Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem

Kabbalist, leader of the Nistarim.

Born: 1536
Died: , 1636

Kabbalist, leader of the Nistarim

In the year 1501 a certain Spanish Jew called Rabbi Yosef Yozpa came to settle in the city of Cracow. He was about 50 years old. An unmarried man of solitary habits, he was highly respected in the community for his righteousness. His days were spent entirely in study and prayer. Thirty years after he had come to live in Cracow something occurred which was to change his whole way of  life. A young merchant was murdered and left behind him childless widow. At that period of time Rabbi Yosef Yozpa was studying Torah with Eliyahu HaNavie (Elijah the Prophet). Upon the decease of that woman's husband, Eliyahu HaNavie told R' Yosef that he was to marry her in order to bring to earth a certain pure soul whose task will be to help all Jews. Six months passed by, one day  R' Yosef appeared before the rabbinical court and announced his intension of marrying the young widow. They sent a messenger to fetch her. When she came she burst into tears of relief. When forced to explain, she told of a dream that recurred several times. Her deceased father had come to her in his shabbat apparel, had blessed her and commanded her to marry Rabbi Yosef. Now when she heard that he was prepared to marry her she was overjoyed. The entire community rejoiced and came came to participate in the wedding. After a year they were blessed with a son whom they named Eliyahu after Eliyahu HaNavie.

At the age of two, the boy was already learning Torah with his father. His father taught him until the age of Bar Mitzva, in holiness and seclusion from mundane matters. Two weeks before the boy's Bar Mitzva the father called his wife and told her that he has to return his soul to The Creator. He asked her not to cry or mourn over him too much. She must permit their son to follow the path he pleased without interference.  Rabbi Yosef Yozpa died. Several weeks after his Bar Mitzva, young Eliyahu told his mother that he wished to leave home and wonder. She agreed to let him go. 

During the next 40 years, no one knew of Eliyahu, where he was or what he did. When he settled in Worms, Germany, he was already famous as Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem. He came to Worms accompanied by his wife. They had already married off their son and two daughters. R' Eliyahu had gained fame as a performer of wonders and now people streamed to him to find balm for their troubles. 

Rabbi Eliyahu possessed a most brilliant mind, capable of absorbing the mystical knowledge that flowed from the Holy Zohar, Ari HaKadosh and R' Moshe Cordovero. At the tender age of 13 he was already master of the study of Kabbala. Gifted with a logical mind, he also possessed the power of clarification and of oratory. He began popularizing the study of Kabbalah among Torah scholars, and thanks to him, it soon became an accepted subject among the other Yeshivot of those times (Worms, Prague, Lublin, and Chelm). He efforts in spreading Kabbalah was met by opposition from some rabbis. In order to spread Kabbalah even further R' Eliyahu formed a group of Nistarim  - tzaddikim who remained anonymous. They were to wander from place to place, to penetrate to the simple folk in the nation and encourage them to do good deeds in service of Hashem, while simultaneously working upon the learned people to introduce the study of Kabbalah to them.

The circle of  Nistarim expanded further and further under R' Eliyahu's leadrship. He later transferred the leadership of  his philosophy to the Baal Shem of Zamoshtesh who in return transmitted it to Reb Adam Baal Shem of Ropshitz. It was from Reb Adam that this philosophy came to Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, who then spread Chassidut

R' Eliyahu resided in Worms for 30 years, where he led a yeshiva of brilliant and renowned scholars. In 1624 he left to settle in Prague, and took his yeshiva along with him. Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, also known as the "Tosfot Yom Tov", was one of his students.  

May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem protect us all, Amen.

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