This sharp and fiery herring is inspired by the chassidus of Kotzk (Kuh-ts-k). Kotzk, a small town in Poland just out of Lublin was the home of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (1787 – 1859), the first Rebbe of Kotzk. From his earliest days Reb Menachem Mendel had been very outspoken on the matter of truth. He never refrained from calling people out on their falsehood. The Kotzker, as he is called, said of a particular group of his Chasidim, “They walk around with the worst of thoughts and try to cover it up with a few pages of Talmud.” In Kotzk, only the truth would flourish. Falsehood, pride, money, were worthless in the Fiery enclave of Kotzk. The Kotzker, unlike the rest of the world, did not fear the truth. He was born in the small town of Goraj, Poland. Where even at a young age he become renown for his scholarship and sharp wit. Soon enough he moved on to Lublin to meet the great Chozeh of Lublin, the Seer of Lublin. The Chozeh introduced him to the world of Chassidus, and from there Reb Menachem Mendel became a student of “The Holy Jew – The Yid HaKadosh”. Under the Yid’s watch Reb Menachem reached the higher heights of human perfection, uncovering and remedying even the smallest of faults in his character and service to God. The fault that can be found in any person, that of falsehood, was the greatest focus of the Rebbe of Kotzk, and even though he was know expressly for his devotion to the utmost truth, he constantly worked to improve himself in the aspect of truth regardless. The Kotzkers son in law, Rav Avraham Borenstein of Sochatchov (Suh-ch-atch-ov) said of his holy father in law, “In the days of the Yid Hakadosh they began to teach the path of truth. But in Kotzk they took the path of truth and expanded it into a highway…” The fiery truth and sharp wit of the rebbe of Kotzk is imparted into the sharp kick and fiery spice of this delicious herring.
The mantle of leadership was passed from Reb Menachem Mendel to The first Rebbe of Ger, The Chiddushei HaRim, Reb Yitzchak Meir Alter.
Teachings and stories from Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk:
“Pharaohs daughter went down to bathe by the river with her maidservants and they walked along the Nile river. She saw a basket among the reeds and she sent her Amassah, maidservant to get it” (Exodus 2:5)
Rashi and the Gemara in Mesechta Sotah (12b) tells us that the Hebrew word for maidservant, Amassah (אמתה) can also be read as ‘Her hand’. Thus the Pasuk now reads as ‘The daughter of Paraoh sent her hand.’ This is where we get the classic story that the hand of Paraohs daughter stretched beyond human capability in order to reach the basket of Moshe.
Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe, asks a very sharp question; “Why, if the basket lay beyond the normal human reach, would she even try to extend her arm to grab the basket seeing that it was many arms length away, how could she have expected a miracle would occur for her?”
Says the Kotzker: “There is a profound lesson here for each and every one of us. Sometimes, we are confronted with a situation that is beyond our capacity to grasp. Someone or something is crying out for our help, but there is nothing we can do, by all natural confines, the matter is simply beyond our reach. So we resign, reasoning that the little we can do would not change matters anyway – the little we can reach won’t change anything. But Pharaoh’s daughter heard a Jewish cry and extended her arm. An unbridgeable distance lay between her and the basket, making her action seem utterly pointless. But because she did the maximum of which she was capable, she achieved the impossible. Because she extended her arm, God extended its reach beyond nature, enabling her to save a life. We have the ability to help another, we all have an arm of loving kindness and Torah to reach out and bring them close, but we may say, he seems so far away… There’s not much I can do. No! Dispel those thoughts! No matter how far a person seems we must stretch out our arm as far as we can go, do as much as we can and HaShem will provide the rest.”
From Naftali Engel:
After Avraham buries Sarah he makes it his goal to marry off his son, Yitzchak. So he sends Eliezer to be the Shadchan and the Torah relates this to us in great detail. And we can’t help but wonder why the Torah devotes so much space to the details of Eliezers quest; how many camels he took, what kind of gifts he brought… And then the Torah repeats the whole story about how he decided Rivkah to be for Yitzchak by her willingness to give the camels to drink.
And another question, why would finding a match for Yitzchak be such a challenge in the first place? We know from the Ramban that Avraham was considered a king and that he was rich and famous, so why would it be hard for him to find Yitzchak a wife? If anything the Girls should be “lining up” for the chance.
To answer these questions we can look at something famous the Arizal has written: The highest souls sent down to this world are displayed in the lowest of places.
The natural way of our Olam, our world, is to conceal HaShem. Because of this, the highest souls, those which are capable of revealing the greatest light into the world are placed where there is the most darkness. As the Kotzker says, the most beautiful diamonds are found buried the deepest underground.
