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[Page 274]

A Portrait of Rabbi Shmuel Aryeh Leib, a Holy Person,
of Blessed Memory, the Rabbi of Biale
[a]

by Shmuel T. Halevi Rubinshtein, the Rabbi in Givatayim

Translated by Libby Raichman

“The Biale Rabbi”, that is how he was called by all those of his generation in the country of Poland, who remembered his name with awe and admiration. They all understood the devotion of this genius and mystic, the righteous prodigy, the Rabbi Shmuel Leib, the holy person, who served in our community for 42 years, from 5651 [corresponding to 1881] until 3rd of Tevet 5692 [corresponding to 1922].

He was not a speaker, and not a man of words. I do not recall him ever going up to the bimah[1] to preach nor deliver a religious sermon in any one of the synagogues of our town. I hardly ever saw him disseminate knowledge, nevertheless, his influence was recognized in the town. They all knew that he was a genius and master of the Torah, one of the few remnants of the generation, and considered him a miracle worker, a wonder Rabbi, and that every blessing that he uttered, would be a sign of good things to come. And they would come to him from all parts of the country to seek salvation and compassion because they knew that he pronounced the spirit of God. They feared his stringency and tried not to disobey him in any matter to do with Judaism and the needs of the religion, because those who refused, knew that the matter was in his soul, and for that reason, all his words were like burning coals.

His holiness was spread over his face and his white beard and it all emitted awe and fear. That great fear and the penetrating look in his eyes, made people afraid to approach him and only chosen individuals of those who came to his house, would debate with him and with others who were interested, and turned to him for his help and advice. There was always a barrier, a wall of iron between him and the community. Very little is known to us about his life, but even the few details in our possession, provide perfect evidence about the greatness of his scholarship and the originality of his personality.

He was born to his father Reb Chaim Yisrael in the town of Hurodna in Lithuania, in 5607 [corresponding to 1847]. His father was a learned man, and later a preacher in a few congregations and finally, in the town of Terespol that was close to Brisk D'Lita. There his young son Shmuel Leib, sat and diligently studied Torah, until he became renowned as “the prodigy of Terespol”.

From there, he dispatched responsa[2] correspondence to the great Rabbis of his generation and used to exchange letters with the Gaon[3] Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanzon, the Rabbi of Lvov, whose great treatise “Sho–el Umeishiv” [Question and Answer] elicited many scholarly questions from Rabbi Shmuel Leib of Terespol. The Rabbi of Lvov believed, according to the letters, that the inquirer was certainly, the Rabbi of Terespol, a young man who signed: Shmuel Leib, the holy person of Terespol; in fact, he was then only a boy of 13. It is told that when his father the preacher, would go from town to town to speak, he once took his young son Shmuel Leib, with him, and reached Lvov. There they went to the house of the Rabbi, Reb Yosef Shaul, to introduce themselves and become acquainted. When they entered, the Rabbi asked: from where are you? From Terespol, the father answered. The Rabbi asked, and how is your Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Leib, who it seems, is a great and sharp–witted scholar. Here the boy intervened and remarked: Reb Shmuel Leib is not such a great scholar. The Rabbi immediately slapped him on his cheek and reprimanded him, scolding him for daring to offend a Rabbi and a scholar. The father could no longer restrain himself, turned to the Rabbi and said: Take it easy Rabbi, my small son, is none other than the Rabbi Shmuel Leib with whom you have been corresponding on new interpretations of the Law. The face of Rabbi Yosef Shaul lit up, at the sight of the “young but clever” and said: I have never seen something like this, in all my life.

The youth spent a few months within the walls of the Rabbi of Lvov and from there he returned to Poland via the town of Radom. There he was seen by Reb Yoav Yehoshua the author of “Chelkat Yoav” [The Portion of Yoav], who was the Rabbi in Kintzk, who kept him in his house for a few weeks and where together they were immersed in the laws of Torah. The Chassidim of Gur in Radom, heard from the Rabbi Reb Yoav Yehoshua that this boy was an amazing expert and extremely sharp and they began to tell the youth about the greatness of their Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur, author of the “Chidushei HaRabbi Yitzchak Meir” [New interpretations by the Rabbi Yitzchak Meir], and they tried with all their might to persuade him to travel to Gur to receive Torah from him. He took these words to heart and travelled to his home to request permission from his father, who was opposed to Chassidism, to allow him to go to the Rabbi in Gur; and

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it was like manna from heaven, when his father the Lithuanian, responded to his son's request and took him to the Rabbi in Gur.

When Reb Chaim Yisrael went inside to the holy man, he said to the Rabbi of Gur: “I have brought my son, the youth, to learn Torah from his honour, his holiness, but it is not financially possible to keep him here at my expense. The “Chidush HaRabbi Yitzchak Meir” answered him: “When I take him into my hands, he will not be short of anything”. (This was seen in “Ramzei D'Chachmata” of the Rabbi, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, at the end of the book on the life of the author, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, that was published by his son Reb Dov Berish, may the Lord avenge his blood).

In 5620 [corresponding to 1859], the youth of Terespol was accepted as a student to the master, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur and endeared himself to him. There he studied together as a team with his grandson, the young man Reb Yehuda Ari Leib, author of “The Language of Truth”, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed.

