The Bishop Anthony Kobilsky (an anti-Semite) died in January 1755. His successor to the diocese of Luck-Brisk was his sister's son Anthony Arazem Volovitch, who was also secretary to the Queen Maria Josepha, the wife of Augustus III. He exceeded his uncle in his hatred toward the Jews, and in this diocese he brought them to the level of oppression. Very soon afterwards there arose the matter of the trial in Yampol near Kremenetz because of which the entire Jewish community was imprisoned.
In Yampol, located in Volhyn district, close to Kremenetz, the corpse of a well known drunk was found near the Horin River on the Christian Great Sabbath [Easter Sunday] that fell on the 4th day of the Jewish Passover in 1756. The monks jumped at that find, but the Jews preceded them and asked a recognized doctor to examine the corpse. It was clarified that the corpse didn't have any wounds. The Jesuits decided to bury it far away from the city, but before they finished the burial there came a group of monks that took back the corpse to one of the churches in the city. The Jews, who carefully followed all that was going on, had the feeling that the monks were too involved with the corpse. Indeed, while on the way to the church the mob started claiming that the poor drunk's corpse was full of bleeding wounds and blows. The Jews demanded again a doctor's examination of the corpse, and with the report they stood in front of the judge in Kremenetz. The judge didn't believe the mob and the Jews of Yampol were released and the body returned for burial.
But the mob in Yampol did not give up and immediately filed a request with the Graf, Michael Kozimizh Radjivil, concerning a second inquiry into the same matter. Radjivil accepted the request but again the judges acquitted the Jews. The Christians still did not give up and referred the matter to Bishop Volovitch who demanded a third trial from Radjivil, and when the latter attempted to refuse, Radjivil threatened him with the interdiction of the church. Radjivil gave in and gave permission for a third trial on the same charge, first appointing three noble judges. These were replaced by three priests who were appointed by the Bishop and the accused were tortured. No one admitted anything in spite of the fact that they were tortured with such cruelty that two of them fell down dead in the hands of the hangman. Tortured and burnt by fire and by red hot iron, the Jews were returned to their homes to recover, but soon afterwards they were taken and were imprisoned in a dungeon located under the Graf's palace.
The news spread like wildfire throughout the whole country. The Rabbi of Biala wrote to Rabbi Yaakov Emden regarding this matter, also describing the turmoil that occurred at the Council of the Four Lands that had convened during July, August and September in Konstantinov. I was he writes in the holy community Konstantinov for two weeks There was there a deep impression as a result of the Blood Libel in connection with the Jews of Yampol who had been trapped in an evil plot much like the libel which had occurred in Fabiltsh (Zitomir. ) All the prominent Jews were taken in iron chains.
One of these prominent community leaders, Rabbi Elyakim, son of Rabbi Asher Zelig, succeeded, while risking his life, in escaping from the jail in Kremenetz (where the trial took place.) He came in front of the same council in Konstantinov in tears to tell of the bad things happening to him and his brethren. The mood of the council at that time was not very sympathetic regarding this matter. The council was taking care of another disaster that could have hurt the whole Jewish world. At this time the events in Podoldya had threatened to cause a split in all of Polish Jewry. [The entire region, which was later known as the Pale of Settlement, was under the control of Poland.] There had appeared that infamous seducer and instigator, Yaakov Frank, and there also he broke the Jewish laws and restrictions which had been recently dealt with by the rabbinical court [of the Council] in Brody in 1752.
Rabbi Emden writes about this in his book: How long will such evil be carried on by the priests of Poland (a land of great darkness,) priests who are thirsty for blood like wolves and many a time shed the blood of poor and innocent people, like they had done the previous year when they murdered several holy souls for no crime on their hands? Land, do not cover their blood! [Job 16,18] The vengeful G-d avenges the blood of His servants and brings vengeance upon His enemies [Deut.32,43], smashing His enemies heads [Psalms 110,6] for on the same day three of the greatest tyrants suddenly died: - the Priest of Yampol, the instigator who demanded the shedding of innocent blood and the judge of Kremenetz where the trial was held.
In the meantime there was nothing to be done except to confirm and strengthen the ban that had already been declared in various communities and had been repeated several times at the time of new moons and fasts of Monday, Thursday, and Monday, with blowing of the Shofar and extinguishing candles and other similar means. And like a thunder on a clear day there fell upon this gathering the distressing announcement of the Blood Libel in Yampol, an announcement that upset and perturbed the delegates and the Rabbis. One of the Yampol residents, Rabbi Elyakim, the son of Rabbi Asher Zelig, appeared with tearful eyes before the participants and told them about the terrible bloody proceedings of the trial that was taking place in Yampol. This is the way he described these most awful moments of his life: Fifteen souls, the prominent leaders of our community, were caught unfortunately and suffered great bitter tortures and they are still in prison. Who can account for the great expense that it had cost to prevent even more from being arrested? There is already a big deficit, and we are completely impoverished. And here am I, one of those whom they schemed to kill, and only by the grace of heaven I escaped with my life; they looted all I had and all I have left is my soul. When I left the city I raised my eyes in prayer saying: Show me, G-d, your way! At this time the meeting time of the shepherds came up, the gathering of all the leaders, the patrons, and the community officers as well as the Rabbis our luminaries, of the Four Lands of our country Poland, and I said: 'I'll go there with a great noise to find some solution. Is it our destiny to die, G-d forbid?' With G-d's help my idea came to fruition. After we had discussed all aspects of the problem we concluded that the way to bring light among the Jews in their places of exile is to go to the city of Rome to request of their high priest, their mighty ruler, the beneficent Pope and the other Christian wise men who sit in their ruling council to issue a decree to all the governors, the priests and the judges not to listen to the lies and nonsense, that the intellect and common sense deny, and to declare that all the witnesses are lying since they are paid by Jew baiters. All the delegates looked at me, because it was my individual obligation to take my part in the distress of Israel and I myself felt obligated in this matter and I therefore vowed at the time of my distress to go to Rome and with G-d's help, I arrived home safely .
