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He was one of the Hassidic giants, one of the students of the "Maggid" Rebbe Dov Ber of Mezherich. Rebbe Elimelech and his brother Zushia of Anipoli traveled around from town to town to Poland as if reenacting an exile - for Hassidic purposes, with the intention of "bringing the multitudes back to the source, inspiring people to repent, and purifying the hearts of the children of Israel". Due to the influence of his brother, Rebbe Elimelech became close to the Maggid Reb Dov, and due to the latter's influence, he became given over to Hassidism.
After the Maggid died, Rebbe Elimelech settled in Lizhensk, which is near Jaroslaw in Galicia. During the time of his residency there (5535-5547 - 1765-1777), Lizhensk became a center of Hassidism in Galicia and Poland. Many stories spread about the piousness and righteousness of Rebbe Elimelech, and thousands streamed to him, not only to learn Torah from his mouth, but also to learn from his character traits. In contrast to what was accepted at that time in Hassidic circles, where they used to worship G-d from joy; Rebbe Elimelech was an ascetic, and at the time that he reached the pinnacle of asceticism he would chastise and smite himself with sharp thorns (as is told by Rabbi Moshe of Koznice in his book "Beor Moshe", on the Torah portion of Maasey).
According to his students "his greatest desire was to separate from this material world and to stand in the source of holiness" (Rabbi Yisrael of Koznice: "Avodat Yisrael" on the Torah portion of Chayey Sarah), however Rebbe Elimelech instructed his followers to distance themselves from asceticism, "for the strength of the sufferer is weakened by fasting and asceticism, and there is no possibility of reaching wholeness in this manner" (Rabbi Kalonymos of Krakow: "Meor Vashemesh" for the Sabbath of Repentance - the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).
Rebbe Elimelech was the first founder of practical Hassidism and of "Tzadikism" as a set phenomenon in Hassidism. The "Tzadik" was in his eyes an intermediary between G-d and man, a "friend of G-d", "Holy from his mother's womb, and called a son of the Holy One Blessed be He" ("Noam Elimelech" on the Torah portions of Mishpatim and Lech Lecha), for "By means of his holy deeds, he can enact everything" (ibid.).
The following Tzadikim numbered among his disciples: the "Chozeh" Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz of Lublin; the Magid Rabbi Yisrael of Koznice; Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta; and others. His son Rabbi Elazar, took over form his father (he died in 5566-1806 in Lizhensk). He organized the letters of his father and published the volumes of "Noam Elimelech" (published in Lvov, 5548 - 1788, and later on in many other editions), as well as "Likutei Shoshana" (Lvov 5618 - 1856, at the end of "Noam Elimelech").