Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter (The Chiddushei
(1799 - 1866)
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir was the founder and first rebbe
of the Ger dynasty, which at one time counted more than 100,000 Chasidim,
and to this day remains one of the largest Chasidic groups. He was a child prodigy who was sought after by all the great
Polish Chasidic leaders. The Rims mother Chaya Sara, was an orphan
who was raised by the Koznitzer Maggid, and the Maggid played a great
role in Yitzchak Meirs early development. The Rim became a disciple
of Rabbi Simcha Bunem of Pshischa and Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk. He once
said that according to Pshischa Chasidus a person does nothing
with his external limbs, the main thing is the inner self, from which
one is inspired to act.
Ger emphasized the centrality of Torah and self-development, the externals of Chasidus were minimized or disdained.
Though Pshischa and Kotzk were elitist, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir showed how
their principles could be embraced by all Jews. From Pshischa and Kotzk
Ger absorbed a healthy skepticism of human motivation and the demands
of the ego.
The Koznitzer admonished Rabbi Yitzchak Meir to propound chiddushim (new thoughts) every day and one notes a freshness
and dynamism in the Rim as well as in other Polish rebbes. In his approbation
to Rabbi Bunems Kol Simcha printed just 33 years after the latters
death, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir expresses the hope that probably even
today his words will inspire the hearts. Presumably he could only
say probably because the new generation needed fresh inspiration.
He interpreted Hillels if not now when to mean that
each moment has its own fresh demands.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir was a true leader and was deeply
involved in all political events affecting his flock. His halachic writings are characterized by scintillating brilliance and his non-halachic
thought by great depth and warmth. The custom to make siyyumim during the nine days was seen by Rabbi Yitzchak Meir as motivated by
a desire to bring Jews together in a harmonious spirit and thus rectify
the sin of sinas chinam which had caused the destruction of the Temple.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meirs personal life was filled
with tragedy. Many of his thirteen children died in his lifetime. When
he finally consented to assume leadership after the death of the Kotzker
he remarked: I am not a rebbe. I do not want money. I do not care
for honor. All I want is to spend my years bringing the children of
Israel nearer to their Father in Heaven.