Living Legacy: The Ma’or Vashemesh Upon His 200th yohrtzeit

Living Legacy: The Ma’or Vashemesh Upon His 200th yohrtzeit

Yehuda Alter

Tuesday, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz will mark two centuries since the histalkus of one of the most famous and consequential lights of the Chassidic world. 

Rav Kloynimus Kalman Epstein, known by the title of his Sefer Ma’or Vashemesh, was a prize talmid of the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk. 

He traced his lineage to the Rishonim of France

As a young boy, his poverty-stricken family moved to Krakow, where he would ultimately be laid to rest, and this is where he spent his childhood. 

So poor was his family that they had no money to send the young Kloynimus Kalman to cheder. He would help the family by trekking every day to the market to sell bagels that his mother baked fresh every morning. One cold winter day, he set out in the morning as usual. But then, a frigid snow began to come down. The young boy entered the Beis Medrash of the Bach, and he became mesmerized by the sight of Yidden sitting and learning with such sweetness. 

From that time on, he would hurry to sell his bagels, and rush from there to the Beis Medrash to stand and observe this magical sight. Soon, he began to attend the shiur of Rav Avorhom Hurwitz, the rov of Krakow. Every day, he would stand with his eyes open, taking in every word. One day, a wealthy man from the city approached him and said, “Why do you stand here and listen? Do you understand any of it?” When the young boy repeated the shiur word for word, the man was so impressed he asked the boy to  take him home to his parents at once.” 

“It is a waste to allow your son to sell your bagels,” he said. “I will pay for him to attend cheder, and when the time comes, I will take him as a son-in-law for my daughter.” That was indeed what happened; he married the daughter of the gevir, Rev Mordechai Guttengold, around the time of his bar mitzvah, with his father-in-law taking it upon himself to support the young couple. 

The young man continued to delve into the depths of Shas and poskim, and one day Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk passed through the city of Krakow, and Rav Kloynimus Kalman went to see him. From that moment, he was smitten with the light of the Rebbe, and of Chassidus. He could not move away from the great tzaddik, watching his every movement. Soon, he began to journey to Lizensk to be with the tzaddik. On the way, he passed through Lublin, and the Chozeh asked him to remain with him for Shabbos–but insisted on journeying further, so deeply did he wish to be by his rebbe. 

Ultimately, the Ma’or Vashemesh was the first to begin disseminating the derech hachasidus in Krakow–a move that did not come lightly. Krakow was at the time a bastion of misnagdim, and the rov of the city threatened to place him in cherem if he continued. But he persisted, and within a short time, his reputation began to spread as a tzaddik and one of the prime talmidim of the Rebbe, Rebbe Elimelech.

He also journeyed to the Chozeh of Lublin and to Rebbe Mordechai of Neschiz. 

The Chozeh of Lublin once said that Rebbe Kloynimus Kalman is one of three of his talmidim who don’t take their mind off of their Creator for even one moment. Shabbos was by the Rebbe a day of fire and holiness. All Shabbos long, he burned with the holiness of Shabbos. 

Thousands came to be with him in his lifetime, and his magnum opus, Ma’or Vashemesh is one of the greatest classics of the Chassidic repertoire, learned to this very day by tens of thousands who draw inspiration from the timeless and holy words. 

Rebbe Kloynimus Kalman ascended to the next world on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz of the year 5583 (1723) and was interred on the Beis Hachaim in Krakow. 

He left behind two illustrious sons who continued in his holy path. 

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