Rabbi Moshe Meisels/Meislish

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Moshe Meisels/Meislish (Meisels), Rabbi

Hebrew: Moshe Meisels/Meislish (Meisels), משה מייזל
Birthdate: (85)
Birthplace: Vilnius, Lithuania
Death: August 12, 1844 (85)
Israel (Buried in the old cemetery of Hebron, Palestine (not in existence any more))
Immediate Family:

Son of Mordekhai (Morduch) Meisels and Malka Meisels
Husband of Pesia Meisels
Father of Eliezer Meisels; Tzvi Hirsh Meisels and Aryeh Leib Meisels
Brother of unknown of Vidz

Occupation: Rabbi and Spy
Managed by: Lainey Beth Melnick
Last Updated:

About Rabbi Moshe Meisels/Meislish

The Meisels family was one of the respected families of Vilna, several of the family were in different times among heads of the community. The outstanding one was Rabbi Moshe Meisels who was for about 22 years one of the heads of the community and even after having left Vilna he was outstanding in his activity, talents that made his status at any place he came to.

He was one of the nearest to HaGr'a and the Tanya sang his praise. For a few weeks he was imprisoned, with the Gr'a and other heads of community of Vilna when they tried to save Jews from missionaries.

He wrote a book about the 613 Mitzvehs, and it was published in his youth (1788, Shklov).

He became close to Chassidim already during the Gra' lifetime. But only after his death in 1798 he publicly identified with Chassidut. He was persecuted for it and had to leave his home town and go to Germany. There through his good connections he could be active when Napoleon invaded Russia. His actions were kept secret for scores of years.

Over 70 years after the end of that war Chabad published the Tanya's letters to him asking him to oppose Napoleon and support the Tsar. About Moshe's spying in the service of the Tsar - he knew of it before, wrote to the Rabbi and he notified the Russian authorities. The Kaiser (probably Napoleon) caught him and wanted to kill him, but then thought he could work for him too.

Only after 120 years his letter to Montefiore was published (1930). There he tells that he was asked by the tsar to enter Bonapart's service and twice he took messages from him to Danzig and back, only relayed their contents to the Russians. At that time the Tanya died, running away from approaching French army. The second Admo'r encouraged Moshe to continue. After Napoleon's defeat Moshe could have enjoyed a good pension but he chose to go to the Holy Land - he was then nearly 70 years old. He made Aliah after the Napoleonic war, maybe in 1813, but there is a version it was with all the rest of the Chabad Chassidim 1823. Maybe he came before, returned to Russian and never left (this is incorrect, and the Montefiore census is very explicit about the date - A.) He was one of the heads of the Chassidim community (again - incorrect: he never had any official post, but was very well thought of) and his signature is on many documents of the community (again: not as a sole writer but with others respected figures).

Montefiore came to Hebron 1838, met Moshe and was impressed with him. (not quite correct - he came before 1827 for the first time, so they met before) and Moshe asked him for a financial help for printing his book, second edition of the one he published when he was young. He never left Eretz Israel and died nearly 90 years old, Erev Shabbat, on Friday, Parashat Re'eh, 1841.

From Sefer Hebron, 1970, biography on Rabbi Moshe Meisels in Hebrew. Translation is abbridged version by Aviva Neeman.

From Sefer Ha-Sihot [1920-1927] of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, Brooklyn NY 2004 (2nd edition), p. 111 note 7: He says the year of death was 1844, not 1849 as presumed by others.

The Gaon told his other disciples to be careful with Rabbi Moshe because his Yichuss goes back to Rabenu HaKadosh ('Our Holy Rabbi' - that's the term used for Rabbi Yehuda, Nassi of Sanhedrin). This tallies with any version that makes him a descendant of Rashi, because Rabbi Yehuda is on the chain between Rashi and King David. Aviva also says that in 18th century Judaism was split to two parts: one part became Chassidim, the other part, led by the Vilna Gaon were called Mithnagdim. That's why Rabbi Moshe was hounded by the Mithnagdim - because he was so close to the Vilna Gaon before he decided to become a chossid. And that's why the Chabbad people sent him to Hebron. Info from Aviva Neeman. ------------------------------- The renowned chassid Rabbi Moshe Meisels of Vilna, youngest of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's disciples, once told Rabbi Eisel of Homel: "The aleph of Chassidism saved me from a certain death."