Every day, he would go to the holy man within, to receive regular lessons from the Rabbi. In this way he continued with his studies until he entered into the covenant of marriage with the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib (who was interred in Jerusalem), the son–in–law of the famous Chassidic Rabbi Reb Shlomo Leib of Lantznah, a contemporary of the Chassidic Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischah. When Reb Shmuel Leib became engaged to the granddaughter of the Chassidic Rabbi of Lantznah, the righteous man was no longer alive (he died in 5603), [corresponding to 1843], but his son, the righteous Reb Yehoshua of Ostrov, author of “The History of Man”, succeeded his father and promised to support the young couple after their marriage so that that they should live in Ostrov in the shadow of their righteous uncle. It is told about an intelligent letter that the youth Reb Shmuel Leib prepared for the uncle of his fiancée, the righteous man of Ostrov, in which he asks him to send him the cost of his maintenance during the time that he lived in Gur as a boy, and a student of our master, our teacher, our Rebbe of Gur. He explained his request as follows: In the Jerusalem Talmud, in the 3rd section, in chapter 1, it says: He who eats of the food of his friend, should be ashamed to face him and turn his face to another side, and the prophet says: (Isaiah 30:20) “but your eyes will see your teachers” – Is it not, that a student must look at the face of his teacher, and how can I look at his face, when I am eating his bread and am strengthened by his purse?”.

He too, his uncle from Ostrov, knowing the answer of Abraham our forefather to his guests (Sutah 10:2) “after they ate and drank and were ready to leave, he said to them: because you have eaten of mine, it is as if you have eaten of the God of the universe, give thanks and blessing to He who spoke, and the world came to be”. From this, it is understood – that you are not eating the bread of your Rabbi, but you and I, and your Rabbi, the Admor[4] – our master, our teacher, our Rebbe of Gur, we are all eating of the food of the God of the universe”.

When the young man married his wife Yehudit Sheindl, he lived in the shadow of the righteous man of Ostrov and ate at his table together with his cousin, our beloved Rabbi, Reb Yitzchak Ya'akov Rabinovitsh, who later became known as the Admor of Biale, and was called Reb Yankele of Biale. A great friendship began between these two cousins.

In Ostrov the young married man Reb Shmuel Leib, continued to devote himself to Torah and engage in piety, within the framework of his uncle, and even after his marriage he continued to travel to the Rabbi of Gur and received lessons from him until the latter died in 5626 [corresponding to 1866].

In 5639 [corresponding to 1879], he was accepted as a Rabbi in the small town of Vludavka and from there he rose to the throne of the rabbinate in 5642 [corresponding to 1882], in the town of Shabarshin in the district of Lublin. With the influence of his cousin Reb Yankele of Biale, he travelled to the Admor, the great preacher, Reb Avraham of Trisk. Many great masters, teachers and Rabbis of the generation travelled there, and the Rabbi of Shabarshin was regarded among them, as a great expert in both the Talmuds [the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds].

It is told that the preacher of Trisk spoke words of Torah at his table and recalled a saying from the Gemarra. After the blessings after food were recited, those who sat at his table asked each other whether they knew the source of the Talmudic saying that the preacher had quoted from the Gemarra. Among them were the great scholars of the generation and they did not know where to find the saying.

The preacher entered the room and asked them for the source of the saying in the Gemarra. So, the preacher said: go to the synagogue and ask the Rabbi from Shabarshin and he will show you the saying because he is an expert in the Gemarra and there is no one like him. The Rabbi of Shabarshin immediately showed them the saying, to the great amazement of the scholars who questioned him.

It was known that the Rabbi of Shabarshin was appointed by the preacher of Trisk, to test his grandchildren during their lessons. One day when the Rabbi Reb Moshe Mordechai of Lublin, the Admor of Trisk, came to Biale to discuss rules of Jewish law, he visited the Rabbi and reminded him that he was tested by him in Trisk when he, the preacher, was on the threshold of his later years, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed. That was in the winter of 5690 [corresponding to 1930].

In the year 5648 [corresponding to 1888], the Rabbi of Biale died – the Gaon Reb Z'ev Nachum Burnshtein, the father of the Rabbi Reb Avraham of Sucht'chuv. Reb Z'ev Burnshtein was famous as a genius, and a great Chassid, one of the most important Chassidim of Kotzk, and the father–in–law of the old Rabbi of Kotzk. The Biale community was proud of him. With his passing, it was difficult for our community to choose a Rabbi who was capable of filling the place in Torah and piety. For three years the community remained without a Rabbi, until esteemed members turned to Rabbi Shmuel Leib, a scion of saints, [holy person], the Rabbi of Shabarshin, to appoint him as the Rabbi of the town. It is quite probable that the Chassid, the Admor, Reb Ya'akov of Biale, who was, as mentioned, the cousin of Reb Shmuel Leib, tried silently to have him appointed as the Rabbi of Biale because they had recognized influence in the town, and apparently the Chassidim of Gur in Biale, who had the most say in these matters, did not oppose this appointment either, because they knew of the genius of this Rabbi, that he was the student of the “Chidushei HaRabbi Yitzchak Meir”[5]. The Admor, the author of “The Language of Truth”, readily agreed to this appointment, because he remembered him from their youth when they studied together as a team. And indeed, in 5651 [corresponding to 1891], the Rabbi appeared at the gates of Biale and everyone in the town came out to meet him because his knowledge of Torah and his reverence went before him, as one of the great men in the land.

In particular, the most prominent scholars in the town amused themselves with him. Rabbi Noach Shachor, (father–in–law of the Admor of Gur, blessed be the memory of the righteous) whose friends admired him greatly for his knowledge of Torah and his righteousness, encouraged him to act stringently in his jurisdiction, without hypocrisy and discrimination.