Thus there was no other way but to journey to Rome, to the Pope, and plead in front of him to give them a letter stating that the church is against the Blood Libel connected with the Jews. There were more than a few of these letters at large although not a single one was ever published in the official Biliarom Romanum.
After the terrible trial in Fulde in 1235, Pope Innocent the Fourth published four letters between 1235 and 1247, one after the other, all concerning the same matter. A similar letter was written also by Pope Paul the Third in 1540, although only a few knew about it, but a copy was kept in the Jewish community archive in Krakow, and it was recorded in the records of the city of Pozen in 1567/8. At the time that the 'deluge' began, i.e. the wars with Sweden (around 1654) which libeled the Jews of the Posen district, Blood Libels concerning Christian children, and the danger of annihilation loomed for the entire Jewish community of that district which had already been diminished even before by the armies of the enemy and the state. Then at that time Rabbi Yaakov, son of Rabbi Naftali of Ganzena, was sent to Rome. He did not succeed in obtaining a letter from the Pope, but he was nevertheless successful in influencing the head of the Dominicans in Rome, Johan di Marinis, the Baptist, who wrote a letter (after about ten years in 1664) to the Priest, Alan Chodrovski, who was the head of this order in Poland. In this letter he demanded that the Dominicans in Poland protect the Jews against these Blood Libels in the church sermons.
A few years later we find the head of other orders writing and warning the heads of states about this matter. And thus the head of the Carmelites Ferdinand Torgolya on October 4th 1680 wrote to his representative in Krakow, and on the 22nd of that same month the head of the Augustinians in Rome, Dominicus Velove wrote to the head of this order in Warsaw.
How beneficial these letters were is difficult to determine on the sole basis of documents. They probably helped for a short while and later were covered in obscurity. Therefore there were often repeated efforts to acquire new letters from the Pope and the ranking clergy of the church. Thus we know that when Pope Benedict the 14th in 1751 wrote his infamous letter, and the Polish Bishops, Shebmek and Kobilski, on that basis began to cruelly persecute the Jews. Then too a delegation was sent to Rome and succeeded in influencing the Pope to order his delegate in Warsaw to investigate the matter.
Who were the Jews who stayed in Rome at these times and what were the methods the Jews used? The primary sources, both the Jewish and Christians are silent on these questions. From secondary sources we learnt about this Jewish lobby in Rome, that after the Blood Libel trial in Viterbo (in 1705) a document in Italian and Latin defending the Jews was printed in the Pope's printing house by Rabbi Korkus with legal annotations by the lawyer Alberti. The lobbying Jews tried very hard to obtain these printed documents and to reprint them for the Polish Jews, but it appears that all their work was in vain and they could not obtain even a single copy of these documents. Only later a lone individual, Chayim of Lublin, (descendent of the Alseich family) was successful in getting a copy of these documents. Chayim of Lublin's uncle or cousin was one of the martyrs of Zolmir (Cf. Wolf, 1712) and therefore he took upon himself to obtain the document that vindicated the Jews of the Blood Libel. As he tells us himself, he left his store in Lublin, went to Rome and there he was successful in obtaining the aforementioned documents (for which he paid a very high price) and also the right to translate them and reprint them and indeed, he published them later, in the printing house of Fuerth in Yiddish under the name Israel's Salvation, taken from the title of Menashe Ben Israel's book.
Whether the Jews of Poland knew about these documents when they sent the above mentioned Rabbi Elyakim to Rome is hard to know, (Rabbi Emden mentions them in the book Shimush in the section Resen Maseh) because the publication date is missing from the title page. Even if the Jews had known about the documents, they did not bring the expected results about which Chaim from Lublin wrote in his introduction to these documents. Rabbi Elyakim, son of Rabbi Asher Zelig from Yampol, had to start the job from the beginning and look for ways and means in which to approach the influential cardinals and bring their attention to the problem of the Jews. For this much money was needed.
The Council of the Lands had assigned for him only a small sum, and probably told him to try to get money in Italy. Indeed it was for a good reason that Rabbi Elyakim was called the representative of the all merciful G-d messenger and of the Four States. A written decision concerning this matter was not found in the archives of the council and apparently never existed, a predicament that caused poor Rabbi Elyakim a lot of trouble and grief.
We do not know the route that Rabbi Elyakim took. We can assume that he made his way through Vienna and Venice and soon enough we find him in Mantua where he gets acquainted with a Jew named Notta and begins to receive money for his goal. It is not known if this Noson or Notta gave Rabbi Elyakim the money as a personal loan to him or if Notta believed that the Four Lands Council would reimburse him, but after a few years Rabbi Elyakim's debt to Notta grew to the amount of 3046 dukats. Notta's patience did not last any longer and with Rabbi Elyakim he turned to the council demanding the reimbursement of his considerable sum of money.
