Trying To Understand The Younger Brother
Today, the 18th of Kislev, is the yahrzeit of Rebbe Baruch of Medzhebuz. Rebbe Baruch was a grandson of the Baal Shem Tov and also the younger brother of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim.
Although he was a great tzaddik, Rebbe Baruch's neshoma was rooted in a place that makes him almost inaccessible to me. The Toldos section of the 1995 printing of Degel Machaneh Ephraim states, "Two holy souls did the children of the holy Besht bring down into this world, one from the side of chessed [kindness], namely our Rabbi [the Degel], and one from the side of gevurah [strength/strictness] namely Rebbe Baruch, may his merit protect us. And of Rebbe Baruch, it is told that at the time of his passing on the 18th of Kislev, that they found next to him the holy Zohar, open to the page on which is written, "There are different kinds of Anger. There is Anger that is blessed above and below, and it is called Baruch [blessed]".
I have visited his kever in Medzhebuz, but did not leave a kvittel there. I have a copy of his sefer Botzina DeNehora on my bookshelf, but I have not yet opened it pages to learn from it. I have had a tough time relating to Rebbe Baruch ever since reading this story many years ago. This problem was further exacerbated when I learned that the Tehilos Baruch [Perek Heh] relates that Rebbe Baruch once cursed the people of my family's shtetl when they did not act nicely towards him.
If his teachings are quoted by his older brother in Degel Machaneh Ephraim, why do I still have trouble with Rebbe Baruch?
What prevents me from seeing this great tzaddik in a better light?
Chabakuk Elisha responds:
A couple points:
We know that some people are rooted in Chesed and some are rooted in Gevura. We surely relate best to those with whom we share sensitivities, and there is nothing wrong with that. But we should understand that the gevura is not "mean".
Reb Baruch was a truly lofty man. As a child he slept in his grandfather's room and listened to Achiya Hashiloni study with the Besht (when the Baal Shem Tov found out, he made him sleep elsewhere). He was raised mainly by R' Pinchas of Koretz and the Toldos Yaakov Yosef - both of whom praised R' Baruch greatly.
The Ruziner stated that Yechiel, father of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim and R' Baruch, ascended to heaven to select lofty souls to be his children. He chose the Degel first and then R' Baruch, but R' Baruch's soul didn't want to descend to this world unless all Tzaddikim of the world would be subservient to him, but the soul of the Baal HaTanya refused to do so and this disturbed R' Baruch greatly. We all know of the epic struggle between the Baal HaTanya and R' Baruch, but make no mistake, they each held the other in the highest esteem.
Botzina DeNehora is a special sefer even if its not your path, it remains a lofty path nonetheless!
Chazal tell us that the words of Tzaddikim are like coals of fire; they can singe or burn those around them. This is certainly true of R' Baruch.
R' Baruch once said, "If my grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, was R' Shimon Bar Yochai, then I am Elazar his son." (Remember that R' Shimon bar Yochai stated, "I have seen lofty men and they are few; and if there are only two, they are my son and myself.") Also remember how R' Shimon and his son R' Elazar caused a man to burst into flames when they saw him desecrate Shabbos. But that does not make them "mean" since often their gevura contains a higher level of chesed.
Botzina DeNehora contains the following story:
R' Baruch was once sitting with his brother R' Moshe Chaim Ephraim, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, and R' Asher of Stolin. R' Baruch took a glass of vodka and said to R' Asher, "L'chaim, May Moshiach come."
R' Asher responded, "L'chaim, may we go out to greet Moshiach."
R' Moshe Chaim Ephraim said to R' Baruch, "L'chaim, May Moshiach come," and to R' Asher he said, "L'chaim, may we go out to greet Moshiach."
Then R' Baruch yelled angrily at R' Asher, "Litvak! How dare you deviate from my blessing? Take it back! Litvak! Take it back! May your ancestors to be pulled from their graves!"
R' Moshe Chaim Ephraim could not contain himself and he said, "At first I understood your words, but now I don't - what have you against his ancestors!?
R' Baruch then asked his brother, "What was your understanding?"
R' Moshe Chaim Ephraim replied, "My understanding was that you meant to say that Moshiach should come whether we are worthy or not and R' Asher's blessing was for Moshiach to come, but only if we are worthy. But your second statement has confused me."
R' Baruch then said that he had indeed understood correctly, but that the second comment was a completely differently matter, "You see, R' Asher has no sons and I blessed him that he should merit to have a son, and as is known, one's ancestor's come to his bris. So my blessing was that his ancestors should be pulled from their graves to the bris!"
And so it was, not long after, G-d helped and R' Asher had a son "the Beis Aharon" who later became the Rebbe of Stolin.
Chazal say that through gevura one can give a far greater bracha than through chesed because there are not forces that oppose gevura as they oppose chesed. R' Baruch was able to accomplish great good through his gevura! Zechuso Yagein Aleinu.