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The Miracles of Kotzk

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Postcards from Kotzk
6: The Miracles of Kotzk

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Revach L'Neshama

Almost all of us at some point in our lives have had something no less than miraculous happen to us. We were surely moved and inspired at the time. Looking back today can you immediately remember what that was without having to think? Is there something good about the way you act today that you can attribute to this experience? What lasting impression did it make upon you?

If you are in search of miracles you had better try another town. Kotzk is that last bastion in the (chasiddishe, litvishe, or sefardic) world of good old emunah without tales of the Mofsim performed by the Rebbe. What did they have against miracles in Kotzk? What objection can there be to being eyewitness to the open hand of Hashem? In Shiras Hayam it says that after experiencing Krias Yam Suf, Bnei Yisroel believed in Hashem and his servant Moshe. Why didn't they believe after the 10 makkos and Yetzias Mitzrayim? Moreover if they finally became Ma'aminim after Krias Yam Suf, why did they continue to doubt Hashem almost immediately afterward in Marah, by Chet HaEgel, the Miraglim, etc?

In Kotzk everyone knows that Emunah acquired by witnessing miracles is short lived. Even Emunah acquired through contemplating the marvels of the natural world around us is frowned upon in Kotzk. The Mishna in Avos says someone who is walking on the road and involved in Torah study and stops to admire a tree it is as if he has forfeited his life. Wonders the Kotzker, why would someone who wants to recognize Hashem's greatness and make a bracha on the tree (according to the Bartenura's interpretation of the Mishna) be subject to death? The Kotzker answer is that to be involved in Torah study and to turn elsewhere to try to find emunah is pure rebellion. Finding Hashem in nature was for the pre-torah generations. The only acceptable route to emunah in Kotzk is through Torah.

Torah is not merely our rule book of do's and don'ts. It is the wellspring of life and the source of our emunah, albeit not on the surface. One must dig deep and toil over Torah to find his emunah. In Reb Menachem Mendel's unique interpretation of another well known chazal he says, Yogati U"Motzosi Taamin. If you toiled over Torah you will find belief. There is a machlokes in the Medrash if Avrohom recognized Hashem when he was three years old or 48 years old. The Kotzker explains that it is impossible that Avrohom sat around idly for 48 years. What happened was that he recognized Hashem at age 3 but it took him 45 years of toil to turn that spark of recognition into perfect emunah.

I once heard a story of a non religious Doctor in California who was trying to revive a man brought to the emergency room without a pulse. While the Doctor was moving about the room the patient sat up and said Moshe Ben Rephael (not his real name) you must do Tshuva. The patient then died. The Doctor was blown away and shaken to the core. He hadn't heard anyone call him by his Jewish name since his Bar Mitzva. Did he change because of this incredible event? No! He eventually became a Baal Tshuva but in the year following this incident he didn't change one iota from his old ways.

Miracles are not a foundation of emunah. It can be a wakeup call for someone to start to toil to acquire emunah but it doesn't actually get you there. The Kotzker captured this ideal in his typically cryptic style saying, "I can resurrect the dead but I prefer to resurrect the living." He was not interested in wowing simple minded people with great magic tricks. For that, one was able to go to many Chassidic courts throughout Poland. In Kotzk the Rebbe preferred to rehabilitate souls through real ideas and hard work and suffuse them with emunah earned the old fashioned way; through Torah. To turn a Jew into a real believer that is considered the biggest miracle of them all.

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