The Jewish Eye
Farewell Kotzk... Forever?
Although there is still so much more to learn here in Kotzk, the summer is over and it's time to go home for Rosh HaShana. We'd love to stay but since the Rebbe died the whole town has died as well. Before leaving we went to say good-bye and to thank our main tour guide Reb Chaim Feinberg zt"l (Leaping Souls). While we exchanged good wishes I asked him the one question that has been on my mind for a while. Is Kotzk still alive? The Rebbe's son did not become the Kotzker Rebbe. His close talmid Rav Mordechai Yosef Josephy left Kotzk years earlier to found the Izhbitz Dynasty after a dispute with the Rebbe. His Talmid Chaver the Chidushei HaRim embarked on a milder path saying Reb Simcha Bunim lead with love, the Kotzker led with fear, I will lead my flock with Torah. Sochotchov? That doesn't exist today either. So is there a Kotzk today?
Of course not! The continuation of a chasidic dynasty means that each generation sticks closely to the ideals, customs, mannerisms, and ways of their predecessor. The thought of this alone was an abomination to the Kotzker. He believed in searching within for your own path. He didn't want future generations to imitate him.
Rather explains Rabbi Feinberg the legacy of Kotzk is found in the Mussar movement founded a decade after the Kotzker's passing by Reb Yisroel Salanter. The ideals and their manifestations are eerily similar. As opposed to Chasidus they both believed that inwardness is the best way to serve Hashem to avoid publicity which destroys the entire mitzva. Being an exact replica of one's teacher is not acceptable in either of these worlds. They both agree that the only path to Hashem is through talmud study and not through exalted Kabala and mysticism. Perfecting one's character and ripping out your subconscious ego driven analysis is a prerequisite to growth. Neither the great Baalei Mussar nor Reb Mendel published seforim (A few seforim were printed that gather together some drashos posthumously). They both believed that Mussar is about being living books.
While everything about Reb Mendel's ideals seemed bizarre in the Chasidic courts that dominated the world of Poland and the Ukraine, Lithuania where Reb Yisroel Salanter preached, had the right mind set and was fertile ground to plant the movement. This is not surprising as Reb Mendel was the anti-Chasid who really wanted to bring Chasidus back full circle. His son-in-law the Sochatchaver would repeat in his name every Yom Tov that the best path to Hashem is through Torah. The Baal Shem forged a new path not because it was superior but because the generation no longer had the capability to grow close to Hashem by following that path. The Kotzker wanted to fix the path of Torah and help Chasidim tread on it once again in order to draw close to Hashem.
Thanks for coming with us to Kotzk. We hope that you enjoyed and that it has given you some food for thought. Wishing you all a Kesiva V'Chasima Tova!
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