It is no wonder then, that in every butcher shop, the laws of Kashrut were meticulously observed, for the butcher knew that if the Rabbi were to perceive that there was failure in the observance of the laws, he would be condemned and lose his source of income. So, when a plaintiff appeared before him in dread and fear, his judgement was received as if it was a punishment of fire, for which there was not a hair's breadth opportunity for appeal.

Once, he was told that on the Sabbath, in one of the barbershops, people were being shaved behind closed doors. The Rabbi went to the place of the incident with his supporters, to fulfil his duty, burst inside and caught the shavers red–handed. Those being shaved fled immediately with soap suds on their faces, and the Rabbi slapped the face of the barber, reprimanded him severely, and the barber did not dare to desecrate the Sabbath in this shameless way again.

Even the head of the synagogue and the large prayer house, would not introduce a single custom that the Rabbi had not agreed to, and everything was suspended pending the approval of the Rabbi. I remember, that when we established the large prayer house in our town, a “Magen David” was painted above the door at the entrance to the building, that then symbolized the

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the revival of Zionism. The Rabbi immediately sent word via the beadle, to remove the symbol and scrape it off, for it is forbidden to introduce a new passion into the old prayer house. Understandably, on that day, the Zionist symbol was removed from the wall of the prayer house despite the thoughts of the local Zionists.

However, in spite of his decisiveness and insistence, he was kind–hearted, good–natured, pitied the poor and helped everyone who was downhearted and weak. His home was open to the poor, and his daughter, the righteous Rochele, would cook lunch in his house every day, and on his orders, would distribute the food to the poor in the town, and to every beggar.

The Rabbi was particularly famous for the simple and easy way that he taught about fasting on the four public fast days. Since the First World War and after, Reb Yoel, the beadle, would make the following announcement in the synagogue on the fast of the 17th Tammuz and on the fast of Tish'ah B'Av: “on the orders of the Rabbi, people who are frail must not fast at all. Those, for whom it is difficult to fast, should eat at 1pm in the afternoon, and then complete the fast in the evening”. For this, he was unique in his generation, and renowned throughout the State of Poland, as a Rabbi, who permits eating on the days of the fast (understandably, except for Yom Kippur).

It was said that he had a source for this view, in the words of the Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham, in the tractate of Shabbat, in which he says that he who eats well every day, he is able to fast for a complete day and will not endanger his life, but for he who eats food sparingly to stay alive, it is dangerous to fast, lest he die, and according to the language of the Gemarra: “For him, it would be his day to die”. In the light of these words by Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham, the Rabbi used to say that during the days of the war, people suffered the shame of hunger, and had very little food, therefore there is reason to exempt those from fasting who are frail, and to bring a little relief to those who find it difficult to fast.

It is interesting, that the Rabbi, Reb Meir Yechiel HaLevi From Ostrovtzah, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, who was known as one who was well informed about fasting and was strict in his observance of the fasts, once met a Jew, a resident of Biale, and asked him to sit alongside him and inform him of the exact language utilized by the Rabbi of Biale on matters of fasting. He wanted to know this because it was told that the Rabbi of Biale permitted eating on the days of the fasts, as if he was negating the decree of “the four public fasts”[6] – seeing that he listened well to the language of the announcement, the Rabbi said to the resident of Biale: I am comforted, I am comforted, for I have a basis for easing the restrictions in this way.

The Rabbi was generally very lenient on questions regarding “what is forbidden and what is permitted”, because he had broad shoulders in these matters. With his expertise as an arbiter and his professional orientation about the quality of the question, he was able to solve difficult questions, that many others struggled to solve. In our town there was a scholar who sat all day in the Chassidic prayer house, diligently studying Torah (out of respect, I will not mention his name). He reviewed the Shulchan Aruch[7], all his days, particularly “Yoreh De'ah[8]. Once a lady came to him to ask whether a chicken was kosher, fit to eat. The learned man looked into the matter and pronounced the chicken unfit for eating. The lady remained silent and approached the Rabbi to confirm the judgement. She then returned and complained to the scholar. Why did you say that the chicken was not kosher, and the Rabbi said that it was! The learned man then took the “Yoreh De'ah” under his arm and went to the Rabbi to argue with him about the matter, for in his opinion, the chicken was certainly not kosher. When the learned man began to speak, the Rabbi approached his bookshelf, and took out the book of responsa “Chacham Tzvi” and showed him that in that book it is explicit to permit, and forbidden to waste, the money of the Jewish people – and the Rabbi continued to reprimand him saying, that if you are not expert in the later Deciders[9], you are forbidden to teach.

Also, in matters relating to what is permitted for women who have been abandoned by their husbands, he was known as a great expert, and great Rabbis sought his opinion in discussions. The Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Solovitchik, the Rabbi of Brisk, that was close to Biale, asked the Rabbi many times to consider a judgement of an abandoned wife who had come to him, and to express his opinion as an arbiter, and he always agreed with his judgement. The Rabbi of Brisk used to say: after the directive of the Biale Rabbi, there was nothing more to think about.

My teacher, the Gaon, Rabbi Moshe Shapira, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, was the Rabbi of Lublin. A dispute erupted between him and Rabbi Ya'akov Me'ir Biederman, the brother–in–law of the Admor of Gur, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, regarding the provision of charity boxes in aid of the Yeshivah for the Wise of Lublin. Rabbi Ya'akov Me'ir, as head of “The Treasury of Rabbi Me'ir, the miracle worker”, opposed this, saying that this was overstepping the boundary, and undermined the distribution of the Lublin charity boxes. So, Rabbi Shapira turned to all the Rabbis of the communities in Poland, and set before them a booklet in the halachah, indicating that there was no prohibition of any kind, and asking for their agreement in writing, with their signature, regarding this matter.