[In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi states: "By its very nature, the mind rules the heart." This axiom, known as the "aleph of Chassidism," is a cornerstone of the Chabad-Chassidic approach to life.]

Rabbi Moshe Meisels, an extremely learned man, was fluent in German, Russian, Polish and French. During Napoleon's war on Russia he served as a translator for the French High Command. Rabbi Schneur Zalman had charged him to associate with the French military officials, to attain a position in their service, and to convey all that he learned to the commanders of the Russian army.1 Within a short while Rabbi Moshe had succeeded in gaining the favor of the chief commanders of Napoleon's army and was privy to their most secret plans.

It was he, Reb Moshe, who saved the Russian arms arsenal in Vilna from the fate which befell the arsenal in Schvintzian. He alerted the Russian commander in charge, and those who tried to blow up the arsenal were caught in the act.

"The High Command of the French army was meeting," related Reb Moshe "and hotly debating the maneuvers and the arrangement of the flanks for the upcoming battle. The maps were spread on the floor, and the generals were examining the roads and trails, unable to reach a decision. Time was short. Tomorrow, or, at the very latest, the day after, the battle on the environs of Vilna must begin.

"They were still debating when the door flew open with a crash. The guard stationed inside the door was greatly alarmed and drew his revolver. So great was the commotion, that everyone thought that the enemy had burst in in an attempt to capture the French Chief Command...

"But it was Napoleon himself who appeared in the doorway. The Emperor's face was dark with fury. He stormed into the room and raged: 'Has the battle been planned? Have the orders to form the flanks been issued?'

" 'And who is this stranger?!' he continued, pointing to me. In a flash he was at my side. 'You are a spy for Russia!' he thundered, and placed his hand upon my chest to feel the pounding heart of a man exposed.

At that moment, the aleph of Chassidism stood me by. My mind commanded my heart to beat not an increment faster. In an unwavering voice I said: 'The commanders of His Highness the Emperor have taken me as their interpreter, as I am knowledgeable in the languages crucial to the carrying out of their duties...' " ------------------------------------------ bbridged translation of Hebrew text written by SD Levine: R Moshe Mayzlish, author of 'lyrics of Moshe' on the 613 'mitzvas', was among the first settlers and appointees in 'kolel Habbad' in Hebron. In the census of 1839 recorded that he is at age of 80 and came from Vilna to the holy land in year of 1818, with his son Tzvi 43 years old married with son and daughter depend on him for livelihood, and Tzvi's son R Mordechai married age 20 with son and daughter. This has been mistranslated as another son for Moshe, but that is incorrect, he is a grandson. Also recorded on census of 1855 that his son Tzvi made 'aliah' in 1818. Although in R Moshe's letter from 1838 he wrote 'and I am 22 years in the holy land' and if so, means he came in 1816. For many years he was the trustee of the community in Vilna. Between the years 1796-8 got close to Habbad and was persecuted for that in Vilna , until he had to run away and to become a nomad - trying to find bread to eat 1801-3. During Napoleon's war was spying for the emperor of Russia and met for that 2 times with Napoleon himself. After demise of his holiness the Old Admor he was dedicated to the Middle Admor, who wrote to him a lot and named him 'my beloved friend dear to me as my soul trusted and wise man', 'soul mate, strength and trust of my heart' Between years 1814-1815 asked the Middle Admor about a trip to settle in the holy land and he gave him his advise no to go. '..... it is unimaginable that I shall give from the charity box expenses of the trip until they'll come there and get/fix a place/residence in Jerusalem, they will have a position of 50 (???) for both of them, (he and the genius Rabbi R Barich Mordechai chairman of rabbinical court in Broisk) and in any case no more'. Between years 1816-1817 the Middle Admor ordered some of his Hasidim to emigrate to the holy land and then did so R Moshe Mayzlish and settled in Zfat and in the winter of 1823 moved to Hebron and became one of the appointees of the community and signed on most of the community records/scripts between years 1827-1841. He signed on the letters of emissary of the year 1827, on agreement between two congregations/communities in 1830, on the letter to the holy Admor 'Tzemach Tzedek' in 1831, and on letters of emissary from about 1844. In Yaari's records from ' archives of Jerusalem' that he passed away in Hebron on 24 Av 'tav'-'resh'-'tet' (Sunday, Aug. 12 1849) and in the book of Hebron page 150 'when he was about 90 years old, Friday eve of holy sabbath chapter/portion 're'eh' 'tav'-'resh'-alef' (1841)' but in 1841 he was only 82 years old so it probably should be 1849 (the mentioning of chapter/portion 're'eh' does not fit/comply with neither 24 Av 'tav'-'resh'-'alef' nor with 'tav'-resh'-tet'. His son Tzvi Hirsh mentioned above signed on the script/letter to (???) from 1844.

