Sunday, March 30, 2008

Coins of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk -- Updated

Note: See update on the bottom.

My brother forwarded me an interesting email he received, which read in part:
Did you know....

The rebbe promised all that would support his descendants in a financial manner that they would not lack in spiritual and moral support from Hashem, and that he will personally do them a favor from Gan-Eden.

How about sending your support today

BT”W Did you ever hear about the Coins of Lizensk

I checked out the website, and saw the segulah they are selling there. I wrote to the webmaster (based in Brooklyn) for some clarification of a few matters, and may update this post if I get a response.

(Still Wondering also saw this site, and needs help making a decision...)

Basically, they are selling three coins, a bronze coin for $20, a silver coin for $50, a gold coin for $100, or all three for $150.

To elaborate on the idea behind the coins, the following explanations are available on the website:

The Rebbe R’ Elimelech fervently prayed to Hashem, that his descendants should behold poverty, and never attain wealth. In this way, Klal Yisroel would get the merit of supporting them and in return they would receive untold blessings.

The esteemed Sanzer Rav declared that Moshiach at the redemption will ask us all if we shared our prosperity with the Rebbe R’ Elimelech’s offspring, as is well known that the tzaddik was Mevetal the Chevlei Mushiach.

Matbeyos Lizensk are magnificently hand drawn, newly minted coins, with the tzaddik's name embossed and his Tzion beautifully depicted. The proceeds of these matbayos go directly to support the tzaddik's grandchildren. Gedolai Hador explicitly endorsed the coins, adding that they would provide Sgula, Shmura, Hatzlacha and Kol Tuv and thereby confirmed the legitimacy of the Tzedakah causes. These attractive matbayos are now available to the public for the sum of $18 or higher. The matbayo is sure to invite all the promised blessings of the holy tzaddik, and those of the gedolai hador into your home for many years to come.
Elsewhere, it says "great talisman for success and protection."

Elsewhere: "The holy Tzadik promised: 'whoever will help my grandchildren, I will return the favor from Olam Habu.' "

Very interesting, but I have a number of questions, and issues with this. #6 and #7 are my real concerns:

1. First, did he mean grandchildren or all descendants? The website alternates. Presumably all descendants are meant. This would be necessary, for the Noam Elimelech passed on in 1786, so the descendants today would be great great great ... grandchildren. After all, the Kaliver Rebbe is "
Seventh in a direct paternal line to the Founder of the Dynasty, Rabbi Yitzchak Izak of Kaliv, a Disciple of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizensk." So we may well we talking at least seven generations. (For how many generations did he mean? At some point, almost every Jewish person in the world will be a descendant.)

2. This brings us to the second point. I don't know how many of his descendants are around today -- the Holocaust probably had an impact, but seven generations is enough time for a family tree to grow exponentially. I suppose supporting any of them would do.

3. "The Rebbe R’ Elimelech fervently prayed to Hashem, that his descendants should behold poverty, and never attain wealth." Did this prayer work? Is it true that none of his descendants attained wealth? I don't know. This is a factual question. But e.g. is the Melitzer Rebbe wealthy, or is he a pauper who relies on others to sustain him? And if that prayer did not hold, how confident should we be in the promise which is predicated on the prayer? (Assuming that tzaddikim have the power to promise supernatural rewards beyond the grave.)

4. We could ask this of any tzedaka, I am sure, but are the people being supported by this tzedaka capable of working, or did misfortune befall them? There are issues with casting oneself upon the community to be supported. Learning in kollel while doing this is a matter of dispute. There is the temptation here not to work and to be supported by people who want the segulah effects, which probably is not what the Noam Elimelech wanted. Organizing a whole segulah practice for such continued support seems to be working the system. But more likely, certain descendants fell on hard times, and kept track of yichus, and someone decided to bring these havtachos into play to assist them.

5. What is meant by the "proceeds of these matbeyos?" And which descendants? I am not trying to allege anything. It is just something that would be best clarified -- who the recipients are, what their financial state is, how much administrative costs, etc., who the person running the site is (the last of which is accessible via a whois search). Not just a webpage with two glossy pages, one of which is an order form for taking credit cards.

6. If we consider it carefully, the segulah as initially drafted has nothing to do with coins. It has to do with reward (promised by a rebbe) for tzedaka to his grandchildren. But minting coins with the rebbe's name and stating they are a talisman is not what he intended. Let us say someone buys these coins, gives them as a gift, and they are regifted over an over. Should they function as a segulah for the last person? Obviously not. But the presentation, and the concretization in the form of a coin, instead of as an act, promotes superstitious Judaism, which is not a good thing.