When the rabbi had gathered 300 signatures about his booklet, he came before the Rabbi of Gur to show him the opinions of the great Rabbis, to allow the matter to proceed. The Rabbi paged through the signatures and did not react at all. When he reached the signature of the Rabbi of Biale, he ceased paging through any further and called his brother–in–law Rabbi Ya'akov Me'ir and showed him the signature of the Rabbi and passed judgement: there is no longer a need to focus on the booklet; after the judgement of the Rabbi of Biale, there is nothing to answer.

As far as he pledged his soul to assist those who were unfortunate, one can learn from “what is permitted to an abandoned wife”, that he allowed an abandoned wife to marry after many great Jewish scholars did not find a way to allow her to marry. And he, with his expertise, made every effort to reveal what was concealed in the law, to free her from the bonds of an abandoned wife, and this was the case. A woman suffered greatly from her free–thinking husband until he finally changed his religion but did not want to give her a get. One day he drowned in the sea and his body was not found. When the woman came to the Rabbinic court requesting that they allow her to marry as a widow, the wise men of the generation did not want to allow it, as there was no witness to the fact that he died in the sea, only that he drowned – perhaps he came out of the water, that he is alive, and we do not know. According to the law that is explained in the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, paragraph 17, section 32: “He was seen falling into the sea, even if he drowned in the ocean, there are no witnesses to the fact that he died, perhaps he went out from another place”, because the law says: if the water does not have an end, the wife is forbidden”. The woman was persistent and knocked on the portals of the Rabbinic court but there was no one to entertain her plea, until the Rabbi of Biale was asked to consider a judgement and he judged that she be permitted to marry according to the book “HaKannah”, attached to the books of Kabbalah[10], that says, “water that has no end” – it is possible that the drowned man was saved and went out at another place, and we did not see – all this applies to a person who believes in the Holy One, blessed be he, who has no end or boundaries – it is possible that he was saved, but he who does not believe in God's help, and does not believe in water that has no end – he has no hope and certainly drowned and died. And the Rabbi continued to pass judgement: perhaps he was afraid and repented when he was in the water, also here, one should not fear that perhaps he was saved and is still alive because it has already been said (Avodah Zarah 17:1) “anyone who spreads heresy – dies. Therefore, this woman is allowed to marry anyway, because her husband is certainly already dead. And when Rabbi Me'ir Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, told about the permission given, he said, the reasoning for this, is surely very “strange” but he certainly utilized only one section of the basic laws, whereas the Rabbi of Biale gave permission based on other laws.

In addition to his righteousness and his piety, it is also worth pointing out his wisdom, his original thought,

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and his quick grasp that always enabled him to approach matters directly and in a clear manner.

The Rabbi, Reb Menachem Rubinshtein of Biale (the father of Rabbi Shmuel Rubinshtein, the Rabbi of the Paris community) who once went to the Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Arye Leib, to ask him for a letter of recommendation and intercession to one of the leaders of the town. The Rabbi wrote the letter and when he reached the signature, he concluded: “his dear friend” etc. While doing this, he spilled drops of ink on the word “his friend”. The Rabbi searched for a pocket–knife to remove the drops of ink on the word. Rabbi Menachem was very sorry that the Rabbi was going to so much trouble for him, and remarked; Rabbi, there is no need to delete so much. The Rabbi answered: You have forgotten Rashi's explanation about what is written in the Torah (Genesis 33:4) “And Esau ran to meet him ” and he kissed him” – Rashi says: “the dotting above the word[11] indicates ” that he did not kiss him with all his heart”. Now go and see, if spots of ink remain on the word “his friend”, the leader of the community might think that I am not “a friend” with all my heart. It is therefore necessary to remove the spots properly.

One of the residents of our town told me that he once came to the Rabbi to ask his advice about what action to take in his business, as he was anticipating a great loss and he himself did not know what measures to take to prevent the loss. The Rabbi hesitated and said: who am I – am I a trader that I can advise you on matters of trade? The man was not discouraged, and the Rabbi turned to him and asked: Do you lay Tefillin every day? Yes, said the man. And do you say the evening prayers every evening? Here the man hesitated and said: when I have time, I pray. The eyes of the Rabbi lit up immediately and he said: if you would say the evening prayers, and you said the prayer “Hashkivaynu[12], in which it says: “provide us with good counsel of your own”, then you will be provided with good counsel. Now you ask me for good advice. Promise me that you will say the evening prayers every evening, and God will provide you with good advice of his own.

In my childhood, I heard from my elders, that the Rabbi was very famous in his youth as a Gaon, as a scholar and a great innovator, but in the midst of his best years, he devoted himself to the law of hidden wisdom, that is, the law of Kabbalah[13] and began to engage in ‘practical Kabbalah’[14] until it affected his health significantly and caused a fatal interruption to the course of his studies and his scholarly progress in areas of the law, and in the law that is revealed.

Indeed, I still remember him when he was closeted in his house, occupied with his books, and on very rare occasions we would see him appear in the street or in the synagogue. It was not at all easy to be received by him in his house because he was always engaged in scholarship in his sanctum, studying the books of Kabbalah. His son–in–law, Rabbi Moshe Utchn, served as the Rabbi in our town and directed all the communal affairs of the Rabbinate – only in urgent matters, his son–in–law tried to take people into his room and disturb him from his studies.