And in this Parsha we see Evidence of the Arizals dictum, for Rivkah was entangled in the deep spiritual black hole that was her fathers house.
So Avraham understood the Arizals concept, he knew the spiritual ins and outs of our world and he knew that the holiest soul that would be fit for his son would be buried in a deep darkness completely devoid of holiness, therefore Avraham saw it would be difficult for him to find a soulmate for Yitzchak so he had to create a whole mission to accomplish this, in order to rescue this pure diamond from the filth that surrounds it.
And since the initiative to find Yitzchak a wife was from Avraham and not Yitzchak the whole journey was done with Chesed, for Avraham is the highest personification of HaShems Chesed in this world and therefore Eliezer was too, for we learn that a persons messenger is like the person himself. And if Yitzchak, who is the opposite of Chesed, Gevurah – constriction and judgement, were to have initiated the Mission for a wife the whole process would have been done with Gevurah and he never would have found a wife because in order to lift up a soul from darkness to light one needs to be coming forward with Chesed, not judgement. This is why Eliezer said “the first girl to who I say…” The first girl?! The first one that would pour water for him and his camels would be Yitzchaks wife?! That could’ve been just about anyone! How could he have made such a condition?
For when a person connects to someone with Chesed, Chesed is returned, just as Eliezer acting in Chesed asked Rivkah to pour she returned the Chesed and this is how he knew she was ‘the one’. If this journey were conducted with Gevurah this whole thing would never have happened, Eliezer would be too picky, but since Avraham initiated this assignment it was carried out with utmost Chesed and because of that Eliezer was successful for he was coming as Avraham, and he was able find that diamond in the rough – to uplift it, and bring her to Yitzchak.
May we all find that diamond in the rough in every soul and be able to see the good of every Jew even if their soul is buried deep in blackness, for as the Kotzker said, “The most beautiful diamonds are found buried the deepest underground.”
Story as told by Shlomo Carlerbach
A chasid once came to Rav Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev and said, “Holy Master, I hate to bother you, but I have to travel to Lublin and I don’t have a passport. I know I could go to the police and get one. But you know what happens to a Jew here in The Ukraine. The moment the police know about him, it means nothing but trouble! I don’t want the authorities to know I even exist… Please, Rebbe, is there some way you could help me get the passport I need?”
Rav Levi pondered for a moment and said, “Wait here.” He went into his private room, and came out a few minutes later holding a blank piece of paper. “Here’s your passport,” he said, giving the paper to the chasid. Then, seeing the expression on his student’s face, he added, “Don’t worry. With this passport you won’t need anything more. The only thing you need other than this is trust in HaShem.” He ran home, packed his things, and set off for Lublin. When he came to the Polish border, he took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and handed the soldier the Berditchever’s passport.
The officer studied the blank paper for a moment, and then started saluting the chasid: “What a privilege – to meet such an exalted person. It’s the greatest honor of my whole life! On behalf of the Polish government, I’d like to offer you whatever help I can on your journey. Perhaps a horse and carriage would make your travels more comfortable?” This chasid, a poor man, had never ridden in a carriage in his whole life! Wherever he went in Poland, he showed the Berditchever passport, and all the gates were instantly opened. He was treated like a king. His trip was a breeze, and he returned home B’Shalom, in peace.
Many years later, in 1935, a Munkatcher chasid, a Yid with long peyos and a thick beard, was also in trouble.
He had to go to Germany right away to handle some things. He had a passport, but with the Nazis already in power, he knew an ordinary passport wouldn’t be enough to keep him safe. He didn’t know what to do, so he went to his Rebbe for help. The Holy Rav Chaim Elezar Shapiro of Munkatch was one of the greatest Rebbes in Europe at the time. Not only was he a Tzaddik, but also a mohel. It is known that if the person who does the circumcision is very holy, the baby doesn’t feel any pain. It just feels natural to him, like G-d intended it to be.
