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WWI

By Mosheh Falk

With the end of the period of my childhood, I became more moderate and serious. I tried to work and also began to read a lot. Daily I read the two newspaper dailies Haynt and Moment. The Beilis trial interested me a lot. I read Bialik's City of Slaughter a lot. I already learned to sing ha-Tikvah by heart. There was a big picture of Herzl hanging on the wall. On another wall was a messianic theme: “At the end of days, the wolf and sheep shall live together...”

Suddenly, there appeared on the streets announcements calling for a general draft for war. The population was bitter and sad. There was not a house in which the crying of women and children was not heard. They were being separated from the men in the family. We grew up suddenly and began to sense a new situation. Twice a day I ran to the post office and impatiently expected mail. I would soon have my Bar Mitzvah. My sister sewed a bag for phylacteries for me and my sister Blumah brought me a beautiful pair of phylacteries. However, the celebration was modest. Our house was full of refugees from Brisk and we also slept in the attic. We shared all with the refugees. Chickens and ducks disappeared from the city. We offered everything we had to the unfortunate. I myself offered the pair of phylacteries to a refugee and lost them. I was sad to have also given away the bag for the phylacteries into which so much love had been put into its making.

Month followed month. The Germans conquered Warsaw and also Brisk fell to them. My father buried in the ground all his work tools and also the property and equipment we had at home. The city was full of Cossacks and a Cossack was commandant in the city. We sat locked up at home. The fear was great and we already heard shots in town. We went to live in the fields behind the city. The soldiers plundered all they found. They even took the boots from the feet of the men. Towards evening the smoke went up from the town they set on fire. My father ran to save the Torah scrolls from the study halls. When he came home at evening, he was full of soot and dropped from exhaustion. We revived him and he went back. He found the entire town burnt. However, he put the Torah scrolls in a house that survived.

We went to our burnt house. My father found the hiding place of our valuables. My mother was in tears and clasped her hands in despair. Acquaintances came and advised us to enter for the time being one of the gentile houses. The inhabitants had fled. However, mother refused to live in the house of a gentile. Finally, our in-law Shelomoh the painter

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came and took us to live with him. We left my childhood house and went to live in our in-law's house. Itke, Shelomoh's daughter, went to live with her three children in her parent's house. We got two of her rooms. We immediately began to think of establishing a study hall in the temporary building meant to be a hospital. The building was completed by the time of the High Holidays.

After the High Holidays, the youth was taken to perform forced labor. They took me and my friend Yisroel-Mendl, the son of Yaakov Hayyim, the ritual slaughterer. The next day the two of us were sick with typhus. My dear friend died of the disease. As to myself, my mother did not close her eyes or leave my bed for eight days and prayed to G-d to take her in my place. I got well and she got sick and died. Her good eyes accompany me always.


In the Gates of Torah

By A. Ben-Ezra, R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory

We assume that the Hasidic Rebbe and the regular orthodox Rabbi are two different types and they cannot be mixed up together in one person. This is because the Hasidic Rebbe is a miracle worker and leader to the ignorant masses. The regular orthodox rabbi is a professor of law, a scholar among scholars. One kingdom does not touch another in this regard. However, there is historical evidence for a mixture of these religious types in one person. There were some great people, who had mixed in them the qualities of the Hasidic Rebbe, a person of feeling, sharing in the troubles of the masses, and the qualities of the regular orthodox Rabbi, with great retentive and analytic powers, coming to a sharp point in the law. Some people could handle both of these in themselves.

Still before Baal Shem Tov (ca. 1700-1760), the founder of the modern Hasidic movement, we had personalities like Judah b. Samuel he-Hasid (d. 1217), of the medieval Haside Ashkenaz, Judah Loew ten Bezalel (ca. 1525-1609), of Prague and other religious personalities, who combined in themselves the qualities of the Hasidic Rebbe and the regular orthodox Rabbi. Even after the spread of modern Hassidism, there appeared some rabbis of mixed type, such as R. Seckel Wormser of Mikhelshtat (1768-1847), R. Elijah Guttmacher of Graidits (1796-1874), and people like them.

A rabbi of mixed type was R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory. He united in his person the vast and analytical knowledge of the Talmud and a caring personality, drawing to himself thousands of people, Jews and gentiles. They came just to see him and to receive his blessing.

R. Pinchas Michael was born to his father Yitshak Eizik and to his mother Breinah Heniah in 1808 in the city of Sharshev (Grodno province). R. Eizik was the grandson of the great Rabbi Yehoshua of Pinsk, a descendant of R. Eleazar ben Samuel Schmelke of Amsterdam (1665-1741), author of Maaseh Rokeah and on his mother's side of Meir ben Isaac Eisenstadt (1670-1744), author of Panim meirot .

R. Pinchas was an only child. However, he did not act like an only child. Only children are usually pampered and not scholarly. This was not the type of the youth Pinchas Michael. He was devoted from childhood to worship and study. His parent's ideal was not a secular one of accumulating wealth and possessions. Rather, it was a spiritual one, of attaining knowledge of Torah and wisdom. Pinchas Michael worshipped and studied all the time and eagerly acquired rabbinic knowledge. Of the rabbis who influenced him, we know the name of only one, R. Asher ha-Kohen (1797-1866), the author of Birkat Rosh. R. Pinchas Michael tried to be modest like his mentor. He learned from R. Asher to make due with little. Accordingly, he did not seek a rabbinical appointment until about the age of fifty, as did his mentor, R. Asher.

He even imitated his mentor in his own literary output. Just like his mentor composed a commentary on the Tractate Nazir, so did he. Certainly, Pinchas

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Michael's composition is not as full of casuistry as that of his mentor. As his mentor, he was extremely diligent and went without sleep. He did this to such an extent that his father asked to sleep one hour in the afternoon to fulfill the commandment “Honor thy father...” It was from his father R. Yitshak Eizik that he inherited the great love of the Jewish people and devotion to matters of charity. As was the custom in those days, his parents married him off at an early age. He took as a wife Moshkah daughter of the wealthy R. Yehiel Mikhl of Pasval, who was a great grandchild of R. Jehiel ban Solomon Hellprin (ca. 1660-1746), author of Seder ha-dorot. His wife kept a store and maintained the household so her husband was free to just study.

Already in the days of his youth, R. Pinchas Michael was known to be familiar with the Talmud and its commentaries. Then, he began a correspondence with rabbinical luminaries about the Early and Later Commentaries to the Talmud. He established himself as a critical analyst of the text. He began to write down his commentaries to Talmud, Rashi, Tosafot, Isaac ban Jacob Alfasi, Asher ben Jghiel, and Nissim ban Reuben Gerondi, until it became a thick book. However, he was humble and made no big deal of this. He would even listen to the youth studying in the study hall and accept their opinions. When he did not understand Rashi, Asher ben Jehiel, Me1r ban Jacob SchIff or Israel ban Gedaliah Lipschutz, author of the commentary to the Mishnah Tiferet Yisrael, he would not be assumed to say: “I do not have the merit to understand” or “They were so profound that I did not understand them”, and the like. However, when he would understand a disagreement between Asher ban Jehiel and Meir ben a gloss and not his words at all”.

In places where it is clear to R. Pinchas Michael that Samuel Eliezer ben Judah ha-Levi Edels was not correct, he does not even accept him and writes: “His explanation is confused” and “His answer is contrived”. Mainly, he accepted Rashi's opinion but not always.

It was not only in Jewish law that R. Pinchas Michael held forth but also Sharshev, R. Pinchas Michael's birthplace, was known for its rabbis and great scholars. R. David, author of Homot Yerushalayim on Shulhan erukh, Orah hayyim, held the rabbinical post there. It is said about this rabbi that according to astronomical calculations he wanted to have the new moon each month be celebrated for three days instead of one or two and wanted to have the scroll of Esther read on Purim for an additional day on the day of the holiday known as Shushan Purim. R. Pinchasben Azriel, ha- Levi, of Amsterdam, the author of Nahalat Azriel also had a rabbinical post there. Likewise, R. Eizk hakohen, author of Shaare Yitshak also held a post there.

R. Asher ha-Kohen, 1797-1866, pupil of R. Hayyim ben Isaac Volozhiner, 1749-1821, also held a rabbinical post there. R. Asher was the author of Birkat Rosh on the tractate of Berakhot and commentary on the explanations of Rashi and Tosafot and Birkat Rosh on the tractate of Nazir and commentary on Maimonides' legal decisions.

In the beginning, R. Asher ha-Kohen did not want to earn his living as a rabbi. He was a merchant until the age of fifty in Sharshev. During leisure hours, he would sit and study. Torah. Finally, he accepted the request of the town's wealthy people to accept a rabbinical post there. However, he did not remain long. This is because in 1852 (the Hebrew year 613) he was appointed rabbi of Tiktin (Grodno province) at the request of the town's leaders.

When R. Asher ha-Kohen became rabbi of Tiktin, the leaders of the Sharshev community sought a rabbi capable of carrying on the intellectual position of the post in their community. Finally, they chose R. Pinchas Michael to replace R. Asher ha-Kohen. They saw in him the same scholarly type as his mentor, erudite in Talmud, modest and capable.

