Harav Meshulam Zusha of Anipoli, zy”a,the Rebbe Reb Zusha
Died: Hanipol, 2 Shevat 5560 (1800)
The Rebbe Reb Zusha, as he was commonly known, was born in the village of Lapachi, near the city of Tiktin. His parents were Reb Eliezer Lipman and his wife Mirel.
From childhood on, Reb Zusha was outstanding in his search for the truth, and never stopped inquiring how he could serve Hashem better. In his youth he served as a shamash in the town of Ostroha, and would often fast two or three days before requesting any food from the locals.
Reb Zusha became familiar with Chassidus through the Maggid of Mezritch, Reb Dov Ber. This took place after Reb Zusha’s father had passed away and he moved to the home of his uncle, Reb Elimelech Pielt, in Mezritch. Reb Elimelech was the Maggid’s shamash, and through him Reb Zusha came to be one of Reb Dov Ber’s greatest disciples.
Reb Zusha brought his younger brother, Reb Elimelech, to the Maggid, and together the two brothers became leaders of Chassidus.
The Ba’al Hatanya, Reb Schnuer Zalmen of Liadi, said about him: “His prayers were uttered with an intensity and awe that is beyond compare.” He combined a self-effacing devotion and attachment to Hashem with an ardent love for the Jewish people, sharing their joys, bearing their burdens. The people reciprocated, flocking to him in large masses. They saw in him a tzaddik and a guide, but above all a champion and a defender. He was the rebbe who recognized only goodness.
In his final years he suffered from a protracted illness, but he never complained. “Whatever comes from Hashem is good,” he would say. The final resting place of this beloved chasidic rebbe is beside the grave of his holy Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezhritch.
Rabbi Zusha did not write any books. His reflections and commentaries, which are scattered among the works of his students, were compiled together and printed as the Menoras Hazahav.
The Maggid of Mezritch was asked a question by a few of his followers: “How was it humanly possible for anyone to reach the level of what the Talmud in Brachos says, ‘A person is required to bless Hashem for the bad [occurrences] just as he would bless Hashem for the good (occurrences]’ ?” The Maggid told them that they could discover the answer if they went to see his student, the holy Rebbi Zusha of Anapoli.
They went to the house of study and found R’ Zusha. His clothes were torn and faded, yet his face shone with splendor. They asked R’ Zusha their question. Rebbi Zusha was amazed that his Rebbe the Maggid had sent them to find out the answer to their question from him. R’ Zusha answered the two brothers that they should find a person who really was suffering to find the answer to their question. Reb Zusha told them that he hadn’t experienced any bad experiences in his entire life, so how would he know how to answer them.
They then realized that their question had been answered. For they saw by R’ Zusha’s answer to their question that it was possible for a person to see only good and be happy even in bad circumstances. R’ Zusha was oppressed all his life from extreme poverty, yet due to his strong attachment to God, the source of joy, R’ Zusha didn’t feel the afflictions of his extreme poverty and only experienced joy.
Reb Zusha had gone to visit his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch. After a a spiritually fulfilling stay, growing from his teacher’s wisdom, R’ Zusha prepared to leave. When he went into his rebbe’s study for a parting word, he mentioned to the Maggid that he needed to marry off his daughter. Now, R’ Zusha was as poor as could be, and marrying off a child required a considerable sum. The Maggid immediately took a sum of 300 rubles and pressed it into his disciple’s hand, wishing him mazal tov, and sending him happily on his way. Reb Zusha was greatly relieved. Now, his wife and daughter would be at ease. Although he had taken money, which was not his habit or desire, it was a necessary thing, he thought to himself.
The trip home took R’ Zusha through many towns and villages, and as he passed through one tiny Jewish village he was startled by the sound of bitter weeping coming from a small hut. The other villagers were going about their business. He stopped one and asked, “Who is that crying?” “That is a poor widow who was about to marry off her daughter. But on the way to the chupa she lost the entire dowry. Now, the wedding is off because the groom and his family refuse to go on with it without the dowry. And how will she ever amass 300 rubles again?”
R’ Zusha’s tender soul was pained for the poor woman. Then he realized that 300 rubles was exactly what he had with him. He walked up to the door of the hut and knocked. “My good woman, I think I may have found your money!” Her eyes widened in disbelief.
“Can you tell me if this money had any distinguishing marks?” asked R’ Zusha.
“Why yes,” she replied. “The money was in a packet of two fifties, and ten twenties, and it was tied with a red string.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I found!” replied R’ Zusha. “I will go to the inn and get the money and bring it right back.”
Reb Zusha ran to the inn and changed his money for the denominations the widow had described. Then he tied the bills together with a red string and ran back to the widow’s hut. By the time he returned the little village was buzzing with the good news. The girl had changed into her bridal dress, and the neighbors were bustling about preparing the wedding feast. As Reb Zusha presented the widow with the money, he said, “I am keeping one twenty ruble note for my trouble.”
She looked at him as if he was speaking a foreign language. The others who had overheard the remark stood with their mouths open. “What!” screamed the widow, finding her tongue. “How can you rob a poor widow of twenty rubles! And after you have just performed a most wonderful and holy mitzvah!” The others converged around Reb Zusha screaming and yelling, “Thief! Stealing a widow’s money! For shame!” R’ Zusha, however, refused to budge. He clung to the twenty rubles as if to dear life. “This money is mine as a reward, and for my troubles!”
