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Torah and Hasidism

 

Images of Torah Scholars

(Personalities chosen from among those praying at the Kommertchesky synagogue)

by Yekhezkel Goldberg

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The Scholar, Rabbi Eliezer Nitzberg, z” l

Rabbi Nitzberg, z” l, was the lion among those praying at the synagogue. He was the town rabbi and a great scholar. He was well-versed in Talmud and its interpretations. He always continued learning. When he stood at the lectern, he either read a religious book or he created new interpretations of the Torah. Every evening he used to come for prayers at the synagogue. In spite of the fact that the place was well-lit, he still used a candle.

 

 

Rabbi Nitzberg, z” l, wrote the book “Yad Eliezer” (the hand of Eliezer), published in Warsaw in 1931. It included explanations of the Shulchan Aruch. He also wrote “Divrei Eliezer” (the words of Eliezer), published in Vilna in 1911. These were new interpretations of the Shulchan Aruch. Another book by him was “Demeshek Eliezer” (from Eliezer's home) which was of high quality and full of wisdom.

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In the forward to Yad Eliezer, the scholar writes: “I will mention the good deeds of God and I will praise his goodness. I was fortunate, through his goodness, to be in this place of Torah to this day. I was able to bring new interpretations to the Torah. Our sages said: God has only four corners of Halacha. I am grateful for my part in it. I am fortunate to be in this house of learning and I hope to continue to do so as long as I am alive. The Maharsha said: fortunate is the person who came here holding a Talmud. Scholars were also called writers. I am now publishing Yad Eliezer. This is the second part and I expect that everyone who reads my book will find something useful in it. It is especially pertinent to those who teach.

Now I wish to thank God, with all my heart, that he has kept me going to this day. I pray that my writing will be well-received among the scholars. I thank him for the past success and I pray for the future. Please, God, continue to help me as you have in the past. Keep me strong so I can learn and teach and interpret the Torah. May you give me more years to continue my work so I can publish again. May he continue to lead me and not allow me to fail. We should all be lucky enough to continue to worship God and to follow the teaching of the Torah. May God always be part of our being and may we continue to do good deeds. This is also a wish for our descendants. Amen. So be it”.

Rabbi Nitzberg, z” l, died in 1935. In “Moment” of 30 January 1935 the following obituary appeared: “After much suffering, the rabbi of the congregation, Rabbi Eliezer Nitzberg, z” l, died. He was well-known in the Torah world by his publications- Demeshek Eliezer. He was born in Prozhny in 1849. At the age of 35 he wrote his first book -Demeshek Eliezer. The book was well-received among scholars. Divrei Eliezer and Torat Eliezer followed.

These books brought him to a high level of authority in the educational world. In 1911 he came to Kovel to serve as the town rabbi. He was liked and appreciated by the residents.

Rabbi Nitzberg was 86 when he died. All Jewish houses of commerce closed for his funeral. All the Jews participated. There were also rabbis from surrounding areas.

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Rabbi Yehuda Reider, z” l

Rabbi Yehuda was a prominent scholar, well-versed in the Mishna. He was tall and had been a businessman in earlier times. When he aged, he left his daily work and devoted himself, day and night, to studying in the house of learning. He was constantly involved in studying Torah. He recognized those who studied like him and he befriended those interested in doing so. He became a father to the youth who were sitting and studying in the house of learning. He used to say to them: study, my dear ones, with love. The Torah is a source of consolation in old age. Look and see: if the gates of the Talmud were closed to me- how would I spend the rest of my life?

On winter nights Rabbi Yehuda used to leave the house of learning at six o'clock and would return there at midnight. He continued studying until daybreak. None of this made him arrogant. He treated every person with respect and so he was well-liked and accepted by everyone.

 

Rabbi Pinhas (Hacohen)Weinfeld, z” l

The townspeople gave him a nickname. They called him Rabbi Pinhas Hotzels. He had vast and varied knowledge. He knew secular literature as well as he knew holy books. He had a keen mind and was highly cultured. He was well-versed in modern Hebrew literature, but he was also a solid mathematician. He was known in town as an experience bookkeeper.

