There is an accepted premise among us: The "rebbe" status is one thing and the rabbinate is another, and one does not wear both crowns simultaneously. For the "rebbe" is a wonder worker, a performer of miracles and a guide to the common people. The rabbi, on their other hand, is a teacher of law, a father and a leader for scholars. One realm does not infringe on the other.
Historical facts, however, contradict the above premise. There have been several great and revered personalities in whom there were combined the traits of the rebbe, good-hearted and concerned with the problems of the individual and the community - and those of the learned rabbi, the epitomy of scholarship, building spiritual worlds and destroying them. These personalities come and rebuke our premise about the "rebbe" and the "rabbi".
Even before the Baal Shem Tov, we had such luminaries as Rabbi Yehuda Hechassid, the Maharal of Prague and others who combined in themselves the fine traits enumerated in the "rebbe" and the rabbi After the spread of Baal Shem Tov influence there were revealed here and there great crowns of a good name, such as R. Zekiel Leib Wormser (Baal Shem of Mitchaelstaadt), R. Joshua Gottmacher of Greiditz and others.
A rabbi of this category was R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M., who combined in himself the proficiency and keen analysis of the Talmud as one of the great, and at the same time diffused through his noble personality fight and warmth to everyone created in the image of G-d, drawing to himself thousands of people, Jews and Gentiles, who flocked to him to enjoy the light of his countenance and to receive his blessing.
R. Pinchas Michael was born about 1808 to his father R. Yitzhok Isaac and his mother Braina Henia in the city of Shereshov (Grodno County). R. Isaac was a grandson of R. Joshua of Pinsk, a descendant of R. Elazar of Amsterdam, author of "Maasay Rokeach." On his mother's side he was a descendant of the author of "Ponim Meiros."
R. Pinchas Michael was an only son, but he did not behave like one. An only son tends to become spoiled and seek to escape the burden of Torah. But this was not the way of the boy Pinchas Michael. From his earliest childhood he dedicated himself to Torah and good deeds. The ideals of his parents were not secular in nature, to increase wealth and material possessions, but to increase Torah and wisdom. They, therefore, exempted him from worries of a livelihood and the burdens of life. The boy Pinchas Michael spent day and night over the Torah and thirstily drank the words of the sages.
Of the teachers who impressed him we know only one whose influence was great. He was R. Asher Ha-Cohen, author of "Birchas Rosh." R. Pinchas Michael tried to go in the footsteps of this teacher in his humble behavior. From R. Asher he learned the trait of being content with little, and he refused to accept the crown of the rabbinate until he was close to fifty, as was the case with his teacher R. Asher.
Also in authorship he followed the path of his teacher.The latter authored a commentary on tractate Nazim - so did he write a commentary on this tractate. Like his teacher, he attained the height of constancy in study and deprived himself of sleep, until his father used his paternal prerogative to get him to nap one hour in the afternoon. From his father R. Yitzhok Isaac he inherited his great love for Israel and his dedication to matters of charitableness.
In accordance with the custom of those days, his parents married him off at an early age. He married Mushka, daughter of the well-to-do R. Yahiel Michal of Pavsal, a descendant of the author of "Seder HaDoros." His wife operated a store and managed the household, and thus removed from him the burden of livelihood so that be could devote himself to Torah.
Even in those days, when he was still a youth, R. Pinchas Michael became renowned as one of the great negotiators of the sea of the Talmud. At that time he began to correspond with the luminaries of Torah in matters of law and the comments of the early and later sages. They all saw in him a keen mentality and an expert analyst in coming up with the correct conclusions. These innovations - in the Shas, Rashi, Tosefos, Rif, Rosh and Ran, he began to note down until they accumulated to a heavy tome. But all this he did with modesty and without fanfare.
And not only in matters of jurisprudence did R. Pinchas Michael demonstrate his prowess, but be also favored matters of legendary nature.
Shereshev, the birthplace of R. Pinchas Michael was known for its rabbis, outstanding in Torah and wisdom. Among those who served there were R. David, author of the book "Ramparts of Jerusalem." It is said about this rabbi that be planned to appoint three days of Rosh Hodesh and that he also used to read the Megillah on Shushan-Purim as well. The rabbinical chair in this town was also occupied by R. Pinchas Halevi, son of Azriel of Amsterdam, author of the book 'Nachlas Azriel" on "Yoreh De'oh." Another who served there was R. Isaac HaCohen, author of the book "Shaaray Yitzhok."