However, this was only what appeared to be, for the Rabbi was actually engaged in writing responsa,[15] matters of the law that touched on practice, such as writing legal documents of divorce, religious sanctioning of ritual baths etc. for various communities, both near and far. In particular, he criticized ritual slaughterers and examiners and rebuked the butchers who did not practice according to the accepted custom. He also regulated the laws of Kashrut[16] so that not a single hair's breadth would be altered from what was the custom in the holy communities, in ancient times.

We have already said that he was by nature inclined to lighten his directive and take pity on the finances of the people. I remember, that on the morning of the eve of the Day of Atonement, he would stand next to the door of his room while a long queue of women formed before him, with questions about the ritual lawfulness of the slaughtered chickens that were used as atonement on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Each person held a chicken and showed him the fowl to be examined. He looked at the mark (on the chicken) in question, nodded ‘right’, ‘right’, in his particular Lithuanian pronunciation. It is interesting that in his holy presence, the women who were asking about their chickens, did not forget to ask the Rabbi to bless them for a good year, and a command for salvation. The Rabbi blessed them and urged them to return home quickly, for there was much work waiting for them in their homes, for the forthcoming great day.

Despite all his greatness in Torah scholarship and knowing his personal value, he humbled himself before the righteous of his generation. When Rabbi Mendele Landau, the Admor, of Strikov, came to our town to honour his father the righteous Rabbi, Rabbi Berish of Biale, on the day of the anniversary of his father's death that fell on 25th Sivan, he would go to the grave of his father, with a group of Chassidim. At the graveside he would receive notes on pieces of paper, and his grandson, the young man Reb Shlomo Asher, would come, and in the name of his grandfather, he would ask them to commemorate his name.

In addition, it was his custom to send a note to the Admor of Gur, for the Rabbi of Gur valued him and held him in great esteem.

In his last years he was very ill with bladder problems and suffered terrible pain, yet his face lit up with a supreme light, as if his pains brightened his soul and shone from his holy face.

When he lay sick in Warsaw, the great pious Rabbis visited him, and he would apologize to them, that he had a dilemma with the blessing in “asher yatzar[17] since no urine flows from him, only through a tube. And he whispered to my teacher and my Rabbi, Rabbi Meir Shapira, that he suffered greatly from the power of the blessing, that is not in his hands to decide, than from the intense pain of his affliction itself. When my teacher returned and related this to his students, he stressed with great admiration, how touching the piety of the Gaon, the righteous man was.

In 5691 [corresponding to 1931], on the festival of Tu Bi'shvat[18], the completion of the first circulation of the “Daf Ha'yomi” of the Talmud occurred, and the Rabbi of Lublin announced an appeal to raise money – an amount of 27 zlotte and 2 groschen[19] per page of the Babylonian Talmud (containing 2,702 pages). And the Rabbi of Biale then lay in the clinic of Dr. Frishman in Warsaw. When he heard about the large festive meals that were being organized on the day of the completion of the Talmud, he sent the above–mentioned amount to the house of the Chassidim of Gur, at 19, Nalboki Street, and asked them to send him ‘shirayim’[20] from the festive meal, that as far as he knew, was a great event. The fact that a large community of Torah scholars completed the Talmud at one and the same time, made a huge impression on donors in Warsaw, and many followed his example and donated, like him.

In the last weeks of his life, he was very ill, and he was taken to Utbutzk near Warsaw, and his daughter pleaded with him to return home, and he answered her, that his time had not yet come and that there was still time for him to travel. He intimated that at the end of the days of the festival of Channukah, he would return home. And indeed, at the end of the holy Sabbath, on the eve of the 3rd of the month of Tevet, 5691 [corresponding to 1932], his soul departed in purity after the blessing of the Havdallah[21] ceremony. He was 85 years old. The leaders of our town tried to bring him from Utbutzk, to be buried in our town. People came from all the surrounding areas to honour the spiritual shepherd, who sustained the people of Israel in holy communities, over a period of more than 35 years. Students from the Yeshivah of Nuvharduk, from Mezritsh nearby, walked a distance of 25 kilometers to attend his funeral. All the Rabbis in the vicinity, came to eulogize the deceased. In particular, Rabbi Meir Shapira came from Lublin, the capital town of the district, and stood on the verandah of the house of Rabbi Yitzchak Radzinner (Berman)

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in Brisk Street and delivered a eulogy in a wailing voice, a bitter cry, and below stood the entire community, in their tens of thousands, at the Gate of Cheshbon, with their heads bowed towards the coffin of their righteous and holy Rabbi.

Rabbi Shapira read this verse (1 Samuel 3:3): “And before the lamp went out Samuel lay down in the temple of God”. And he said, I am witness to the great Rabbi of Biale, whom I saw a few times before his passing and his face hovered in loftier worlds and in the palaces of heaven. His body suffered much pain, but his spirit and all his efforts were directed towards worlds of holiness, worlds that do not belong or have a connection to our low and dark world, and the lamp of God – the light and soul of this righteous Gaon – has not gone out yet. It will still shine, it will lie down and hover high above, not here, but in the palace of God, in heaven, the place of the holy angels, and the Tana'im[22] and Amora'im[23], masters of the Torah.

And here the eulogizer turned to the coffin and announced: Great Rabbi of Biale! You were so concerned for the people of your town, to make things easier for them on the days of the fasts, knowing the frailty of their bodies, and their fragility of their health. May you know that today there are many homes among the Jewish people where many fast days are observed, not because they are obliged to fast, but because they do not have food. They suffer the shame of hunger due to the terrible affliction that reigns in your town and in the surrounding towns. Therefore, go and advocate before the Throne of God, that the time has come to bring salvation to the Jewish people, so that they should not have to suffer hunger and poverty anymore.