R. Pinchas Michael was just as modest in his rabbinical post as he had been as a private person. He was friendly to the masses. He listened to what

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they said, participated in their sorrow, and helped them. He especially treated children with respect and addressed them as “You” (second person plural). Despite his popular behavior, R. Pinchas Michael was known as a scholar, who was asked for answers by famous rabbis.

On the other hand, the common people turned to him for advice in their daily lives. His house was open to every poor person. Thus, he was rabbi in Sharshev for eight years until 1864 (624). This year has a new designation in the life of R. Pinchas Michael, because in this year he left his birthplace, Sharshev, in which he grew up and took root and came to the town of Antopolyah (Antopol in Russian), in the Kobrin district, in the province of Grodno.

Antopol was famous not only among the Jews in the Antopol region. Rather, it was also famous outside of the boundaries of this province. It is a true fact that this town, which was almost forgotten to the Russian government was known to the Jews for its famous rabbis knowledgeable in Jewish law and mysticism. The saintly mystic R. Moshes Tsevi was rabbi here for forty-four years from 1818 to 1862 (578-622).

R. Mosheh Tsevi was known not only for his knowledge of law and his knowledge in Jewish mysticism. He was also known for his good disposition, his good feeling to the public and individuals. People would come to him with both spiritual and worldly matters; this person in material matters, this one about earning a living, and this one about physical or mental health.

After R. Mosheh Tsevi's death, R. Hayyim Zalman Bresloi, a descendent of the great rabbi Yosef David of Mir, was rabbi. Apparently, a quarrel broke out and he had to leave Antopol after two years and settle in Mir. The rabbinical position in Antopol was waiting for its true inheritor. A number of rabbis, learned and educators, were candidates for the rabbinical post in this small town. However, not a one of them satisfied the desire of its Jewish inhabitants. This was because the rabbi, who would inherit the rabbinical position would have to be a continuation of the rabbinical tradition in Antopol and satisfy all groups of people with his fatherly attitude towards all his congregants.

It wasn't easy to satisfy the Jews of Antopol, who numbered more than one thousand inhabitants. This is because all of them were learned in Judaism. Some were scholars who gave lessons in Gemara, like R. Yekutiel the blacksmith, and others like him.

The heads of the community found only one rabbi fit for the post. This was R. Pinchas Michael, full of Talmudic knowledge and love for his fellow beings. The town's leaders overlooked his speech deficiency, the fact that he stuttered. They knew that it was not a physical defect. Rather, it was the result of quick thought and rapid mental grasp. They looked at his simple nature, both in his way of teaching and his life style, his good nature, and his immense knowledge of Talmud and commentaries. These qualities made him the appropriate heir to the rabbinical post of Antopol.

Before he accepted the post, he told the town's leaders that he did not want a salary. Rather, he would have an income from his wife's sale of yeast. On the first day of the month of Heshvan, 1864 (624), R. Pinchas Michael came to town. The entire city was happy to receive its new rabbi. Finally, Antopol received a rabbinical authority that merited the two crowns – learning and good reputation. Everyone wanted to hear his first sermon. It would certainly be studious with references to earlier and later commentators on the Talmud, as was the manner of contemporary scholars.

However, R. Pinchas did not deliver a sermon like this. The people did not hear law from him. Rather, they heard lore and ethics. In order to fulfill his responsibility, he discussed a matter of law at the end. This is also God's manner. He did not address the children of Israel when they came the first day to Mt. Sinai. They were tired from the journey. So, it is with the commandments that God gave to them.

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First, he gave them easy commandments, like the priest's share of the dough, new meal offering, and afterwards, leave offering, tithes, sabbatical year, and jubilee year, which were harder. “When God gave his commandments, He took a gradual approach, instructing us to act justly and kindly.” Pinchas Michael passed from statements of Jewish lore to Jewish ethics. He repeatedly warned about the observance of easy commandments, such as praying on time and value of study.

He expanded on the value of study. Almost all of his first sermon was devoted to this topic. These are his words: Everyone, even if he worked for a living in crafts or trade, has to diligently set aside time for study of Judaism, whether a little or a lot, each according to his ability, or to listen to others in this study, each according to his ability. God will not request a person to study hard things, only what he is able. The point is to do something. And to guard oneself from idle talk, especially in the study or synagogue, learning Judaism is important. The woman should help her husband by also working to earn a living, like Zebulun the merchant provided for his brother Issachar, enabling him to study.

The first sermon that R. Pinchas Michael preached in Antopol was the program according to which he acted all his stay in this town. He explained in it the principals of his method in law and manners. This is primarily because he was a teacher of Jewish law. He would repeat these ideas in almost every sermon. Teaching of Jewish law should be done simply, without trying to show off. There was a need to guide the heart in study and not to study externally. Every person should learn according to his nature. “Some people are able to study better before going to sleep. Some are able to study better when they awake, because then their thoughts are quiet and rested.”

In addition to the study of Jewish law, there are two more fundamentals: prayer and charity. These are the three principles on which he based his sermons and private conversations. R. Pinchas Michael deviated from the established custom that a Rabbi would only give a sermon twice a year: on the Sabbath before Passover and the Sabbath between the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement. He gave a sermon on every holiday. He would stand before the congregation on the Sabbath between the New Year and Day of Atonement, wrap himself up in his prayer shawl and weep. The congregation would weep after him. This was his “sermon” by which he stirred the people to repent and do good deeds.

Most of his sermons were not sharp. Rather, they had work of ethics and admonishments for daily living, like keeping the Sabbath, doing deeds of charity, feeding the poor, and keeping accurate measures for weighing goods. He stood up for these matters and called out for their observance on every occasion. He was firm on studying simply. He studied and taught others by this method. His method was to simply explain the obtuse without being far-fetched and wordy. Rather, he used a logical explanation and set up the text correctly and with brevity. R. Pinchas Michael used this method in his short explanations that were precise to the Tractates of Nazir, Temurah, Meilah and Tamid.

His explanations could be described as a little that contains a lot. He knew the secret of reduction in writing. He knew what to put down and. what to omit. He acts this way in his explanation to the Talmudic Tractates of Ternurah, Meilah, and part of Tamid. Like in his introduction to the explanation of Nazir, so he does in his explanation to the other tractates of the Talmud, apologizing and saying: “Behold, I understand how little is my value and my intelligence. It is certain that there are things that I do not understand”.

R. Pinchas Michael kept this manuscript with him for many years, certainly because he did not have the money to publish it. He kept it until he got instruction from heaven that he must publish it. Then, he gave it to the publisher. His explanation immediately found a wide audience, because it was so precise.

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Directly or indirectly, R. Pinchas Michael influenced thousands of Jews, whether they heard him speak morality or wisdom or whether they only heard of his name. During his lifetime he was already a legend, passed from father to son and grandfather to grandchild. Every one talked of the righteous man, who listened to every, one turning and who did not differentiate between Jew and gentile. This is because “a gentile also has to live”. He was a father and patron to every suffering and bitter person that came to him from a distance. Among those coming were Jewish scholars, merchants, craftsmen, women and children. If a tragedy happened at home, they immediately ran to the righteous man. If a Polish squire did not want to renew a lease, they turned to R. Pinchas Michael to seek advice. If someone was dangerously ill, they called for the aid of the righteous man. The righteous man would say: “I don't know, God will bless you”.

R. Pinchas Michael became the emissary of those turning to him. He would add these people to his prayers in saying the Shemonah Esrah. He did not act as a typical Hasidic Rebbe. He would not receive gifts. At the most, he would take some pennies for poor students. The purse was tied one's neck and he would put into it and take out counted pennies for the needs of charity. Charity is one of the pillars of the Jewish would. Therefore, he would repeatedly warn about keeping this commandment at every opportunity.

R. Pinchas Michael would actively participate in the troubles of poor Jews. He would say: “It is very hard for a Jew to earn a ruble”. He meant that a Jew had to work really hard to earn a living. Therefore, he would be lenient in ruling on kosher slaughter or mixing meat and dairy. This is in spite of the fact that he would oppose the Hasidic method and customs. Nevertheless, when it came to decide if a cow was kosher according to ritual law, he accepted the opinion of the book Daat kedoshim, a Hasidic Rebbe in Caliela.

Once a poor woman came to tell him that she had mixed dairy in a meat dish. The rabbi asked about her children and what they ate. When he heard that that were actually hungry and would benefit from the meat dish, he ruled that she should feed her children.

He was not only bothered by daily matters. He was also asked about things that could not be postponed, such as we have mentioned above. His sharp eye penetrated into Jewish life in distant America that was just taking shape. This was at a time when the Jewish community in the United States was still small and the practice of Judaism there was weak. He would advise his questioning people to immigrate to the United States. He used to say: “Go to America. You will earn a living there. And he would add: “Keep the Jewish Sabbath.”

Like Rabbi Salanter, who was his contemporary, he advised people to immigrate to the United States. This is because he saw the wave or pogroms taking place against the Russian Jews. What about himself? He wanted to live in the land of Israel. However, his people would not let him go. He would accompany everyone immigrating to Israel, whether a tailor, shoemaker, merchant or property owner, some distance outside the city. To live in Israel was very important to him. Just desiring to live there made Jewish redemption a possibility. He would explain the statement: “Because of four reasons our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt ... because they did not change their language and their name.” A person desiring to settle in another country changes his language, his name and clothes and accustoms himself to the ways of the country. However, the person who desires to return to his ancestral home acts the opposite way. This is why the Jews were redeemed. Despite all the difficulty of slavery, they did not cease to believe that they would return home and therefore they went from slavery to redemption.