In this town also served R. Asher HaCohen, a pupil of R. Chayirn of Wolosin, author of the book "Birchas Rosh" on the Tractate of Brochos and editing of the interpretations of Rashi and Tosephos, and "Birchas Rosh" on the Tractate Nazir and editing and commentaries on Rashi, Tosephos and Maimonides.
At first R. Asher HaCohen refused to make a livelihood from Torah. To his fiftieth year he was a merchant in Shereshev, and during his free time be sat and studied Torah. Finally at the insistence of her town's leaders be agreed to occupy the rabbinical post. He did not serve there long, for the leaders of the community of Ticktin (Grodno County) turned their attention to him and in 1853 he was appointed Rabbi of Ticktin.
When R. Asher HaCohen became Rabbi of Ticktin the community leaders of Shereshev began to look for a rabbi who could continue the rabbinic tradition of Shereshev. Finally they selected R.. Pinchas Michael to fill the place of R. Asher HaCohen. They saw in him the counterpart of their rabbi greatly proficient in the Talmud, in the first and latter sages, a modest man of high virtue.
When the crown of the rabbinate was placed on the head of R. Pinchas Michael he did not change his former behavior and he conducted himself with the same modesty as prior to his assumption of the rabbinate. As always he was a close friend of the masses. He gave heed to their conversation, be participated in their sorrow and helped them in their hour of trouble. He was particularly beloved by the children, whom he treated with respect and addressed as he did their elders.
Despite his democratic behavior R. Pinchas Michael became renowned for his Torah knowledge and be became the cynosure of all eyes. On the one band he received response in theory and fact from famous rabbis, and on the other the masses flocked to him for advice in matters of daily living. His home was open wide to every pauper and misery-stricken individual.
Thus he conducted his rabbinical post for six years in Shereshev until 1864. This year marked a milestone in the life of R. Pinchas Michael for on that year be left his native town of Shereshev where be grew up and struck roots and went to the town of Antipolia, (Antopol in Russian) Kobryn County, in the State of Grodno.
Antopol, or Antipolia as it was known among the Jews, was famous not only in the State of Grodno but outside its confines as well. It is true that this town had practically been ,overlooked by the Russian Government, but the Jews regarded it highly because of its rabbis, famous for Torah and Kabalah. In town lived the famous Kabalist R. Moshe Zvi for forty-four years, from 1818 to 1862. R. Moshe Zvi was known not only for his vast erudition in matters known as secret but also for his generous soul and for his sensitive heart. He was sought after in spiritual and mundane matters, in problems of livelihood as well as matters of healing body or soul.
Following the death of R. Moshe Zvi, the rabbinical post was occupied by R. Chayim. Zalman of Breslav, a descendant of the illustrious R. Yosef David of Mir. Evidently there was some argument about this post and after two years R. Chayim. Zalman was forced to leave Antipolia and settle in Mir. The post of Rabbi of Antipolia waited its rightful heir Several rabbis, renowned in Torah and teaching, were candidates for the rabbinical post in this small town, but none satisfied its Jewish residents, for the rabbi who was to occupy the rabbinical post would also have to continue the tradition of Antipolia's rabbis and to be ,acceptable to all the segments of the people because of his paternal attitude to everyone created in the image of G-d.
It was not an easy matter to be acceptable to the Jews of Antipolia, who at that time numbered more than a thousand souls, for almost all of them were scholars and men of erudition, instructors in Gemora, such as R. Yekusiel the blacksmith, etc.
The beads of the community of Antipolia could not find a rabbi more suited to this post than R. Pinchas Michael, who was thoroughly imbued with Talmudic erudition and was also devoted to every human being in distress. The heads of the community paid no attention to the "fault" that he had, namely his impaired speech. They knew that this was not a physical imperfection but the result of the quick thinking and lightning-like grasp that R. Pinchas Michael had. They saw his simplicity, both in study and in daily life, and his broad heartedness and his tremendous knowledge in the Talmud. These virtues recommended R. Pinchas Michael as the occupant of the rabbinic post in Antipolia.
