- Blessing the New Month
Biographical sketches (in chronological order) for the weekly Torah essay.
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki - Rashi (1040-29
Tammuz 1105) lived nearly his entire life in Troyes, France. Although considered
the greatest scholar of his generation, he humbly refused all rabbinical positions,
and taught and wrote while earning his living as a wine merchant. His commentary
on Scripture and his commentary on the Talmud are both each indispensable aids
to attaining a basic understanding of the texts. Thus, for nearly 1000 years,
Rashi has been the primary Torah teacher of the generations!
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, the 'Shelah' (1565-1630), was
born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi
of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife
passed away, Rabbi Horowitz remarried and moved to Israel in 1621. He became
the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. After being kidnapped by the local
pasha, and ransomed by the Jewish community for a backbreaking sum of money,
Rabbi Horowitz moved to Tiberias in order to prevent a subsequent kidnapping.
He is known as the 'Shelah', which is the abbreviation of the title of
his magnum opus, Shnei Luchot HaBrit, a classic work in Jewish tradition,
combining insights into the weekly portion, the holidays and Jewish law. His
burial site is in Tiberias, near the tomb of the Rambam.
Rabbi Yisrael (18 Elul 1734 - Shavuot 1760), the
Baal Shem Tov ["master of the good Name"], a unique and seminal
figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity
as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday. He wrote no books, although
many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent
annotated translation of Tzava'at Harivash, published by Kehos.
Rabbi Yechiel Michil of Zalotchov (1731-25 Elul 1786)
was the son of the great scholar, Rabbi Yitzchak of Drorhovitch, who brought
him at a young age to the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic
movement. He eventually became an important disciple of both the Baal Shem Tov
and his successor, the Maggid of Mezritch. 'Reb Michel' served as a 'maggid'
(preacher/lecturer) traveling from town to town, teaching the Jewish residents
how to connect to their Creator. He was famous for his spiritual insight and
extraordinarily effective speaking ability. Many of his teachings are collected
in the book, Mayim Rabim. R' Michel was survived by his five renowned
sons, each of whom became a Rebbe.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
(11 Nissan 1902 - 3 Tammuz 1994), became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty
after his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, passed away in Brooklyn
on 10 Shvat 1950. He is widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish leader of
the second half of the 20th century. Although a dominant scholar in both the
revealed and hidden aspects of Torah and fluent in many languages and scientific
subjects, the Rebbe is best known for his extraordinary love and concern for
every Jew on the planet. His emissaries around the globe dedicated to strengthening
Judaism number in the thousands. Hundreds of volumes of his teachings have been
printed, as well as dozens of English renditions.