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How Far Is Lizhensk From Oceanside?

Gavriel Horan

The Baal Shem Tov wrote that the Mashiach would come when his teachings spread out to the four corners of the earth. Once far from Yiddishkeit himself, Rabbi Tal Moshe Zwecker is now helping to fulfill the Baal Shem Tov’s vision by opening the world of Chassidus to the English-speaking public. With his translation of the sefer Noam Elimelech, he has brought the tzaddik Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk — whose yahrtzeit is on 21 Adar — into the lives of his readers … and himself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In this “I” generation — with Internet, iPods, and BlackBerrys — we are more plugged in than ever, but more “plugged out” from genuine relationships and connection. This carries over into all aspects of life including our relationships with each other, ourselves, and Hashem. While youth are crying out for love, meaning, and connection, they don’t know where to turn. Rabbi Tal Moshe Zwecker, author of the acclaimed English translation of the chassidic classic Noam ElimelechMiPeninei Noam Elimelech (Targum), believes that Chassidus may be a balm to society’s ills.

“As our generation deals with the challenges facing kids at risk, the baal teshuvah movement, and the challenges of an outside world that becomes more and more morally degenerative every day, chassidic teachings may be the secret to our renewal,” Rabbi Zwecker said. “I think people are looking to connect to something that’s bigger than themselves nowadays. The teachings of Chassidus about love, compassion, and simchah fill a tremendous void in so many people who are suffering so much today.”

Seeing Rabbi Zwecker today with his long, flaming red peyos and beaver hat, one would never guess that he, too, was born to a religiously disconnected family. Yet he made the difficult leap from secular society to some of the most elite inner circles of the chassidic world. Becoming a true chassid is itself a challenging feat, but Zwecker wasn’t content to end there. He wanted to ensure that others, who grew up outside the chassidic community as he did, could have access to the rich teachings of Chassidus. His encyclopedic memory and masterful grasp of Hebrew, Yiddish, and English led him to begin the daunting task of translating many of the chassidic classics into English for the first time ever in an easy-to-read and down-to-earth style. Today, his books are helping to bring thousands of English speakers into the world of Chassidus. And precisely because he made that journey himself, is he able to pave the way for others. 


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