Before accepting the rabbinate in Antipolia, R. Pinchas Michael stipulated with the heads of the community that he would not gain anything- materially from the rabbinate, and that he would live on the sale of yeast by his wife.
On Rosh Hodesh Heshvan 5624, the residents of Antipolia. were blessed with the arrival of R. Pinchas Michael. The entire town rejoiced in welcoming its new rabbi. At last Antipolia was privileged to a rabbi worthy of two crowns, the crown of Torah and the crown of good repute. Everyone was eager to hear his inaugural sermon, which would certainly be of the first magnitude, as was the. custom of the Torah greats in those days. But R. Pinchas Michael's sermon was nothing like that. They heard not words of legalism but words of legendary and moralistic nature. Only as a matter of course did he add words of jurisprudence, for this was the way of the- Holy One, who spoke naught to the children of Israel on the first day of their arrival at Mt. Sinai because of the toilsome way. Such was also the course of -the commandments that the Lord gave. First he gave the light commandments, such as Chalah and the Omer, and later offering tithe, seventh year and jubilee which are weightier. "When the Lord gave us His commandments He taught us the ways of righteousness gradually, how to behave in ways of grace". From legendary material he goes on to speak of moralistics. He repeatedly admonishes concerning the light commandments, such as -praying on time and the value of Torah study. At this point he expanded his speech and almost his entire sermon centered on this theme. And these were his words: "Everyone, even if he is busy with his work or business, must set aside a definite time for study, more or less as be is able, or to listen to others, each according to his own mentality. The Holy One comes to no one with a demand that he study involved matters, only as G-d has endowed him. Only let him not go about idle. Let him also beware of idle conversation, especially in the Beth Hamisdrosh and the Synagogue. Great is the importance of Torah study and the woman who helps her husband and lightens his burden of livelihood, her reward is very great, as was the reward of Isaachor and Zebulun.
The first sermon that R. Pinchas Michael delivered in Antipolia set the program for his behavior during his stay in that town. In it be explained the principles of his procedure in Torah and general matters, for first and foremost in everything was the study of Torah. And these thoughts he would repeat in almost every sermon. The study of Torah had to be done simply, without undue sophistry. One had to direct the heart in study, and to learn outwardly with the lips and every individual had to study according to his nature. "One may be able to study more before retiring and another may find it easier earlier in the morning,. when a person's mind is more at rest."
In addition to the pillars of Torah there are two other pillars: prayer and acts of consideration. On these three pillars he would build his sermons and his private conversations. R. Pinchas Michael veered away from the accepted custom that the rabbi sermonized twice a year, on the Great Sabbath and the Sabbath of Repentance. He delivered a sermon on every holiday. On the Sabbath of Repentance he would ascend the pulpit, envelop himself in the Talit and burst into tears, and the congregation would follow. This was his "sermon," designed to awaken the hearts for repentance and good deeds.
Most of his sermons were not studded with disputation and argument, but with words of moralism and admonitions about daily affairs, such as the observance of the Sabbath, act of consideration, provision of food for the poor and proper weights. These things he would stress every opportunity he had.
R. Pinchas Michael approved the method of explanation and kept away from disputation. In his reply to one individual he says: "Continue with your good method of study, my dear man, and see to it that you make your mark in Shas. And this you will not be able to achieve unless you drop the method of disputation and stick to proficiency."
The study according to the elucidated text was his course. He studied and taught others according to this method; in other words, to elucidate the hidden meaning without disputation and an overflow of words, but with logical explanation and the correct norm briefly stated. R. Pinchas Michael followed this course in his brief commentaries on the Tractates of Nazir, Temura, Meila and Tamid. And this is what he says: "I have seen that this tractate (of Nazir) is more hidden and impenetrable than all the other tractates in the Shas, in that even the commentary of Rashi is not like the Shas Rashi Commentaries, and it is likely that it is not Rashi's commentary at all, in that it is not his customary language - because of the paucity of interest in this tractate, the bulk of which does not apply to the present, it suffers from many errors of omission and superfluity - even though it has had many commentators who dwelled on it at great length, nevertheless many chapters are still obscure - and one must teach his pupils intensively because of the lack of time - I have set my goal. to set forth the chapters of the Talmud explicitly and to abandon disputation." And he adds with great humility: "I have not made the compilation for the luminaries of our age, but for people of my level."