Rabbi Pinchas Michael had advice on how to be redeemed and get out of difficulty. This was accomplished through observance of the Jewish Sabbath. Therefore, he would encourage those fearing his sermons to hurry up to receive in the

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Sabbath. For example, he asked artisans and their workers to leave their shops early, in order to exit the bathhouse in time.

R. Pinchas Michael would take it upon himself to enter the bathhouse a long time before sunset with a rod in his hand and “whip” those delaying to leave. He would whip them out of love. R. Pinchas Michael objected to bodily punishment. Once he slapped on the cheek a youth of 14 years of age for hitting his playmate. R. Pinchas Michael regretted doing this and he could not concentrate on his prayers until he approached the boy and asked for his forgiveness. When the boy forgave him, he held his hand and was very happy.

According to his nature, R. Pinchas Michael was forgiving and easy going. Many people took advantage of this weakness and used it for their personal good. One wicked man forged his signature and traveled from city to city to collect money on behalf of the Jewish religious elementary school in Antopol. R. Pinchas Michael put an announcement in newspapers and asked the rabbis of the cities to which this man should come to take the notebook containing the forged letter and burn it. He asked only this and nothing more.

A wicked person also took advantage after the fire that broke out to Antopol in the summer of 1885. This was when 80 houses were burnt. And on the twentieth of June of that year another fire burnt one hundred and twenty houses. The Jews of Antopol became extremely poor and sent messengers to collect funds on behalf of the victims.

The elders of the town used to talk about the first fire that happened about 1869 as a historic event in the life of the town. This is because almost all the town went up in flames. In that year R. Pinchas Michael went out with R. Netanel Hayyim Pappah, one of the wealthy people in town, far away on behalf of the victims. They came up to St. Petersburg. Everywhere they were received in a friendly fashion. Thanks to these two distinguished townspeople the city was rebuilt. Jewish life again took its course and forms.

R. Pinchas Michael returned to the town and its Jews. He cared not only for his flock but also for the entire Jewish community. Once he said to R. Yekutiel husband of Belah Hartakes: “It is better for you than for me, because the world does not depend on you.” People came from everywhere to see him and did not give him rest in spirit or body. Moshkah, his wife, used to drive out those coming to their house saying: “He is not able to help and he does not know how to help. Leave him alone! “ As many as she would drive away, more would come.

And what about his study of Torah? Behold, a person is required to study “day and night”. Therefore, he fulfilled the Talmudic statement: “The nights were only created to study (Tractate Eruvin 65). He would sleep a little and almost all the rest of the night he would study Torah. As a result, he had an amazing knowledge of Talmud and Codes. This was “up to the point that all the luminaries of his time treated him with respect.”

Lack of sleep, many cares and strong devotion to studies caused R. Pinchas Michael to develop a severe internal illness. Following the advice of doctors, he went to Berlin for an operation. When he set out for Berlin, he also prepared for his death. This is because who knows what tomorrow will bring in such a situation. A person must leave an ethical will for his household. R. Pinchas Michael wrote such a will. Although the will was written to his sons, a person who reads it carefully with open eyes will see that this will represented his fundamental beliefs. We see his democratic attitude and opinion about the state of the poor and artisans. In his time, the artisan had an inferior status. The most important person was the Jewish religious scholar. Therefore, he tells his children to marry their sons to the daughters of scholars. “Do not seek out the rich, give your daughters to a good and scholarly person, even if he comes from a family of artisans. To do so is not contemptuous, as fools say. It is more contemptible to be one of the rich, who lose other people's money than an artisans who lives from the work of his own hands and is dear to G-d.”

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R. Pinchas Michael also had an aesthetic sense and a desire to treat others gently. He asks that books be bound well, “because this is a glory to those who do so in this world and the world to come.” R. Pinchas Michael warns: “Do not curse, even a gentile and even a living animal, and raise your children pleasantly and not with blows, only with good words...and be advised not to sadden any person, and especially a servant, because they are daughters of fathers like your own. Therefore, take care to honor them and you merit much good.

Likewise, he warns about household peace. A man must be easy going to his wife, even when she makes his life miserable. He advises not to bother quarreling, because it is hard for a husband to win in a quarrel with his wife. The husband should give his wife the benefit of the doubt. He also warns his daughters and daughter-in-laws to watch out for the honor of their husbands and not to make them sad “even with small talk”.

He warns against sadness and anger several times, “Because sadness and anger are of no help in correcting anything. Remove sadness and anger and trust in G-d in all your affairs.”

He also advises to give a tithe on behalf of the poor and poor relatives and for other holy matters. The money for this is to be kept as if it does not belong to the giver. If earning a living should not be so easy, do not go to ask the help of a saintly person i n another town. This is “because in every city there are people, who fear G-d and are able to beseech Him for the sake of the needy.” This is also the case in physical needs. First, a person should ask mercy for himself from G-d. At the same time, he should ask others to seek mercy for him. Just as he was in his lifetime a representative for all the needy, so he promises to help those asking in the next world.

The admonishments of R. Pinchas Michael are similar to the admonishments of R. Asher of Stolin, of blessed memory, who was the son of R. Aharon, of Karlin, of blessed memory, the founder of Karlin Hasidism. He also warns some times about observing the Sabbath and adding a little extra time to it over the legal time of its entrance and exit. He warns about the need to set times to study Torah, to give a tithe and the likes of this.

Was R. Pinchas Michael influenced by the Baal Shem Tov's Hasidism? Did R. Pinchas Michael incline to Hasidism? We can answer the last question certainly in the negative. On the contrary, from anecdotes brought in his name, we learn that he was opposed greatly to the Hasidic way and Hasidic Rebbes. How are we able to reconcile his two different tendencies? Certainly, the two opinions are correct. In his youth, R. Pinchas Michael was a great opponent of the Hasidic way of life. However, he came closer to Hasidism in his last years. Sometimes, he would pray in the prayerhouse of the Hasidim of Stolin.

R. Pinchas Michael was rabbi of Antopol for twenty-six years. Not all the years were good and peaceful. It happened more than once or twice that a person attacked his spiritual leadership. R. Pinchas Michael forgave the insult quietly in his heart. We should say the truth. Not all of the inhabitants of Antopol saw the high value of this rabbi. An anecdote told in the name of R. Pinchas Michael will shed light on the attitude of the Jews of Antopol to him.

Once he was asked, “Why are you not as important inside the town of Antopol as outside of it?” R. Pinchas Michael answered, “The Biblical section when read in its place and time of reading is not very important. This is because we read it in the three weeks between the breach of the city walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. However, when we read it outside of its place, as the last section of the Torah reading on a holiday, then a lot of money is paid to be called to the Torah for its reading. Pinchas in its own place does not have such recognition but Pinchas out of its place is more important.”

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Thus, after his death people used to stretch out on his grave and ask him to intercede for them. It was not only the masses, which came to his grave. Rather, intellectuals and enlightened people used to come yearly, each as the rich Jew, Luria, of Pinsk. Everyone began to recognize the great importance of their pious man and rabbi, who lived as one of the holy and left the world holy after his death.

Thus, they say that on the new moon of Adar 1890 (650), R. Pinchas Michael took sick with typhus. He lay some weeks in a bed from which he did not get up. However, his mind was clear. When the time for prayer came, he awoke and prayed. On the last Sabbath of his life, he made + tie blessing over the reading of the Torah, and said to his family: “I am a guest. A guest must get the chance to say the blessing over the reading of the Torah”. At the end of the Sabbath when he separated the passing of the holy day from the coming secular weekday, he wrote a card to be rushed to the Rabbi of Pinsk. He told in it of his coming death. He invited him to the funeral and asked forgiveness from him. Likewise, he informed him that in the case of the dispute in the place in Maimonides that the law is in accordance as he, the writer of the postcard, said. The day before the 17th of Adar, his soul exited in purity.

The town immediately wrapped itself in mourning. Runners went to Horodets and Kobrin to give the bad news of the righteous man's death.

Many from these towns, both Jews and gentiles, went to the funeral. The following rabbis gave the eulogy: R. Yehoshua Yaakov Rabinovits, rabbi of Horodets, Rabbi Tsevi Hirsh Rabinovits and R. Mosheh Berman, son-in-law of R. Pinchas Michael, R. David Rushkin, and R. Pinchasb. R. Eliyahu of Lida, the spiritual leader of Kobrin. They eulogized him near to the synagogue and near to the study hall on Pinsk St. Afterward, they came to the old study hall in which the deceased prayed. The luminary, R. Yosef Shaul Epshtein, rabbi of Kobrin, led the mourning. Thus, ended the episode of the life of R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory. And with his death ended a shining historical chapter in the history of the town of Antopol, whose Jews participated in its writing.

 

Section from the Ethical Will of R. Pinchas Michael

My dear children and son-in-laws, since I am going to a distant city, I shall write you some ethical statements, even though you do not need my thoughts, since you are able to read books on ethics. Nevertheless, a father is responsible to energetically teach his sons ethics and we do learn from elders.

