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The Admor Rabbi Baruch of Czyzewo[1]

by Rabbi Tanchum Rubinsztajn

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

He was born in Szczuczyn [Grajewo County, Podlaski Voivodeship], a Lithuanian town filled with Misnagdim (opponents of Hassidism) who were sworn against Hassidism, in approximately the year 5557 (1787). His father was a Misnaged, the wealthy scholar Reb Yaakov Yosha Szapira. He was the grandson of the great Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Yosha, the author of “Pnei Yehoshua”[2], of blessed memory.

He studied Talmud diligently until his marriage. He received his Torah training from the Gaon of the generation, Rabbi Akiva Eiger[3] of holy blessed memory, after his marriage, when he had attained great heights in Torah and continued to study with diligence, he suffered headaches because of his great effort. The doctors advised his wealthy father that he should cease his studies in order to take a break from the depth of his concentration.

To this end, his father sent him out with a wagon laden with textiles, along with a staff of officials who would be responsible for the sales, so that Reb Baruch would be able to serve as the director and treasurer. On their return trip, Reb Baruch heard about the Tzadik Reb Yitzchak (Itzikl) of Vengrova, the student of the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin, and about his holy work. Reb Baruch immediately gave the money of the proceeds of the sales to his father's officials, and commanded them to travel to Staciunai. He himself turned towards Vengrova.

That Sabbath eve, the Tzadik of Vengrova told his wife the rebbetzin: prepare good delicacies for an honorable guest who will be coming to spend the Sabbath with us.

On Friday afternoon, the Tzadik stood on the porch of his home and waited for the arrival of the guest. When he did not appear, he sent all of the people of his household to wait for him along the way, to show

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the guest the way to his house. Approximately two hours before the onset of the Sabbath, they saw the honorable wagon plodding along the way, and inside there was a fine young man wearing the clothing of wealthy people. His appearance exuded honor and glory. This was Reb Baruch, who was looking for the Beis Midrash of the Tzadik.

That entire Sabbath, the guest did not move from the side of the Tzadik. He was drawn to him with bonds of love and enchantment. On Sunday Reb Baruch wrote a letter to his parents informing them that he was very happy that he found the true means of service of the Creator, and that he intended to spend several weeks in the home of his new rabbi, in order to investigate the ways of service, and to study from his generous character traits that were imparted to him by his Rebbe the Chozeh of Lublin[4] of holy blessed memory.

Upon reading this letter, Reb Yaakov Yosha arose and said to his wife: “Sura, we should certainly sit in mourning for our son Baruch, who has gone out into a bad crowd and has become attracted to the Hassidic sect.”

As time went on, the home of the Tzadik became more and more endearing to the young man. He sent letters to his parents, waxing in great praise of his Rebbe, until he succeeded in convincing his father that this was the true path that G-d has chosen. Not only this, but he also spoke in an honorable fashion regarding the son of his Rebbe, Tovia Yechiel, and his younger sister Gitka Szapira. The matter had come from G-d[5], and the match was completed successfully. From that time, the Szapira family became a venerable Hassidic family.

At the urging of his Rebbe, Reb Baruch traveled to dwell under the shadow of the Tzadik Reb Yosef of Zhidachov, the son of the Chozeh. After the death of Reb Yosef in the year 5558 (1788), Reb Baruch moved along with his friend Reb Hirsch of Parchowo (who was

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the prayer leader and the student of the Zhidachover) to the Beis Midrash of Reb Simcha Bunim of Przysucha (Pshischa).

As they entered the anteroom next to the inside chamber of the Rebbe, the two young men were first examined by the group of students of the Rebbe, Reb Bunim, to see if they are fitting to enter into the internal holy chamber.

As they began to pEsther them with challenges in order to examine them and determine their worth, the Rebbe sensed this, went out to his students, and called out: “Leave them and do not bother them, for they come from a good cheder, and there is no need to examine them.” (Ohr Simcha, page 12, paragraph 18.)

In the Beis Midrash of Przysucha, Rabbi Baruch found his fitting place. He continued studying with great diligence and energy, with asceticism and holiness. His Rebbe loved him very much.

When his Rebbe asked him if he has a good place to stay, Reb Baruch answered: “Whoever does not take up any place is not short of a place, and any place is a good place for him.” (Siach Sarfei Kodesh, part one, paragraph 207.)