Remarks: 1.Admor - Our Lord, Teacher and Rabbi, the way in all 'Hasidic' movements they call their leader. 2.The letter R used as the acronym for ' Reb'. This letter used in Hebrew not for 'Rabbi' but also for ' Reb ' as a symbol of honor, for respected person. In this case no doubt he was really a Rabbi. 3.The question marks used when terms could not be translated (my apologies for my ignorance). 4.All years stated as abbreviation by Jewish calendar, converted to Gregorian calendar as if it was the fifth month of the year. Be advised that because the beginning of the Jewish year is usually in September, when the exact date is from earlier then the fourth month of the year (by Jewish calendar) the year by Gregorian calendar is usually one year earlier. ---------------------------------------------------------------- Moshe Meisels was the Vilna community sexton (shamash) AND author of a published book - Shirat Moshe, published in Shklov in 1788. He is written up in Kiria Neemana by Fuenn, pages 245-46. In a newly published book IR VILNA by Mordecai Zelkin (HU, Jrslm, 2002) there is mention on page 34 about him and how his knowledge of languages became a time bomb that worked against him. ---------------------------------------------------------------------

  • About the year 1777, a group of Chassidim established a colony in the Holy Land under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Vitebsker (Horodoker) -- for whom the Zemach Zedek was named -- and elder confrere of Rabbi Schneur Zalman. font>

Rabbi Menachem Mendel appointed a council of five senior Chassidim who would make the necessary decisions in communal problems. They were Rabbis Moshe Meisels* of Vilna, Boruch Mordechai Eitinga** of Bobroisk, Isaac*** of Gomel, Hillel**** of Paritch, and Peretz***** of Beshenkovitch. Rabbi Hillel began making regular visits to the Kherson settlements in 1828, and would spend the three summer months there annually. Besides his influence on the settlers in regard to Torah and piety in the Chassidic tradition, he had a salutary erect on their personal conduct and brotherly relations with each other.

  • Bais Rebbe I, chapter 26, and end of II.
    • An illuminating account of Rabbi Baruch Mordechai and his time, is found in War Chicago, N. Y., 1944, p. 8 ff.
      • A giant among Chassidim, Rabbi Isaac is discussed innumerable times in Chabad literature, e.g. Hatomim II, p. 120; Sicha of Shmini Atzeres 5694, sec. 12, etc.
        • Rabbi Hillel was born with exceptional gifts, and he strove diligently in Torah study. At thirteen he had mastered Talmud, and at fifteen, the Kabalistic works of Ar'i (Rabbi Isaac Luria). Mastering Talmud by mid-teens was not rare in those days, but attaining proficiency in Kabala besides that was a wonder even in those luminous times. In addition to his eminence in Torah learning he trained himself in self-discipline. He 'mobilized' his body to act only as the Torah prescribes, even to conform with Kabala.
          • Hatomim III, p. 23.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his youth, Moshe was a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, a strong opponent to Chassidism. During this time he became deeply interested in the writing of Moses Mendelsshon. He was also in secret contact with Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the creator of the Chabad movement. When this became known in Vilna, Moshe feared persecution from the Vilna religious establishment and fled to Germany. During this time he had talks with the Napoleonic forces and when Shneur Zalman wanted these talks to stop, it became suspected that Moshe was secretly collaborating with the Russian Army. Again he was forced to flee. He went to Eretz Israel until the French defeat in the war. Then he returned to Lithuania where he stayed until he made his aliyah to Hebron in 1818 to spend his final years there. In Hebron, he was closely assosiated with Sir Moses Montefiore. From Encyclopedia Judaica. ------------------------------------------------------------------ ...he joined the Hasidim, but did not participate in the bitter controversies concerning them which disturbed the Polish Jewry in those times. He was a great admirer of Moses Mendelssohn and approved Solomon Dubno's bi'ur of Genesis (1783). There is also an approbation by Meisel of Samuel Gershoni's 'Debar Shemuel' (Byelostok, 1814). He left Wilna for Palestine in 1813 and settled in Hebron. Dr. Löwe, who met him there in the summer of 1838, describes him as an old man well acquainted with German literature.