In the meantime Rabbi Elyakim drew on this source, and thanks to this money and with the help of the Rabbis and the Elders of the congregations in Italy (especially in Rome) Rabbi Elyakim was successful in appearing before the papal council.
In Rome, he received much help from the chief rabbi, Rabbi Shabbetai Fiani, who took time away from his many tasks for the sake of his brethren in Poland. From Rome, Rabbi Elyakim prepared a written appeal directed to the Rabbis and communities throughout Italy in which he described his situation and the condition of his oppressed brethren in Poland.
In our hands are found two copies of this manifesto, to Alexandria of Italy and to Kassali. In them we read: To you distinguished people, I call loudly You have known all the grief and troubles that found us since our exile among the Christians, who said that we, G-d forbid, are in need of blood and with G-d's mercy for His people, He enlightened the eyes of the Christians - who realized that they had been told a lie about us - but in our area, in Poland this false accusation remains and every once in a while it surfaces again when someone is found dead, and this causes pogroms afflicted on Jewish homes and the spilling of innocent Jewish blood is on the rise
One of the Rabbis, Rabbi Elyahu, son of Rabbi Rafael Shlomo from Alexandria, answered Rabbi Elyakim at length and informed him that he knew Cardinal Kovalkini's relatives who used to live in Tortone, and through them he would try to get a letter of recommendation for Rabbi Elyakim and his concerns.
Thanks to his efforts, he succeeded in gaining the attention of Pope Benedict the 14th (who had already, once before, ordered an investigation against Bishop Kobilski, as a result of the Jews' complaints.) He turned over the Yampol matter into the hands of Cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli (who later became Pope) in order for him to investigate fully the matter and report before the above mentioned committee. Cardinal Ganganelli hurried to investigate the Jews' complaints and their request, and not only those of the Jews of Yampol but also those of the Jews of Zhitomir and others (from the 1753 trial) that had been put in the archive years before, and already on the 21st of March 1758 he reported and stated his opinion about the whole matter in front of the council. The council accepted Cardinal Ganganelli's findings and sent a letter to the Pope's representative in Warsaw, Mr. Visconti, asking him to investigate the Bishop Soltic of Kiev, Bishop Volovitch of Brisk and Lutzk and also the Jews, residents of the places in which the trials took place.
Thus resurfaced the subject of Zhitomir, and the two Bishops already mentioned were greatly embarrassed as a result of the new trial in Yampol. This time Rome became involved in the matter wishing to investigate the matter itself, especially concerning Saltic, since the rumors that reached Rome about him were very bad.
In this way there came to an end the painful matter of the Blood Libel in Yampol, which had caused a big storm all over the world in all places where oppressed Jews live.
- A -I remember you, you good, old man
On every Shabbat eve, afternoon,
When mother, bless her memory, took the white loaves
Out of the glowing oven - you appeared
Heavily laden with a sack full of white fragrant Challot.
We, the youngsters kept ourselves distanced from you
May the dead rest where they lay
You were treated kindly by Chevra Kadisha
Not even a single housewife
Did you not appear as a messenger, an envoy
I still remember, old man, how your bleary eyes
- B -And at the end of Sabbath, with darkness a funeral -
Through the window we peered, afraid
These are Chevra Kadisha
At the head of the bearers of the bed marches the hatter
He pulls out of his pocket a fistful of nuts
The stock has ended, and the group is demanding,
On the left, holding the pole of the bed
A merchant in flax, linen and wool, endowed with sons and daughters,
Her heart chosen, an albino young man,
And the wise of the township devour every word,
Even Reb Yossel - the grandson of the Dayan
The third is Yossele, the tinker
The fourth at the front, Reb Israeli Feivishes,
In the meantime the grave digger, Reb Isaac the Saddler
- C -Do you remember, old man, the Keeper,
The gloomy days of autumn?
When the sun glides and hurries
To set in the west far away, far away
Beyond the chalk hills
And you, poor man shivering, observe from afar
The congregation of Jewish visitors
Men and women in the house of the living!
And here some woman, bitter of heart, kneeling
And you, the dumb one, the bewildered,
- D -This cemetery is surrounded by a live fence
And is barred with a lock.
Only in the month of Elul
Its gates are opened,
Gates of mercy,
And the righteous - and ordinary Jews,
From near and afar,
Come to prostrate
On the graves of the pious
To ask on their account
For mercy and life
Sometimes you pass and cross
You spread your arms
Bewitched from the sight before your eyes
Only a bit here, a snippet there,
A little further away arises a young oak,
- E -Hear, my old man, faithful and dear
In the cemetery of the Jews !!!!
Lend an ear and hark well
From always until today
You tied your existence, your fate
With the dwellers of the soil
In the long years of your service
You learned that there is contact and co-operation of visits
Between the living and the dead.
The living arrange visits en masse
In the Fall - the month of Elul
And the sleepers in the soil return the visits
Up high, not in large groups, and not at a regular season,
But singly, and in a dream .
Tell me if you can remember
Only a deep sigh of sorrow,
And when, tell me, did the accord disappear
I, the enlightened, who suckled the culture of Europe,
- F -Tell me, oh Keeper, after all, most of your days
You spent among the dead, the dwellers of the earth,
And their whispers, from the silence of their grave,
Were cast into your ears as the utterance of lips.
