THE GRAND RABBI TZVI KROCHMAL RAPOPORT OF LIZHENSK

Finding a true “miracle worker” rabbi is not an easy task. Finding a rabbi with a reputation as a “miracle worker” is easier. Finding a rabbi who pretends to work miracles is a pushover.  And the latter is what the wise men of Chelm found. The rabbi in question called himself Grand Rabbi Tzvi Krochmal Rapoport of Lizhensk, but in the Lizhensk’s Civil Registry he was inscribed as «Tzvi the village shlemiel» (Tzvi the village idiot). The miracles that supposedly were within his reach covered a wide variety of cases. From finding a lost pet to moving a mountain, going through all kinds of feats each more ludicrous than the next.

When the old wise men of Chelm organized a party in the town hall to honor him, the inhabitants of Chelm were able to witness with their own eyes one of the miraculous feats of their new rabbi: he could eat nonstop for three hours. They were also able to realize certain peculiarities of his idiosyncrasy. For example, in his public appearances he wore a samovar tied with ropes to his head as a hat. He also used to giggle every time any woman named Dobra passed before him, and he used to put his head in a pile of hay when he was asked a question.

When he was told about the famous 16th-century Chelm Rabbi Elijah Ba’al Shem, who created from clay a golem, Grand Rabbi Tzvi of Lizhensk said he would match the feat. He ordered that mud from the riverbank be brought to him and with this material he modeled a formidable superman that caused him great discomfort when it remained motionless before the orders that were given to it.

The theme of the golem obsessed him from the beginning. He became convinced that the golem was going to be the panacea for all the ills of the Jewish people, and on Chelm’s nights it was common to hear the rabbi’s screams scolding the golem for its impassiveness and stolidity.

After the new rabbi discovered the notebooks bequeathed by Rabbi Elijah Ba’al Shem to the Beit Midrash (study hall), he spent sleepless nights studying them until he realized that they were the billing records of the laundress, the bakery and other similar services. Meanwhile, the wise men of Chelm did not know what to think about their new rabbi. He claimed to be an expert on Kabbalah, but when asked a question, he immediately put his head into a pile of hay that he always carried with him. Dudel said the rabbi used the ostrich tactic. But the other wise men tended to think that this strange behavior was an answer in itself to their questions.

Several times the elders of Chelm were invited by the Grand Rabbi Tzvi Krochmal to track his progress with the golem. On those occasions, embarrassing situations occurred, such as continuous humiliation samples on the part of the rabbi before the impassive mass of mud, at whose feet he threw himself crying and begging it to move its ass. On other occasions, he got angry and slapped it, bitterly reproaching it for its attitude of apathy. But the golem always remained imperturbable. Unlike most, who saw in these scenes poignant training exercises for the Day of Atonement, Dudel judged this poignant behavior as pathetic and left the rabbi’s house feeling ashamed of him.

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