When the Munkatcher served as mohel, he did the bris so fast that the human eye couldn’t even follow the movements of his hands. And the baby never cried. People believed that any baby he circumcised would be holy all of his life…
But even the Holy Holy Munkatcher seemed surprised when he heard his chasid’s problem. “Certainly I will pray for you to have a safe trip,” he told this desperate Chasid. “But I don’t know what else I can do for you.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust your prayers, Rebbe” the Yid answered. “But I’m so afraid… Do you remember the story you told us about the passport Rav Levi Yitzhak gave to his Chasid? That’s the kind of thing I need. Please, Rebbe – make me a passport like that!” The Munkatcher chuckled, “Rav Levi was the holiest of the holy,” the Munkatcher said shaking his head. “Maybe he was high enough to give a Berditchever Passport. But what makes you think I am on such an exalted level?” “I know you can do it,” the chasid cried. “I’m sure of it! Rebbe, please – I’m Mamish begging you. I wouldn’t come to you if it weren’t so terribly important. I really HAVE to go to Germany, and I’m so afraid I won’t make it back. Rebbe, for the sake of my wife and children, please help me!” “Alright,” the Munkatcher sighed. “I’ll try. Wait for me here.” And he went into his private room. Now, to go to Lublin from Berditchev, to Poland from Ukraine in the 1800’s was one thing. But for a Yid to go from Munkatch, Hungary to Nazi Germany in 1935- and back… Not so simple…
The Rebbe stayed in his room for three hours. When he finally came out, his eyes were red and swollen, and his holy face was streaked with tears. He handed his chasid a blank piece of paper. But the paper was wet – soaked with the tears of all our years in exile. The Munkatcher said, “The truth is, our generation is not really worthy of this passport. Since it’s such an emergency, I’ll give it to you – but only if you promise me one thing. You must never tell anyone about it as long as I live.”
“I promise, Rebbe,” the chasid said eagerly. “I’ll never tell a soul!” So the Rebbe gave him the Munkatcher passport.
The chasid came to the German border. The Nazi on guard looked at his peyos and beard, and demanded with a sneer, “Where’s your passport Jew!?” The Yid gave him the blank piece of paper. The Nazi took one look at it, and his whole expression changed. “Sir, I am so honored to meet you,” he cried. “You are probably the greatest person ever to visit our country. Please give me the privilege of assisting you on your journey. Here is a letter to the chief of police of every town in Germany. They will take care of you and protect you…”
The chasid stayed in Germany for over a week. The Nazis gave him a car and driver; they even paid for him to stay in the best hotels everywhere he went. He returned safely home, and he stayed true to his promise to the Rebbe, he never told anyone about his holy passport. The Munkatcher Rebbe left this world in 1936. Before he passed away, he told his followers, “Heaven has shown me that a great dark cloud of evil will soon cover the world. There is nothing I can do to prevent it. And I do not want to be here when it comes…”
Three years later in 1939 shortly before the war broke out the chasid suddenly became very sick. When he saw the doctor shake his head, he knew he would not live much longer. So he called his whole family to his bedside and said, “Before I leave this world I have to tell you a secret…” He told them the whole story of the Munkatcher Passport, and then he said, “This is my last will and testament; When you bury me, I want the Munkatcher Passport to be in my hand. Because if the Rebbe’s paper got me across the most dangerous border in this world, who knows what gates it will open for me in the World to Come…”
Parshas Re’eh begins, “See, I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse.” (11:26)
There seems to be some strange wording in the pasuk, Re’eh “see” is singular, but lifnaychem “before you” is plural. This can be explained says the Kotzker by looking into the Zohar discussing Yisro and the pasuk saying “And Yisro heard…” (Shemos 18:1) Didn’t all the other people in the world hear of HaShems miracles for the Jewish Nation? Why, then, questions the Zohar, does the Torah specify that only “Yisro heard”? True, the Zohar answers, the whole world did indeed hear, but only Yisro acted once he heard by converting to Judaism. Here too, God places before us the blessings and the curses, not to you, but to us, equally. How we comprehend it, how we “see” it is up to us. This is why Shavuos is called Mattan Torah – the giving of the Torah, for HaShem gave us all the Torah the same, it is up to us to bring it in to us and make it holy. It is up to us to form the divine light into blessing not curse. It’s up to us to see a blank piece of paper as the key to any gate. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, “The light of the infinite One is without form and only takes shape – for good or bad – in the recipient. Therefore it is up to us. We have to do our best to shape God’s light into blessing, not curse”
The verse in psalms says, “The truth grows from the ground”(85:12). Regarding this verse the Holy Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asked his friend, the Chddushei HaRim, “What seed could a person plant that the truth will grow?” The Chiddushei HaRim answered, “If you bury falsehood in the ground, then truth will grow in its place.”
“Many are the pains of the pains of the wicked, but he that trusts in God will be surrounded with kindness” (Psalms 32:10) Says the Kotzker, “Do you know what is actually the pain of the wicked? That the kindness and compassion of God surrounds those that trust in God”
Perhaps the wicked ones pain is also that Gods love surrounds the wicked as well, yet he cannot tap into it until he returns from his evil ways.