As has been pointed out, Rev Baruch was the son of wealthy parents, and he supported several of the students of the Przysucha Beis Midrash from his own pocket. He even provided three rubles per week to his friend Rev Mordechai Yosef of Izbica.

The Hassidim related: Once, Rev Baruch went to immerse himself in the river. His friends took his shoes and silk socks, and sold them in order to purchase drinks. Reb Baruch was forced to return from the river barefoot, and he was very distraught about his pitiful walk. When the rebbetzin found out about this, she went to her husband the Rebbe Reb Bunim and said to him: “We have such an honorable and noble young man with us, why did they disgrace him so that he had to walk barefoot through the streets of the city?” Reb Bunim asked: “Who is it that played this trick on him?” She answered: “The Izbicer”. He immediately decreed upon him that he must leave the Beis Midrash. After a little while, the veteran students entered, headed by Reb Menachem Mendel of Tomaszow, in order to assuage their Rebbe and intercede with him to permit the Izbicer back in the Beis Midrash. The Rebbe answered them: “Go and see if he has already passed the tax checkpoint outside the city, and if he did, do not bring him back.

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If he did not, bring him back, for he is one of us.”

It is said that Reb Mordechai Yosef had already passed the tax checkpoint, but his friends, headed by Reb Menachem Mendel, brought him back and did not say anything.

Much later, when Reb Mordechai Yosef rebelled against his Rebbe, set up his own pulpit in his Beis Midrash in Izbica, and attracted several hundred Hassidim of Kock to him, Reb Mendel's friends said to him: “This happened because we did not listen to the recommendation of the Rebbe of Przysucha. (Heard orally.)

Reb Baruch was very exacting in the observance of the commandments, and he was very careful about fulfilling each and every paragraph in the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch). Because of this, they used to call him “The pious one” (“Der Frumer”). In Reb Bunim's old age, when he was ill and had to eat soaked matzo on Passover[6], he commanded to distribute his leftovers to Reb Baruch [7]. Because he was so “pious”, he would stumble with the leftovers of soaked matzo.

Reb Baruch used to say in a clear fashion: “All types of ill luck are attributed to a 'pious one'. We find in the Torah regarding the law of the Nazirite (Numbers 6, 9): 'If a person dies in his presence in a sudden fashion, and renders his naziriteship unclean”, it cancels all of the time that he has spent in his period of naziriteship, and he must start from the beginning again. Why does the Torah not hint at such a sudden death with regards to the Cohanim (priests), who also have to guard themselves from ritual impurity (Leviticus, 21, 1)? That is because the Cohen is intelligent, and he is careful about impurity due to his holiness that stemmed from the virtue of his birth, and therefore no mishap would come upon him. But since the Nazirite accepted upon himself additional restrictions, and forbade for himself things that are permitted due to excess piety, ill luck comes upon such a 'pious person', and sudden impurity happens upon him. (Siach Sarfei Kodesh Section 2, paragraph 17).

As a Hassid of Przysucha, who absorbed to himself all of the purity of this sharp witted Hassidism, Reb Baruch returned to his parents' home in Staciunai and conducted himself there in accordance with the Hassidism of Przysucha. He used to delay the times of prayer, and he would recite the Kiddush on the Sabbath at a late hour, after studying Zohar[8] prior to Kiddush. On one winter Sabbath, when Reb Baruch delayed the Kiddush, his father Reb Yaakov Yosha decided to go to the second floor where his son lived, in order to find out what he was occupying himself with at such a later hour, and why he was delaying the Sabbath meal. He stood behind the door

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and listened to his son reciting with trembling the verse: “She is dressed in strength and splendor, and laughs at the time to come”[9]. These words were recited with enthusiasm and holy awe, as he repeated and stressed to himself the words “and laughs at the time to come”[10]. The father trembled from the soulful devotion of his son the Hassid. He returned, and told his wife: “To a Shalom Aleichem prayer such as this, the Ministering Angels are content to wait even until midnight… (From the elderly Hassid Reb Mordechai Bialistocki of blessed memory, the son-in-law of Reb Zusha Szapira, the son of Reb Baruch).