He had a restless mind and was always searching and questioning. As soon as he put on his tallit, he would go to the book case to look at various books. He was an expert on Ibn-Ezra. It is well-known to all those who have read Ibn Ezra that there are some unclear and secret passages. Rabbi Pinhas could solve these issues due to the depth of his knowledge. In spite of his brilliance in all matters of Torah and his deep knowledge of Mishna, he was still a simple man.

 

Rabbi Yosef Shapira, z” l

Rabbi Yosef was a short, skinny man. He looked like a ordinary man, but he was one of the Torah greats. This small body contained amazing fountains of Torah. He was one of the greatest scholars in town. He was a stickler for accuracy in Talmud and especially in Rashi. He lived on income from his students. Some of his pupils were Yossel Shochet, son of Rabbi Velvel, z” l and the author of this article. He was an excellent pedagogue. He knew how to present complicated questions and bring them down to the student's level.

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He would explain the material in a simple and easy to understand language. Thus, no doubt remained and the complicated became easy. When his answers were similar to those of the previous interpreters, we suspected him of ignoring a specific sentence: “One who brings an item in the name of the one who said it- brings redemption to the world”. Rabbi Yosef would say: when a person goes along a straight path and does not deviate, he meets other people… This laconic answer showed a view of the world that truth belongs to everyone. Anyone seeking it with a full heart will reach it in his own way.

 

Rabbi Zeev (Vevetzi) Erlich, z” l

Rabbi Nachman of Breslev said in a different place: “Everyone says there is this world and the next world. We believe there is a world to come. It is possible there is also this world in some universe. It may be hell. Everyone is always suffering. Perhaps there is no world of now, at all”. These words can be said about Rabbi Vevetzi, z” l. He did not know what this world was because he was always deeply involved in the world of divine emanation, the heavenly world. He was one the most enthusiastic followers of the Rabbi from Boyne, a descendant of the Rabbi of Rizhin. He knew all of Mishna by heart. As dawn would rise, he hurried to the synagogue to begin his memorizing of various parts of the Mishna. He earned his livelihood as a tax collector for the hospital and later he worked in the Home for the Aged.

 

Rabbi Shmulik, z” l

Rabbi Shmulik was one of the first readers of Tzfira in town. As a veteran reader, he received as a prize, History of the Jews by Gratz in a Hebrew translation. He knew several languages and did much charitable work. He collected funds for the needy and always welcomed guests to his home. The poor knew he had a good heart and would come to his home early in the morning. They knew he would not send away a hungry person. He would arrange meals for the poor in different homes in town. If someone remained without a placement, he would take them to his own home. When there were several poor people who were not invited by anyone, Rabbi Shmulik would lock the doors f the synagogue. He would not allow anyone to leave until everyone was placed.

There were some poor people who were embarrassed to eat at a stranger's home. Rabbi Shmulik brought them to the restaurant owned by Schwartzblat and the wealthier residents paid for their meals. When the Association for Help for the Needy was founded- Beit Lechem- Rabbi Shmulik, Baruch-Hirsh Gelman and Avrech, z” l, were its leaders.

Rabbi Shmulik earned his living by teaching in various private homes.

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Havatzelet Heder
From right to left: Seated are the teachers: Aryeh Veverik, Shmuel Goldberg, Noah Steinberg

 

In these homes he also received funds to distribute among the needy. Rabbi Shmulik always spoke of the generosity of Mrs. Roza Gasco.

Although he was busy with teaching until late in the evening, he always immersed himself in the needs of the people. He invested much effort in deepening religious education. He was the first to establish a Heder called Havatzelet, with a permit from the inspector. In this Heder were taught religious subjects, Hebrew and Polish. Anyone who completed studies in this Heder was accepted into the third level of the high school. He himself taught religious subjects; Bible was taught by a Cantor from Matseyev; math- Gershon Yagodnik; Polish and geography- Leibish Veverik.