Our scholars, of blessed memory already spoke at length and warned about this in Midrash on the beginning chapters of Exodus. First of all, trust in the Holy One, Blessed be He, with a strong and firm trust. I know that all Israel trusts In G-d. Nevertheless, there is a difference between people's trust. Generally, when you have success in all your affairs through the grace of G-d's help, G-d forbade you think at all that because of your wisdom and understanding you have done well. Only give thanks to G-d's grace that he did well with you. Don't let your inclination entice you to make a lot of business deals. As our scholars of blessed memory have said: If he has a measure of money called a maneh, he wants 200 maneh of money. Really, it is very hard for a man to make due with what he has and not to make a lot of business deals and bother himself with doing a lot of grand things. It is worthwhile to think always that I should be careful, lest if I am not honest, G-d will remove me from success, and the door will be closed. For that reason, be happy with what you hate, which G-d has gracefully given you. And if your portion in life is restricted and you have need, trust in G-d and don't be sad. Sadness will not help you correct your ability to make a deal. Only ask mercy from the Holy Blessed be He and ask pious people to pray for you. For this purpose, you do not have to travel to other towns for help. In every town, there are pious people. And be very careful of lies and

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deceit, and even take care to keep your verbal agreement, because this is a very great measure of truth. And be very careful when another person's money is involved, because people who trust in G-d, do not desire the money of others. This is because G-d can give you sustenance with permission and honesty. Then, you will experience a physical and spiritual relaxation. You will have time to pray and to study. Our scholars of blessed memory have already said: “The first generations, who set aside fixed time for study, and who had strong faith, and only worked part-time, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent them a blessings in everything they did.” It is certainly hard for us to be compared to the first generations. What is possible to do is to learn from them properly and to take ethics from them and learn good qualities. An enlightened person will pay attention to study his actions.

When it comes to the study of the Torah, I should have spoken first about this. Certainly, our rabbis of blessed memory have already said, “Earning a living has priority over the study of Torah.” Therefore, I started out first to warn you about how to conduct business and about the quality of self-assurance. These two things are interrelated. When you completely rely on G-d, you will have more time to study. Therefore, take care, my beloved sons and son-in-laws to study every day a leaf of Talmud and to review it well.

Don't think that your ability to make deals and do commerce will be spoiled, because of your study. It is not true, because it is impossible. The Holy One, blessed be He, watches over in detail what happens to a person. And the study of Torah is considered as valuable as all of the commandments. Therefore, how is it possible for a person to suffer a loss from studying? If a person studies Torah, the Holy One, bussed be He, will sooner or later compensate him or he will be saved by means of his study from a bigger physical or financial loss. This is because the Holy One, blessed be He, thinks in depth of what shall be done to a person.

When it comes to household expenses, beware of spending too much for luxury, especially in a time when it is very hard for you to earn a living. Don't envy people, who spend excessively for wood and stones to make their houses pretty, and other unnecessary items. They will eventually lose their honorable place in life. They will also cause others to lose their money, sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot. Our scholars, of blessed memory, have already said to judge carefully before making expenses. They said that a person should spend less for food than that for which he has the money. Someone who deviates from the statements of our scholars, of blessed memory, is a person who acts as if he has separated himself from life.

Let us return a little to the matter of study. A person should learn every day the code of law book Hayye adam, so that he may learn how to carry out the day-to-day commandments. He should also study the prayer book Derekh ha-hayyim. This involves no great effort to study a little after prayer from the prayer book one uses to pray. However, the Holy One, blessed be He, adds all our actions into a big account. When the Holy One, blessed be He, helps you to marry your children, may they live to the age of marriage, for G-d's sake, don't think about money. And don't put a burden on yourself. Our scholars, of blessed memory, have already said, “You should give money to your daughter as you should do to your son:” They qualified this by saying that you should give to your daughter a tenth of your property. We know that it is hard to make due with a tenth of your wealth in buying the clothes for your daughter and the other extra expenses that everyone talks about.

Many people, may it not happen to us, have become impoverished, because they gave a large dowry to their children and spent more for wedding expenses than necessary. This is done, because of lack of trust that they will get a good match for their children. It is not, like the fools say, to spend beyond one's means and to trust in G-d not to be impoverished. This is not true. If they would have had strong trust in G-d, they would take a youth, who studies well in the rabbinical seminary but is

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badly clothed and barefoot. They should trust in G-d that he will help the new couple earn a living. However, they don't do that. They only trust in their coarse intellect. Therefore, my beloved, match up your sons, as the scholars of blessed memory said, with the daughter of a scholar, and don't look for a girl with rich parents. When it comes to wealth, the most that one can hope for is that the money will last over three generations, as is stated by our scholars, of blessed memory. You see this happen always to the very rich, even those of them who are truly pious. This is because even if they are truly pious, who knows what their children or grandchildren will be. Who is greater for us than Nakdimon ben Guryon, for whom the sun broke through the clouds, just as it did for Joshua. This is according to the statement of our scholars, of blessed memory, “There are three people for whom the sun broke through the clouds.” Nevertheless, his daughter rebelled against him, may the Holy One, blessed be He, have mercy. You should see to give your daughters to a good and scholarly man, even if he comes from a family of craftsmen. This is not contemptuous, as the fools say. More contempt belongs to the families of the rich, who lose other people's money. However, craftsmen live from their work and they are dear in G-d's sight.

In case, you are able to make a match among cousins in our own family, according to the statement of our scholars, of blessed memory, “A person, who marries in his own family and tribe does something very good.” It talks at length about this in the Midrash Rabbah to the section Hayye Sarah in Genesis. “Plant seed from the wheat of your city, because it is likely to bring a successful crop. And so did Abraham, our father, say to his servant to get a bride for his son Isaac from his native land, Ur Kasdim, because the people from there are likely to succeed in bringing forth a holy seed.” When your sons grow, it is worthwhile to send them to a rabbinical seminary for study, because they will learn in an orderly fashion. I am very sorry that I did not study in a rabbinical seminary and am not able to explain to you from personal experience its great value. However, whether you send or do not send your son depends on his nature. Send him only if you understand it will benefit him to travel to study and it is according to his desire.

Take care to study Midrash Rabbah every week for the portion of the Torah read in synagogue. Take care that in the course of the year you finish the Midrash together with the Scrolls, because it is a great and important thing to do. Study simply. This is especially the case, since there are explanations that can be understood well. And if there are places, which apparently are not understood and do not have a sufficient explanation, understand truly that this spot has a sublime secret. I also received from the luminaries of our time, may their memory be for the next world, that in places in the Midrash, the scholars hid secrets like the treasures of secrets hidden in the folklore in the Talmud. For this reason, don't stop studying Midrash, because of some places that you cannot understand.

My dear children, when you have to earn a living and not every person is free from doing this, at least be sparing in your talk as much as possible. Think that the time you save from not talking, you can spend with a book, even books on ethics, Pentateuch or Prophets; so that you may merit the world to come. Someone, who blessed memory said, “Everyone, who talks a lot, comes to sin.” Don't think that for the sake of business that you should talk a lot. This is a lie! People who talk a lot for business, do so because they lack trust that the Holy One gives success.

When it is time to pray, forget about business matters. Think of the sublimity of the Holy One, blessed be He, and simply on the words of prayer. Try to do this every day. Don't despair if G-d forbid you are not able to do this sometimes. This is one of four things at which you need to try a lot.

When it comes to books, don't buy the Biblical Apocrypha that tell foolish and fine stories. Our scholars have already said, “...he who brings Biblical

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Apocrypha into his house, brings in confusion.”

This is even true about the Book of Ben Sira. His book deals with ethics and earning a living and has fine words. Take care not to read it. Truly, one should not learn from the great people of the generation, who sometimes read it in some places. As our scholars of blessed memory have said, “They allowed the Family of Raban Gasliel to study Greek Wisdom, because they had to deal with the authorities. In the case of Mamonides, of blessed memory, he was able to learn things that caused bitterness and a r e comparable to serpents. He digested all this and turned it into honey in his stomach. Who can be compared to him? Nevertheless, he was criticized truly in many statements. The educated person will find the sources in their places.

See that you purchase a set of the Talmud and Codes and other Holy Books. This is because sometimes a person is prevented from studying for lack of owning the necessary books. When others rush to beautify their houses with silver vessels, wood and stone colored in red, see that you beautify your houses with Holy Books, which are bound well. Their binding shall be a glory to the people having this done in this world and in the world to come.

In all matters, whether physical, suffering some sickness, G-d forbid, or monetary, seek first G-d to ask mercy from Him, and inform the public of your sorrow, so that they shall ask mercy for you. Likewise, in all matters concerning arrangements of marriages of your descendents, and all matters from small to big, make your request to the Holy One, blessed be He. This is because in His greatness and his humility, he will not despise the suffering of the poor.

When you go to sleep, I don't have to remind you to say the Shema prayer before going to bed. This is because even the ignorant are careful to do this. I warn you strongly to think about some holy matter before you sleep. This may be a section in the Mishnah or Talmud or Pentateuch, or anything else that you are able to read. And with this thought in mind, you shall go to sleep. When you wake up in the middle of the night from your sleep, also do not think about the world's follies.

And be very careful to wash your hands upon waking, even in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, if it is impossible to wash your hands for some reason, you may think about matters of Torah. This is because you may not recite words of Torah if your hands are not clean.