Whoever peruses his "Leket Hakotzrim" sees that R. Pinchas Michael does not compile indiscriminately. This commentary though brief includes a great deal. He knew the secret of conciseness. He knew what to include and what to exclude.
He thus also acted with his commentary on Temura, Meilah and little of the Tractate Ta mid and in the case of his preface to "Nazir", so does he say apologetically in this commentary: "I appreciate the paucity of my attainment and of my intellect. I have other shortcomings no doubt of which I am not aware."
Evidently R. Pinchas Michael kept this manuscript with him for several years, probably because of the lack of funds, until he was notified "from above" (see the story of the dream) that he was duty bound to publish the manuscript in question. He then placed it for publication, and immediately his commentary on these tractates received wide circulation, because it was brief but outstanding.
Directly and indirectly R. Pinchas Michael influenced thousands of Jews, both those who were privileged to hear from him words of moralism and wisdom and those who merely knew him by reputation. When still among the living he became a legend which was passed on from father to son and from grandfather to grandson. All spoke about the righteous one, who lent his ear to every one who turned to him, and who did not differentiate between Jew and Gentile, for "a Gentile also has to live." He was a father and patron for every embittered soul and downhearted that came to him even from far away. Among these were scholars, merchants, artisans, women and children. If a tragedy occurred in a home, immediately they ran to the righteous one. If the "overlord" refused to renew the lease, R. Pinchas Michael was asked for advice. When an individual became seriously ill, they called on the righteous one for aid. And he would say: "I know not, but the Lord will bless you." R. Pinchas Michael became the emissary of whoever turned to him, and when he prayed the "Shmoneh Esreh" he added prayers for those who had handed in notes of supplication.
He did not handle these notes like the Chassidic rabbis. He did not accept "redemption money." At most he accepted a few coins for the poor students. He had a purse tied about his neck into which he put these coins, which he spent for charity. The act of charity is one of the foundations on which the Jewish world is built. He continually admonished about this commandment.
He was concerned not only with problems which demanded immediate solution. His keen eye penetrated into the life of our people which had just began to take shape in distant America. At that time, when the Jewish community was yet small and Judaism there was weak, he would advise those who asked him about emigrating to America: "Go to America. You will make a living there." And he would add: "Observe the Sabbath."
Like R. Israel Salanter, his contemporary, his heart ached for the condition of his people, and he sided with the idea of immigration to America, for his vision foresaw the wave of pogroms about to inundate the Jews of Russia. As for himself, he yearned to go to the Land of Israel, but his townspeople would not let him go. With deep longing he would send off whoever went up to the Land, whether it was a tailor, a shoemaker or a merchant and an investor. He would accompany them on foot a mile outside the town.
Settlement in the Holy land was very important in his eyes. Not only residence itself, but even he who desired to return to the land was entitled to redemption and thus he comments in the passage: "Because of four matters were our forefathers redeemed from Egypt - that they did not change their tongue and name." For he who intends to settle permanently in another land changes his language, name and attire and becomes accustomed to the ways of the land. But "he who intends to return to his father's house is the opposite. They therefore had this great merit, that during the entire harsh enslavement they did not lose their faith to return to their land, and therefore they emerged from slavery to redemption".
R. Pinchas Michael had a formula for redemption from the harshness of slavery and from all oppressors - the observance of the Sabbath. He would therefore ask his audience to hasten and inaugurate the Sabbath early. In instance, the artisans and their employees. should leave their work benches early so that they may be through at the bath house in time. R. Pinchas Michael would himself take the trouble to be in the bath house a good hour before sunset every Friday eve, and in his hand he had a switch with which he prompted those who were late in leaving.
This switching was one of affection, since R. Pinchas Michael objected to corporal punishment. Once he slapped a boy of fourteen Meir Utenof, the Cantor's son - for having beaten his companion, he regretted his act and his prayer became confused. R. Pinchas Michael approached the stricken boy several times and asked his forgiveness. When the boy forgave him, he grasped his hand with great joy.