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From the Way of Life

Friday nights

On Friday nights, after the meal, people would go to the house of learning to study “Orach Haim” (Way of life) – an interpretation of the Torah. It was snowing outside and the cold was unbearable. Jews sat in the house of learning and enjoyed themselves by studying. Among those who participated were: Moshe Shochet, Yitzhak Verba, Elyhau Verba, Pinhas Berg, Shmuel Goldberg, Leibel Shinkar and Baruch-Hirsh Gelman, z” l. They would study until midnight. Their saying was: The weekly portions of the winter are covered in furs”. When they finished a portion, they would yell three times: “they will rejoice” with great happiness and they went home with the holiness of the Sabbath shining on their faces.

 

The Psalm Reciters

In the house of learning there was a group of Psalm Reciters. It was headed by Akiva Turskevitch and Zev Contract, z” l. These were hard-working men who after a long week would meet early on Shabbat morning to recite Psalms together. Afterwards, Rabbi Moshe Yagodnik, z” l, would study the weekly portion with them. It was their only spiritual experience. Some of them progressed in their studies and could learn the weekly portion by themselves using different interpreters.

 

Third Meal

The Third Meal was served on two separate tables. Those who studied sat at one table, while the second table was occupied by ordinary working men. The actual food was supplied by Rabbi Yitzhak Verba, z” l. He would prepare a plaited challah (out of 12 braids – for the 12 tribes). There were also small challahs, slices of fish. There was enough food for 30-40 people. However, the spiritual food was special. Firstly, the chants, from the depth of their hearts- Yedid Nefesh, Bni Heikhalsa Dkhasifin, Ra'ava D'ra'ava, Al mistater b'shafrir khevyon- all sung with warmth and happiness. Afterwards one of those assembled would tell a Hassidic fable about one of the great righteous people. He would whisper and everyone paid attention, their mouths gaping, to every word said. It was twilight, but no candles were lit. There was utter silence in the house of learning. It was so quiet that the buzzing of the flies could be heard. The story teller continued so as to lengthen Shabbat and rest time. It is well-known that hell rests on Shabbat and the souls of the dead have a respite from their pains.

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The praying group in the Rizhiner Shtiebel

 

If someone tried to hurry up the Third Meal so the evening prayers could be done, he would be told: “Let your father rest in the Garden of Eden”. They would do Grace after the meal and then the evening prayers. This was followed by Havdalah to show the end of the holy day and the return to regular week. Faces of people changed and their clothes were different. It was now necessary to wait another week.

The table of the ordinary working men was long and there were dozens of Jews along it. These were hard-working people, all week, who needed to earn a living for themselves and their families. However, when they sat at this table, their backs were straightened, their frowns disappeared. Their faces were lighter and they looked like royalty. They all sang the Shabbat chants with excitement and enthusiasm. Rabbi Moshe Yagodnik, z” l, would speak to them and they listened to his words with baited breath. This was their spiritual food for the rest of the grey, difficult week. In contrast to the students, these people hurried to the end of the meal, blessed quickly, prayed the evening prayers. They now remembered their heavy load of earning a living and providing for their families. The beauty of Shabbat left them and their faces darkened anew.


 

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The Center for Torah Study Named for Shlomo Projenski, z”l

by Rabbi Shmuel-Yosef Werba

Translated by Ala Gamulka

This Center for Torah Study was one of the oldest in town. Even in 1910 I found it to be ancient. Forty-five years ago I was elected Gabbai of this synagogue and I initiated the construction of a second floor on this old house. It now looked more modern.

The town rabbi in those days was the scholar, Rabbi Moshe Zackheim, z” l from Pinsk. Rabbi Moshele Zackheim was a gifted man, one of the greatest scholars of his generation.

Part of his job description was to pray in the great synagogue, but, from time to time, he would come to us. He loved our Center for Torah study and its occupants.

One time, Rabbi Zackheim, z” L, approached me and Piny, son of Shlomo Projenski, with a special request: he asked us to invite a scribe to write, on parchment, Prophets and the third part of the Bible. The purpose was to be able to read the Haftara of the weekly portion from the parchment. As a rule, only the five books of the Torah are written on parchment.

We satisfied the Rabbi's request and we invited Yudel the Scribe to do it. He inscribed the two sections on parchment.

When this holy work was finished, we invited, on Shabbat, Rabbi Zackheim and we honored him by asking him to chant the Haftara.