My beloved, be very careful with domestic tranquility. Treat leniently your wives and household members and servants. Just as a person wishes to earn a living well, so he should be careful in this matter. Don't talk a lot with your wife. And if sometimes, she causes you bitterness, don't argue with her. It is best to leave your wives and go to the study hall or to the synagogue and not to argue with them. This is because it is hard to prevail over their foolishness. And our rabbis of blessed memory have said, “They were created from Adam's rib. Therefore, it is hard to appease them.” And judge them on the side of merit.

Likewise, in city matters, you should see to act only in peace and flee from dispute as you flee from fire. Don't accept an appointment, even to be the treasurer of the study hall, whose job is to call the people. The exception is that you should accept to be the treasurer of an elementary school, because the study of Torah is considered as valuable as all the other commandments.

In this way, be very careful to advise them to study Torah and to give them food and clothes. Likewise, in visiting the sick you should take care as much as possible. As far as the rest of the associations, it is better not to be a member, especially those involving mediation and accepting money. I advise you strongly on this.

In the matter of commerce, you should be very careful not to trespass, even in a situation permitted by law, such as to put a store next to a store. This is because success in this is unexpected for many reasons. We have already seen this. And if sometimes it is hard for us to follow this advice, I have already

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said that things go easier for a trusting person, and that G-d will help him. In the matter of loans, if you are able to take care not to loan or take a loan on interest, this is very good. This is because it is true that merchants, who do big deals borrowing money on interest almost always see in the end that such action is not successful. At least try and do as little with matters involving interest as possible. Take care that a bill of obligation is properly written according to religious law, as is explained in the book “Hokhmat adam” (Wisdom of mankind).

Take care about swearing an oath and accepting a ban, because on the matter of swearing truly, a person can be really punished. Try to compromise, so that you do not need an oath. In the matter of welcoming in the Sabbath, be very careful to welcome it in early. Warn strictly your wives and servants, because the commandment of the Sabbath is great and has a value equal to all the Torah and the commandments. We have not seen such a case in the other commandments, as occurs in the case of the Sabbath, where someone who does not keep the Sabbath, G-d forbid, does not keep the entire Torah.

My beloved, be very careful about the matter of charity from the viewpoint of being miserly. The Torah has already warned against this and called a miserly person wicked. This also applies to carrying out household expenses, one should not be miserly but should find a middle ground. My children, be very careful when you give a tithe. Keep the money for the tithe secure with you as if it were not your own money. Give it to the poor and your relatives, and as the need arises, to other matters that are holy.

In our times, we must be more diligent, because the Sabbaths and Festivals were only given to study Torah, as our scholars, of blessed memory, have stated. And the author has already spoken at length about this in the holy work called Brit Avraham. It is worth reading this. Be very careful regarding the commandment to put on phylacteries. And for the sake of G-d, do not make the boxes holding the parchments from the Torah big. It is very good that they be small. The passageway for the strap on the phylactery for the head should be two fingers wide. This is so, G-d forbid, they are not put on the forehead and separated from the proper position on the head. Be very careful about observing the commandment of wearing fringes on the corner of your garments. Have a fringed garment with you even when you are traveling.

Generally, in the matter of all the commandments, do not be miserly. And the Holy One, blessed be He, will make up for your need. Make honoring Heaven the main thing. Following this principle, you should not talk in the study hall or synagogue. This is a sanctuary. You do this for the sake of G-d, may His name be blessed.

My beloved and dear ones! You should have love and unity among you and always seek the welfare of your fellow man and woman. I have tried to publish my novellas, which the Holy One, blessed be He, has caused me to express on the Talmud and also the Response of my predecessors. These are arranged, and everything that is out of place can be put back n order. Nay sermons are also arranged. And if you wish, publish these works.

My daughters and daughter-in-laws, be very careful about the honor of your husbands. Don't cause them anguish even in a small matter, G-d forbid. Never utter a curse, even against a gentile, and even against animals. Accept the Sabbath early and quickly. Raise your children by guiding them with words and not with physical blows. Use only good words. Our teacher and rabbinical authority the pious luminary, Elijah of Vilna, has already advised us about this in his ethical will. Read it always, because it is a cure for the soul.

Remove from yourselves the quality of sadness and anger. Trust in G-d in all your matters. And the rest of the statements and laws, which a woman should follow, has already been published in Yiddish. Read these always. Be careful so as not to cause a shy person sadness, and especially your servants. This is because they are also, understandably, the children of

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the Biblical Patriarchs. Therefore, take care to respect them and you will have a lot of merit.

To the people of my city of Antopol, which is dear to me, may the Holy One, blessed be He, have mercy on you end keep you from all harm. There should be goodness and grace in your borders. Be advised to pursue peace and avoid disputes.

And I have asked you to forgive me with a full heart, whether in matters involving money or in things prohibited or allowed. Announce this in the study hall and in the synagogue. And I also forgive you in every detail.

I will ask you to keep the amendment to our communal law not to have a wedding on any Friday in the winter, and in the summer, it should not occur after 4 pm in the afternoon.

And I have asked that you study in the first year of my death a chapter and a half of Mishnah every day, so that you may finish at the end of the year all of the Mishnah. And that you say after the study of the Mishnah the prayer “Ana”, which is published in the book of Mishnah. And I will also pray for your behalf as much as I am able. And I will do as much as I am able for you. And I have asked Yaakov ha-Kohen, may the light of his knowledge shine, and Mr. Tuviyah and his son to study every day a chapter of Mishnah and afterwards that they should pray and say Kadish di-Rabanan. And with the help of G-d, I will intercede on behalf of R. Yaakov ha-Kohen as much as I am able. Generally, I will intercede on behalf of everyone who studies Mishnah for me.

And I admonish all my townsfolk to live in peace with one another. Certainly, I will not forget to do what I am able to, on your behalf. And for everyone who shall express to me a specific request, I will try to do all I can. This is because I shall work upon my death, as I did when I was among you, to try and help others as much as I am able.

My dear daughter, I ask you not to be too sad, because you are weak and your health may suffer. Generally, what the Holy One, blessed be He, does is for the good. It is forbidden to cry a lot. One should receive what the Holy One, blessed be He, does with true joy. And I am not crying when I write this, because I expect the mercy of the Holy One, blessed be He, and that I will have a joyous report to tell. This letter, which my son Avraham Mosheh, may the light of his learning increase, will be copied by my son Meir Elazar and his son-in-law, may the light of his learning increase. You will safeguard this copy. Whoever wants to copy it shall be allowed to do so. You should try to print the composition on the Talmud, the Mishnah, and whatever is written on codes. The Holy One, blessed be He, will help you.

I am your father and father-in-law, who seeks your welfare with love. I write this today, Sunday, 20th day of the month of June (Sivan), 1897 (657), in Berlin.

Note: The sons of R. Pinchas Michael were: 1) Avraham Mosheh Groisleit in Lithuanian Brisk; 2) Meir Elazar in Pinsk. His daughters were: 1) Toibay Beilah; 2) Roikhl; 3) Mikhlah, who married Rabbi Aba Sirkin, rabbi of Sharshev.

Their sons are: Duber, Yosel, Elazar, Eizik. Their daughters are: Toibah, PInah, and Breinah. Breinah married R. Mosheh Berman of Antopol, who inherited the rabbinical post of R. Pinchas Michael in 1892 (652). In 1921 R. Mosheh Berman came to the United States and was accepted as the rabbi of the orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles, California. He died on September 22, 1931 (Heshvan 691). His sons are: Professor Feitel Berman, expert in cardiology, In Los Angeles, and chief director of the Los Angeles Regional Hospital, which is one of the biggest in the United States, and Pinchas(Pintsheh), a poet in Yiddish. His daughters are: Leah Silberman and Feigel Duber, the son of Mikhlah, had a son and daughter. The name of the daughter is Feigah and the name of the son is R. Avraham Wants. After the Holocaust, only the son survived and he came to New York. The Rabbi R. Aba (called now Tsiyens) taught in the R. Yitshak Elhanan Seminary. He is now rabbi of one of the synagogues in the Bronx, N.Y. and the head of a rabbinical seminary located there.


R. Mordekhai, of Blessed Memory

By Ben-Ezra

“Everything depends on luck, even a Torah scroll In a synagogue” (Zohar, section of Numbers called

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Naso). This simply means: sometimes people forget to read a large size Morah scroll, and take out of the ark a small size Torah scroll and read from it. Thus is the luck of books people and cities. Sometimes but very rarely a small and far away town has a greater reputation than a big city and makes a place for itself in history.

This was the fortune of Antopol, a town placed in a swamp, in the district of Kobrin, Grodno province. This small town, in which a hundred years ago, there lived only 1,108 Jews was famous for its saintly rabbis. In addition to the rabbis learned in Torah, who held a rabbinical post in this town, there were Jewish craftsmen, who would go early morning to the study hall to study a page of Talmud. Among them was a blacksmith called R. Yekutiel, who would teach a lesson in Talmud to people rich in means and learned in Torah.

It was due to the good fortune of Antopol, that among the great rabbis, who held the rabbinical post there, was the luminary R. Shemuel, who was later appointed to be the chief rabbi of Karlin.