By nature R. Pinchas Michael was forgiving, foregoing upon the honor and respect due to a man of his station. Many exploited this "weakness" of his and used it for their own ends. One instance of this sort is told by R. Pinchas Michael himself. One crook forged his signature and travelled about from town to town to collect funds for the Talmud Torah in Antipolia. R. Pinchas Michael reacted to this matter in the press and asked the rabbis in the towns where the crook might appear to take away the document and the forged letter and burn them.
Evidently this crook perpetrated his act following the conflagration that took place in Antipolia in the summer of 1885. Some eighty houses went up in flames at that time. On the 20th of Sivan of the same summer a second conflagration broke out and 120 homes burned down. The Jews of Antipolia became completely impoverished and emissaries went forth to gather contributions for the victims. This situation was fertile ground for acts of deception.
Antipolia was "famous" for its conflagrations. The elders of the town used to tell about the first one, about 1860, as though it were an historic event in the life of the town, for at that time almost the entire town went up in flames. In that year R. Pinchas Michael together with R. Natanel Chayim Pappe, one of the foremost townspeople, went forth long distances in behalf of the victims. They went as far as St. Petersburg. Everywhere they were cordially received. Thanks to these distinguished men the town was rebuilt and Jewish life began to pulsate there again, with all its light and shadows.
R. Pinchas Michael returned to his town and its Jews. He cared not only for his congregation but also for the problems of the entire Jewish community. Once he said to R. Jekutiel, the husband of Beila Hannah: 'You are better off than I am, for the world is not upon you." From all corners-of the earth people turned to him and gave him no rest, neither repose for the soul nor rest for the body. His wife, Mushka, would drive away those who besieged the rabbi's home saying, 'He is not able and be does not know. Let his alone."
The more she drove them away, -the more they came. And what about the study of the Torah? After all, one had to carry out "thou shalt dwell on it day and night."
He therefore followed the dictum of the Talmud "The night was not created but for study" (Erubin 55). He wanted to sleep intermittently, and spent almost the entire night studying, and as a result his proficiency in Shas and Poskim was marvelous, "so that all his distinguished contemporaries had the greatest respect for him."
Lack of sleep, his innumerable burdens and his strong concentration on his studies begot R. Pinchas Michael a severe case of Hemorroids, and on orders of his physicians he went to Berlin for an operation. On leaving for Berlin be prepared for a journey to the hereafter, for who knows what the next day might bring? One must issue his testament to his household. R. Pinchas Michael then wrote his will. Ostensibly the -will was for his sons, but whoever reads it with open eyes would see that this will constituted R. Pinchas Michael's credo, and witness thereby his inner, higher world, one of harmony and equity for one and all. Here we see his democratic attitude and viewpoint towards the status of the poor and the artisans, for in his day the artisan was looked down upon. All important in his eyes was the Scholar. He therefore orders his sons to marry off their sons to the daughters of scholars "and do not seek out the wealthy - and for your daughters provide good and scholarly men, even from families of artisans. For this is no stigma at all, as the fools would have us believe. It is a greater stigma for those of wealthy families who lose other people's money. But the artisans who enjoy the fruits of their labor are precious in the eyes of the Lord."
As it has been said, R. Pinchas Michael gave priority to scholars. He therefore orders his sons to purchase Shas and Poskim and all the other sacred books, for sometimes it is the lack of books that hampers study. R. Pinchas Michael also possessed a sense of the esthetic, for he asks. them to bind the books handsomely, "for this brings glory to those who do so in this world and in the world to come."
R. Pinchas Michael admonishes 'let not any curse come from your lips, even against gentiles or animals and raise your children gently, not by beatings, only goodly words and beware of being inconsiderate toward anyone, and especially the maid servants, for they like you are descendants of our forefathers. Be careful with their respect and you will merit much goodness.
He also admonishes at great length about peace in the household. A man must be easy going with his spouse, even though she may at time embitter his spirit. He advises not to argue with her, since it is difficult to vanquish them, and they should be judged affirmatively and kindly. He also admonishes his daughters and daughters-in-law to be careful to respect their husbands and not to irritate them "even with slight speech."
Concerning moodiness and anger he warns several times, "for with aggravation you will not in any way repair the matter" and "remove the traits of aggravation and anger, and trust in the Lord in all your dealings." He therefore cautions concerning the giving of tithe for the benefit of the poor and the relatives and other sacred matters. Such funds should be kept in -trust as though they did not belong to the giver.