I recall many Shabbat and Holy days in the synagogue. In front of my eyes jumps an image of celebrating Simchat Beit Hashoeva (procession to and from the well). The members would celebrate it with great splendor. In our town, there was an observant Jew, a craftsman, called Motel Toker. Since I was the Gabbai of the synagogue I invited him to come. He brought 50 bottles of liquor which he pored into a large vat and boiled it in honey. Before the Hakafot (circling with the Torah), all the members would assemble in my house and drink this special drink. Motel Toker prepared it with great expertise. Afterwards, the Gabbai would be ushered into the synagogue with song and dance. We invited the other rabbis in town for the Hakafot.

There was a special fund for assisting the poor in the synagogue. Among the members there was one man called Yeshayah-Leib. When he was younger, he used to supervise the paving of the roads. He had a daughter ready for marriage, but he was a poor man and could not give her a dowry.

One winter day when I was walking to town, I entered the synagogue and I found Yeshayah-Leib sitting behind the oven and reciting Psalms. “How many times did you recite Psalms today?”- I asked. The man did not reply, but he began sobbing. “Why should I tell you my bitter story. You cannot help me. My daughter is already thirty years old. I found a decent groom for her and I promised him 300 Rubles as a dowry.

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Now the man came to me and threatened that if I do not immediately give him the money, he will cancel the engagement. Where do I go? I do not have even enough money to serve the groom a decent meal”.

I calmed down Yeshayah-Leib and I told him: “Go home and tell your wife to prepare a sumptuous meal. Invite the groom and tonight you will write the betrothal document”. Yeshayah-Leib looked at me wondering what I was talking about. However, he did as he was told, put on his coat and went home.

I went to Kovka Bokser. When he looked at my face, he saw immediately what I wanted. He said to me: “Why are you here? You scoundrel.” I told him: “Lend me 100 rubels for six months”. He hesitated at first, but his daughter-in-law Tsiupa Bokser told him: “If you refuse to lend 100 Rubels, give, at least 50 in cash”. From there I went to Shlomo Klorglon and there I received 100 Rubels. Next to me were two other men who helped me. We gave the money to Velvel Tsoref. He invested it in the stock market and in the evening, he brought me 400 Rubels, not just 300.

We came to the synagogue and we sent the sexton to bring us 8 bottles of liquor and cakes. We invited the rabbi and we all went to the house of Yeshayah-Leib. We wished him Mazal Tov and we arranged the betrothal document as required. Yeshayah-Leib gave the groom the dowry and he even had 100 additional Rubels to pay for the wedding.

There is one member in our synagogue that I wish to discuss. His name is associated with a special project. He is the one who built the orphanage in town with his own money. I am speaking of the lawyer, Yaakov Appelbaum, z” l. Before I describe the construction, I must mention, from a cloudy memory, the “rebellion” that the members of the synagogue conducted against lawyer Appelbaum. This is how it happened: our synagogue was named (among us) for Shlomo Projenski, but for the authorities it was called Kupechesky Synagogue. The opening of the synagogue required a special permit and, as a lawyer, Appelbaum undertook the permit in his own name. He was the actual owner of the synagogue.

We rebelled against this ownership and we decided to call for a general meeting of all the members. We hoped to be able to approach the authorities for a change of name.

I still have the minutes of this meeting and I quote:

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Minutes of the general meeting of the members of the Kupechesky synagogue named after Avraham-Shlomo- Projenski, z” l held on Hoshana Raba, 1928.

Agenda:

The transfer of the synagogue and all it owns to the members.
Decisions:
After many arguments and explanations, it was decided:
  1. To choose a special committee, with official powers, to conduct discussions with the members who, until now, had private rights in the synagogue. Their rights were about administration and religious matters. The committee will deal with matters within the community, but, if unsuccessful, will turn to the authorities.
  2. The following members were elected to the committee: Rabbi Shlomo Klorglon, Rabbi Shmuel Yossel Werba, Rabbi Yekutiel Weitz, Rabbi Avraham Woff, Rabbi Zvi Bokser, Rabbi Israel Reichstol, Rabbi Yosef Milstein and Rabbi Kofky Bokser.
The rebellion was successful and as of 1928 the Center for Torah Studies was owned by its members.

