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The Rebbe of Lublin was a great man. That's how he got the name 'The Rebbe of Lublin.' When they know you as your city. When you can claim the whole city. That is when you're great. He was also known as the Seer of Lublin. It depends on what crowd we're talking about. His students knew him as the Rebbe, and those who needed advice on the stock market knew him as the Seer.
When you're the name of your city, you've made it. And then to proceed your name with 'The,' that's the tops. Yaakov Yitzchak HaLevi Horowitz doesn't sound like the Rebbe of Lublin. People might've remembered he was a Levite, but that's about it. If they called him The Rav Yaakov Yitzchak, there is room for argument.
Your goal as a rabbi should be to have the city in your name. If you're from Poughkeepsie, you want to be known as the Poughkeepsie Rebbe. You don't want to be known as Frank. You don't want to be Rabbi Frank. If you're known as Rabbi Frank by the end of your career, you've done very little. Everybody knows it. If you did something, you would be the Rebbe of Poughkeepsie. If you're a big rebbe, you either have the name of a town or an acronym. For topper, you add in 'The.'
The Rebbe of Lublin made it. He knew it. He had thousands of chasidim. Having a name of a town as part of your name can get to you. It can really work up the ego. Yet, the rebbe was humble.
Upon seeing the Rebbe of Lublin with so many followers, another rabbi asked him, 'Why do you allow for this? So many chasidim claiming you a their rebbe, when you admit you're not worthy of this honor.'
Choosing a leader can be very hard. Should we give the honor of leadership to somebody who says they're the best? I don't know. Maybe we should have rabbis strutting up to the lectern for their sermons, turning to everybody, 'That's right. I'm your rabbi. I'm here. I'm the best. Show me the love. Shout out to my chasidim. I'm the man. Who's the man? Your rabbi.'
I don't remember the rabbi who suggested the Rebbe lose his followers. It may have been Rav Binyamin, Rav Menachem, Rav Berman. All I know is there was no city in his name. Nonetheless, the Rebbe of Lublin listened to him.
The Rebbe of Lublin was in agreement, 'What should I do?'
The rabbi replied, 'Go up to give a sermon and announce you don't deserve to be their rebbe.' So, the Rebbe got up and told everybody he's not worthy. He said he was just an ordinary Jew and no reason for him to be the one to bless people. And murmurs of more piety and humility came.
Everybody was amazed at how big of a Tzadik he was, for saying he wasn't a Tzadik. Roars of adoration throughout the community were abundant, 'Only a Tzadik can do that. What piety!' 'Only a Tzadik would say he's not a Tzadik.' 'It takes a righteous person to let everybody know they're not righteous.'
The Rebbe of Lublin did not know what to do. He was trying to get out of people coming to him constantly to get Brachas. He was sick of every single person coming to him with every question. Why did he have to answer questions about real estate? He was annoyed. He wanted to drop the whole Seer of Lublin thing. His reputation was cutting into his relaxation time. He couldn't go to the bathhouse without people asking him for Shidduch ideas and if their silverware was good enough for meat.
Pinchas, a local townsman, learning from the lesson of the Rebbe of Lublin, said he wasn't a Tzadik. And all of the people of Lublin reprimanded Pinchas, 'We know you're not. Why such an idiot would say he's not a Tzadik is beyond us.'
The other rabbi saw the response of the Rebbe's followers and was shocked by the unexpected result of more adoration. So, he told the Rebbe of Lublin to say he's a Tzadik.
The Rebbe told him, 'I can't do that. I cannot lie. When you told me to tell them I am not a Tzadik, I did it. When you wanted me to claim that I was not deserving of this honor, as I am a simple Jew, I agreed. However. Now you want me to lie and say I'm a Tzadik. I cannot do that.'
And the rabbi was stuck. And the Rebbe of Lublin realized the rabbi was yet another person in the town asking him to do something. As the rebbe with the name of a town, everybody comes to you with questions.
Lessons of What Followed
The Rebbe of Lublin was later found to be not happy with his chasidim, knowing that they didn't trust him.
The rabbi who was giving the Rebbe of Lublin this advice was an extremely humble rav. He was so humble, his chasidim consisted of two. When he saw the response of the Rebbe of Lublin, he decided to tell his pupils that he was a great Tzadik. And his chasidim left him.
His pupils ran away saying, 'We thought our rabbi was full of humility, when he said he was humble.' The rabbi ran after them saying that he was joking. It turns out that his chasidim didn't get sarcasm, like those of the Rebbe of Lublin.
This whole episode turned out to be a great lesson to the rebbe’s followers. When you're a showoff, people hate you. When you're humble, you can be great. People respect you, call you the best. If you want everybody to think you're amazing, be humble. And all of the chasidim became very humble. And they got into many fights over who is humbler. Yankel proclaimed, 'I am the humblest.'
And they knew they were Tzadiks. There is no feeling like going home being able to look in the mirror, knowing you're righteous and saying to yourself 'I'm humble.'
Learning from the Rebbe of Lubin, rabbis around the world started saying 'I am a nothing.' I heard a story of a rabbi who went up to the ark on Yom Kippur. He goes up kisses the curtain and cries out, 'God. I am a nothing.' The Chazin, cantor, upon seeing this, goes up to the ark and wails, 'Before you God, I am nothing. I am nothing in this world.' Then the Gabai, sexton, goes to the ark and cries out, 'Before you God. I am nothing. I am a total nothing. A nothing.' The Chazin, turns to the rabbi upon seeing this, and pointing to the Gabai he mocks, 'Look who thinks he's a nothing.'
When the Rebbe of Lublin saw the other rabbi talent out there, he decided that it wasn't a bad idea that the chasidim were following him.
As the Seer of Lublin, the Rebbe knew that if he said he wasn't great, he would score huge points with his chasidim. It was an amazing move. He came out on top, and scored more chasidim.
The Chafetz Chaim took this lesson to heart, and when a guy said the Chafetz Chaim was a great man, the Chafetz Chaim said he isn’t. And the Chafetz Chaim got smacked.
***See Lilmod uLilamed, the section on VaYishlach. If I got the story wrong, it's their fault.
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That is how the punchline of a Jewish joke should look. Like you're questioning something, dealing with serious stomach issues, or giving a sermon.