If conditions of livelihood are not so good, there should be no journeying for the aid of a tzaddik in another town "for in every town there are G-d-fearing people" who would intercede with the Lord for the needy. The same applies to physical matters. One must ask the grace of the Lord for himself first and then turn to others to request grace for him.
And as be was the emmisary of every pauper and downhearted in his lifetime, so he promises to intercede for those who seek his help in the hereafter.
Reading the admonitions of R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M. we are reminded of the admonitions of R. Asher of Stolin O.B.M., the son of R. Aaron of Karlin, founder of the Karlin Chassidism. He too cautions several times about the observance of the Sabbath and the extention of the secular into the sacred, about the appointment of time for Torah study, about the contribution of tithe, etc. And one asks, was R. Pinchas Michael influenced by the Baal Shem Tov Chassidism, was he inclined toward Chasidism?
The latter question can be definitely answered in the negative. On the contrary, from the numerous tales told in his name we learn that he was a strong opponent of the ways of Chassidim and its leadership. How then can two extremes exist in one entity?
In truth, both opinions are correct. In his youth R. Pinchas Micheal was a strong opponent of the system of Chassidim, especially where it concerned the belated hour of prayer. But during his last years he came near to Chassidism, and at times prayed in the Chapel of the Stolin Chassidim.
For more than twenty-six years R. Pinchas Michael occupied the rabbinic chair of Antipolia. Not all of them were years of peace and serenity. More than once someone was offensive and R. Pinchas Michael passed over the insult in silence and in his heart he forgave the offender. And the truth must be said that not all the residents of Antipolia recognized the greatness of their rabbi. This is a psychological truth: The townspeople do not give their rabbi recognition. An anecdote told in the name of R. Pinchas Michael reflects the attitude of the Jews of Antipolia toward him. Once he was asked: "Why is he not as important in Antipolia as elsewhere?" R. Pinchas Michael replied: The sedra "Pinchas" in its place and season is not especially important since it is read during the season of depression. But when it is read outside its environment, as in the case of Maftir on the festivals, which is taken from "Pinchas", one pays a large sum for this "Aliyah." For Pinchas in its place is not so noteworthy, while Pinchas outside its place is more important.
Only after his demise did people begin to recognize the great importance of their "Zaddick rabbi" who lived like a saint and left the world in holiness. It is said that on Rosh Hodesh Adar 5650 (1890) R. Pinchas Michael was stricken with typhoid. For two weeks he did not leave his bed, but his mind was clear. When prayer time came he woke up and prayed. On the last Sabbath of his life he -went up to the Torah, saying to his household: "I am a guest, and a guest must receive an Aliyah." On Sabath night after Havdalah he sent a card by messenger to the Rabbi of Pinsk informing him about his death and inviting him to his funeral, and in the same card he asked for his forgiveness. He also notified him that in the case of one place in the Rambam the law was according to the writer of the card. On the eve of the 17th of Adar his soul departed in purity.
Immediately the entire town went into mourning. Messengers were dispatched to Horodetz and Kobrin to announce the bad tidings about the death of the Zaddik. Many inhabitants of these towns, Jews and gentile alike, came to the funeral. And these rabbis eulogized him: R. Joshua Jacob Rabinowitz, rabbi of Horodetz, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Rabinowitz and R. Moshe Berman, son-in-law of R. Pinchas Michael, the later rabbi of Antipolia, eulogized him at the synagogue. At the Beth Hamedrash in Pinsk Street be was eulogized by the dayan of Antipolia, R. David Rushkin and R. Pinchas, son of R. Elijah of Lida, dayan of Kobrin. Then they went to the old Beth Hamedrash where the deceased used to pray and the eulogy was delivered by the Gaon R. Joseph Saul Epstein, Rabbi of Kobrin.
Thus came to an end the history of R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M. With his passing there closed a bright chapter in the history of Antipolia, whose Jews participated in its writing.
In Antopol he married Breine-Henie, grand-daughter of Rabbi Pinchas Michael, and following the wedding he spent some time in Kobrin. When the R.P.M. died, and following the Grand Dispute, about his successor, Rabbi Moshe became Rabbi together with Rabbi Hersh. After that Rabbi Hersh passed away, Rabbi Moshe continued as the only successor.