Jews of Biale, be aware, that in this coffin that you are accompanying now, does not lie a withered body of a righteous and holy person, for here rest the holy Scrolls of the Law, with letters that are shining and burning with fire, a pillar of scholarship who served you in holiness for more than 40 years. You are escorting a Rabbi, a spiritual shepherd, of whom there is none like him in this entire generation. Those who had gathered, cried bitterly. The journey of the funeral lasted from the morning of the 3rd day, the 5th Tevet to the afternoon under a shower of snow. At the cemetery, the Admor, Rabbi Moshe Baruch Morgenshtern the great Rabbi of Vludava, eulogized and the whole community filled a big sack of notes that were lowered into the grave alongside the body. His son–in–law, the Rabbi, the teacher of righteousness, Rabbi Moshe, said some words of his eulogy as the coffin was lowered into the grave and then stopped, overcome by much wailing. He could not complete his eulogy because of his great sorrow and mourning. In silent mourning the community returned to town and mourned: A Rabbi like this, will not arise again in our generation.

The Rabbi left behind a son, an eminent Torah scholar, the Chassid, Rabbi Dov Berish, may the Lord avenge his blood, and two sons–in–law: the teacher of righteousness, the Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Utchan, a chassid from Strikov, and Rabbi Chaim Yechiel Tzitrinboim, his daughter, the righteous Rochele, may the Lord avenge her blood, grandchildren and great–grandchildren, his granddaughter Mrs. Esther Yehudit Oleh who lives in Bnei Brak, in Israel, his grandson Mr. Ya'akov Utchan in America, his great grandson Avraham Mordechai Hershberg, a Rabbi in Chicago, whose grandfather the Rabbi, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, still managed to ask Rabbi Shapira to accept him into the Yeshivah of the Wise in Lublin because he is a talented young man and was orphaned by the death of his father. And indeed, after the death of his grandfather, the youth came to the yeshivah. There he was persistent and very diligent in his studies and was the author of the book “Machshavat Ha'kodesh”[24], about the succession of holy ones. And today he is considered one of the most distinguished Rabbis in America[b]; but more than all of this, the Rabbi left behind a “good name”, that only few in a generation succeed in attaining. Among the great Rabbis of Biale, his name will shine eternally.

 

bia278.jpg
A certificate issued for a letter purchased and written in a Torah Scroll, inserted in memory of the Biale Rabbi Shmuel Leib, a scion of saints, of blessed memory

 

[Page 279]

An Addition to the Article
about the Rabbi Shmuel Aryeh Leib, a scion of saints

Translated by Libby Raichman

The Biale Rabbi felt that in Jewish law, in matters between an artisan and a businessman, the evidence of the artisan was more reliable. A workman also benefited from a lawsuit judged by the Rabbi, as he was more trusted than his master.

A typical lawsuit before a rabbinic tribunal came before the Biale Rabbi: the distinguished Chassid Yechiel Hersh, a grain merchant of Gur, became destitute and did not have the money to trade. Moshe Lederman, a respected Chassid of Gur, collected 100 Ruble among the Chassidim and gave it to Yechiel Hersh, without telling him, that it was meant as support. Some time later, Yechiel Hersh wanted to return the 100 Rubel, but Moshe Lederman claimed that he did not recall having lent him money. The matter reached a lawsuit before the Biale Rabbi. The verdict was that the person who was loaned the money was believed more than the lender. The 100 Ruble was donated to the Talmud Torah[25].

When I was called up for military service during the war, my father took me to the Rabbi to ask him for a blessing. The Rabbi gave me his hand and said: “may you survive in peace”.

A couple of weeks after my returning home from captivity, when I worked for Gadl Shlosser, Mendl Mulyer came in and asked me to repair a lock for the Rabbi. I went home to put on a tallit katan[26]. (Biale residents will recall that the rabbi had a weakness of inspecting the tzitzit[27]) and I went to repair the lock. The Rabbi was asleep while I was working. A couple of hours later, Mulyer came to call me again, to go to the Rabbi.

When I came to the Rabbi, I asked him if he had something else to repair. No, was his answer. He only wanted to pay me for my work.

Rabbi, you need not have called me specially for this. I would have come when I was passing by.

– Payment for work done during the day may not be withheld after sunset.
– Tell me, who are you, young man? – the Rabbi asked.
– Fyvl, the son of Leibele Meir Fishtshatzer – was my answer.
– Where were you during the war?
– In captivity.
– Did you at least come home with all your limbs?
– Yes. Thanks to you, your blessing Rabbi, that you gave me on the day before I had to present myself for military service.
– Long life to you.
– Shrage Fyvl, are you a locksmith?
– Yes.
– Are you a good locksmith?
– Pertaining to your question, I have been an artisan for two years already.
– Can you make a key for a lock?
– Yes. That is my trade. I can also make a lock.
– I do not need a lock. I need a good tradesman to make a key for a good lock.
– I have not had a lock for which I could not make a key.
– Shrage Fyvl, I need a good locksmith who will be able to adjust a key for the gates of mercy.
– Rabbi, for that, you are a better mechanic than I am.
– No, every observant Jew can be the mechanic, he just needs to be worthy of it.

Fyvl Gold (New York)

[Page 280]

The finest Charedi youth gathered in the small study house in Zidichuv, led by Rabbi Gershon the young cripple, Moni Pulturok, Lippa Gershon and others. Most of them were from Chassidic families of Hushyatin, Churtkuv, Buyan and Kupitchnitz.