Lawyer Appelbaum had a daughter in Trisk and she used to visit from time to time. Once I joined her from Trisk. On the way I said to her: “There are many orphans in Kovel. They grow up uneducated and there is no one who takes them in to their homes. Your father has been blessed and he should build, with his own money, an orphanage in Kovel “. He had not reacted to my words, but his daughter, Masha, liked the idea.

On Shabbat we presented Appelbaum with the facts. During the reading of the Torah I asked the cantor to recite a special prayer for Appelbaum because he had decided to build the orphanage. Indeed, Appelbaum built a beautiful orphanage – at a great cost. On Shabbat and Holy days, he would eat with the orphans. He invited two of them to live in his house and they were apprenticed to tailors.

His daughter also helped with the orphans. She used to bring them to the synagogue at Yizkor (Memorial ) time so they could pray for the souls of their parents.


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The Great Synagogue, Its Cantors and Poets

by Yitzhak Waldman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The Great Synagogue was well-built. It was a place where all the members would assemble to hear the singing and the praying.

The Great Synagogue was like a mother that protects its young in regards to the many small centers of learning around it. The latter admired this special place of Jewish spirit.

I was formed in the Rizhiner center for Torah studies. I spent many days and nights there. I listened to amazing tunes and to great stories about special sainted people.

I remember well the Melaveh Malka on Saturday nights. There was so much awe and beauty at those times. We used to assemble after Havdalah and sit and speak of the righteous people, of the Rabbi of Rizhin, of the Tzadik from Sadigura. We would sing Hassidic tunes with great devoutness.

 

The choir of the Great Synagogue

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This is how the members enjoyed a world that was all good, a world of gentility and beauty- until midnight.

There was a difference between the Rizhiner center for Torah studies and the Great Synagogue. I found out that the Great Synagogue was built by famous artisans who were brought in especially from Odessa and other locations in Russia. The elegant Ark! No one had ever seen one like it in any other centers for Torah studies in the area. The Ark shone with its white brightness and the gilt on it was outstanding. A special aura was observed on the Bima (lectern) which stood in the middle. The cantor with his choir would stand on it and their voices penetrated everywhere.

The Jews of Kovel truly loved the Great Synagogue. Old and young, men and women, came in droves to enjoy the wonderful tunes. It became crowded especially when Cantor Arahle Feintuch and his choir were leading the prayers. His music was beloved by the members and they would sing with him.

Arahle Feintuch followed compositions by Nissan Belzer and Zeidel Rovner. These were exceptional tunes in the Jewish musical world. Many of his singers settled in town and participated in the choir.

I do not know the reason Arahle Feintuch did not last long in the Great Synagogue and left town.

Arahle Feintuch was liked by the members not only for his music, but also because of his soloist, the wonderful baritone, Leib Glambotsky. Who among us does not remember Glambotsky? It was an unforgettable experience to listen to his amazing voice. He energized all of us and touched our souls. However, the expression: “All who are beloved by the Gods die Young” was true for him. He died young after a difficult illness.

After Arahle Feintuch's departure a cantor came from Budapest- Teichtel. He had a pleasant lyrical voice and the leaders of the synagogue tried to convince him to stay.

Cantor Teichtel arrived in town close to the High Holidays and he immediately began to search for young boys to audition. He soon organized a magnificent choir. He also turned to Herzliah High School and Mr. Feinstein, z” l, recommended several boys with good voices.

Rehearsals took place in a small side room. The leaders of the synagogue, Asher Schwartz, Yosef Tsal and Yossel Krasnolsky would appear there every evening.

The choir performed on the Shabbat before the new month. Cantor Teichtel composed great tunes.

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He also conducted the choir. He recognized me as a soloist and honored me with the singing of “Kvodo Male Olam”. The crowd enjoyed my singing. I continued with other solo performances.

Cantor Teichtel, too, did not last long in the Great Synagogue. We were left again without a cantor.

We then began using our own people. Among the members of the choir there were several with beautiful voices who also had a musical education. Among those who stood out is Meir Diner, a dramatic tenor. He tried to replace the cantor and continued to sing with the choir. It was now conducted by Yosef Khalat, the famous baritone. Khalat had difficulty following in the footsteps of Arahle Feintuch, but he had learned much from him. Khalat continued in the tradition of Arahle. He had been truly popular among the members.

