Love of Fellow Jews
The kinship and love between Jews is one of the cardinal principles and hallmarks of Judaism. But none could match Rabbi Eliezer Lippa, father of the two great Chassidic leaders, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and Rabbi Zusha of Hanipoli, when it came to this particular trait.
Rabbi Eliezer Lippa would spare no money or effort to help out a fellow Jew in desperate straits. Above all, he took a special interest in poor Jewish tenant farmers who were harassed by feudal landlords when they fell behind paying the staggering tax payments imposed on them.
Redeeming A Prisoner
It was the custom of those landlords to take these poor Jews and throw them into prison until either they or someone else paid the debt. Rabbi Eliezer Lippa was one who gave all that he owned for the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captives).
One time he heard that in a nearby town the landlord had imprisoned a certain Jewish tenant farmer because he was unable to pay rents and taxes. Leaping into his wagon, he took all the money he had on hand and drove off to see what he could do. When he arrived, however, he learned to his dismay that the money owed was twice as much as he had taken with him.
He began to plead with the landlord to persuade him to accept the money that he had in payment of the debt, and to free the prisoner. He was so persuasive that he managed to convince him, and the prisoner was ordered freed. Following this, the landlord turned to Rabbi Eliezer Lippa and said:
"I see that you are truly a good and righteous man and I am sure you are also an honest man in business. I have a business proposition you might be interested in."
"What is it?" asked the rabbi.
"I have a certain relative who is a wealthy landlord in a town not far from here. He has a great deal of agricultural produce - wheat, barley, flax - that he is interested in selling, and has been looking for an exceptionally honest merchant whom he can trust with the selling.
"I am sure you would be the perfect man, and I will give you a letter of recommendation so that he will sell you his merchandise."
When Rabbi Eliezer Lippa heard these words he replied, "I thank you very much for your trust in me, but I am afraid I have no money with which to buy the merchandise. You see, every available penny that I had I gave to you to redeem the prisoner."
When the landlord heard this he said, "In that case I will do this. Here is the money back and use it to buy produce. When you have earned your profit, I am sure that you will come back and repay me."
"I appreciate this very much," said the rabbi. Taking the money and the letter he set off for town to buy merchandise.
Arriving at the other landlord's farm, he showed him the letter and explained why he was there. The landlord read it and said, "My relative speaks very highly of you and recommends that I do business with you. Since I have great respect for his judgment I agree to it"
The two men sat down and worked out a price and all the other necessary details. Then Rabbi Eliezer Lippa went down to the granaries to look over the produce that he was to sell.
As he was walking with one of the servants he heard a terrible groan coming from one of the nearby buildings.
"What is that?" he asked in horror.
"Oh, that is a Jew who has been imprisoned by the landlord because he is behind in his debts. The landlord has decided to starve him to death."
When Rabbi Eliezer Lippa heard this, he rushed back to the landlord and cried, "I wish to pay the Jewish prisoner's debt immediately. Here is the money and you can release him."
Prepares To Leave
When the Jew had been released, Rabbi Eliezer Lippa prepared his horses and wagon and started to leave.
"Where are you going?" asked the landlord in surprise. "What about the business deal that we have?"
Rabbi Eliezer Lippa stood straight and stared the landlord directly in the face, saying, "I will be quite frank with you. Since I have seen with what cruelty you behaved towards this Jew, I have no desire to do business with you in any way, even if this means losing enormous profits.”
When the landlord heard this, he was struck by a great sense of surprise and shame. His face flushed and he looked at Rabbi Eliezer Lippa.
"You are right. I have certainly not behaved properly. Your words have convinced me to change my ways. As proof of my sincerity, I will apply the money you gave me for the release of the prisoner towards the price of the merchandise. Let us hope that we can do business in the future again, and that you will have satisfaction from me."
This was how a great rabbi was willing to sacrifice money for principle.
Two Great Sons
Rabbi Eliezer Lippa, was blessed with the two above-mentioned sons, Rebbe Elimelech and Rebbe Zusha, who were to spread the doctrine of Chassidus throughout Galicia. They themselves were the students of the great Maggid of Mizrich, who was the student of the Baal Shem Tov.
After their father's death, the two brothers returned to their native Galicia to spread his teaching. They realized that the quickest and most successful way would be to go directly to the masses, the poor and miserable Jews of Galicia, and they did just that. They took upon them-selves voluntary galus (exile), dressed like paupers, with packs over their shoulders, and lived with the masses.
They would eat and sleep in houses and inns where the poor gathered, going from town to town and sharing 'the pauper's lot. All the while they suffered not only the hardships of poverty but lived at the mercy of some of the rougher and more boorish elements. They never ceased their teachings, however, and their attempts to influence the people. Slowly, but surely, their influence took root and Chassidus began to spread. At the same time they never neglected their own Torah or their analysis and mussar.
One day, while at the inn, someone stole two horses from one of the wealthier guests. The man, seeing the two paupers, immediately assumed that these were the thieves and he began to beat them unmercifully.
The two brothers suffered the beating in silence and, after the man left, Rebbe Elimelech turned to his brother and said, "Behold the punishment of the wicked. We, who were only suspected of stealing, have been beaten so severelv. Can you imagine the punishment in the World to Come for those who really stole?”
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