such an illustrious and holy person as one of his own students. The Berditchever took a good look at the Mechaber of Maor VaShemesh. He then recognized on his face, that the Rav standing before him was that same boy from years ago. “No, no,” said the Berditchever to Rav Elimelech, “this is one of mine! When he was but a five-year-old and he hid under my tallis, the holiness and sanctity already left its mark until he reached his current level and stature” (Avodas Levi, page 98).
HaRav HaKadosh Reb Aharon of Krakow, the son of Rebbe Kalmish, related the following story about a visit he made with his father to the Rebbe’s tziun (literally a “signpost/mark”, used here to refer to marker of a kever/grave), “Once my father and I traveled to the tziun in Lizhensk.” Rebbe Kalmish asked his family and followers to allow him to enter the building that housed the Rebbe Reb Elimelech’s grave alone; he wanted no one to enter while he was there. Of course they consented, and he entered alone, while his followers and family, including Rav Aharon of Krakow, remained outside. Once he entered, he closed the door behind him from the inside. He stayed inside for a very long time. His family grew worried because they knew that his custom was not to tarry so long. They feared that something had happened to him. They broke down the door and entered and found Rebbe Kalmish lying prostrate on the grave of Reb Elimelech. They attempted to revive him and after several strong attempts finally succeeded in doing so. When he regained consciousness, the Rebbe was agitated. “What have you done to me?!” he exclaimed. “If you had allowed me to lie here just a few minutes longer I would have gone straight into Gan Eden together with the Rebbe [Reb Elimelech]!”
The following story was related in the name of the Shinover Rav:
The Mechaber of the Chassidic work Ma’or VaShemesh was a talmid of Reb Elimelech. Once he asked Reb Elimelech to be allowed to serve him so that he could thereby learn directly from his Rebbe. Reb Elimelech conceded and asked him for a cup of tea. The talmid prepared the tea and brought it in to give it to the Rebbe. When he entered the room, he saw the awesome figure of an old man sitting beside Reb Elimelech. He was overcome with such fear and tremors that he dropped the cup, spilling the tea on the floor, and ran out. Later Reb Elimelech saw his talmid and asked him why he hadn’t given him the tea he requested. He had brought it, he answered, but when he saw the figure of the old man, he was so frightened he spilled the tea. “Oy vey iz das kind, vus ken nisht kiken dem tatten in punim arein” (Woe to the child who cannot look his own father in the face!) said the rebbe, “That old man you saw was none other than Avrohom Avinu!” (Eser Tzachtzachos 24; Ohel Elimelech 245)
It says in the sefer Ma’or VaShemesh (Ki Seitzei 22:12), “Every Jewish man whose fear of heaven touches his heart, and who wishes to serve Hashem, should be fierce as a lion upon awakening in the morning. His deposit has now been returned to him — that is, his soul — and thus he should not overindulge in sleep. Rather he should stand up and serve Hashem in holiness, whether through learning Torah or singing songs of praise, pouring out his words like water from his heart before Hashem.” So it could be observed of our master, teacher, and rav, the holy Rebbe Reb Elimelech. As soon as he would awaken from his sleep, he would immediately cry out, “Woe to you! You have wasted time with your sleeping!” (Ohel Elimelech 48; EserTzachtzachos 38)