In 1921, Mosheh Berman came to the United States and was accepted as the chief rabbi of the orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles, California. He died on September 22nd of 1931.

Note: His sons are: Professor Feitel Berman, expert in cardiology and chief director of the Los Angeles Regional Hospital, which is one of the biggest in the United States, and Pinchas(Pintsheh), a poet in Yiddish. His daughters are: Leah Silberman and Feigel. Duber, the son of Mikhlah, had a son and daughter. The name of the daughter is Feigah and the name of the son is R. Avraham Zaiants. After the Holocaust, only the son survived and he came to New York. The Rabbi R. Aba (called now Tsiyens) taught in the R. Yitshak Elhanan Seminary. He is now rabbi of one of the synagogues in the Bronx, N.Y. and the head of a rabbinical seminary located there.

“Everything depends on luck, even a Torah scroll in a synagogues (Zohar, section of Numbers called Naso). This simply means: sometimes people forget to read a large size Torah scroll, and take out of the ark a small size Torah scroll and read from it Thus, is the luck of books, people, and cities. The righteous and mystic rabbi, R. Mosheh Tsevi, the father of Rabbi Joshua Jacob and Dr. Israel Michal Rabinowitz, served 42 years (1818-1862), 578-622, in this town. R. Mosheh Tsevi was known not only for his learning and great knowledge in the written and oral law and Jewish mysticism. He also had a developed character and the ability to feel for the individual and public. People used to come to him both for spiritual and practical affairs. One group of people came to him for their professional affairs and another group of people for their medical and psychiatric care.

The luminary R. Hayyim Zalman Bresloi, who was afterwards president of the rabbinical court in Mir and a professor of Talmud there, officiated as rabbi in town. Antopol was not only famous for its rabbis.

It was also fertile soil to train rabbis, who afterwards served other communities. Among the most famous were these two rabbis: the righteous rabbi, Yitshak Mrsh, who afterwards was rabbi in Simiats, Grodno province, and R. Mordekhai-Li.

In an environment saturated with Jewish law and mysticism, R. Mordekhai was born in 1837 on May 3rd (Iyar 597). His parents were: his father, R. Mendel and his mother Sarah. R. Mendel was a miller. This was the origin of their family name Weitsel (wheat seed). R. Mendel was not known as an analytical scholar. He was rather a Jew familiar with basic religious books as well as Jewish liturgy. B;:”) Mendel was known in Antopol and outside of it for his ability to lead Jewish prayer services.

Mordechai, the son of R. Mendel the miller, was seen already in his childhood as an exceptionally brilliant person. He did not make due with his usual studies in Jewish elementary school. He would stay after school and study Jewish law after formal classes were over. At that time, he got the nickname,

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Mordekhai- Li. It was felt in his youth that he was born to greatness.

People tell this story of Mordechai, when he was eight. He came home to eat his meal and asked his mother, “Please give me my meal!” His mother replied, “Immediately, my son.” The small child went to the oven and saw rolls being baked. He said: “The way the rolls are being baked makes them unfit for consumption by Jews according to ritual law!” His mother rebuked him for comments on the ritual fitness of her kitchen. He held his ground and added, “If you doubt me, go to the rabbi, and ask him how to bake rolls In accordance with ritual law.”

The mother of R. Mordechai-Li. went to the rabbi and asked him how to bake rolls in accordance with ritual law. The rabbi asked her, “How did you know to ask this question? Who told you?” The mother said, “My son, Mordechai-Li, told me to ask this question.”

The rabbi studied the matter and said that the rolls were not fit for ritual consumption. From that time on, Mordechai-Li became famous not only as a studious child, but also as a person who knew Jewish law. Before the year was over, he became the pupil of R. Yitshak Hirsh, the rabbi of Antopol. R. Yitshak Hirsh observed that his young pupil did not just concern himself with straight forward rabbinical works that discuss the legal questions of what is permitted and what is forbidden and what is fit for ritual consumption and what is unfit for ritual consumption. He also studied mystical works, which are outside the legal tradition. These books attracted the attention of Mordechai-Li.

R. Yitshak Hirsh, who was an authority on both the Jewish legal tradition and Jewish mysticism, did not permit his pupil to study books other than on the topics of Jewish law. This was because he thought that first a student should fully study Talmud and Codes. It was only after the study of these topics that a person could study Jewish mysticism.

The pupil Mordechai-Li studied diligently with R. Yitshak Hirsh for six years. He was ordained at the age of fourteen with rabbinical ordination.

The reputation of R. Mordechai-Li went beyond the boundaries of Antopol. Many of the important people in town wanted him for a son-in-law. Finally, R. Shimon Volvol, a rich, important Jew, was able to marry him to his daughter, Chayah. He agreed to pay the couple's living expenses all their lives. In addition to the bride and living expenses, he gave an invaluable study tool, especially for R. Mordechai-Li., a diligent student and lover of books. It was a case of books, whose value was 500 rubles.

Free the concerns of earning a living, R. Mordechai-Li studied Talmud and related books day and night. He was always repeating aloud his lessons. To keep from sleeping, he put his feet into buckets of cold water. While studying, he forgot about basic human needs, such as eating, drinking, etc. He studied for the sake of studying, not to make profane use of his studies. However, when the matter of charity was involved, to come to the aid of the poor or to fulfill the commandment of redeeming captives, then he carried out the following Biblical sentence himself, “It is time to act on G-d's behalf. People have abrogated your law (Ps. 119 and 126).” He would leave the study hall, step deeply into the swamps or snow, and go from house to house to collect money. He didn't pay attention to his fingers becoming chapped from the cold.

And if it happened that some tough person would not give as much as he was able, R. Mordechai would enter the kitchen, take a club and threaten him. Understandably, the person submitted to R. Mordechai, and gave as much as he was assessed to give. This was because he knew that Mordechai was not collecting for his own sake.

R. Mordechai-Li did not only occupy himself with legal matters. He had this principle: “Everyone who saves one Jewish soul, is comparable to one who has saved the whole world.” The individual represents the community and the entire community is each of its individual members. Each individual member is to be considered as making up the entire community himself. This was the point of view according to

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which Mordechai.-Li. lived his entire life.

There was established a rabbinical for youths fit for ordination in Pinsk. Among were the founders of the seminary the mystic R. Mordekhai Zakheim, president of the court of Pinsk, and R. Avigdor Tosfah, rabbi of Karlin. R. Mordechai-Li. wanted to study with the mystic, to be influenced by him in the study of Jewish mysticism, and to further his legal studies from the immense knowledge of R. Shemuel Tosfah.

R. Mordechai-Li traveled to Pinsk, and studied three years with these two spiritual giants. He especially was drawn to Jewish mysticism. However, his rabbi, R. Mordechai Zakheim, forbid him to study openly this type of knowledge. He used to study it secretly when people were asleep. The reason of R. Mordekhai Zakheim was that if it would be known that R. Mordechai-Li was a mystic, then he would be considered to be a miracle worker and crowds of people would visit him as they did the Bal-shems. The people's visits would interfere with his studies. After receiving ordination from R. Mordekhai Zakheim and R. Shemuel Tosfah, R. Mordechai-Li returned to Antopol. He was accepted to be a rabbinical judge in town. This appointment requires an interpretation. This is because R. Mordechai-Li was not the son of a rabbi and not the son-in-law of the rabbi, who inherited a rabbinical position. He was the son of a miller and the son-in-law of one of the simple Jews In town. Thus, If R. Mordechai-Li was appointed judge in town, this shows that he was worthy of the great appointment and got it only because of his knowledge and contributing qualities.

In 1864 (624) the pious rabbi, R. Pinchas Michael was appointed to be rabbi of Antopol. These two great personalities got along fabulously. The two of them stuck together. They studied together and took care of the individual Jew and the Jewish community. They paid special care to the spiritual and physical wounds of the individual Jew. From the moment R. Mordechai-Li became friendly with the pious R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory, the reputation of R. Mordechai-M increased, both because of his genius and his righteousness. Many communities offered him a rabbinical post.

However, the community of Antopol did not let him leave. This fact may serve as how popular R. Mordechai-M was with the Jews of Antopol.

A big fire broke out in town in the year 1870 (630). Almost all of the town was destroyed by the fire. Most of the Jews were without income or housing. In that year, the Jews of Bitan (Grodno province) asked R. Mordechai-Li to accept the rabbinical post there. R. Mordechai-Li accepted. However, all the Jews of Antopol could not make peace with this. How was it possible that their delightful townsman R. Mordechai-Li could leave? Was it not enough that they had become impoverished and they would also have to give up their glory?

A dispute broke out between the communities of Antopol and Bitan. The Antopol community said that R. Mordechai-Li belonged to them. The community of Bitan said that R. Mordechai-Li would be their rabbi. The end was that one night R. Mordechai-Li left town. People said that the important people of Bitan stole him away. It is worthwhile to say that R. Mordechai-M came to inherit the post left empty by the righteous rabbi, R. Shelomoh-Li, of blessed memory. There are some legends about that man. The community of Bitan was small then. It had only about one hundred families. They could pay him only fifteen rubles a month. However, R. Mordechai-Li was glad to accept. When his wife complained about what was going to happen to her, R. Mordechai-Li tried to entice her with these words, “Was the wife of Jacob the shoemaker better than yours?”

