Friday, May 4, 2007

Noda BeYehudah - The Most Important Tzadik In The History Of Chassidus ?

Perhaps, the answer is yes, Reb Yecheskel Landau, the celebrated author of Noda BeYehudah and Rov of Prague, was the most important figure in the history of Chassidus. As we will soon see without him we might not have the Torah of the Baal Shem Tov, Kedushas Levi, Noam Elimelech, Likutei Mohoran, Bnei Yisaschor, Tanya, Sfas Emes and all the other sifrei chassidus.

Reb Yecheskel was a great gaon in Torah and a great tzadik, well versed in the hidden Torah, as well. He was an avid opponent of the newly founded Chassidic movement of the Baal Shem Tov. He was on friendly terms with the Ball Shem Tov, but didn't believe in him as a great tzadik. When the Baal Shem Tov would be in his city, he would stop by to visit R’ Yecheskel, who would personally wait on him, to fulfill the mitzva of hachnosas orchim. When the Baal Shem realized he is causing the Noda BeYehuda to stop learning Torah, he stopped coming. The wife of R' Yecheskel did believe in the Baal Shem Tov as a great tzadik and would visit him with her sons.

In Noda BeYehdah (Yoreh Deah 93) he attacks the practice of saying LeShem Yichud. In the tshuva he quotes a famous posuk with some changes. The posuk in Hoshea 14:10 says כִּי-יְשָׁרִים דַּרְכֵי ד׳ וְצַדִּקִים יֵלְכוּ בָם וּפֹשְׁעִים יִכָּשְׁלוּ בָם, for the ways of Hashem are right, tzadikim walk in them, but sinners stuble in them. He substituted the word Chassidim for פֹשְׁעִים writing "...but chassidim stumble in them". When his grandchildren were reprinting the sefer, many years later, they asked one of the Chassidish Rebbes if they should put the posuk back to its original form. He said to keep it like this because the Noda BeYehudah turned "sinners" into "Chassidim" and you don't want to turn "chassidim" into sinners". (The Chida insists that one should say LeShem Yichud even though there are those opposed to this, referring to the Noda BeYehudah.)

Despite this, he was revered by the chassidic greats, who acknowledged that he meant everything for the sake of Heaven. The Divrei Chaim of Sanz said that if the Noda BeYehuda would be alive he would go sit under his table to learn from him. He is so revered by some Chasidim that on his yahrzeit, the 32nd day of sefira, some purposely do not say the LeShem Yichud before sefira in honor of his yahrzeit, since he has the famous tshuva against saying LeShem Yichud.

R' Yisroel of Rizhin told one of his talmidim, who was a grandson of R' Yecheskel, something he heard over from the Ohev Yisroel, who heard it from the Magid of Zlochov. The Magid of Zlochov said that when it was time for the neshama of the Baal Shem Tov to come down to this world, all kinds of prosecuting angel spoke up arguing that Moshiach was going to come before his time if the Baal Shem Tov comes into the world. Defending angels spoke up in favor of the Baal Shem Tov coming into the world. In the end, it was decided that another lofty neshama will be sent down, who would also be a great tzadik, but an antagonist to the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings. This rift would prevent Moshiach from coming before his time. This other great tzadik was R' Yecheskel Landau, the Noda BeYehudah.

So indeed we can say that the Noda BeYehuda was the most important figure in the history of chassidus, because without him, the Baal Shem Tov would not have been able to come into this world.

The yahrzeit of Reb Yecheskel ben Reb Yehudah HaLevi Landau is this Shabbos, 17 Iyar.

Zchuso Yogen Aleinu


Anonymous said...

Yeah, Chassidim used to say:
"Thanks to the Nodeh B'Yehuda we have the Baal Shem Tov, and thanks to the Gr"a we have the Maggid."

BTW, in the story above regarding his einiklach reprinting the sefer, it was the Tzemach Tzeddek of Lubavitch that said:
"Your zeide made Chassidim out of sinners, and you want to make sinners out of chassidim?!"

Anonymous said...

There is a biography of R' Yechezkel by Rabbi R. Weingarten (translated into English as The Noda BiYehudah: The Story of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau by Yaakov Dovid Schulman). The second-to-last chapter (entitled Rabbi Yechezkel and Chassidus, the shortest in the entire book, consisting of slightly more than one page) mentions a few of the more "practical" things mentioned here, such as R' Chaim of Sanz's statement. However, it mentions nothing of R' Yechezkel's relationship to the Ba'al Shem Tov. Are you sure of the verifiability of those statements? (I'm not, chas v'shalom, an apikorus, or even a skeptic; I just thought that a book covering the life of the Noda B'Yehudah, with an entire chapter dealing with his relationship to Chassidut, would mention this if it were at all true.)

Also, in response to the comment on this post, I ask: wouldn't it make more sense if the relationship between the particular chassid leaders and their mitnagdishe "counterparts" be reversed? Everyone knows that the Gr"a was the greatest of the Acharonim; the Noda B'Yehudah, as great as he was, paled in comparison. And, considering that the Besh"t was the Maggid's master (implying his superiority), wouldn't it make sense for the two greater ones to "counterbalance" each other (likewise with the two lesser ones)? Especially considering the fact that the Ba'al Shem Tov is always contrasted with the Vilna Gaon when the chassidic-mitnagdic controversy is mentioned in a historical context. My only argument in favor of the comment would be that the Noda B'Yehudah was born before the Gr"a, but to me, that is not sufficient "proof" when compared to the above-mentioned reasons....

A Talmid said...

One of the places this mentioned is in Sipurei Chassidim from R' Sholom Yosef Zevin (available in English from artscroll). Look in the index for Noda BeYehuda and you will find it. R' Zevin is considered a respectable source being that he was a major talmid chacham. He wrote many seforim. Other than that I can not say what is accurate and what isn't. the main thing is to learn whatever we can to serve Hashem from everyone, be it The Baal Shem Tov, Gra, Noda BeYehuda, Chida or any other gadol.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I deduced from the above-mentioned biography in the second comment on this post, that the Noda B'Yehudah's full name was Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehudah Leib HaLevi Segal Landau. You'll find different variations of it throughout the book; one might say something like "Yechezkel HaLevi ben Yehudah Segal Landau", many others would omit "Segal" from his name; however, I'm pretty sure that I came up with the right full name. He was born in 1713 (18th of MarCheshvan, 5474).