Khalat was brought to Kovel, when he was still a young child by, Cantor Arahle. He grew up there and his talents were nurtured. He was employed as a secretary to Rabbi Brik and later to Rabbi Nahum-Moshele, z” l. Khalat had dramatic talents and he was one of the founders of the theatre in Kovel. He was one of its best actors. When he appeared on stage the crowd would hail him. He was beloved by the audiences. Many of us surely remember his role as Hotzmach in “The Witch” by Goldfaden.

Khalat was quite successful and was fortunate to find a talented partner, the writer Ahertchik Melamed, z” l. The latter helped in conducting.

Ahertchik knew solfege and played several instruments. He also could write musical notes. He composed, from memory, the notes to the tunes of Arahle Feintuch. It felt like the original.

Among the choir singers also stood out baritone Ephraim Vidra and lyrical tenor Murik. Among the outstanding young boys were Gershon Yagodnik, Moshe Kharat, Yekhezkel Seltzer. Some people would say that, I, too, was one of them.

The choir acquired a reputation in the surrounding towns. It performed, on Shabbat, in Ludomir, Lutsk and Rovno. It appeared with Cantor Zingerman, a dramatic tenor. He had a strong voice and he used the tunes and compositions of Lewandowsky, Sulzer and other modern composers.

For the first time, we performed with Cantor Zingerman in Rovno on the High Holidays. The choir was housed in a hotel for a whole month. The conductor was Yosef Khalat and the choir achieved great success.

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When the choir returned to Kovel, after the High Holidays, we found out that the Polish government had informed Zingerman that, as a Russian citizen, he would have to leave Rovno.

The leaders of the Great Synagogue approached the authorities to allow Zingerman to settle in Kovel. Their request was received in a positive manner and Zingerman was hired as the cantor of the synagogue. He was quite successful in many special prayers and his followers were enthusiastic about him.

Zingerman, too, did not stay in Kovel. He moved to the United States. The members could not accept the “empty space” and used to bring, from time to time, cantors for auditions. One of them was Tzipris who conquered the crowd with his Hassidic melodies.

He was followed by Wexler who brought a large choir from Lublin. Among this group was the bass Mendel Hoff. He reminded us of the baritone Leib Glambotsky who was missed by the members.

Cantor Wexler invited Ahertchik Melamed to conduct the Lublin choir. That is how we discovered Ahertchik. He had talents as a conductor, composer and excellent organizer of the choir of the Great Synagogue.


 

The Elder of Neskhiz and His Descendants

by Eliezer Leoni

Donated by David Kimmel

Note: The Elder of Neskhiz was R. Mordekhai Shpira (Shapiro), 1748-1800, son of R. Dov Ber of Tultchin. His thoughts on the Torah, festivals, and many topics about day-to-day life are collected in Rishpei Aish (“Sparks of Fire”). The Neskhiz Dynasty survived into the twentieth century and included rabbis named Shapiro, Katzenellenbogen, Perlov, and Padova.
The Elder of Neskhiz – or, as he was called by his hasidim, the Moharam (an acronym for moreinu verabbeinu harav rav Mordekhai, “Our Teacher and Rabbi, Rabbi Mordekhai”) – is associated with one of the miracle stories of the city [of Kovel].

Before he left Kovel [for Neskhiz], the legend tells, the Elder of Neskhiz blessed it so that it would not be subject to fires and would remain safe from adversity and disasters. And indeed, “as the tzadik decreed, so did the Holy One, blessed be He, fulfill it.” Until the destruction of the city by the Nazis, it suffered less than did other cities. During the First World War, although rioters attacked the Jews in the area, they did not come to Kovel. The Jews of the city saw in this the ongoing [influence of the] blessing of the tzadik.

However, for reasons hidden and concealed from our understanding, the Side of Evil gained in strength. In the upper worlds, the blessing of the Elder was no longer honored and the city was destroyed.

