Reb Zusha of Anipoli was one of the most beloved stars in the constellation of the third generation of Chassidic masters. Humble and self-effacing, he is forever remembered in the many tales of his awe of G‑d and his deep love for His creations. Elder brother of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, and beloved pupil of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezrich, Reb Zusha wrote no books and never amassed a large following. Yet, in his signature, understated way, he contributed greatly to the emerging Chassidic movement.

1. His Father Had an Inn in a Small Village Near Tiktin

His exact date of birth is unknown, but it is believed that he is the son of Eliezer Lipa, a wealthy and learned innkeeper in a small village near Tiktin. Spiritually sensitive, he was attracted to the teachings of Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezrich, the primary student of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement. Legends abound about how he influenced his brother, Elimelech, to become a chassid as well.

2. His Mother Was Unlettered But Pious

Like most Jewish women of her era, Mirel, mother of Elimelech and Zusha, did not know how to read Hebrew. She was generous to a fault, and every Thursday she hired a driver to help her distribute funds to poor people, so that they would have something to eat on Shabbat. She was so modest that the driver never saw her face and never learned of her identity.

3. He and His Brother Were In Self Imposed Exile

The two brothers wandered from place to place, without a penny in their pockets, forced to live by the kindness of strangers. This “forced exile” was not uncommon among spiritual seekers of the era who wished to cleanse their souls through suffering. In living a homeless life, they were emulating G‑d Himself, who has been without a “home” since the Temple was destroyed.

For Reb Elimelech and Reb Zusha, however, there was another element. Traveling incognito, they were able to meet many people whom they would inspire to return to G‑d. Oftentimes, they would “stage” conversations in which R’ Elimelech would berate R’ Zusha for sins he supposedly committed. Hearing R’ Zusha’s copious sobs, the listener would realize that he too had to repent for the very same sin.

Read: I Know Your Guilty Secrets

4. His Name Is Spelled Many Ways

His first name is Meshulam. His second name is sometimes written Zussman (this is how the Alter Rebbe and other contemporaries wrote it), Zushia, Zusia, Zisha, Zusil and Zusha. He is among the few Chassidic rebbes so venerated to be referred to as “the Rebbe, Reb Zusha.” There is ambiguity regarding his family name, as various immediate family members are known as Weisblum, Lipman, and Aurbach.

5. He Learned a Lesson From Everything

A central tenet of Chassidic teaching is that everything can serve as a catalyst from which one can gain inspiration and insight into one’s service of G‑d. Reb Zusha was known to learn seven lessons from a thief: a) He works quietly without others knowing. b) He is ready to place himself in danger. c) Even the smallest detail is of great importance to him. d) He labors with great toil. e) Alacrity. f) He is confident and optimistic. g) If he did not succeed the first time, he tries again and again.

6. He Left Very Few Written Words

Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin once explained (partially in jest) that the great Chassidic masters only shared what they had themselves learned from their teachers. Whenever Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezrich began to teach, Reb Zusha became so enraptured that he would scream “ai, ai, ai” with such excitement that the others would remove him from the lecture hall. Since Reb Zusha never heard, he never taught.

Some of his teachings are posthumously collected in Menorat Zahav (Warsaw 1902) and Butzina Kadisha (Pietrykaw 1912).

7. His Peers Respected Him Greatly

The Alter Rebbe, known among the students of the Maggid as “the Rav” due to his erudition, had tremendous respect for Reb Zusha. When he was ready to print his new book, the Tanya, Reb Zusha was one of two people he asked to write an approbation.

The Alter Rebbe once said that there are three people whom he loves on a soul level. There are varying traditions regarding who these three are, but all agree that Reb Zusha was one of them.

In recent years, a letter written by the Alter Rebbe was discovered. In it, he exhorts his followers to send donations to Reb Zusha along with their names so that “their names be remembered before G‑d, who hears the voice of His servants…”

8. He Hid His Learning

Stories abound of Reb Zusha hiding the deepest teachings in simplistic words. Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch related that several of the Maggid’s students were once discussing the fine points of a particularly difficult passage in Maimonides’s code (others say it was in the Zohar). Zusha approached them and asked what was bothering them, but they dismissed him, implying that it was above his level.

Reb Zusha began to cry, “Zusha doesn’t understand this concept, oh, Zusha doesn’t understand,” until he fell asleep. When he awoke, he lucidly and clearly explained the concept to the two students who had previously dismissed him, having learned it in his sleep from Maimonides himself.

9. He Was Poor but Happy

A story is told about an individual who could not understand how to accept suffering with love. The Maggid sent the questioner to visit Reb Zusha, who was known to be destitute. “I am not sure why you were sent to me,” said Reb Zusha, “What can I tell you about suffering? I have everything a person could possibly wish for!”

Read: Perspective

10. He Recognized His Unique Purpose in Life

There is a famous anecdote that tells of Reb Zusha quaking with fright on his deathbed. “I am not afraid of being asked why I was not Moses,” he explained to his students. “After all, G‑d already has a Moses. I am afraid, however, of being asked, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’ ”

11. He Humbly Referred to Himself in Third Person

Humble to a fault, Reb Zusha never referred to himself as “ich,” Yiddish for “I.” Rather, he would say “Zusha doesn’t understand” or Zusha feels badly etc.” He was known to have said to the earth upon which he trod, “Dirt, dirt, you are greater than Zusha, So why is Zusha walking upon you? Never fear, the day will come when he will be buried under you.”

12. Five Meanings of Teshuvah

Reb Zusha was a master of repentance. Throughout the day, he would record his “failings” in a notebook. Each night, before going to sleep, he would cry and plead for forgiveness until his tears had washed away whatever he had written.

He is known for his teaching that the Hebrew word teshuva, translated as “return” or “repentance,” is an acronym for five elements.

T: Tamim - "Be sincere (tamim) with the Eternal, your G‑d."
Sh: Shiviti - "I have set (shiviti) G‑d before me always."
U: Ve-ahavta - "And you shall love (ve-ahavta) your fellow as yourself."
V: Bechol - "In all (bechol) your ways, know Him."
H: Hatzne-a - "Discreetly (hatzne-a) walk with your G‑d.

Read: Five Steps to a Higher Teshuvah

13. He Saw Only the Good in Others

Even where others saw failings, Rabbi Zusha saw only positive. “It is known,” Reb Zusha once said, “that whenever a Jew sins, an evil angel is created. I have never seen a robust evil angel. Each one is missing a hand, a foot, or another limb. Even when a Jew sins, he is broken deep down inside—creating an angel that is broken or lame.”

14. He Wished to Fear G‑d

Reb Zusha’s fear of heaven was legendary, eclipsed only by his boundless love of G‑d. It is told that Zusha once asked G‑d to grant him proper fear of heaven. Upon completing his impromptu prayer, Zusha found himself trembling with fear. So great was his awe of G‑d that he soon found himself writhing on the floor under a bed.

“Please master of the universe,” he begged, “allow me to love you like Zusha.”

And G‑d granted him his wish.

15. Buried Right Near the Maggid

He passed away on 2 Shevat, 5560 (1800), and is buried in Annipoli, right near the resting place of his beloved master, Rabbi Dov Ber, who lived his last years in Annipoli. The cemetery was destroyed by the Nazis and a common marker has been erected for the Maggid, Reb Zusha and others.