Rabbi Moshe was a quiet man, always at study and the interests of the community close to his heart. He was a Zionist and also alert to worldly affairs. He tried once a business partnership with Reb Avraham-Moshe, son of the R.P.M., but he used to return his profits to the customers, for he would not take "extra money" from them. Eventually he sent back the merchandise to his partner, and went out of business.
After the end of World War One he was brought over to the U.S.A. by his devoted sons, who had long before preceded him: Dr. P. Berman, and Mr. P. Berman.
In 1921 Rabbi Moshe was appointed Rabbi of the Agudath Achim Congregation in Los Angeles. He soon received recognition from most of the orthodox Jewry, and was elected to be Chief Justice of the orthodox rabbinical court of Los Angeles. Being aware of the special circumstances in keeping Judaism in America, he was an understanding Judge in religious matters. He himself sat all day long studying in the synagogue, and upon coming back home he continued till late at night.
Rabbi Moshe carried a continuous correspondence with many rabbis in the U.S.A. and was respected by all who knew him.. Ten years he sat on the rabbinical chair in Los Angeles, Until he was called to Heaven on Heshvan 22, 5691 (1930).
For many years after his death they used to hold a special mourning meeting in his honor on the day of his Yorzeit, even after the synagogue had moved to another suburb.
His blessed memory will always be with us.
The Jews suffered pogroms, looting, requisitions, hard labor etc. Eventually the Poles remained and the front moved away from Antopol. There remained only a bakery which supplied bread to the military.
One evening when I was at the prayer house I was summoned to the military. On my way home I was met by Belachovitz soldiers who told me that their commander called for me. The town was in panic. Everybody knew that in a nearby town these Belachovitz soldiers took the rabbi as hostage until they received the contribution and supplies which they requisitioned, and in another town they killed everybody.
I came to the commander, who stood in the middle of the market place, surrounded by soldiers. He introduced himself as commander of those who killed in Kamin-Kashirsk over 300 Jews. His batallion camps not far away waiting for the fulfillment of their requisition. Otherwise they will come down to extinguish everything. I asked him for his requirements and he gave me a list of meat, corn, boots, salt, etc. which made me shiver.
While we were thus talking he shouted: "Why are we talking like this in the middle of the market? let us go into my office." Upon arrival he sat down and added to his list more and more provisions. In his office we were joined by the town mayor and leaders of the community. He then demanded that the whole requisition should be in his office within 4 hours. We pleaded for more time but to no avail.
In the meantime came in the owners of the cattle which he had confiscated and offered to replace them with meat. He finally agreed to exchange them for an additional ransom of 60,000 marks. They asked my advice, and I told them that he would take both the money and the cattle. They did not listen to me and found out later that I was right.
We collected the items which he demanded and we realized that we have robbed ourselves of everything after the completion of this task.
It all ended unexpectedly. When the owners of the cattle came asking
for their cattle, the Belachovitzes began shooting at them, and when the
soldiers stationed at the bakery heard the shooting, they started shooting
at the robbers, who fled and left town to our great relief.
The little town was still lying under the dirt of the heavy winter, which had kept the few alleys, as if under siege for full five months. Now it looked as if it has just started breathing again. The people themselves felt as if they had just grown a new skin, and accepted the deep marshes patiently.
In the prayer-houses Jews have been predicting an early spring, but the favorable predictions caused some of them to worry about provisions for the coming holidays Purim and Pesach and they relied on the Almighty help them solve their problems.
It was quite late after the third morning service. Shloime had participated in all three, after which he also took in a chapter of Psalms, and went home for breakfast. The street was quiet. The sun had just emerged, and was biting mercilessly into every hiding piece of ice. Birds were singing in the clear air and Shloime was overwhelmed with the beauty of God's world.
He was nearing the Kobriner Street, when he observed a cart approaching towards him out of the marshes.
The man travelling in the cart was Mordche, who greeted Shloime wholeheartedly.
Shloime returned the greeting, adding his own wishes for a happy good month, meanwhile indicating that he was not working these days.
Mordche then spoke up, saying:
As a matter of fact, I wanted to call you, Shloime You see, my roof is getting rusty.