Do you still hear in the middle of the night
A grumble rising from the outskirts of the Yampol ruins,
Why, for what reason, alas!
Did they not bring us to the graves of our fathers?
- G -How does the destroyed town look?
I remember it, the poor robbed place,
An island, an ellipse between Goryn the river
Its source the tributary on the steep slope.
It stands opposite my minds eye,
May it be remembered for good, the group of river meadows
From these river meadows
- H -And the self same vandals,
The children of hell,
The seed of abomination,
A dastardly race
Desecrators of holy,
Purveyors of poison,
Sowers of death,
Hissed by the wildness of the Ukraine,
To be provided with false witness,
To imbibe our blood, the blood of the pure
And to share out the booty,
Your sword was not sharpened
It was not pulled from its sheath,
To hand it to the murderer,
To destroy souls so fast,
You encompassed us with deception and lies,
With a belt of destruction death and despair,
You sowed around us
Fears and dread of death,
Before you murdered us,
You widened and deepened your crimes,
Crimes of hell,
You played with us a game of blood,
Insolent and criminal.
You slowed down our death throes,
- I -Have you seen, dear Keeper what they have perpetrated,
The wicked, the unclean?
Have you seen the convulsion of bodies
The encrusted blood of the holy, the slain?
Who were burnt alive, killed and destroyed
Though no evil was done by them?
Tell me please, faithful guard!
The town Yampol is well know through its great and famous tsaddikim who achieved a reputation as leaders of the Chassidic movement, each in his generation. This author, who was born in the nearby town of Ostra, and whose grandfather, the tsaddik Rabbi Yaakov-Yosef, Zecher Tsaddik Livracha (may his righteous memory be blessed) found his final resting place in the town of Yampol, heard in his childhood many stories about both the revealed and the hidden tzaddikim of Yampol, and particularly about Rabbi Yechiel Michal, may his memory be blessed, and his son Rabbi Yosef of Yampol who dwelled there for many years.
After his marriage, Rabbi Michal became a preacher (maggid) in the small town Brusilov, and made a living from the one cow that he had. When his family grew and this was not sufficient for his livelihood, his teacher, the Ba'al Shem Tov, suggested to him that he accept a rabbinical position in a certain city, but because of his extreme modesty, he did not accept the offer. The Ba'al Shem Tov insisted and told him that he would lose his portion in the world [to come] if he continued to refuse, but Rabbi Yechiel Michal replied, I would be more comfortable losing my portion in the world [to come] rather than wearing a crown which doesn't fit me.
After the Ba'al Shem Tov passed away, Rabbi Yechiel Michal attached himself to the great Maggid Rabbi Dov-Ber of Mezritch, the disciple and spiritual heir of the Ba'al Shem Tov. By that time he had already been living in Zloczow and very soon after moved to Yampol and became very well known.
Chassidim tell that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel of Apt used to come every once in a while to Yampol to his friend Rabbi Yechiel Michal who, as is well known, was very poor and did not want to derive pleasure from this world. Rabbi Yechiel Michal was also a Torah scholar, spending all his days at home studying the Torah and in religious devotion, whereas Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel would wander from place to place. Once when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel came to see his friend Rabbi Yechiel Michal and saw the poverty in which he lived his life, he asked him why he was not willing to visit his followers from time to time, and thus would have a comfortable income. And how is it with you? asked Rabbi Yechiel Michal. Not only do I have enough for my sustenance, I even have silver and gold dishes answered Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel from Apt. Well then answered Rabbi Yechiel Michal, I would rather sit at my home while the gold and silver is elsewhere than wander from place to place while the gold and silver in my home.
Although Rabbi Yechiel Michal had many disciples from near and far, and he spread chassidism among the masses of the Jews, he aroused the anger of the Mitnagdim (opposers of chassidism) who were strong in Zloczow and he was forced to move from Zloczow, becoming a maggid in Yampol which was then a town full of Torah and piety and whose rabbi was then the famous scholar and author of the Noda BiYehuda, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau.
The Mitnagdim (opposers) reached him there too, and wrote hateful letters about him to the Rabbi of Yampol, the Noda BiYehuda, saying that he, Rabbi Yechiel Michal, did not pray on time and made light of many mitzvot. But Rabbi Yechiel Michal's colleague, the Gaon, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, author of the Talmudic commentary Hafla'ah, wrote a personal letter to the town's Rabbi in which he defended Rabbi Yechiel Michal and said that all his deeds are for G-d's sake. As a result, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau ordered that he was not to be bothered and was to be allowed to worship G-d as he saw fit. Only then did the dispute quieten down.
As it is known, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau left the town of Yampol in 5515 (1755) and went to Prague to officiate in that honorable position. Thus we can conclude that Rabbi Yechiel Michal resided in Yampol for more than 30 years till he died there in 5546 (1785).
The name of Rabbi Yechiel Michal's only daughter was Yentl and the Tzaddikim of that era said that she was inspired with Ruach Hakodesh (the spirit of G-d). Chassidim would recall that a few times during her work in the kitchen or at home she stopped working and jumped three times saying Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh! When asked why she did this she said that she had heard angels arranging the kedusha in front of G-d and together with them she said Kadosh.
