Chassidic leader, teacher of the Kotzker Rebbe.
In his early life Rabbi Simcha Bunam studied in the yeshivot of Mattersdorf and Nikolsburg where his mentor was the gaon Rabbi Mordechai Banet. Having been introduced to Chassidism by his father-in-law, he became the follower of the Maggid of Koznitz. After working as a manager of a timber producer and later as a pharmacist he was influenced and by the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin, becoming his closest disciple. When Rabbi Yaacov Yitzchak, also called "the Holly Jew", left the Chozeh's circle to establish his own chassidic court in Pshis'cha, Rabbi Bunam followed him there, and upon the Holly Jew's death he succeeded him.
Thousands of chassidim were attracted to the Pshis'cha approach to Chassidism that Rabbi Bunam advocated, accentuating Torah study, introspection, and self searching. This new direction in Chassidut was continued by his successor, the famous Kotzker Rebbe, and by the Vorker Rebbe, the Chidushei Harym of Ger, and by Rabbi Chanoch of Alexander.
Collections of his thoughts on the Torah were published by his followers under the titles Kol Simcha, Ramatayim Tzofim, Chedvat Simcha, and others.
Rabbi Simcha Bunam once said, " I have learned the meaning of love by overhearing a conversation between two Polish peasants in a tavern. They were somewhat inebriated and one said to the other "Do you love me? And the other answered ‘of course I do' and he continued ‘Then tell me where I hurt. And the other said ‘I do not know.' Then the first man responded ‘Then how can you say you really love me.' Rabbi Bunam continued, "to be a friend is to know where the other hurts."
I am ready and willing...
Rabbi Simchah Bunam of Peshischa was once on his way home from Danzig when he happened upon the township where Rabbi Zalman Chasid lived. Rabbi Zalman was great in the Torah and in good deeds but desperately poor. When Rabbi Simcha Bunam arrived at the inn, he immediately sent someone to call Rabbi Zalman. He saw that he was dressed in rags and worn-out garments although it was winter, the cold was severe and the snow was piled high.
Go - Rabbi Simcha Bunam said to him - and prepare me a whole meal, a meal for Chassidim. Here's some money. And he gave him a hand-full of coins, without counting them.
Rabbi Zalman went to the market and spent with largesse to buy everything necessary for a meal: meat, fish and all sorts of drinks, and he still had money left over.
While Rabbi Zalman was out, Rabbi Simcha Bunam sent for a furrier and bought an attractive fur coat from him. He sent out for some boots, cloth for suits and other items of apparel.
Before the meal, he instructed the janitor of the inn to take all the new clothes he had bought to the house of Rabbi Zalman Hasid. He also went round to Rabbi Zalman's house himself, sent everybody out of the house and dressed Rabbi Zalman from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. Then he noticed Rabbi Zalman's family, also dressed in rags and worn-out garments. He sent out for fabric and cloth for all members of the household. The house was filled with light and joy and they sat down and ate and enjoyed themselves.
As Rabbi Simcha Bunam was getting ready to leave on his way, he went to Rabbi Zalman to receive a blessing from him. Rabbi Simchah Bunam gave him a gold dinar, which Rabbi Zalman refused to accept.
- Our Rabbi - he said - I still have the change left over from buying the products for the meal, in addition to the clothing you bought for me and for the members of my household.
- Let me tell you - Rabbi Simcha Bunam replied: One who gives charity out of pity, because he has pity on the poor man and is unable to see him in his sorry state, has not kept the commandment of giving charity. He has not been charitable to the poor man but to himself. This is not a case of "gives it willingly with his heart" (Exodus XXV, 2) but of giving out of a sense of pity. What I have given to you so far was only because my pity was aroused and I was unable to see you and your family in such a sorry state, wearing rags. But now that you are dressed in new, attractive clothes, I am ready and willing to keep the commandment of charitable giving.
*** More about the life and wisdom of Rabbi Simcha Bunam is available in the book: Rabbi Bunam of Pshis'cha
May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pshis'cha protect us all, Amen.