Tzvi Hirshhorn who studied diligently with this group, had acquired a little secular enlightenment in his home. Over time, he organized groups of young people in the small prayer houses as the “The Youth of Agudat Yisrael[28], where he was one of the leaders. As he was active in Agudat Yisrael and connected to Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin, and the Rabbi of Churtkov, Rabbi Yisrael Friedman was one of the leaders of the association, he was accepted among the pious of Churtkov. Hirshhorn travelled to Churtkov every time the Rabbi who lived in Boino, visited there. These journeys made a deep impression on him, and he found that the Rabbi, according to the Chassidic expression, “uplifted his soul” and influenced him greatly. And the unmarried man came to Zlutchov in the summer of 5684, [corresponding to 1924], to the completion of a tractate, that turned into a conference of the youth of Agudat Yisrael, and he became one of the most internationally powerful youth of the Agudah movement in Poland.

He married the daughter of Rabbi Nachum Pluhar, a Hoshyatin Chassid from Krakow, that was closer to the centre in Warsaw, than Lvov. From that time on, he visited Warsaw more often and participated in meetings and in the sessions of the youth of Agudat Yisrael.

However, he suddenly fell silent. He was not seen at any of the party meetings and did not take part in any of its activities. He was then in Kubrin and studied Torah from the Rabbi of the town, Rabbi Pesach Pruskin, one of the great Torah scholars in Lithuania. He advanced in his studies and was ordained as a Rabbi, by the Rabbi of Kubrin and other great Torah scholars.

In 5692 [corresponding to 1930], he was chosen as the Rabbi in Yabuzsnu, in the district of Krakov. He returned to his work with the “Youth of Agudat Yisrael” and took part in national committees and his speeches were the main event at these meetings. He published articles in the newspapers of the association: “Dos Yiddishe Togblat”[29], “Ortodoksishe Yugnt Bletter”[30], “Darkeinu”[31], and others. They excelled in their polished style and their beautiful, rich language. Everything that emanated from his pen was steeped in his personality, yet his power as a speaker was even greater.

In 1932, he was elected chairman of “Youth Agudat Yisrael” in Poland and since then he stood at the head of the organization and directed its course. Together with the Rabbi Moshe Ephraim Moshkovitz of Ostrik, and Yerucham Berliner of Lodz, and others, he worked to instill Torah into the ranks of the youth of the Agudah. His aim was to establish the study of Torah into the lessons in the small yeshivot[32]. The main activity of the Youth Agudat Yisrael organization, was to push the activities of the party to the next level, to a place that it deserved, as a means to an end.

At the large last gathering before the Holocaust, in 5697 [corresponding to 1937] in Ma'arinber, Hirshhorn appeared on behalf of “Youth Agudat Yisrael”, requesting more intensive activity for the organization. This was, incidentally, his first appearance at an international gathering of Agudat Yisrael, and his talent was fully revealed. There he inspired many great people, while still a young man, at the beginning of his path in life, and in the midst of his diligence for personal advance.

As a result of a controversy in his community due to rivalry, Hirshhorn decided to leave Yavuszna because his refined personality was disgusted with the dissension, and even more, by the means used by its disputers. In 5698 [corresponding to 1938], he was chosen as Rabbi in Biale–Podlaska, a town filled with scholars, Chassidim, and famous Rabbis who studied there. But, immediately after moving over to his new community, the Second World War broke out.

He fled to safety from the Germans, may their name be erased, to Lvov, his previous place of residence. He lived there during the days of the Soviet conquest and after that, during the days of the German conquest.

The bitterness of the Holocaust affected him. He saw the loss of his birthplace the destruction of tens of thousands of Jews in the town, together with the Jewish community of Lvov. He was saved from the first deportations in the summer as his friends and admirers hid him for a certain time, until he too was killed in May 1943, at the age of 42, together with the magnificent Jewish community of Lvov.

According to the book “These are a memorial”, second volume, New York. The institute for Research into Orthodox Jewry.

[Page 281]

In the book “Tif'eret Yisrael”[33], Freeman, we read something about Reb Berish:

“The moderate Admor[34] from Varke, once visited the Admor of Kotzk, escorted by his student, the Admor of Biale. On the morning of the holy Sabbath, the Admor from Biale was invited to the Rabbi of Kotzk to drink coffee together with him, and the great scholars of Kotzk who spent time with their Rabbi at this hour. It was the custom of the Rabbi of Kotzk to debate matters of Halachah[35] at gatherings such as these, and mostly, regarding the Rambam[36]. And the Rabbi of Kotzk reviewed the well–known argument of Mishneh Lamelech (chapter 17, of the Halachah regarding the Rambam laws of the Sabbath). Why do we need a verse from the Torah “you shall bring”, to give special permission to allow salting meat on the Sabbath, when salting meat is not usually forbidden on the Sabbath? Those present provided an answer.

And you, young man, what is your view about this? – the Rabbi of Kotzk turned and asked the Admor of Biale. According to my understanding, it is not that difficult – he answered, – because the sacrifices of the sabbath were “burnt offerings” and the head was not flayed or cut, so it was salted with its skin, and salting hide is usually forbidden.

You see – the Rabbi of Kotzk turned to those around him – this is how you learn. (This means erudite)”.

On the death of Reb Berish, on 6th Tammuz 5636, corresponding to 16. 6. 1876, the following article was published in edition number 24, of the “Tzefirah”[37].