The city was characterized by the Torah and hasidism of the dynasty of Trisk, which began with the Elder of Neskhiz. The first rabbi of Trisk dynasty to settle in the city [of Kovel] was Rabbi Yaakov Leibnyu, son of the great [R. Avraham,] Magid of Trisk [and] author of Magen Avraham. The Magid of Trisk's father-in-law was Rabbi Yaakov Leibnyu, son of the Moharam. The Magid named his son Yaakov Leibnyu after his father-in-law.

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As we said, the genesis of the dynastic line of Rabbi Yaakov Leibnyu began with the Moharam, who was the Chief Rabbi of Kovel in the second half of the eighteenth century, and who would sign [documents with the expression], “the insignificant Mordekhai who dwells in the holy community of Kavle [Kovel].”

The Moharam was born in 5508 (1748) and was a contemporary of Rabbi Nakhum of Chernobil, who was the grandfather of the Magid of Trisk.

Rabbi Mordekhai, [the Moharam,] was a grandson of Rabbi Isaiah of Kroke (Krakow), who served as judge (av beis din) of Kovel. Beyond that, the family tree of the Moharam reached back to the prince Abarbanel. And it is known that Abarbanel's family line reached back to King David.

When he was in Kovel, the Moharam lived in great poverty. Hasidic legend tells that his wife, Reiza, was urged by her family to gain a divorce from her husband, because he was so involved in serving the Creator that he did not apply himself to supporting his family.

Once in the winter, as the Moharam was learning at night in their cold room, the rebbetzin sat in her bed amongst the pillows and blankets because of the cold, doing her work, when she suddenly she saw sparks of fire appear on [the Moharam's] forehead. A great awe fell upon the rebbetzin and she realized that this was a sign from heaven [telling her] not to complain against her fate.

The Torah genius, the Moharam, had three sons.

The oldest was the brilliant Rabbi Yosef of Ustila, who was judge in Hrubieszow and Ustila.

His second son was the brilliant Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh (Leibnyu), who was called “the rabbi of Kovli [Kovel].” His hasidim called him “the holy genius, the heavenly lion, our master and rabbi, Rabbi Leibel of Kovli [Kovel].” Yaakov Aryeh was the grandfather of Yaakov Leibnyu, son of the Magid of Trisk, [as mentioned above].

Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh, “the rabbi of Kovli [Kovel],” had two sons and two daughters.

One son was Rabbi Israel of Stabichov and the other was Rabbi Levi Yitzkhak of Kamin.

One daughter, Gitele, was the wife of Rabbi Menakhem Manish Margolios, son of the brilliant Rabbi Khaim Mordekhai Margolios, author of Shaarei Teshuvah.

The other [daughter,] Rikele, was the wife of the great Magid of Trisk, Rabbi Avraham, author of Magen Avraham.

The Magid of Trisk was the son of Rabbi Mordekhai of Chernobil, who [in turn was the] son of Rabbi Nakhum of Chernobil.

The Magid [of Trisk] was born in 5566 (1806) and passed away on 2 Tammuz 5649 (1889).

Legend tells again that [family members] wished to separate the couple, the Magid of Trisk and his wife Rikele, the daughter of the tzadik of Kovel. When Rabbi Mordekhai of Chernobil, [the father of the Magid of Trisk,] learned about this, he said, “Is it possible to separate those who cling to each other – which is to say, me and my in-law, the rabbi of Kovel, [R. Yaakov Aryeh Leibnyu], there being between us a very strong love, so that the days of the lives of both of us depend upon this?”

Indeed, both tzadikim passed away in the same year, 5597 (1837).

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Rabbi Mordekhai of Chernobil passed away on the 35th day of the omer-counting of that year and the tzadik of Kovel [R. Yaakov Aryeh Leibnyu] on the 27th of Elul.

The Moharam's third son was Rabbi Yitzkhak of Neskhiz, of whom his father said that he [the Moharam] had taken his [son's] soul and all of the “drops” [of its soul] from an extraordinarily high, very exalted place, and that every day another angel would come from the Garden of Eden to teach him in his childhood.

The Moharam was great in hasidism. Rabbi Uri of Strelisk, author of Imrei Kodesh, and the tzadik, [R. Kalonymus Kalman Epstein,] author of the Meor Veshemesh, both learned the ways of hasidism and serving God from the Moharam – one of them for seven years in a row and the other for three years in a row.