Meisel was the author of 'Shirat Mosheh' (Shklov, 1788), a poem on the 613 precepts, each line beginning with a letter from the Ten Commandments. His son Aryeh Löb (d. 1835) was a leader among the Hasidim of Wilna.

Bibliography: Fuenn, K.iryah Ne'emanah, pp. 246-247, 288, Wilna, 1860; M. A. Ginzburg, Debir, pp. 47-48, Warsaw, 1883.H. R. P. Wi. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Rabbi Moshe Meisels is buried in Chevron. Avraham Mayzlesh visited his grave around 1940. His uncle, Meir Mayzlesh, took him to the old Jewish cemetery in Chevron, showed him a gravestone - which wasn't clear - and told him: 'this is the grave of the 'Zeide Reb Moshe. He doesn't remember the place, and his son, Moshe has been told that today there isn't anything. He heard that later the Arabs ploughed the place. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- '...One day the Alter Rebbe described this situation to his saintly daughter. He sensed that this was a weighty time; the voices of the Accusing Angels[47] were insistent; he was deeply anxious over the state of the chassidic community and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

She understood that the situation was awesome and that her father's life was in the balance. What she had heard threw her thoughts into turmoil for a number of days. Finally, she decided that she had an obligation to share her thoughts with a few select individuals and to consult with them, and resolved in her heart to surrender her life for his.

She therefore called for three distinguished elder chassidim - R. Moshe Maizlish, R. Pinchas Reizes and R. Moshe Vilenker - and demanded that they heed whatever she would direct them to do. Moreover, she demanded that they solemnly obligate themselves by a legally binding oath[48] to maintain utter secrecy until the episode could be divulged.

Notwithstanding their accustomed composure of head and heart, these mighty lions were deeply agitated, and told her that they needed a day to decide together whether they could accept her conditions. At that period the Alter Rebbe had been closeted in his study more than usual; even the closest chassidim were not granted admittance. From this departure from custom they gathered that this was a time of grievous crisis; its nature and remedy remained a mystery.

The three elder chassidim met several times during the day and decided to consult through the night as to whether they could accept her conditions. Ultimately they concluded that they were obliged to do so because she was clearly more familiar with the situation than they were.

At the appointed hour she received them cordially and said: 'We are all chassidim of our father, the Rebbe, and we are all obliged to literally sacrifice our lives - for his sake and for the sake of his teachings, which are the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.'

Her words were drowned by gushing tears.

Standing up in alarm, R. Moshe Maizlish declared with passion: 'Why are you crying? Tell us what is going on! I will be the first to go to my death - in fire or in water for the sake of our Rebbe, for the sake of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov! Tell us what to do! I shall go happily, with a joy and gladness of heart greater than that caused by an abundance of all good things[49] - just as our Rebbe has taught us!'

'First of all,' responded Devorah Leah, 'I demand that you swear by an irreversible oath that you will fulfill what I am about to tell you. The oath will apply to what I alone have in mind, for you do not know what I am about to say. Moreover, the stern Scriptural sanction that upholds your oath will apply even to matters involving human life.'

With words like these, the emotions of even the temperate and cerebral R. Moshe Vilenker were excited. He would be afraid to proceed with such a proposal, he said, unless it had been weighed deliberately.

His two colleagues objected: 'Have we not already decided to accede to all conditions? Why deliberate further?'

All three thereupon undertook an oath as prescribed in the Torah, and Rebbitzin Devorah Leah spoke up: 'I hereby appoint you to act as a rabbinical court. You will undertake to do so and to pronounce a binding verdict as laid down by the laws of the Torah.

'The present state of affairs, in which unprincipled slanderers have incited crises between the Rebbeim of the Holy Land and of Volhynia and our father the Rebbe, is grievous indeed. From the words I have heard from my father it is clear that the consequences may be (G-d forbid) grave...'

A Prince in Prison, The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's Account of His Incarceration in Stalinist Russia in 1927, An Extract from Likkutei Dibburim by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch

[Rabbi Moshe Meisels/Meislish]

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Rabbi Moshe Meisels/Meislish's Timeline

Vilnius, Lithuania
Age 19
Age 37
Vilnius, Lithuania
August 12, 1844
Age 85