It was typical of R. Mordechai-Li to make do with little. This was also his attitude to the poor. He would say, “I and my family have more than enough. Why should I not help a rich man, who has become poor, or any poor person? Why should I not make it easier to a poor woman, who has given birth?”

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He did everything secretly. He hated publicity and was afraid of it very much. His fear of publicity prevented him many times from taking part in public works, which had to be done through assemblies and with great publicity. This quality of modesty and avoiding honor was the most typical of R. Mordechai-Li. This quality was basic and rooted in the enticing personality called R Mordechai-Li.

Even though R. Mordechai avoided publicity, nevertheless, his reputation was praised by thousands of Jews. They came from near and far to Bitan. This one came to get the blessing of the righteous rabbi. And this one came to ask him a question in a time of trouble. And one of the luminaries and righteous men of that period, R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory, would ask those who asked him for some cure, “Why do you come to me and not a wise and righteous man like R. Mordechai-Li? Travel to him!”

And thus, people did. When the name of the righteous man of Bitan or R. Mordechai-Li of Bitan (R. Mordechai-Li Bitener) became known, they traveled to him. Thanks to the crowds that mobbed his home, the Bitan Jewish community began to flourish. Wagon drivers, inns, stores, and all the inhabitants of town got good business. Not only did the material condition of the town improve, its spiritual position became significantly better under the influence of R. Mordechai-Li. In Bitan he founded a seminary for grown youths. Many youths came to study with him. R. Mordechai- Li taught according to healthy logic. He avoided hair-splitting as much as possible. Incidentally, he used to mix in jokes and daily events in his words. This is because R. Mordechai-Li was a wise person and had knowledge of what was going on in the world.

The needs of the Yeshiva and community took most of his time in the day. He founded an Association to provide free clothes to the poor pupils of the Jewish religious elementary school. He obtained more support to provide lodging for poor travelers, and similar charitable associations.

He regarded the poor and lonely as a part of himself and he devoted his strength to help them. This is because “the natural duty towards one's fellow human being and Jewish law demand us to answer the requests of every man and woman.” The function of the rabbi is not only to decide what is the law about milk and meat products fit for ritual consumption. It is to lead the people and give them moral aid. For this reason, R. Mordechai-Li complained about rabbis who don't make it their habit to answer all those seeking help.

During the day, he would help people with their private concerns and also deal with public concerns. At night, he would study Jewish law until dawn. During his study, he would write down novellas and answer response.

R. Mordechai-Li stayed eighteen years in the town of Bitan. He lived a private life of suffering and poverty in this town. He suffered because the young wife he had married died on March 8th, 1881 (the eighth day of Adar 641) after years of sickness and suffering. He remained a widow and had to raise his small children. R. Mordechai-Li suppressed the pain of his private life. However, he had to deal directly with the pain of those who came to his doors for help. The Jewish people coming to him had a lot of needs and he felt it was his duty to find help for those suffering. He gave good advice and words of comfort.

He made Bitan an important place during his stay. It became a major center since everyone came there to see him. He encouraged the thousands of people who came to him by speaking lovingly and truthfully. He did his duty to the point of self-sacrifice.

Many communities wanted to appoint R. Mordechai-Li as rabbi. He declined until he received an offer from the community of Korlits (Minsk province). The brilliant luminary, R. Eliyahu Barukh Kamai, was rabbi there for several years. R. Kamai was Professor of Talmud in Mir and profoundly influenced his rabbinical seminary. R. Eliyahu

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Barukh Kamai left Korlits in 1886 (646) to become rabbi of the city of Vaksna (Vilna province). The Jews of Korlits began to seek a rabbi fit to fill the place of R. Eliyahu Barukh Kamai, who was both knowledgeable and analytical. He also knew what was going on in the world.

The Jews of Korlits decided to appoint R. Mordechai-Li. They sent some important people to Bitan, bringing an offer of rabbinical appointment with them. R. Mordechai-Li hesitated but finally they convinced him and he agreed. However, the Jews of Bitan did not agree. They protested his leaving. Some hotheads said, “We will break their bones! We will shed their blood if they take our rabbi from here!” Mordechai-Li called the hotheads to him and quieted them. Although they stopped being angry, they were very bitter against the people of Korlits.

In 1857 (647), R. Mordechai-Li was forced to flee to Kolits. He left at night, just as he had previously left Antopol for Bitan. The Jews of Bitan wondered what they could do to get back at the people of Korlits.

The day R. Mordechai-Li came to Korlits was a holiday for the Jews. The stores were closed and the craftsmen stopped working. Youth and old came to receive R. Mordechai-Li, who came to inherit the rabbinical chair of R. Eleyahu Barukh Kamai. It did not take much time for R. Mordechai-Li to become beloved to the Jews of Korlits. Everyone honored him, old and young. He immediately became famous as the miracle worker of Korlits. Jews and gentiles flocked to him from near and far. Some came to receive a blessing. Others came for medical or help or just for good advice. In addition, youths and adult students came to study in the rabbinical seminary founded by R. Mordechai-Li and to listen to his lessons.

R. Mordechai-Li gave lessons like an artist. The relation of R. Mordechai-Li. to his students may be seen in this event. The rabbi and author Ben-Tsiyon Eizenshtat was thirteen years old when he came to study in the rabbinical seminary of R. Mordechai-Li in Korlits. One time at the end of the Sabbath and after midnight, this youth was found lying down on one of the benches in the study hall. He used his winter coat as a pillow. It was dark in the study hall except in one corner there was a small candle burning. Then, R. Mordechai-Li entered the study hall. He put the books of Talmud together, which had been spread out, and left the study hall. Within ten minutes, R. Mordechai-Li's son entered the study hall, woke up the sleeping youth and asked him to go to the rabbi's house, where a bed was prepared for him. The youth refused this invitation, thinking that he was not worthy of this invitation, which would bring him so much honor.

After a little while, R, Mordechai-Li himself came to him and rebuked him for not coming over, “We know that the study of Torah and having a profession to earn go well together. If Jewish law takes concern that a person should be able to earn a living, i t certainly cares that he take care of his immediate physical needs! A person, who causes himself pain is a sinner in the sight of the Holy One, blessed be.

R. Mordechai-Li drew himself to all types of people with words of love. Everyone honored and respected him. R. Mordechai-Li did not stay long in Korlits. He was rabbi for only four years. He was called to serve in Ashmina (Vilna province). Ashmina was a bigger town than Korlits. It was famous as a city of people devoted to self-study and enlightenment.

The luminary and righteous rabbi, R. Hayyim Avraham Shapira was rabbi in Ashmina. He was the son of the famous luminary, R. Libli Shapira of Kovno. R. Libli Shapira of Kovno was the brother of the luminary, our master and teacher, Refael Shapira, Professor of Talmud at the Volozhin rabbinical seminary.

R. Mordechai-Li came to inherit the position of the luminary R. Eliyahu Perski. Mordechai-Li

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wanted to sit peacefully and devote himself only to Torah and community matters. However, he was not able to devote himself just to these things since he had to deal with people seeking healing for their pains. He was unable to send them away without trying to help. He had to listen to the painful lives of the thousands coming to visit him.

For example, it was impossible for him not to pay attention to a woman about to give birth, who had no money and still needed a doctor. To whom could she turn in a decisive hour like this? Understandably, she came to R. Mordechai-Li, even if it were late at night. R. Mordechai-Li got dressed and ran to the cow, so that the woman giving birth would have milk to nurse her infant.

R. Mordechai-Li acted like a merciful and patient father. He would pay attention to everyone. This is because not everyone could elevate himself to study Talmud and novellas. Therefore, R, Mordechai-Li paid attention to the individuals bringing their problems to him. Besides individual matters, he had to pay attention to public affairs. There were groups to study Talmud and Midrash. There were youth sitting and studying Torah in the study hall in need of meals and clothes. There was no one to care for them except R. Mordechai-Li. He took care of their needs without publicity or making noise. He did it quietly and in secret. This is because “least my actions be known to people thinking that I did it only for attention and approval.”

Rabbis complained that he did not participate in rabbinical assemblies. One of the greatest rabbis asked him why he devoted himself only to the needs of individuals coming to him. R. Mosheh answered, “My paying attention to the needs of Individuals is something that was assigned to me from Heaven to do. Perhaps, I will be able to help the individual who came to me, even a little. I know that my ability to do is weak. However, each individual that I help is added to that total number, which we call the community. Therefore, I am involved in public affairs. The public is composed of individuals, who make it up. I am trying to act as Jewish law instructs me.”

He himself lived on as little as possible. He only ate meat on Sabbaths and holidays. He gave most of his salary to the poor. Likewise, he would give gifts to his visitors. There was a great change in the private life of R, Mordechai-Li in Ashmina. He married a second time. His wife was Malka, daughter of R. Avraham Grinberg, of Slonim, a rich and learned Jew. The new father-In-law took it upon himself to support R. Mordechai-M. However, he, himself, did not take all of the benefits offered him by his father- In-law. He lived a simple and modest life. Nevertheless, when it came to the purchase of books, his spiritual food, nothing stood in his way. R. Mordechai-Li paid attention to the purchase of books. He devoted himself to the purchase of rare books. The day that he added an important book to his library was really a holiday for him.