“In Mezritch (close to Biale), the past Sabbath, the 27th Sivan, was a dark, gloomy, overcast day for the Biale community that is near to us, for death was plucked from it, when the Rabbi, the Gaon[38], the righteous famous Rabbi, The Rabbi, Dov Berish Landau died, may the righteous memory of this man be blessed. He was the son of the Rabbi, the Gaon etc., The Rabbi, Avraham Landau, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, of Tshechanova. In every town, in every place that this bad news reached, crowds of Chasidim gathered, and they came to the town of Biale the next day, to pay their last respects to their Rabbi; on that day he was brought to the cemetery with great honour. The most important of the Chasidim carried him on their shoulders. VaYerav b'vat Biale[39] – he increased in the daughter of Biale, pain and wailing. God will reward you who mourn him, with comfort, and be gracious to his ashes.

Y. N.


Original footnotes:

  1. This article about the Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Aryeh Leib, the second last Rabbi in Biale for over 40 years (1891 –1932), is presented here in the Hebrew original, as the author sent it. Return
  2. The head of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Frommer, gives his lesson. He is the heir of the Rabbi and Senator, Rabbi Meir Shapira, who died young. He repeats his lesson for us, on the same evening at the concluding meal when a young lad – almost a boy, repeats the entire lesson by heart, swaying his long blonde sidelocks at the same time.
    Who would have expected that this young boy would become the current Rabbi Reb Mordechai Hershberg, of Chicago, whom I have heard speaking at the American embassy in Venezuela, as well as in Colombia, to a selected audience where he spoke about the greatness of America and its Jews, and about his friend, the Vice President, Dick Nixon?
    (Dr. Shashkes – “About the remaining Jews in Lublin” – an article that appeared in “Latest News”, number 1552, of 5. 2. 60, where among other articles, there is one about the festivities on the completion of the Talmud that took place in 1938 in the “Yeshivah of the Wise of Lublin”). Return


Translator's footnotes:

  1. A bimah is a podium. Return
  2. Responsa – letters of questions and answers. Return
  3. Gaon – a genius. A Rabbinic title given to a scholar of great stature. Return
  4. Admo”r – acronym for the Hebrew words adonaynu, moraynu v'rabaynu – our master, our teacher, our Rabbi. A title given to a Chasssidic Rabbi. Return
  5. Chidushei HaRabbi Yitzchak Meir – The interpretations of the Rabbi Yitzchak Meir. Return
  6. “the four public fasts” are: Fast of Gedalyah, Fast of Esther, Fast of the 17th Tammuz, Tish'ah B'Av. Return
  7. Shulchan Aruch – Code containing a detailed body of Jewish Laws, published 1550–1559. Return
  8. Yoreh De'ah – This is a section in the Shulchan Aruch, a compilation of halachah by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher. Return
  9. Deciders – Arbiters. Rabbinic authorities on halachic questions. Return
  10. Kabbalah – Jewish Mysticism. Return
  11. The word is “Va'y'shakayhu” meaning – and he kissed him. In the Torah text, there is a dot above each letter of this Hebrew word. The Rabbis inserted these dots because they doubted whether the kiss of Esau was genuine. Return
  12. Hashkivaynu – the first word of a prayer in the Ma'ariv (evening service) that begins “grant that we lie down in peace, Lord our God”. Return
  13. Kabbalah – Jewish Mysticism. Return
  14. Practical Kabbalah – concerned with incantations and miracles. Return
  15. Responsa – questions and answers on religious law. Return
  16. Kashrut – ritual lawfulness. Return
  17. Asher Yatzar – a blessing said before the morning service, blessing God, who heals all flesh. Return
  18. Tu Bi'Shvat – a festival occurring in the month of Shvat, that celebrates the new year of the trees. Return
  19. Zlotte and groschen are Polish currency. A groschen is a small coin. Return
  20. Shirayim – remnants of food that a Chassidic Rabbi has blessed and tasted that the faithful share and consider a blessing. Return
  21. Havdallah – the candle lighting ceremony at the end of the Sabbath that separates the Sabbath from the weekdays. Return
  22. Tana'im – teachers, authorities quoted in the Mishnah. Return
  23. Amora'im – interpreters, sages who interpreted the words of the Tana'im. Return
  24. Machshvat Ha'kodesh – The Concept of Holiness. Return
  25. Talmud Torah – tuition free elementary school maintained by the community. Return
  26. Tallit katan – a four–cornered fringed garment worn under a shirt by observant Jews. Return
  27. Tzitzit – the four tassels on the tallit katan. Return
  28. Agudat Yisrael – literally, the “Society of Israel”. Agudat Yisrael was a religious party in Israel. Return
  29. “Dos Yiddishe Togblat” – The Yiddish Daily. Return
  30. “Ortodoksishe Yugnt Bletter” – Orthodox Youth newspaper. Return
  31. “Darkeinu” – Our Path. Return
  32. Yeshivot (singular yeshivah) – Talmudic colleges. Return
  33. “Tif'eret Yisrael” (Hebrew) – The glory of Israel. Return
  34. Admo”r – acronym for the Hebrew words adonaynu moraynu v'rabaynu – our master, our teacher, our Rabbi. A title given to a Chassidic Rabbi. Return
  35. Halachah – legal aspects of Jewish traditional literature. Return
  36. Ramba'm – acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon – Maimonides. Return
  37. Ha'Tzefirah – one of the first Hebrew newspapers of the 20th century. Return
  38. Gaon – a genius. A rabbinic title given to a scholar of great stature. Return
  39. The original text of this quotation is a verse from Lamentations 2:5 and reads: and he increased in the daughter of Judah. The author has replaced the word “Judah” with the word “Biale” so that it applies to the people of Biale in particular. Expl: Rabbi Yitzchok Javen, Fr. Return

 

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