Concerning her match, it was told that when she was eleven years old, her mother, the Rebbetsin, went to her husband Rabbi Yechiel Michal and told him that their only daughter had come of marriageable age and it was necessary to pray for the proper match for her. Her husband answered that G-d, blessed be He, would undoubtedly bring to their home the appropriate match.
Among Rabbi Yechiel Michal's pupils was Rabbi David, the Maggid of Stepan, a man who was one of the brilliant pupils of the great maggid Rabbi Dov Ber from Mezeritch. After his mentor passed away, Rabbi David turned to Yampol to be Rabbi Yechiel Michal's disciple. Rabbi David used to walk from Stepan, in Volhyn, to his Rabbi. One day as he approached Yampol, a messenger from Rabbi Yechiel Michal came to him and told that his Rabbi was waiting for him and that he should go straight to him.
When he reached town, Rabbi David did not go to his usual hostel, but rather turned immediately to his Rabbi's house to know why the latter summoned him with such urgency. Rabbi Yechiel Michal explained to him explicitly that he saw him as his only daughter's match and he asked him to be his son-in-law. Upon hearing these words Rabbi David was astonished since he was already forty years old and his first wife who had died, had left him with four young children, and he knew that his Rabbi's daughter was still very young. However he immediately recovered and said that if his Rabbi chose him to be a husband to his daughter, he would certainly agree.
Then, Rabbi Yechiel Michal called his wife to his room and pointing at Rabbi David, he said This is our daughter's mate. The Rebbetzen almost fainted out of fear that such an old man, who had young children, was to be their young daughter's husband. But Rabbi Yechiel Michal spoke to her softly saying You know what? We will call the girl and ask her. She will know if he is the right partner for her or not. To this the Rebbetzen agreed. They called their daughter who looked at the man and immediately said Yes.
From the marriage of Yentl, Rabbi Yechiel Michal's only daughter, to Rabbi David, the preacher from Stepan, were born a few sons and daughters among them: Rabbi Israel-Dov, the young maggid of Stepan, and Rabbi Yechiel Michal Pitchnik (this author's grandfather), who founded the Chassidic dynasty of the Volhynian town of Brezna (Berezno.)
All the Mitzvot are given in the Torah as commandments except for Humility that is mentioned as praise to Moshe Rabeynu, because real humility is when a person really feels that he is small and lowly and he does something just because it is a mitzvah.
Whoever G-d loves He will reprimand (Proverbs 3, 12) can also be read Whoever who loves G-d will reprimand Him for not redeeming His children (the Jews) from being in exile for such a long time.
With regard to his reason for being late with his prayers Rabbi Yechiel Michal used to say: The tribe of Dan walked last because they were the rear guard of all the camps and they picked up all the things that the ones walking in front of them had lost and brought them back to their owners. So also I am praying last and I am gathering all the lost and abandoned prayers and am raising them back to the source.
Tzaddikim do not have any rest either in this world or in the world to come [Psikta Zutrasi], this is because only something which requires exertion is relevant to fatigue and rest, but the righteous who worship G-d do not get tired and therefore need no rest.
I stand between G-d and you [Deut. 5, 5], whoever has pride and thus is in the category of I, this stands between G-d and himself, creating a barrier that stands between him and his Father in heaven.
I never needed anything which I did not yet have, said Rabbi Yechiel Michal, because as long as I did not have it, I knew that apparently I did not need it.
There are two kinds of worship. One with Torah [study], prayer and the fear of G-d, and one with [worship through] material matters. But first it is necessary to start with Torah and with worshipping G-d spiritually, and through this to suppress the evil inclination, then one is permitted to start the worship of G-d even through the mundane.
Thou shalt be Holy because I am Holy [Lev. 19,2.] On this our sages commented [Medrash rabbah] `Because I am Holy', My holiness is above your holiness and Rabbi Yechiel Michal said these enigmatic words, 'who doesn't know that G-d's holiness is higher?' But the meaning is My Holiness above - the holiness of G-d above - is from your holiness, - according to how you sanctify Me below - as it is written Give strength to G-d! [Psalms 68, 35].
A few examples of his religious counsels:
a) Be careful not to embarrass even a person known to be wicked.
b) Be careful to go to sleep wearing tsitsit and not too much clothing.
c) Be careful of studying the Agada (homiletic passages in Rabbinic literature) or the Zohar (the book of Cabbalah) prior to going to sleep.
d) Be careful to avoid gossip, slander, mockery, lies and useless talk.
e) Stay as far away as possible from anger and melancholy.
f) Pray from the Siddur [and not by heart], facing the wall and with full Kavanah (devotion).
g) Be careful to answer Amen. Yehei shmei rabah [Let His great name be blessed (During the Kaddish)] with all your might and kavanah.
h) Be careful not to talk in the synagogue, especially when the congregation is praying.
i) Be careful to avoid desecrating the Sabbath even through speech.
The Chassidim also used to say that Rabbi Yechiel Michal was very careful about three things:
He never warmed up near the stove because this causes a person to be lazy.
He never scratched or rubbed his body because this brings about the degeneration of the body.
He never bent his head down to eat, but rather raised the food to his mouth.
He said that whoever can be careful about these things, this is a clear sign that he is a descendent of King David's royal family.
He knew then that his end was near and he began to advise his family of his will. On that same day during the third meal (se'uda shlishit) he walked back and forth and said loudly: It was in this [revelation of Divine] will that Moses departed from the world [Zohar Yisro 88b] and he (Rabbi Yechiel Michal) left this world.