Relatives, friends and other townspeople berated R’ Zusha, and soon it seemed that they would tear him limb from limb to retrieve the money. Finally someone piped up: “Let’s go to the rabbi. He will be able to settle this once and for all!” Everyone agreed to follow the rabbi’s ruling and they all trailed along to the rabbi’s house.
The rabbi listened to each side and then ruled: “Reb Zusha must give the widow the twenty rubles.” Still, Reb Zusha refused to give up the money. They began to flog Reb Zusha who still refused to return the twenty ruble. After a while Reb Zusha put his hand into his pocket and extracted the bill, Then Reb Zusha was escorted to the edge of the village and unceremoniously kicked out like a common thief.
Many months later the village rabbi happened to encounter Rabbi Dov Ber and related to him the incident with his disciple, Reb Zusha. The Maggid turned to the rabbi, “You must go to Reb Zusha and beg forgiveness. That money didn’t belong to the widow. I myself gave it to Reb Zusha to marry off his own child! He demanded twenty rubles because he wanted to avoid honor at any cost. He wanted this great mitzvah to be completely pure.”
The rabbi was shocked and ashamed when he heard this. He went to Anipoli to beg Reb Zusha’s forgiveness. But Reb Zusha replied to him, “You don’t need my forgiveness because I was never angry. I do not hold my honor high, but I will forget about the incident completely if you promise never to reveal the truth to the widow. I never want her to suspect that the money wasn’t hers by right.” The rabbi, of course, agreed and the incident was never mentioned again.
It was the custom of R’ Zusha to recite his morning prayers at length. After he concluded, he would retire to his room next to the Shul. Once there, he would open the window and lifting his eyes to the heavens call out, “Master of the World, Zusha (he always referred to himself in the third person) is very hungry and desires to eat something!” Every morning, his attendant would wait until he heard R’ Zusha’s appeal, then he would bring in R’ Zusha’s morning meal of cake with a little schnapps. One morning the attendant thought to himself, “Why doesn’t R’ Zusha ask me directly for his meal. In fact, who does he think he is fooling by calling out to Hashem like that. He knows full well that I bring him his food everyday.” So he decided that the next morning he would not bring R’ Zusha’s meal when he called out. He would just wait to see what would happen and where R’ Zusha’s would look for his meal.
The next morning, R’ Zusha awoke as usual, well before the light of day. As he did every morning, he first went to the town Mikveh to immerse himself in preparation for the day’s holy work. The night had been a rainy one in Anipoli, and the streets of the town had already turned to rivers of mud. In order to get from one side of the street to another, one had to cross on narrow planks that were laid across the flowing mud. As R’ Zusha was crossing in the direction of the Mikveh, a man whom he didn’t recognize, a guest in town, was coming towards him from the other side. When he saw R’ Zusha, gaunt, almost emaciated, dressed in rags without a tooth in his mouth, the stranger yelled out, “Itinerant!”, and with a hearty laugh jumped up and down on the plank causing R’ Zusha to tumble into the mud.
R’ Zusha didn’t say a word. He calmly picked himself out of the mud and continued on his way to the Mikveh, while the stranger sauntered off into the distance, chuckling merrily the whole way as he re-enacted his great prank over and over in his mind. When he arrived back at the inn where he was staying, he couldn’t help but brag to the innkeeper about his good prank. The innkeeper didn’t laugh so quickly. He asked the guest to describe the “itinerant” whom he had catapulted into the mud. He suddenly clapped his hands to his head and cried out in anguish, “Oy VaVoy, Oy Oy, do you know what you did!? That was not just some itinerant. That was the Rebbe R’ Zusha!” Now it was the guest’s turn to cry out “Oy VaVoy”. R’ Zusha was known to all as a holy man and a Tzaddik. Trembling, the guest cried out, “Oy Vey, Oy Vey! What am I going to do now? What am I going to do now?!”
“Don’t worry”, exclaimed the innkeeper regaining his composure; “Listen to me. I know what you should do. R’ Zusha spends many hours every morning in prayer. When he is finished he goes into his private room next to the Shul. There he opens the window, and anybody can see how he leans out and lifting his eyes to heaven calls out, ‘Master of the World, Zusha is very hungry and desires to eat something!’ I’ll prepare some cakes and some schnapps for you to take to him. When you hear him call out to the Creator, you go in immediately with this gift, and offer it to him and beg his forgiveness. I’m certain that he will forgive you wholeheartedly.”
That morning, like every morning, after his prayers, R’ Zusha went into his room, opened the window and called out, “Master of the World, Zusha is very hungry and desires to eat something!”
The attendant, upon hearing R’ Zusha, held his ground and clasped his folded arms together tightly, waiting to see what the outcome would be. “Let God bring him his cake this morning”, he huffed to himself.
Suddenly the door to the Shul opened and a man, holding a large plate of cakes and a bottle of schnapps came in and made his way to the room of R’ Zusha. He went straight in, put the cakes on the table, then fell to the floor in grief, begging the Tzaddik for his forgiveness (which he was certainly granted). Let it be known, that the attendant came to understand that it really was the Master of the World who brought R’ Zusha his breakfast every morning.
Reb Zusha was laying on his deathbed surrounded by his disciples. He was crying and no one could comfort him. One of his students asked him, “Why do you cry? You were almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham.” Reb Zusha answered, “When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won’t ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham,’ rather, they will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’ Why didn’t I fulfill my potential, why didn’t I follow the path that could have been mine.”
Zchuso Yagen Aleinu May the merit of the tzaddik protect us all!