Reb Baruch was numbered among the most important and faithful of the students of the Beis Midrash of the Rebbe of Kock. When he took leave of Kock to return to Staciunai, the Rebbe said to him: “The Besht[11] came to instill service of the heart in the Jewish people, so that fear of Heaven should not be 'like the commandments of men, performed by rote' (Isaiah 29,13). This style of service spread out rapidly in the areas of Podolia and Volhyn. Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk (Lezajsk), by means of your grandfather[12], succeeded in turning the hearts of the people of Galicia to holy service with us here in the country of Poland. Now it is fitting to bring the people of Lithuania to this way. Turn your heart to your task and your role. (Siach Sarfei Kodesh Section 1, paragraph 89.)”

Despite all of his subordination to the Rebbe of Kock, he also had an independent stance. When the Rebbe asked him why he does not ask his advice regarding marriage matches for his children, Reb Baruch answered that he realizes that the Rebbe does not have knowledge in matters of matchmaking. The Rebbe of Kock pointed out to him: “The Rebbe can still offer good advice.” (Siach Sarfei Kodesh Section 4, page 18.)

After the death of the Rebbe of Kock, when Rabbi Yitzchak Meir the author of the Chidushei HaRim[13] returned from the funeral and traveled to Warszawa along with hundreds of Hassidim, including veteran Hassidim of Kock such as Reb Baruch and Rabbi Avraham of Pieryszew – the Tzadik Reb Yitzchak Meir turned to Reb Baruch and said to him: “You are a man of understanding, perhaps it is worthwhile to travel to Libavitch to see if there is a place for us there?” Reb Baruch answered: “Why should I travel to another place, since I have a Rebbe here, and we can all go to him.” When the Rim continued to speak about the greatness of the rabbi from Pranszice[14] (Rabbi Chanoch of Aleksander) and pointed out that it is possible to send 20,000

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Hassidim to him, and he would lead them faithfully – Rabbi Baruch shouted: “Now is not a time of modesty. The crowd is streaming to you, and there is no other option than to receive us under your leadership. (Meir Einey Hagolah”, paragraph 473, and see also paragraph 291.)

When Reb Baruch took ill and consulted doctors, they told him to drink of the waters of Carlsbad[15] for healing. He asked the advice of the Rebbe of Gur, who opposed the drinking of the water. Rabbi Baruch asked him: “Did not you take ill with this illness many years back, and you asked the Rebbe of Kock, who agreed to the drinking of the water, and it was indeed good for you?” The Rebbe of Gur answered: “Today I am the leader, and I set the order.” Rabbi Baruch listened to the advice of the Rebbe, and it was good for him. Later, after the death of the Rim, his illness returned, and his friend Reb Ben-Zion of Ostrowa said to him that, apparently, now that the Rebbe of Gur has died, you can follow the advice of the doctors with the approval of the Rebbe of Kock. (Ibid. 524, and in Siach Sarfei Kodesh Section 3, paragraph 259.)

Reb Baruch was almost seventy years old when the Rebbe of Gur died. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to travel to the Tzadik[16] and accept his authority, even though many turned to him and asked him to lead a flock, for he was worthy to do so. In this matter, he used to conduct himself in the manner of his Rebbe, the Rebbe of Gur of holy blessed memory, who used to say the following regarding the verse (Proverbs 23, 23) “Obtain truth and do not sell it.”. Is it not obvious that if one indeed desires to acquire truth, he should not sell it? Rather, the intention is that at all times when one succeeds in acquiring truth, one should not join the sellers, but rather one should attempt to attain even more than one has (“Pillar of Truth”, 101). Already in that same year, on the 19th of Elul 5627 (1867), we find Rabbi Baruch participating in the dedication of a new synagogue in Nesvizh, and standing bowed over before the elder rabbi, Reb Yitzchak of Nesvizh, repeating over to the crowd the Torah that the rabbi said during the synagogue dedication, for on account of the great crowding, the congregation could not hear the words of the weak rabbi. (“KAhron Tov”, 12, page 1).

Rabbi Baruch was deeply influenced by the holy splendor of the Tzadik of Nesvizh, and he hastened to send a letter to Rabbi Leibele of Gur (the author of the “Sfat Emet” of holy blessed memory), of what his eyes witnessed in Nesvizh. This is the text of the letter[17]:

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“Peace to my friend, sharp and brilliant, a Hassid of a precious spirit, a man of wisdom, our teacher and rabbi Leibele, may his light shine.

My lips wish to inform you of the honorable rabbi who should live. It is impossible with human power to fathom the rabbi… For he is a wondrous man, complete, and one cannot describe him.

