Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk, better known as the Kotzker Rebbe (1787–1859) was a Hasidic rabbi and leader. Born to a non-Hasidic family in Goraj near Lublin, Poland, he became attracted to Hasidim in his youth. He was known for having acquired impressive Talmudic and Kabbalistic knowledge at an early age.
He was a student of Reb Bunim of Peshischa, and upon the latter's death attracted many of his followers. Morgensztern was well known for his incisive and down-to-earth philosophies, and sharp-witted sayings. He appears to have had little patience for false piety or stupidity. From 1839 he lived in seclusion for the last twenty years of his life.
He is considered to be the spiritual founder upon which the Ger dynasty in Poland is based, through the teachings of its founder Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter. One of his major students was Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica.
He never published any works. He wrote many manuscripts, but he had them all burned before his death. Several collections of his sayings have been published, most notably Emes VeEmunah (Truth and Faith).
The Kotzker Rabbinical Dynasty
Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk, better known as the Kotzker Rebbe (1787–1859)
- Rabbi Dovid Morgensztern, succeeded him as the second Kotzker Rebbe (1809–1893).
- Rabbi Chaim Yisrael Morgenstern (the Pilover Rebbe, 1840–1905) was the third Kotzker Rebbe.
- Rabbi Yitzchak Zelig Morgenstern (the Sokolover Rebbe, 1866–1940)was the fourth Kotzker Rebbe.
- Rabbi Jacob Mendel Morgenstern (the Vengrov Rebbe, 1887–1939) was the fifth Kotzker Rebbe.
Rabbi Shalom (Jonathan) Morgenstern, Rabbi of the Young Israel of Scarsdale, New York, is an 8th generation direct descendant of the Kotzker Rebbe.
The Kotzker Rebbe's disciple Rabbi Avrohom Bornsztain, author of Avnei Nezer and first Sochatchover Rebbe, was his son-in-law (having married Sara Tzina Morgenstern, the daughter of the Kotzker Rebbe).
The first Rebbe of Ger, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, known for his work as the Chidushei Harim, was a preeminent disciple of the Kotzker Rebbe.
- "Some day I will do it" -- is self-deceptive. "I want to do it" -- is weak. "I am doing it" -- that is the right way.
- All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, and all that is published should not be read.
- Be holy in a human way; be holy while dealing with the temptations of normal people. G-d already has enough angels.
- Do not be satisfied with the speech of your lips and the thought in your heart, all the promises and good sayings in your mouth, and all the good thoughts in your heart; rather you must arise and do!
- Everything in the world can be imitated, except truth, for truth that is imitated is no longer truth.
- Fear not death. It is just a matter of going from one room to another, ultimately to the most beautiful room.
- First, a man is created in his own image, and only afterwards in the image of God.
- God is only where you let Him in.
- He who thinks he is finished is finished.
- If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.
- Intolerance lies at the core of evil. Not the intolerance that results from any threat or danger. But intolerance of another being who dares to exist. Intolerance without cause. It is so deep within us, because every human being secretly desires the entire universe to himself. Our only way out is to learn compassion without cause. To care for each other simple because that ‘other’ exists.
- Man must "guard himself and his uniqueness, and not imitate his fellow ... for initially man was created in his own image', and only afterwards in the image of God.
- Peace without truth is a false peace.
- People are accustomed to look at the heavens and to wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves, to see what happens there.
- There are few things as straight as a crooked ladder. There are few things as crooked as the straight face of a con-artist. There is nothing blacker than the white garments in which a corpse is dressed. And there is nothing more complete then a broken heart.
- There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.
- When a man makes a reverent face before a face that is no face — that is idol worship!
Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk
His whole life he waged a war for the truth. The external and internal truth. This was the essence of Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern better known as the Kotzker Rebbe. The word Kotzk has become synonymous with a burning and piercing kind of truth. A truth so hot it singes anyone who dares to delve deep enough to uncover it.
The Kotzker was born in 5547/1787 and lived at a time when Chasiddus was making great inroads into the mainstream of Jewish society. He felt that Chasiddus needed to be tuned up by correcting some of its basic flaws. Chasiddus had become too Chassidishe for him. He wanted to restore torah as the focal point of all Avodas Hashem and get people to become more self reliant and not subjugate their God given minds to the Rebbe. A person, he felt, needed to take responsibility for his life, his ways, and develop his own personal relationship with Hashem.
He left no seforim, no tales of miracles, and no biography. He did not seek honor, fortune, or fame. He sought to raise Chasiddus to a movement for the elite. He longed to metamorphis Chasiddus into a movement with truly inspired Avodas Hashem and intense Torah learning as its cornerstone. His lone legacy is his short sharp sayings that he became famous for, to the world outside of Kotzk.
When the Kotzker was asked why he does not want to write a sefer he said that in Kotzk they work hard all week. The only time to read his sefer would be Friday night after the meal. Then however a person is tired from the entire week and will lay down on the couch with it. He will shortly thereafter fall asleep without reading anything and the sefer will fall on the floor. So why should I write a sefer whose only use will be to lie on the floor in shame? Such was the Kotzker truth.
He was born into a family of a Misnagdim and eventually became a student of the Chozeh of Lublin and then later leaving Lublin for Peshischa where he became a student of Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa. After Rav Simcha Bunim's death most of his students who were peers of Rav Menachem Mendel, including the Chiddushei HaRim the founder of the Gerer dynasty, chose to follow Rav Menachem Mendel and make him their leader.
His other main student was Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner who eventually broke away and founded the Izhbetza Chasiddus.
Rav Laibele Eiger, the grandson of Rebbi Akiva Eiger, was also attracted to Kotzk much to his father's great dismay.
The Kotzker's son in law was the Avnei Neizer and he was succeeded by his son Rav Dovid.
The Kotzker was niftar in 5619/1859. He spent the last 20 years of his life in seclusion. Source