The Tzaddikim of his time told that at the time of his death the celestial court called out and declared that the greatest Tzaddik of the generation had passed away and that all the Tzaddikim would go to meet him, and the Ba'al Shem Tov and all his disciples came out to welcome him with love and affection. May the memory of the Tzaddik be a blessing. He is buried in the city of Yampol.
Rabbi Yosef was a friendly man who liked every Jew as himself. I heard about many Chassidic Rabbis who used to go in the month of Elul to Yampol in order to visit Rabbi Yossel's grave. Rabbi Yossef also had a pleasant voice and his prayers were fiery.
In the famous Kether Shem Tov (Crown of a Good Name, an anthology of the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov) the miraculous story is told of how on the day of the passing of the pious Rabbi Yechiel Michal, Rabbi Yossef, his son, suddenly fell ill because an accusation had been aroused against him in heaven claiming that his prayers were not entirely motivated for the sake of G-d. Then he heard in his dream an announcer saying Go all you righteous souls to welcome the holy Rabbi, Rabbi Yechiel Michal from Zloczow. Rabbi Yossef saw how all the righteous headed by Rabbi Yisroel the Ba'al Shem Tov met with his father and he heard his father saying to the Ba'al Shem Tov: My son, Yossef, is standing now before the court in heaven. The Ba'al Shem Tov went and stood before the celestial court and said: What do you have against my dear Yossef?
The prosecutor says that his praying is not pure? I tell you, let him pray in front of you and you'll see his prayer.
Later the Ba'al Shem Tov turned to Rabbi Yossef and said Yossef, my son, pray before the Creator and He will help you. Rabbi Yossef started to pray with tremendous enthusiasm, and as a result he started to sweat and he woke up, recovered and lived. All this is in the book Kether Shem Tov quoting Nethiv Mitzvotecha, - And still in our days one could see on the lectern in the synagogue in Yampol an antique tablecloth full of Rabbi Yossef's tears, the ones he shed during his enthusiastic praying, full of spirit and longing. The Gabaim (officers of the synagogue) were afraid to remove the tablecloth that absorbed the sighs and tears of this pious man to exchange it for another one.
And in the book The Noda BiYehuda and his teachings (the new revised edition published by Mosad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem 1962) written by Rabbi A.L.Gellman, a native of Yampol, the following is told about Rabbi Yossef of Yampol (chapter I, page 2): The author of the Noda Biyehuda mentions him in his book Tslach [an acronym for Tsiun Lenefesh Chaya] (tractate Betza Chapter I page 5b) for more than forty years ago the great sharpwitted rabbi, Rabbi Yossef of the holy community of Yampol posed the following question .
Besides his greatness in the Torah and Chassidism, he was also a religious philosopher, an expert in The Guide to the Perplexed and other religious philosophical works. Rabbi Itzhak Ber Levinson (RIBA'L), author of Beth Yehuda, Teuda BeYisroel, Zerubavel, Efes Damim, etc., lived in Yampol for three years during Rabbi Yossef's lifetime and afterwards moved to Kremenetz. As is well known, Rabbi Itzak Bar Levinson was one of the strong opposers of Chassidism. Only once did he visit Rabbi Yossef, when he and a friend of his did not understand one of the articles in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed. When they came to him and set forth their difficulty, he provided a satisfactory solution. RIBA'L then said that he regretted that he had not visited Rabbi Yossef before.
Rabbi Yossef served as the Chassidic Leader in the town of Yampol for over twenty five years. He died there with a good reputation in 1812, and was buried near his father's grave, in the old cemetery in the town of Yampol.
According to the stories of the Chassidim, Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef often expressed his wish to be buried near the graves of the righteous Rabbi Yechiel Michal and his son Rabbi Yossef, in Yampol. In 5509 , he went to spend the Sabbath in the town of Yampol and there, suddenly he died, on Friday the 23rd of Tammuz, close to noon time. The journey from Yampol to Ostra takes about six hours of travelling. Messengers were sent to bring his kittel (white surplice worn on High Holidays and in which a man is buried) from Ostra and a miracle happened to them. They experienced a miraculous shortening of the journey and were able to go and return with his kittel, and there was still time to arrange for the funeral and return from the cemetery before the Sabbath arrived.
The Chassidim of Ostra, of whom there were many in Yampol and who had their own Beit Medrash [synagogue and study hall] there, were known to be sharpwitted and learned people who also liked to drink and spend time in Chassidic gatherings. It was said that they had in them a Volhynian version of Kotzk Chassidism. This Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef, who was buried honorably in Yampol, created the popular Chassidic movement of Ostra and his fame and good name spread throughout the region.
Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef was always preaching in praise of the Jewish people and their redemption from the hands of foreign people. He would explain the words of our sages, There is no difference between this world and the days of the Messiah except the oppression of Israel by kingdoms (Talmud Berachot 34), that before the arrival of the Messiah will come the 'days of the Messiah' and in these days, Israel will get back their kingdom and they will not be oppressed by foreign kingdoms and only after living an independent life will they be prepared to welcome the Messiah.
Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef explained this in a parable which was nice and to the point: There was a poor porter who worked very hard all winter in order to prepare himself for the many expenses of Passover. He saved of his daily bread and even rented himself out as a nightwatchman. He worked day and night non-stop. Even on the eve of the holiday he was occupied and busy, bringing in all that was needed for the holiday till close to the evening when he still managed to run to the mikvah and afterwards get to the synagogue to pray. When he returned home, he was happy to see that everything was ready and at hand for him for the Seder and he went and sat on the reclining couch and made the blessing over the wine. As soon as he drank the glass of wine, the fatigue of all his winter work descended on him and he fell asleep and slumbered. His wife tried to wake him up pleading, 'You worked and labored so hard all the time in order to reach these happy moments when the whole family is reclining around the Seder table. How can you let all your labor be in vain?' However he was not able to hear her because of his great weariness and their joy was interrupted. It is the same way with our depressed and oppressed people, said Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef. We are very tired of the exile and the oppression and if the Messiah will come all of a sudden, we will not be able to welcome him and accept all the goodness. We will fall into a deep sleep and all will be in vain.
Therefore, it is necessary to get rid of all the oppression of the foreign kingdoms and to emigrate to Zion joyfully, to live a full life with each person under his own vine and fig-tree, and then we will be able to welcome the Messiah the proper way.
Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef would speak harshly against the rule of the Czar in Russia, for he passed evil decrees upon Israel. He used to say that in heaven they had already thrown the ruler of Russia off his throne and he had no hope of returning to rule. However just as a big wheel that is being pushed keeps on rolling for a while, so the regime of the wicked Czar will continue a little longer as a result of the push that it received when it was thrown down.
Now we see that his prediction came true, but then when his words reached the authorities, an order was issued to arrest Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef and two other famous Tsaddikim, Rabbi Israel of Rizhin and Rabbi Abraham of Trisk, who had also spoken harshly against the wicked ruling authorities. Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef sat in prison for more than half a year until his Chassidic followers and his admirers succeeded in setting him free.
In my childhood, at the home of my maternal grandfather Tzaddik Rabbi Alteroni, the grandson of Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef, in Ostra, I heard from an elderly Chassid who had known Rabbi Yaakov Yossef and was his follower, that once, on Rosh Hashana before the blowing of the Shofar Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef remained in his room for a longer time than usual. Afterwards he came into the synagogue, went up to the bima and began with these words: Gentlemen! I'll tell you a story. In my house there was a custom to buy every day a pennyworth of sweets for the children, and because there were nine children and only enough sweets for eight, they used to say to the oldest boy Getzel (Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef's eldest son, Rabbi Elyakim Getzel, who inherited his place) who was a very wise boy, You are wise enough to know that your father cannot spend any more money for sweets, therefore you should forgo your share. Since they repeated this chorus every day, this oldest son (Rabbi Elyakim Getzel) came once into my room, burst out crying and said to me 'What sin did I commit that I am wise? It is worthwhile to be stupid once, and get my share!' Then Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef broke into tears, repeated these last words his son said and began Lamenatzeach [psalm 47, which is recited before blowing the Shofar]
Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef's last name was Sfarad and it was said that there is a family tradition that they were descendants of the exiled Jews of Spain, and thirteen generations after them, up to Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef, were possessed of divine inspiration.
One year a rumor spread throughout the Jewish world, attributed to the Tzaddikim of the generation, that according to all the signs, that year was the year the Messiah would come. Rabbi Leib then would wear his festive Sabbath clothes every day and stand at the door of his workshop awaiting the coming of the herald's voice, so that he could take his carriage and go to greet the Messiah.
When the year passed and the Messiah had not come, Rabbi Leib took apart the carriage and closed his workshop. He then joined his forefathers, departing from life in this world. They buried him near the wall of the structure over Rabbi Yaakov Yossef's grave.
A few other righteous rabbis found their last resting place in Yampol. Among them were Rabbi Yechiel Michal of Szhumsk, Rabbi Meir, the grandson of Rabbi Yaakov-Yossef of Ostra, and others from the family of Rabbi Yechiel Michael of Zloczow. The old cemetery in Yampol, as well as the new cemetery, were full of tombstones of great and holy rabbis. Now though, with Yampol in the hands of the Soviets, and after experiencing the wave of conquest and occupation by the Nazis, may their name be blotted out, and the total destruction and extermination of the Jewish population there, who knows if the markers and the tombstones of the great righteous and learned rabbis of Yampol are still there, the rabbis who shed great light in the Jewish world over many generations. May their memory be blessed.
|Dear son, you ask: What is a town?
And why, mother, do you speak this word with trembling and fear?
And why do you have these pearls of tears beneath your eyes?
And why, tell me mother, has your face changed?
Because the town, the town already belongs to the past -
Only a warm drop of it remains in my heart
And as a wonderful dream it floats up in my memory,
This why I suffer, and tremble with tears my son!
A weekday in the town, how much holiness it absorbed
Here rise and shown as in an exhibition
A small alleyway meanders around it easily and gaily
And to Rabbi Yosef the Blind (they say he is a hidden saint)
*From a long poem in the journal Bait Yaakov.
Soon the ear will hear the dull echo of footsteps,
A third picture, not clear, they covered it with mist
He was the first to break out and rise from the alley.
And when the sun later rose to shine on the Earth,
Even from there it occasionally sent a shining pearl,
And many more pictures, more and more,
'Habakuk came and pitched them [the Mitzvot] all on one foundation the righteous shall live by his faith (Habakuk 2,4) (end of tractate Makkos 24a.)
