Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz
(1760 - 1827)
Reb Naftali, whose maternal and paternal forebears
were famed for their scholarship and piety, was born on the day the Baal Shem Tov died, and he
proved to be one of the Beshts primary successors.
During his early years he studied in the Yeshiva of
R. Meshulem Igra, one of the Torah giants of the time, where his fellow students were R. Mordechai Benet
and R. Yaakov Loberbaum, who were to become two of the leading scholars
of the next generation. R. Naftali then traveled to the court of R.
Elimelech of Lizensk, whose practice was not to admit yachsanim (those
of eminent families). Because of R. Naftalis illustrious lineage,
R. Elimelech at first refused to admit him but finally acquiesced to
R. Naftalis entreaties. He later was associated with the greatest
Zaddikim of the time, particularly R. Mendel of Riminev, R. Yaakov Yitzchok
of Lublin (the Chozeh), and R. Yisrael of Kozhnitz.
During the Napoleonic wars the Zaddikim were divided
in their attitude towards Napoleon. R. Mendel of Riminev strongly supported
Napoleon and felt the wars represented Gog and Magog and were a prelude
to the Messiah. His disciple Reb Naftali, as well as R.
Shneur Zalman, the Baal HaTanya, were strongly opposed, sensing
that Napoleons victory would introduce changes which would threaten
the Jewish communitys way of life.
Reb Naftali is a crucial figure in the development
of Galician Chassidus and there are many minhagei Ropshitz,
which are followed in Galicia. He was known for his profound wisdom,
sharp sense of humor and musical gifts. He insisted that young men should
devote themselves exclusively to Torah study and not be involved in
Chassidus until they were 25. In his later years he perceived that some
Chassidim followed Chassidic practices but were negligent in basic halachic
requirements, such as timely prayer and shemah, and questioned if it
would not be better if the Chassidic way were replaced by greater concentration
on Torah study. When R. Yosef Babad, the future author of the Minchas
Chinuch came to him he sent him away, advising him to return home
and pursue his studies.
He emphasized the power of prayer and stressed that
a person must be able to pray in all circumstances and never say I
dont have the head for prayer now. In answer to the question
how can a zaddik undo a divine decree, he replied that through his actions
and prayer a zaddik creates a new world, to which the old decree does
not apply. He commented that Moses was shown each generation first, and then shown their leaders, because
he might be dismayed at seeing Naftali as a leader. However, having
first seen the generation, he understood that Naftali was appropriate
for his generation.
Reb Naftali was particularly devoted to the mitzvah of sukkah and it is said that every day he was preoccupied with some
aspect of that mitzvah, which was particularly suited to his neshama.
Reb Naftali refused to give permission for the publication
of his writings, but with the concurrence of his famous disciple, R.
Chaim Sanzer, his two works, Zerah Kodesh and Ayala Shelucha were finally published. R. Chaim recalled that though R. Chaim Vital
had prohibited publication of the writings of the Holy Ari, his reluctance
was overridden by later scholars. The only praise he permitted on his
tombstone was the singular one in his generation in the knowledge
of G-d. (Yachid BDoro BChochmat Elokim).