Aside from this, I have found no end to the wondrous Torah that I have heard from his mouth, which need not be rectified, for he is holy from the womb, for his holy father of holy blessed memory brought for him a holy garment, which did not need any effort to complete. His work is the holy work to unite unities, and to ensure good influence for the entire House of Israel, as a Tzadik who is the foundation of the world, with all its meaning.

I set my heart to find out the motivation of those who come to him, and I realize that they all found an advantage, whether because of the man whose name was renowned due to his natural manner in approaching the holy, or because of his great influence of holiness upon the masses.

People who are known by the term of Hassidim draw influence from him with love and awe, to turn away from bad and to do good, simply without any trickery.

Masses of men and women, when they saw the signs that were done by the rabbi may he live, understood and knew that G-d is sitting in judgment in the world, and the honor of Heaven is growing. Is this not the hope of Israel to enlarge the honor of the kingdom of the Blessed One upon us.

I instilled all this into my heart; I investigated and searched out during all my time there. My soul yearns to cleave to him. I will follow him, and never abandon him, with the help of the Blessed G-d. Behold you, as my friend, on behalf of the love of our elder master, the Admor of holy blessed memory, I have written these words to you, and it is worthy for you to keep this letter of mine.

The eyes of the wise are full of understanding, and they will not understand a matter and then pervert its meaning, and come to sin with their souls even with respect to the proud Tzadik.

From your friend who loves you,

Baruch Szapira”

(“Zicharon Tov”, 15, page 2).

However, he did not spend too long in Nesvizh, for the elder holy man died on the 21st of Shvat, 5628 (1868). He then returned to his home in Staciunai, and continued to stand on his guard in Torah and the worship of G-d. He did not take any benefit for himself, for

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he was very discreet. His wife Rasha Mirl took care of the home and the business. She was a woman of valor, and was very wealthy for her entire life.

Friendly relations pervaded between Rabbi Baruch and the Tzadik Reb Leibele of Gur. When his holy grandfather the Rim of Gur died, and the community turned it attention to Rebbe Henech of Aleksander who was a leader, Reb Leibele turned to Rabbi Baruch in a letter, and requested his advice: “I hereby request from your honorable holiness to give me advice, for I am left bereft of everything, and the crown of my head, my parent, teacher and Rebbe has been taken from above my head, and I am a boor who does not know what to do… I therefore turn my heart to Your Holiness that you should comfort me in a letter with appropriate advice, for you are a man of truth… Many of our associates travel to the rabbi Reb H., may his light shine (this refers to rabbi Henech), and I do not know the man and his words. He is an honorable man and a Hassid in our eyes, but we do not know of him nor have heard of him as a Rebbe or a leader of our generation, and we have also not heard the opposite…” (from “Hassidic Greats” by Rabbi Bromberg, volume 20, page 22.)

As has been stated, Rabbi Baruch returned from Nesvizh to his home, and his righteousness and holiness were declared in public. Hundreds of Hassidim of the elders of Aleksander turned to him for advice. He pushed them aside and refused to lead a community. When the venerable elder Reb Yaakov Aryeh of Radzymin died suddenly (on the 18th of Tammuz 5635 – 1875), hundreds of Hassidim of the elders of Kock appeared in Staciunai of Lithuania, and did not let up until he was forced to accept the mantle of leadership of the flock. They appeared in Staciunai prior to Rosh Hashanah and filled the entire city with Hassidim, much to the surprise of the residents, who were sworn Misnagdim. Immediately after Sukkot, the rabbi and all of his family moved to the city of Czyzewo, where the means of communication were better. There, they set up a large Hassidic courtyard, as was fitting for a Rebbe and leader of a flock. Many were saved by him, for he was a worker of omens, and known as performing acts of deliverance.

One evening, while the old rabbi was reciting the evening service in his Beis Midrash that was next to his room, his sister Gitka laid her granddaughter on the bed of the Tzadik. After the Tzadik had finished his prayers, eaten dinner, and concluded the order of his day, he approached his bed to lie down. When he noticed the girl sleeping in his bed, he shouted loudly: “Descend from my bed immediately!”.

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The girl immediately arose from the bed, and ran to her mother in tears. From that time, she was no longer paralyzed in her legs.

Rabbi Baruch took in Sivan 5637 (1877) and moved to Warszawa. There, his friends from Przysucha, the remnants of the holy comrades, came to visit him. They all expressed their reverence to him and said that they could smell the Hassidism of Przysucha, sharp and stubborn, from his entire body and soul, as it had been received from their Rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Bunim.

