The Kotzker Rebbe zt”l, On His 152nd Yahrtzeit


kever-of-kotzker-rebbeToday, the 22nd of Shevat, is the 153rd yahrtzeit of the the Kotzker Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern. Born in Goray, near Lublin, Poland, Rav Menachem Mendel received a thorough Torah education from his father, R’ Leibush Morgenstern, a zealous opponent of Chasidus.

After his marriage at 14, his father introduced him to the world of Chasidus. Thereafter, he became an ardent follower of the Chozeh of Lublin and Rav Simcha Bunim of Pshis’cha, whom he eventually succeeded at age 40.

Rav Menachem Mendel was a new type of chassid. If the Baal Shem Tov embodied chessed, Reb Mendel represented din. While the Baal Shem sought to reach all the people, Reb Mendel knew that what he sought could only be attained by the elite. The Baal Shem lifted the people up, Rav  Mendel rebuked them for their inadequacies and always demanded more. Reb Leibel Eiger was entranced by Kotzk, to the despair of his father, Rav Shlomo. Reb Mendel and Reb Mordechai Yosef of Ishbitz had been close friends and disciples of Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshischa. After Reb Bunim’s passing, Reb Mendel became Rebbe. On Simchas Torah of 1840 there was an irrevocable split between the two and Reb Mordechai Yosef left with his chassidim to form a new chassidus.

Rav Mendel was uncompromising in his demands for perfection from himself and his students. Some of his students, led by Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner, felt his methods were too austere and parted ways with him.

“There is nothing so whole as a broken heart” is one of the many sayings of the Kotzker Rebbe. He further told his students, “I want you not to sin not because it’s forbidden, but because you have no time to sin.”

During his last 20 years, he left his room only rarely to speak with his students or family members; he received his food – a daily portion of bread and soup – through a hole in the door. He is said to have uttered, upon his death, “Death is actually no big deal; it’s just like walking from one room to a better one.”

Various Chassidic groups trace their roots to the Kotzker Rebbe, including Ger, founded by his brother-in-law and talmid Rav  Yitzchok Meir, the Chidushei HaRim; Sochatchov, founded by his son-in-law, the Avnei Nezer; Amshinov; and the talmidim of his grandson, Ra  Yisroel of Pilov.

{Noam Newscenter}


  1. This essay does not even come close to expressing the unique gadlus of the Kotzker Rebbe Ztl. The Kotzker Rebbe said famously to young buchorim: Do you know how to learn? When they replied yes they had even completed Shas, he would respond: The Torah means to teach, to guide. What has the Torah taught you? Nu? What has the Torah taught YOU ? Think about it…