Just as he acted gently with people, so he was as hard as steel when it came to be zealous for G-d. He didn't back away from a powerful person. He rebuked the rich for oppressing the poor. If a person broke Jewish law, he left his private duties and went to fight G-d's war. The truth was always a candle lighting his way.

The life of a person is like a road and has different stops. Each stop has its signs. Each stop leaves an impression on the person delaying in it and staying there. R. Mordechai-Li had five stops in his life: Antopol, Bitan, Korlits, Ashmina, and the last stop of Slonim.

Slonim was well known as a Jewish city. Jewish luminaries had previously occupied the rabbinical position. They included R. Mosheh, R. Yehudah Edelman, R. Dov Berish Ashkenazi, and R. Eyzil Harif.

The rabbinate at the time of R. Mordechai.-Li was held in Slonim by R. Joseph Shlufer. He was called “the youthful genius of Dinaburg”. He was the son-in-law of R. Eizil Harif. He had inherited

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the position of R. Joseph Rafin. Behold, R. Joseph Shlufer died in 1900 (665). The community of Slonim began to look for a worthy rabbi. It paid attention to R. Mordechai-Li. And what happened in the first towns, also happened in Ashmina. A conflict broke out between Ashmina and Slonim. Each town wanted R. Mordechai-Li. Finally, Slonim won the struggle and R. Mordechai-Li left Ashmina in the dark of night.

R. Mordechai occupied the rabbinical post in Slonim for eleven years, from 1905-1916. He also acted like a Hasidic Rebbe. His being both the Rabbi and Rebbe was a strange fact. Here, you have the rabbi of a well known city, a great scholar in Jewish law and wisdom, to whom all the great scholars of Israel turn in response concerning law, who was an opponent of Hasidism and the son of an opponent of Hasidism. At the same time, he acted like the Bal-Shem Tov. Hundreds of legends grew up around him. However, R. Mordechai-Li did not see a contradiction in being both the Rabbi and Rebbe. Yet, he would complain to visitors coming for a blessing, “Why travel to me if you have Hayyim the blacksmith?”

Hayyim the blacksmith from the village of Holozin close to Pinsk was famous for his love of truth and pursuit of justice. He was known to be a person who would not benefit at all from others. On the contrary, this poor person would seek out other poor people to give them the cereals and vegetables, which he received from gentiles in payment for his work. He had the ability to dress the wounds of the oppressed and the broken of heart.

R. Mordechai-Li would sometimes send his visitors to a cripple known as a miracle worker. The youth lived in a village near to Beiki (Grodno province). Hundreds of people would come to him to ask for advice and for cures from him. This is because he also knew secular sciences. Nevertheless, R. Mordechai sometimes advised against other miracles workers, “Don't believe in the efficacy of this! On the other hand, don't have slight regard for even the blessing of a lay person.”

Still, people did not give him peace. They would diligently seek him out day and night. The immigration to the United States increased at that time. People came to ask his advice on whether to go to the United States. This was because the United States had the reputation that even to land on its soil was an act not allowed by Jewish ritual law. R. Mordechai's answer was that if you wish to be a Jew living according to rabbinical Jewish law, you are able to do this anywhere. When his sister asked his opinion he answered, “The United States is not a country that makes a Jew impure. There will come a time when people will envy those who immigrated to the United States and the soil where we remained will be impure.” This was a farsighted view, a look at a distant time and a different country.

Likewise, his view about settling Israel was that of a Jew devoted heart and soul to the vision of future generations. He would say, “If I knew that the Turks would give up Israel to us, then I would give the coat off my back to achieve this.” According to Heikl Lunski, who wrote the biography of R. Mordechai-Li, he was a lover of Zion in theory and action.

His statements made a big impression on the community of those seeking him out and listening to his advice. When he looked at a person, his gaze penetrated the very soul of the person. Everyone trembled at the majestic sight of him in his old age. His long eyebrows cast fear on people facing him. His glance could be hypnotic. However, some refused to accept his authority, including a Jewish barber in Slonim and a Jewish photographer. The photographer was a tough fellow, who used to work on Saturday. When R. Mordechai found this out, he protested from the pulpit against violating the Sabbath. He warned the photographer not to work on Saturday. This happened a few times without result. Then, R. Mordechai-Li excommunicated him. The next day the photographer forced his way into R. Mordechai-Li's house. He took out a gun and aimed it at him. People in the household shouted for help. Others rushed into the house, seized the

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photographer and gave him over to the police. However, R. Mordechai–Li, a forgiving father, came to court when the case came up and forcefully and successfully asked to have the charges dismissed.

R. Mordechai-Li acted to save Jewish lives. He forgave insults to his honor. He didn't care about his health. He would go great distances and see the necessary officials. This was so that no harm should happen to a Jewish person. Heikl Lunski tells-about one instance when some youths were condemned to hanging because of rebellion against the State. R. Mordechai-Li took it upon himself despite his advanced age to go with great suffering to Vilna, so that he could ask mercy from the General Governor. Thank G-d his request was granted. Because of his intervention, the youths did not get the death sentence.

Suddenly, WWI broke out. The borders were closed. Many communities were uprooted. The Russians also poured out their wrath on Slonim before they left. The troubles of the Jewish people increased. R. Mordechai-Li could not bear to see the anguish of the Jewish people. Hiss strength left him. The evening before March 28, 1916 (Adar I 676), the saintly R. Mordechai-Li died. His light was extinguished, the light which illuminated days of darkness and trouble for the public and the individual!

 

Spiritual Property

The spiritual property of R. Mordechai-Li was not very great. Only one of his books was printed. Most of his writings on Jewish law and response, which number in the hundreds, remained in manuscript. Among these is a very intelligent and valuable commentary on Shulhan arukh, Hoshen mishpat, and a big composition on the order Kodashim of the Talmud. There is a reason for this. R. Mordechai-Li did not want to publish what he wrote. When his friends pressed him to make available his hairsplitting commentaries spoken publicly, so that they might print them, they were surprised to learn that he never wrote them down. He had a phenomenal memory and he knew by heart both the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, as well as the broad rabbinical literature around them. Once at the feast of Purim, he read before the assembled all the legal decisions of the Tosafot in the Talmud by heart.

Generally, R. Mordechai-Li did not have hairsplitting arguments for their own sake. He spoke simply and logically and his teaching was brief but good. Still in his youth he wrote a book according to this method and called it Aleh havatselet (Rose leaf), since his family name was also Rozenblat. He kept the manuscript among his unpublished writings. R. Mordechai-M. compared the hair-splitting lectures given at the finishing of a Talmudic tractate to the wedding dress made from fine fiber. However, no one minds the type of material, because the dress is not meant to be worn on the weekday. People look “only at its beauty and the splendor of its value. Therefore, they intend to make it glorious with embroideries of buds and flowers.”

We hear with these statements a hint that hairsplitting arguments are not things that can exist a long time. They are only an external, lightning and temporary. R. Mordechai-Li lessened the value of hairsplitting arguments with statements like this.

Even though R. Mordechai-Li refused to publish his novellas, he finally answered those requesting him and gave to his friend, the scholar and enlightened person, Yehuda Idl Tsizling of Ashmina to publish some of his statements. These are included in the book Hadrat Mordekhai.

The book Hadrat Mordekhai is divided into four parts: 1. Tsitsim u-ferahim (speeches given upon finishing talmudic tractates in the manner of hairsplitting arguments); 2. Meshiv be-devar halakhah (response); 3. Novellas on Talmud, Codes, and Tosafot; 4. Kuntres Ben-Menahem (sermons).

In the speeches given upon finishing Talmudic tractates in the manner of hairsplitting arguments, R. Mordechai is the example of a person with familiarity and analytical ability. He goes down valleys and goes up mountains. He grinds up the valleys and

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mountains. He gives these in the way of rabbis, who give sermons when a Talmudic tractate is finished.

However, this is not his way in response. Here he makes his conclusion according to the actual law. He negotiated with the great people of his generation on what is forbidden and permitted. He swims in the sea of the Talmud and casts his net on the first commentators and the later commentators. He makes an effort to permit what is permitted.

Here I have to point out something strange in the book Hadrat Mordekhai, the volume on response, section 9, p. 43-45. There is an old responsum, whose content is taken from the response of R. Akiva Eger, section 62. There is no hint given as to the source of this responsum.

Truly, this is a difficult matter. Certainly, R. Mordechai-Li did not want to publish this book to glorify himself. How is it that this responsum entered his books?

I am of the opinion that the responsum was not put in with his knowledge. I guess that R. Mordechai.-Li copied this responsum from memory and put it in his writings. When R. Yehudah Tsizling arranged R. Mordechai-Li's writings, he thought that this responsum also belonged to R. Mordechai-Li and included it with the rest of his response. This has happened in many other rabbinical works.

The novellas on Talmud, Codes, and Tosafot are based on logic and acceptable. There is not found here mental gymnastics, which are confused and crooked.What we find here is straight and pure intellect, which makes a crooked path straight.

We also find this in his sermons. They are simple and a work of genius. We do not find here him jumping from matter to matter and putting together different types. We find in these sermons the lightning of genius, a rainbow of different colors. Such a sermon is of the type of a “hammer splitting a rock”. This means, just as a rock is divided into different parts – big, medium, and small – so the lightning and sparks of his sermon come to unite into an important piece.

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