Rabbi Baruch returned his soul to his Creator on the 22nd of Av, 5637. He was buried in Warszawa, near the grave canopy of his friend, the Tzadik Rabbi Yaakov of Radzymin. This writer used to light an honorary candle at his candle every Friday, which would remain lit all week. The Hassidim relate that the “Sfat Emet” of holy blessed memory said: “A great merit came upon the city of Warszawa, in that the Tzadik of Czyzewo was buried there, for very few people knew his essence, and were able to appreciate the magnitude of his piety.”

Rabbi Baruch, the son of Misnagdim, left behind a righteous generation of wonderful Tzadikim and Hassidim. His eldest son Reb Natan was known as Reb Notka Pilcer, on account of the name of his father-in-law Rabbi Aryeh of Pilce (the son-in-law of Rabbi David Birenbaum, who was related by marriage to Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Siach Sarfei Kodesh section 5, page 92). He was counted among the prominent Hassidim of the Rim of Gur, and the honorable Hassidim of the Sfat Emet. After his father died,

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his Hassidim asked him to take over the running of the community, but he refused. He answered sharply: “What would be if I was a Rebbe, they would erect a canopy over my grave…” When they did not let up, and urged him greatly, he fled to a pharmacy, lifted his hat off his head and groaned: “A bareheaded Rebbe such as this you desire for yourselves?” Then they let him be.

His son Reb Zisha of Stawiski was also known as a great scholar and a wealthy merchant. All of the people around him took honor in his name. He was revered by all on account of his intelligence and righteousness.

My elder father-in-law, the Hassid and scholar Reb Yaakov Yitzchak, the grandson of Reb Chaim of Czyzewo, known as Reb Yaakov Czyzower, was known as a great Hassid. He had merited traveling with his grandfather Rabbi Baruch to Kock, and was also numbered among honorable Hassidim of the Sfat Emet of holy blessed memory. He was the scholar of the family, and his pious grandfather took great pride in him.

Rabbi Baruch left behind six sons, and all of them were Hassidim and men of deeds. This should not be surprising in our eyes, for Reb Yaakov, the pious father Reb Yaakov from Czyzewo, who was known as a veteran Misnaged; the maternal grandmother of Reb Baruch the pious woman Chava, was the sister of the holy brothers Elimelech of Lizhensk (Lezajsk) and Reb Zisha of Anipoli (Annopol), may their merit protect us.

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Translator's Footnotes

1. The footnote at the bottom of the page reads: Copied from the book “The Rabbi of Kotzk (Kock) and the Sixty Mighty Men Surrounding him.” return

2. Yaakov Yehoshua Falk (1680-1756), a famous rabbi who wrote a Talmudic commentary called Pnei Yehoshua. Like many famous rabbis, he became known by the name of his work. return
3. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1768-1838), a famous rabbi who wrote many commentaries on the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law. return
4. Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak, known as the Chozeh (Seer or Visionary) of Lublin (1745-1815), was a great Hassidic leader during the early period of Hassidism. return
5. A quote from the book of Genesis, which Bethuel said when confirming his agreement to the marriage of his daughter Rebecca to the Isaac (i.e. the match was made in Heaven). return
6. Many people have the custom on Passover of not eating matzo that is soaked in a liquid. This is not forbidden by law, but is an extra stringency observed by some. return
7. It was the custom of Hassidic Rebbes to distribute their leftover food to their disciples (as it has been blessed by the Rebbe). return
8. A section of the Kabbalah. return
9. Proverbs 31, 25, a verse from the “Aishet Chail” song chanted at the outset of the Sabbath eve meal, after the “Shalom Aleichem” song that welcomes the angels into the home. return
10. A reference to greeting the future (the World to Come or life after death) with confidence if one lives one's life properly. return
11. The acronym of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism. return
12. I am not sure to whom the grandfather refers here. return
13. The Chidushei Harim became the Rebbe of Gur (often known Ger). The official Polish name of the city is Gora Kalwaria. Gur / Ger is a major Hassidic dynasty, still prominent today. return
14. I was not able to identify the town of Prazniche. Aleksander is a Polish town, the Rebbe of which became the leader of a Hassidic dynasty. return
15. Now Karlovy-Vary in the Czech Republic. return
16. Apparently, the successor of the Rebbe of Gur. return
17. Parts of this letter are not translated literally, due to the poetic style of the letter. return

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