7. What exactly did the "Gedolim" say? I would like to know their names, their exact words, and the exact context in which this was posed to them. I have seen enough flyers from Kupat haIr and the like to see how the organizers of these things manipulate and extract statements from Gedolim such as Rav Elyashiv. (More on this in a later post, bli neder, about "gabbaim on the level of Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion" and "open miracles" as opposed to mere "yeshuos.") I therefore suspect any such statements and take them with more than a grain of salt. But this is the support for transforming the coins into talismans.

All in all, check out the site, find out more, perhaps donate if you determine it is a worthy cause. But I take issue with the creation of this modern segulah, or at least modern spin on this segulah, though it is interesting genesis.

Update: From this week's "My Machberes" column, we find out more about this segulah.
Recently, with the upsurge of the observance of the Noam Elimelech’s yahrzeit and individuals and groups from all over the world visiting his Ohel (burial chamber) all year-round, several chassidishe activists have undertaken to assist descendants of the Noam Elimelech who are in great need. In consultation with leading chassidishe rebbes, a decision had been made to mint and distribute Noam Elimelech coins.

The obverse (head) of the coin has an engraving of the Noam Elimelech’s monument enveloped in a flame of fire. This corresponds to the legend of the Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, zt”l (1698-1760), founder of the Chassidic movement, revealing himself to the Noam Elimelech at that specific place.


The obverse of the coin also includes our opening quote attributed to the Ropshitzer Rebbe and the Divrei Chaim. The reverse (tail) of the coin has the given name of the Noam Elimelech as well as that of his father. Earlier kameios (handwritten amulets) of great chassidishe rebbes often contained the names of the Noam Elimelech and his father. Chassidishe tradition invests great strength in the names of tzaddikim, and in the name of the Noam Elimelech in particular.
The first distribution of the coins took place at the Ohel of the Noam Elimelech on 21 Adar I, his yahrzeit observance, Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Ki Sisa, February 22, 2003, to each contributor of $18.00 or more. Since many in attendance acquired coins for their spouses, children, relatives, and close friends, the supply was quickly depleted. An additional quantity had been issued and was distributed at the Ohel.
The purpose of the special coin was to generate continued financial support for needy descendants of the Noam Elimelech. The coins were blessed by the Bobover Rebbe, zt”l, Pshevorsker Rebbe, zt”l, and the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe, zt”l, and L’hibadel L’Chaim, the Tasher Rebbe. The coin is named matbe’a shel aish (coin of fire), to serve as an amulet for protection and for good fortune. This year, the coins will again be available to those making a donation immediately prior to entering the Ohel.
Read it all -- there is more. So this is not a new phenomenon, but dates to 2003. Though this is not at the Ohel, and rather than the bronze coins being $18 (as they are at the Ohel and on one text on the website) they are $20. And perhaps this is a new thing of the $50 silver and the $100 gold coins. We also see the names of the rabbinic supporters, though "chassidic activists" came up with the idea, which gives me the same pause as before. And we see that they consider the name of Rabbi Elimelech itself to be a name of power.

I will say this forthrightly -- even with Rabbinic approval from these chassidic Rebbes, I still think it is a really bad idea -- one that is superstitious and promotes superstition. Then again, I am most certainly a misnaged.


Anonymous said...

I'm an eighth generation descendant of the Noam Elimelech from both a son and a daughter who's great... grandchildren married third or fourth cousins. A family member who was doing genealogy work mentioned that all of Reb Elimelech's descendants seem to have left Europe before the Shoah so that they were not decimated in the Holocaust.

Anonymous said...

are you poor cml613?

Chavera Oh said...

I am a Polish person who bought a bronze medal in an auction without really knowing what this is exactly, except for seeing a beautiful Hebrew-inscribed thing that was to be saved :). I could only read a few words. Yet, even though I paid quite a lot I am happy about having bought sth that links me with Israel and Israelis. It is a pity my purchase did not help any Jew, but still the purchase was a blessing for me. I share the concerns expressed above about talismans and taking advantage of love. I also do not find it good to call such medals talismans, because this is contrary to the Spirit of HaTorah HaKadosh, as far as I can understand it. No one can promise anyone anything in the name of God in the world to come. It seems to be self-righteousness unlike the meek righteousness of Abraham. I guess Jewish leaders should rethink such actions and keep an eye on those who go beyond the Word of HaShem and - though striving for a good cause - offend Him in His name by offering "talismans". Shalom uvracha al-kol Israel!


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