Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller • “Author of Tosaphot Yom Tov”

All Jews who come to the cemetery in Krakow (the Rema’s city) are shocked to see that the grave of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, author of the commentary of the Mishnah known as Tosaphot Yom Tov, is located at the cemetery’s periphery. Everyone asks how it is possible that such a great man, righteous and pious, was placed next to those committed suicide and were excommunicated.

The spiritual leaders in Krakow respond with the following story:

“In our city, there was a Jew by the name of Reb Shimon the miser, a wealthy man who didn’t want to give to tzeddakah. All those who, in their distress, begged him for help would leave empty-handed. All the inhabitants of the city royally detested Reb Shimon, and when he passed in the street, people pointed him out and said, ‘Look, there’s the miser!’

“Whereas Reb Shimon became known for his stinginess, there were two extremely generous people in the city, Shemariahu the baker and Gabriel the butcher. Whoever was in need of challah and meat for Shabbat, and didn’t know who to ask for help, went to find Shemariahu and Gabriel.

“This situation lasted for a long time. Then, one day, the rich man departed from this world. The Chevra Kadisha nearly refused to take care of him. Its members wanted to dig a hole in the ground and throw the body into it, resolving to give him a descent burial only because the Torah obliges us to do so. They asked Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, the Rav of the city, for his advice. He got angry and said, ‘What! Such a rich man who never gave a cent to tzeddakah? He should be buried next at the periphery, next to those who have been excommunicated.’ That’s what was done: He was buried in disgrace, and the earth covered him over. However the following Thursday and Friday, the city was shaken, and everyone knew that Reb Shimon was dead. The secret was finally revealed: Reb Shimon had paid Shemariahu the baker and Gabriel the butcher everything that the poor received from them. That ‘miser’ had in fact been one who practiced ‘giving in secret’. He didn’t want anyone to know that he gave anything.

“When the matter became known, the Tosaphot Yom Tov cried and greatly lamented. How could he give the order that such a Tzaddik be buried at the periphery? He found no rest until he gave his community the order that, after his own death, he should be buried next to Reb Shimon, a man who had carried out the mitzvah of ‘giving in secret.’ ”

Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller was born in 1579 in Wallerstein, in the state of Bayern, in southern Germany. His father, Rabbi Nathan, died a few days before his birth, and he was raised by his grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wallerstein, who in his time was the Rav of all the Jews in Germany.

In his youth, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman studied in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yaakov Guinzbourg in the city of Frieberg. Still very young, he elevated himself considerable in Torah and wisdom, and at the age of 18 he was named Dayan and Rosh Yeshiva of Prague, a position he held for 28 years.

There in Prague, he studied Torah with Rabbi Yehudah Leow, the Maharal, and with Rabbi Ephraim Shlomo Luntshitz, the author of Keli Yakar. It was at that time that he wrote his great work, Tosaphot Yom Tov, on the Mishnah. Everyone immediately accepted this commentary, and the Talmidei Chachamim and Benei Torah set times for studying it every day. Thus, for hundreds of years, it accompanies the Jew who studies mishnayot. They say that Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman wrote his commentary in three years, from 1614 to 1617. He indicated the completion date by affixing his signature to the end of Tractate Taharot, specifying that he was 38 years old at the time.

In the month of Heshvan in the year 1625, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman was named as the Rav of Nickelsburg, which was a famous community that included many scholars. Some time afterwards, he was accepted as Av Beit Din in Vienna.

There in Vienna, he enacted a certain number of decrees for the community. For example, he decreed the daily reading in synagogue, before the Morning Prayer, of a portion of the book Orchot Chaim by the Rosh, a book that he divided into seven parts. He also translated it into Yiddish for the benefit of the whole community. He composed a special Mi Shebeirach (individual blessing) for the faithful of the synagogue who abstained from speaking mundane things during prayer and Torah readings.

In 1628, he was named as Rav and Rosh Yeshiva of Prague. Once again, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman returned to this city where he had spent his best years. In 1644, he had the great honor of becoming the Av Beit Din and Rosh Yeshiva of the large city of Krakow, where he found peace and respect. Everyone greatly admired him, and his influence spread to all Polish Jewry.

The Gaon lived 27 years in Poland, dying in Krakow on Elul 6, 1654 at the age of 75.

The Gaon Rabbi Zelig Margaliot, who was his cousin, said the following concerning him: “When he died, he didn’t leave behind any money with which to buy a burial shroud,” because he never took money from a dubious source and never accepted gifts.

Before his death, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman wrote an autobiographical work entitled Megillat Eiva (Eiva being formed by the initials of the words Eicha Yashva Vadad Ha’ir, the first words in the book of Lamentations). In it he recounts the story of his life, from his birth until the day he became the Rav of Krakow. He also requests that his family set aside a day of rejoicing in order to celebrate the day he was released from prison.

Indeed, Rabbi Yom Tom Lipman Heller, author of Tosaphot Yom Tov, was a Gaon and a Tzaddik, and his memory will never leave us.




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