In a similar manner the Rosh [Rabbenu Asher] explains the halachic principle of kol d'alim gvar [the stronger shall overcome, i.e. when two litigants come before a court with an article being held by both of them and both claim possession, the halacha is that whoever is strong enough to physically wrest the article away from his opponent takes possession of it.] The Rosh writes: Don't imagine that our Holy Torah, all of whose ways are pleasant [Proverbs 3,17] would give preference to the power of the fist, and declare it victorious in judgement. The truth is that this law of kol d'alim gvar is a special concept which derives from the human and ethical 'spring' which is imprinted upon the noble soul of Man which comes from a Holy source. The implication is that when an evil person rises against you to rob you and steal that which is yours, which you have toiled for with the sweat of your brow, then even if he is apparently stronger than you, you will battle with him with all your soul and muster up all your strength, conscious and unconscious, the revealed and the hidden, that known to you and that unknown even to you, and eventually you will be able to overcome brute strength and emerge victorious. This is true both of individuals and of nations.
But there is faith and there is faith. Some believe outwardly, others believe inwardly. There are those whose faith is superficial. He believes as if he believes, but his faith is only lip service, 'the mitzvah of people who learned by rote' [Isaiah 29, 13.] The prophet says: the righteous shall live by his faith [Habakuk 2,4.] This means that his own faith shall be his faith, which springs forth from the depths of his soul. There are nations, great and small, who declared their faith before all, and sang its praise without relent, but they did not withstand the trial when put to the test, and one day rose and threw it out from before them as an unwanted utensil and exchanged it for another and clove to the other.
Not so the portion of Jacob! The Jewish religion is the oldest on earth, and it is also the newest and the youngest. Its freshness and relevance is as the day of its birth. Even more, today it is more relevant than ever, it stands today in the open and points a finger at the place of shame of the sick, loathsome and wounded humanity. It determines both the diagnosis and the prognosis, and points to both the place of shame and the place of recovery. As the Ba'al Shem Tov interpreted the words of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi in Avoth ch. VI Every day a Heavenly voice goes forth from Mount Horeb proclaiming 'Woe to humanity for the disgrace of the Torah.' The Ba'al Shem Tov explains: the 'Woe' the sickness and the loathsomeness, the destruction and the annihilation, which have come upon humanity, their source is the disgrace of the Torah. They ignored the voice of the Torah, they have disobeyed the seven Mitzvot which were commanded to all the children of Noah. They have not shaken off the coarse dust of idolatry and their other abominations. And here is a clear directive on how to prepare for the coming of evil in the future.
The accursed Nazis, and with them all other evil gentiles, did not fall upon us with anger and fury and unparalleled cruel wickedness because we were weaker than them, but because we were better than them. They, the profane wicked, killed our Holy martyrs not because they propagated typhus bacteria and plagues, but because even in their crowdedness they radiated rays of light and seeds of Holiness which those profane ones could not tolerate.
They invaded attics where school children were studying Torah in choked voices. As long as that voice is heard in the world the demon Ashmadai cannot live in peace. They burnt down Jewish homes in the cities because they felt with their beastly instinct that those homes were the nest of a heritage of many generations of longing to pure life, of fear of sin and awe of Heaven, in the very loftiest sense. They commanded children to be placed before hungry dogs before their mothers' eyes because from the glance of a day old child righteousness already shone and blinded the eyes of the wicked.
Their cruel hearts exalted with pleasure at seeing human bodies dragged with iron chains from the gas chambers, because after thousands of years of superficial and counterfeit 'culture' the beast within them saw with its beastly instinct that we were a creature higher than them. For this can they not feel an eternal hatred and can they not avenge themselves upon us with cruel wrath? Thus we have paid with our blood and souls a high price for our advantage and splendor.
I stood before this Mount Moriah which is more sacred than Mount Sinai since on it Jews stretched out their necks went upon the flaming altar to die at Echod a martyr's death. I was in several of the cities of death and I saw and heard the song of wrath of the victors and of the vanquished. Sometimes I close my eyes and I see before me the picture that I saw all over Europe on rivers of blood and tears of our unfortunate nation. There stands before me an entire congregation with the rabbi at their head, some garbed in Tallitim under their coats, in front of the bunkers and pits that they dug with their own hands. And here among the groups stands an unfortunate mother. Beside her is her lovely child with golden locks. She stands upright and with a spirit of disdain toward those standing behind them, weapons in hand, standing prepared as depraved priests of idolatry ready to offer sacrifices to their idol Molech. But they are dwarves against these giants of the spirit who know and believe that from between the layers of clouds the sun will again shine, and these murderers will not succeed in reinstating the reign of darkness over the world.
Thus, with their death, they bequeathed us with lives of sanctity and purity. They upon the flames with wondrous devotion, while in their hearts burned their great faith and in their mouths was the song of the hope of complete redemption although he tarrieth I believe and await him. They were sure that we are standing not only at the end of a long period of bitter exile, but also at the edge of redemption, and if they would not merit seeing it their brothers and sisters would. They accepted upon themselves the verdict in order that through their death the entire nation would be atoned.
I believe with perfect faith that if we have been privileged, the nations of the world have recognized our right to our homeland, it is only in the merit of that tribe which was sacrificed as a burnt offering, in the merit of these martyrs who believed with perfect faith in the redemption of Israel.
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