“And God answered his [Yitzchak’s] prayer” (Genesis 25:21) Both Yitzchak and Rivkah prayed for children, yet, as Rashi points out, the pasuk only mentions “his” prayers being answered. Not hers. The Kotzker Rebbe asks the question; Were not both of their prayers answered? They both did end up having children, together. The Kotzker answers, Yiztchak and Rivkah both knew that Rivkah would have twins. One righteous son and one evil son. Yitzchak prayed that the righteous one should be 100% righteous, even if by result the evil one would be 100% evil. Rivkah’s prayer was that her evil son should not be entirely evil, he should have at least some good in him, even if it meant that the righteous son may not be completely, 100% righteous. This is what Rashi was commenting on, that the prayer of Rivkah focused on the evil, yet the prayer of Yitzchak focused on the righteous, on the truth, thus he was answered.
“The fence of wisdom is silence.” – Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.
Silence is the fence of wisdom. We must find the balance that is true silence, not silence without speech, not silence without sound but the balance of fencing in the wisdom we have but not building a fence that keeps new wisdom out. If we don’t say anything we will fence out all the new wisdom and never gain knowledge. If we speak too much we open the gates and lose all sense of wisdom.
Balance is the key to the gates of wisdom.
Sometimes we have to swallow our pride but we should never swallow the key.
The Mishnah in Avos tells us, “He who is walking on the road and interrupts his studies and says How lovely is this tree!.. deserves death” (Pirkei Avos 3:7)
A short wagon ride away from Kotzk was a forest where the Rebbe enjoyed walking, meditating, and learning. One day some of his chassidim accompanied him on his trip into the forest. As they approached the thick center of the forest they came upon a beautiful tree, one that stood out from all the rest. The Kotzker turned to his students and said, “You must certainly keep in mind the following Mishnah, ‘He who is walking on the road and interrupts his studies and says How lovely is this tree!.. deserves death’ Yet, it is difficult to understand this, as the tree was one of God’s first creations, why should we not express our admiration of this tree’s beauty and praise the greatness of its creator in His creation?” The rebbe grew silent, his chasidim remained quiet as well. The air was warm and humid, the sun scorching, they spent their day in the shade of this tree, learning, meditating, praying, and just staring at the tree… Suddenly, dark rain clouds spanned the sky. One of the chasidim remarked, “Perhaps we should travel home before it rains.” It grew dark quickly, so dark one man could not see the other, and then a storm broke, thunder, lightning and pelting rain. Suddenly cries were heard in the distance. The rebbe rushed in their direction, his students followed his footsteps in the mud, there were two non-Jewish men injured, lying on the road. The Chasidim gently loaded them onto their wagon, and a few of the chasidim boarded the makeshift ambulance and raced through the storm back to Kotzk. By the time they arrived, the rain had stopped. The Kotzker, who had remained behind in the forest said, “Now we can return home. Under this beautiful tree we have carried out the Mitzvah of showing concern for the lives of others. This is the meaning of that Mishnah, ‘He who is walking on the road and interrupts his studies and says How lovely is this tree!.. deserves death.’ When it rained, everyone wanted to go home and stop their studies. It is forbidden to do that, for you may be endangering another life. Two people may have died tonight, but because we did not interrupt our studies we were privileged to save a life.”
During the night of Simchas Torah the Kotzker Rebbe entered the Beis Medrash where a large crowd was gathered around a festive table, celebrating the conclusion of the Torah. The Rebbe asked, “What is the real reason for the joy and merriment tonight?” No one replied. The Rebbe answered himself, “The cause for happiness is knowing that you completed the Torah and have not yet made a new beginning. Realizing that, knowing that, that is the truest source of joy”
The truest wisdom is knowing how much you do not know
Famous quotes from the Rebbe of Kotzk:
“Not all that we think is fit to be said. Not everything we say is fit to be written down. And not everything written down is fit to be read.”
“Sure, I have the power to revive the dead, but I’d rather revive the living.”
“It is uncanny to observe how frequently people will be criticized for some flaw they do not posses. The critic is projecting his own flaws”
“What is true devotion? Just as a belt adheres to ones body so should our devotion”
“A Jew waking in the morning and saying the Modeh Ani, I am thankful before You [God], prayer should pause for a moment and meditate on, who is “I” and who is “You?”
More coming soon
Recommended reading for Kotzk:
This intensely flavorful herring begins with Canadian Pickled Herring. The kick of the Sriracha balances the sweetness and light sharpness of the honey mustard, producing a delicious kick with a hint of sweetness. The diced onions, add a savory taste to the already appetizing blend presented in this container.
Each container is prepared individually by hand, ensuring a consistent quantity and quality throughout.
Container Size: 12oz. – about 20 tidbit pieces of herring per container.
Ingredients: Pickled Herring, Onions, Mayonnaise, Sriracha, Mustard, Sugar, Spices.
Allergy Information: Contains Fish. Contains Egg. Gluten free.
Kashrus: OK Certified. K-ID: ZPX-WSFW