Indeed it is told that the tzadik of Lublin, [R. Yaakov Yitzkhak, the Seer (the Khozeh),] asked in heaven who the leader of the generation is, and he received the answer, “Rabbi Mordekhai, son of Gitel [the Moharam].”

[R. Avraham Yehoshua Heshel,] the rabbi of Apt, spent time with the holy [Seer] of Lublin. The holy [Seer] asked him if he knew the tzadik of Kovel, Rabbi Mordekhai, [the Moharam].

The rabbi of Apt answered, “I do not know him.”

The holy [Seer] of Lublin answered him, “The Moharam can raise a soul to its root.”

The rabbi of Apt decided to travel to Neskhiz, where the Moharam lived after he left Kovel. However, [the rabbi of Apt] did not merit to meet [the Moharam], because the Moharam was summoned to the heavenly yeshiva [and passed away] before the rabbi of Apt came to him.

The students of the Moharam wrote down various words of wisdom that he said.

He once told his son Yaakov Aryeh [Leibnyu], the “rabbi of Kovli [Kovel],” “My son, my son, a leader of the generation must have a great qualification. If within a fifty mile (literally parsah) radius of a tzadik a woman is having trouble giving birth, if he does not literally feel her sufferings and birth-pangs and does not suffer together with her, what right does he have to call himself a leader of the generation?”

And the Moharam said, furthermore, “To say that nothing is done in the world without my knowledge is possibly overstating matters. But for a radius of five hundred square miles around me, nothing is done in heaven against my will.”

The Moharam used to say that every place that a Jewish tzadik stays is the Land of Israel. He found support for this in the words of the early authorities that a person who learns Talmud is like a person who lives in the Land of Israel. Mar Bar Rav Ashi was in Bavel when he edited the Talmud. He sat between two mountains and caused four clouds to come and surround him, and then he caused the air of the Land of Israel to come there – and then he edited the Talmud. So too [any] tzadik has it within his power to cause the air of the Land of Israel to come and surround him.

The Moharam's rebbe was R. Yekhiel Mikhl of Zlotshev, who was one of the students of R. Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritch [a successor of the Baal Shem Tov].

Once, when the Moharam was in Mezritch, he went in to look for his rebbe, the Magid of Zlotshev.

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One of the renowned students of the Magid of Mezritch asked him, “Whom are you looking for?”

The Moharam answered, “I am seeking my rebbe.”

He asked him, “Who is your rebbe?”

He answered him, “My rebbe is the Magid of Zlotshev.”

This student of R. Dov Ber answered him, “Both you and your rebbe need a rebbe.”

The Moharam was wounded by this laconic remark and decided to avenge the insult to his rabbi.

The Magid of Mezritch had the custom of learning particular subjects with individual students. With this student, he would learn Kabalah after midnight. That night, when [the student] sat before [the Magid of Mezritch] to learn, the Magid saw that his student did not understand the learning, and he asked him, “Why is it that today you do not understand anything that you are learning?”

[The student] told of his conversation with the Moharam.

The Magid told him, “Go and appease him.”

The student went to appease the Moharam. The Moharam said [to him,] “I can forgive my own honor but I cannot forgive the honor of my rabbi. And now know that all of the [spiritual] levels that you had until now have been taken away from you. Now go and toil anew in serving God, and regain what you had [previously] attained.”

The Moharam passed away on 8 Nisan 5560 (1800). After he passed away, hasidic legend tells, he was called from the Garden of Eden to hear the greeting of the Sabbath in the supernal palace, on the highest of levels.

The Moharam saw an old man [who remained] sitting. He asked him why he was not summoned too, and [the old man] replied that this was a punishment because he had not donned a white garment in honor of the Sabbath.

The Moharam said to [an agent of] the heavenly court that since this old man deserved no other punishment than this, he [the Moharam] did not want to enter the supernal palace in the Garden of Eden until that old man was also allowed in.

The heavenly agent went [back to the heavenly judges] and asked [them what to do,] and he was given the reply that he must do the will of the Moharam. And [so the Moharam] came together with that old man to the supernal palace.

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