- What did you say? !, exclaimed Shloime as if smitten with a club. What did I hear you say? Only about two weeks ago I went by your house and saw your roof shining like a mirror. As a matter of fact I enjoyed seeing it, after that the weather and the sun had brought out its true color of shining copper.
- Yes, this is true about the front of the house, answered Mordche, but it did corrode on the other side.
Shloime could not refuse the invitation to come and see what could be done to repair the roof, and the two men bade each other farewell.
Continuing on his way home, Shloime became gloomy, on account of "his" roof needing repair. Coming home, he kissed the mezuza, greeted the family and waited for his wife to call him to breakfast.
His wife came towards him right out of the kitchen, where she was preparing a special breakfast in honor of Rosh-Hodesh (First day of the month) - cut herring, skinned potatoes and sweet chicory, plus a white pletzl from Raphael the baker.
Noticing the breakfast table, Shloime praised the Lord for His kindness, and later told his wife about Mordche's roof. But Leine Feigl never claimed any understanding in mending roofs, and consequently Shloime put on his coat and left the house, on his way to examine the roof.
Shloime was walking with sure steps, encouraged by his wife's farewell blessing. While walking he remembered his childhood days when he and Mordche went to the same Cheiders and later to the same Russian school. Both of them stood up bravely against the Russian boys. He, Mordche, was of the Sheinboin family, and Shloime was himself known for being of a good family.
Later in life they separated. Mordche travelled over the world, seeking his fortune, which he did not find neither in America, nor in Africa. His fortune turned out to be right at his door, and he became a millionaire. But Shloime neither pursued his fortune, nor did fortune seek him out. Still he thanked God for everything and did not begrudge Mordche and felt equal to him in this mundane world...
Walking like this, deep in thought, he did not feel the road, or the deep marshes. He approached the gate of Mordche's courtyard, the dogs greeting him in a friendly manner. He remembered the saying: When dogs play in town, it is a good omen. He is thankful for the friendly welcome, and his eyes begin to examine the roof. He goes around once and twice. The roof smiles at its master. There is no sign of rust.
The gardener sees Shloime and greets him wholeheartedly :
- Panie Shliomka, what brings you here ?
- Tell me, have you noticed any rust on the roof ?
The gentile put away his gardening tools and gazed at Shloime :
- Who was kidding you?
- The landlord himself told me about it.
- Oh! Panie Shliomka, you are a great friend of the landlord, and you drink tea with him. Don't you know that he is a kidder?
Now the driver approached, and he remembered the meeting on the road between his landlord and Shloime. Although he did not understand Yiddish, he knew what they talked about.
- What do you say, Stepan Stepanowich, is the roof rusty?
- I do not know what goes on the roof. You have to see for yourself, - meaning:
- We all see there is no rust.
Shloime came near the steps leading to the kitchen, cleaned his boots and entered the house.
Somebody had told Mordche about Shloime's arrival, and he came towards his guest to greet him and invited him for a glass of tea.
- Well, have you examined the roof?
A smile appeared on Shloime's face as he was staring at Mordche. But Mordche did not let up, waiting for a reply.
- Why do you kid me? Do you think that I have enjoyed your kidding these last few hours? - Never mind. Listen to me. The roof did come out beautifully, and therefore, come summer, I want you to go over it for protection.
Bless you, exclaimed Shloime in relief, there is no need for it.
-'But I am the landlord here, and I want to have it painted.
- It won't make it any better. You will throw away your money.
- Here, put some brandy in your tea, suggested Mordche.
- Well, in honor of Rosh-Hodesh it is nice to have a drink, but still I will not paint your roof.
- Listen, in order to be sure that you will paint the roof, here is an advance payment of 25 Rubles.
- I won't take it. If you insist, I will paint your roof, but I won't take any payment in advance. I trust you.
- Today I have it, maybe tomorrow I won't.
- Leave me go. I won't take it.
Mordche could not control himself any longer, and with a fraternal impulse stuffed the banknote into his friend's hand.
Here Shloime froze, and like in a haze looked at Mordche as at an angel from heaven...
He could not utter a single word of all he had wanted to say. They both finished their tea and Shloime left the house with a mere "Good Day, Mordche".
Upon leaving the house, and being a little further away from the aristocratic courtyard, Shloime envied his friend Mordoche for the first time in his life.
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