In his quest for spirituality, the great Chasidic master Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk would spend extended periods in self-imposed exile, travelling through the towns and villages of Europe. He travelled as a simple beggar, often together with his brother Reb Zushe, wandering from town to town, never staying long enough to feel comfortable.
It once happened after a long period of exile that Rabbi Elimelech decided the time had come to return home. Just as he entered Lizhensk, he heard someone cry out, “Quick, call a doctor, Eluzer is sick!”
Eluzer was Rabbi Elimelech's oldest son. The rabbi raced home in a panic and flung upon the front door. “Eluzer, Eluzer, my son!” he cried.
“And hello to you too, long time no see,” said his wife, “What are you taking about?”
Flustered he told her that he had heard that Eluzer was ill.
“Oh,” she replied, “That’s not our Eluzer. That’s Eluzer Goldberg, up the road.”
“Boruch Hashem,” he responded, breathing a sigh of relief.
Then he stopped and a great feeling of disappointment came over him.
“Meilech, Meilech,” he said to himself, “What have you accomplished with all your months of exile, if it still makes a difference to you whose Eluzer is sick?” And with that, Rabbi Elimelech turned around, left Lizhensk, and went back into exile.
One time, the Roman princess was found murdered in Lod. The Romans immediately blamed the Jewish community and threatened to execute the entire city unless they turned over the murderer. Two brothers, Lulinus and Papus stepped up and took the fall in order to save their brethren.
The governor, Turainus said to them, “If you are of the nation of Chanania, Mishael and Azarya, let your G-d come and save you from my hand just like He saved Chanania, Mishael and Azarya from Nebuchadnezzar.
They replied, “Chanania, Mishael and Azarya were completely righteous and worthy of having a miracle performed on their behalf. Nebuchadnezzar was a real king and worthy of having a miracle happen because of him. But that wicked man (i.e. you, Turainus) is a commoner and unworthy of having a miracle happen because of him. Moreover, clearly we are deserving of death by Divine decree. If you do not kill us, the Almighty has many killers. And the Almighty has many bears and lions in His world that could attack us and kill us. But the Holy One blessed be He only handed us over to you because He plans to take vengeance upon you for our blood.”
Nevertheless, he killed them on the spot. The end of the story, they say, is that no sooner had he killed them when two ministers arrived from Rome and split open his head with wooden staffs. Due to this great miracle, that day, 12th Adar, was declared an annual public holiday.
This incredible story of self-sacrifice is a model of dedication to us all. How courageous were these two young men to give their lives on behalf of the community! Nonetheless, why did they both have to surrender themselves? All it takes is one murderer – and yet they needlessly offered two lives!
Imagine the scene: The Jewish community of Lod is at its wit’s end. The entire city is slated for execution. Try as they may, they have no leads on the homicide case. Suddenly, Lulinus volunteers himself. “I will go and admit to the crime,” he says.
Seeing what his brother is about to do, Papus jumps to his feet. “There’s no way I will let you die. I’m going instead.”
“I’m sorry, dear brother,” replies Lulinus, “I said first.” And they begin fighting with one another until finally they decide to face the guillotine together.
What makes their story so special is that they did not just see each other as brothers, everyone was their brother. Their love for their fellow community members was as powerful as the love one has for a family member, and that’s why they were willing to sacrifice themselves. By teaching that they were brothers and executed together, the Talmud is instructing us the lengths to which we must go for those around us. Everyone is your brother and sister and the thought of any other person perishing or even suffering should devastate you.
How far are you willing to go to help someone in need? If it was your brother, would you act differently? If it was your own child, would you be more sensitive to his plight?
The Talmud teaches us that we are all responsible for one another. We are all part of one great body. When your toe hurts, you don’t simply dismiss it and say, ‘Well, it’s not me. I’m the hand.’ If any part of the body is suffering, the entire body suffers. And this is true whether we are dealing with physical or spiritual pain.