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Khasidic rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern, known as the Kotzker Rebbe, died at 71 in Kotzk, Poland on this date in 1859. The spiritual founder of the Ger dynasty, the Kotzker Rebbe sought to move the populist element of khasidism away from rabbi-worship and to restore a central place for Torah within khasidic worship. He never published any works and burned all of his manuscripts before his death, but many of his incisive and sometimes paradoxical sayings were written down, collected, and circulated by others. These include: “Whoever believes in miracles is an imbecile. Whoever does not is an atheist,” and “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Morgensztern “attracted a young, brilliant, aspiring youth. He demanded withering self-analysis and disdained mitzves performed with a whiff of self-interest. He recognized the centrality of the ego, but refused to accept it.... He once said that if one tried to break the yetzer (evil impulse) he would end up with two yetzers thus conceding the impossibility of overcoming it. Yet, he refused to compromise his aspiration for ultimate truth and pure action.” The Kotzker Rebbe spent the last twenty years of his life in seclusion, unwilling to play “rebbe” to his flock and despairing of his goal of elevating a new generation of elite leaders.
“People are accustomed to look at the heavens and to wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves, to see what happens there.” —Menacham Mendel of Kotsk