[Pages 49 - 50]
On Rabbi Naphtali were bestowed three crowns: he was a great Torah scholar, he was a great Hasidic leader, and he was famous for his keen intelligence.
The following story is told about Rabbi Naphtali, when he was still a youth living in the home of his father, Rabbi Menahem Mendel, the Rabbi of Liska: The Polish authorities treated the Jews cruelly, and the Jews suffered quietly under this treatment. Hot headed youths plotted to take revenge on these enemies of the Jewish people. One day two Christian officials of the Polish authorities, who had maltreated the Jews, were found dead. The Christian masses were about to start a pogrom against the Jews. A priest who was a friend of the Jews, and the police chief stopped the wild mobs, and turned to the Rabbi and demanded that he turn over the murderers to the police. The young Naphtali, who knew Polish, said to the priest: If the Jews are really murderers, then the Christians are to blame much more than the Jews, according to the verse For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee (Obadiah, Chapter 1, Verse 10). It is well known that the sons of Jacob are not murderers, and it is Esau who lives by the sword. Jacob has known the hard hand of Esau. Our brothers are murdered, maimed and robbed, and the government does not interfere for the Jews. The officials and the police should be ashamed that they have allowed this to come to the point where the sons of Jacob have become murderers.
Among the jokes about his wife, the following is told: It is said that there are four levels in nature: inanimate, vegetable, animal, and the speaking man. I know a fifth: the speaking woman. The cook burned the food. After finishing the meal, the Rebbetzin started to curse the cook. The Rebbe said to her, you are committing a sin. It is written: You shall eat, and you shall be sated, and you shall bless. You, however, have eaten and been sated, and have cursed.
I heard the following story from my mother, Haya Kurz, of blessed memory: There was a house at the end of the street leading from the
market. The tenant in this house was not religiously observant. Stones began to fall off from the roof. Rabbi Naphtali came to the house, and drove out the demons with his prayers. After that the stones stopped falling from the roof. All the people of the town saw the miracle.
There are many stories, parables and legends told about Rabbi Naphtali, and many of them are written in Hasidic literature. He possessed great talents. He was very wise, sharp-witted, and merry, with a good sense of humor. With all this he was basically simple and warm hearted. His name went before him throughout the Jewish world.
[Pages 51 - 53]
Rabbi Naphtali came to Ropshitz before the Shabbat of the Torah portion Vayera to give his first sermon. The people of the town gathered by the bridge near the mill to receive him. The men came to receive a blessing of peace from their new Rabbi. The Rabbi requested wine and refreshments for all, and asked all to sing Baruch Elokainu shebra'anu lichvodo (Blessed be our Lord who created us in his honor). The people drank wine and wished him well, and a musician played melodies, and the town was filled with a joyous feeling such had never before occurred.
The Rabbi began his sermon the next day with: My distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is customary that a Rabbi's sermon should have three essential elements. His words must be words of truth, they should be short, and they should be connected with the weekly Torah portion. I can fulfill all this by simply saying that I do not know the weekly portion. This would be short, truthful and connected with the weekly portion! The audience enjoyed this joke, but Rabbi Naphtali immediately became serious and started to delve into a subtle halachic discussion in which he quoted various sources from both the early and later halachic literature. Most of the people were unable to follow this complex discussion. After that he moved on to the realm of agadah (parables and allegory) and told stories and legends that the less learned in the audience could greatly enjoy. When he finished, all the Jews of Ropshitz now knew that they were very fortunate in their choice of Rabbi Naphtali to be their Rabbi.
More from the same book:
The small town of Ropshitz, in Western Galicia, is hidden behind a ridge of the Carpathian Mountains. The whole town consists only of a market place with a large puddle in the middle, and a few alleys with huts covered with straw roofs. No one would even have heard of the place were it not for Rabbi Naphtali who established his residence purposely in this out of the way town. Rabbi Naphtali expressed this fact in his own particular way: Who is the man who knows his place? This refers to a man who makes his place known to all, so that all will know his place of residence and the place of his glory
Thanks to Rabbi Naphtali, Ropshitz became famous. Its fame was widespread, as if it were the great capital of a large country.
Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Horowitz, the Rabbi of Ropshitz, was the outstanding student of the Rebbe of Lizinsk, and a favorite student of Hachoze Milublin (The Seer of Lublin), Hamagid Mikoznitz (The Preacher of Koznitz), and Rebbe Mendely of Riminov. He was the author of the books Zera Hakodesh, Ayalah Sh'lucha and Torah u-Moadim. On his tombstone is inscribed: Yachid b'doro b'chochmat Elokut (Singularly outstanding in his generation in divine wisdom).
[Pages 54 - 57]
Parables told in Ropshitz about Rebbe Rav Naphtali:
Our ancestors in Ropshitz suffered greatly from demons who were called clowns because of the strange pranks they performed. Here is what they used to do: They would come to the town and go up on the roofs and prance around in groups, smoking long pipes. They would insert the pipes into the chimneys, and from there into the pots cooking on the stoves, and would drink the soup and everything else that was being cooked, without leaving anything for the family to eat. Sometimes they would come into the houses, remove bricks from the wall, and throw them on people passing in the street. The whole wall was destroyed by this prank. The Jews of Ropshitz moaned and suffered but were unable to do anything to save themselves.
And then Rabbi Naphtali came to serve as the Rabbi of Ropshitz, and the people of the town came and pleaded with him to rescue them from this great affliction. They described to him how the clowns came to the town from time to time, and the terrible pranks they performed. The Rabbi told them to bring him a whip and to let him know the next time they came to town. And so the next time they came, the people immediately told the Rabbi who promptly went out to meet them with the whip in his hand. With the whip raised over them, he raised his voice to them and drove them away, warning them that if they should come again they would meet their bitter end. The clowns never came again and the people of Ropshitz were relieved of this affliction.
I heard this story from my grandmother Hentche.
[There follows a long poem, telling this same story in rhyme.]
A wise saying by Rabbi Naphtali: One who does not try to take his place, has a place in any place.
(Published in the newspaper Yediyot Aharonot, Friday, 24th of Elul, 5744 Sept. 21, 1984)
[Pages 58 - 60]
It was said about Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz that he was a patron of the mitzvah of Sukkah. He was busy all year with matters concerning the Sukkah. Every day he would do something in preparation for the Sukkah or for its decorations. If he wasn't able to do that, he would sit and learn the tractate Sukkah in the Talmud. He would repeatedly say: Among all the mitzvot there is none like the mitzvah of Sukkah, which one fulfills with one's entire body by entering it with all one's clothing and shoes. Although Shabbat also encompasses the entire body, observance of Shabbat is performed passively. One enters Shabbat when it comes. The mitzvah of Sukkot, on the other hand, is observed actively when one enters the Sukkah, sits in it, eats and drinks in it, and sleeps in it. It was said that Rabbi Naphtali's soul was hewn from the heavenly Sukkah, and therefore his descendents paid special attention to Sukkah decorations, using parochot (curtains covering the holy ark in the synagogue), carpets, etrogim, fruits of the seven species of the Land of Israel, colored paper lanterns, and paper birds. Paper hens with outstretched wings would hover over the heads of those sitting in the Sukkah. The worthy men of Ropshitz would refer to the latter when they gave their talks about Torah while seated at the table in the Sukkah. They would compare the Sukkah to a mother bird feeding her young and then spreading her wings over them in protection. This symbolized the way the Lord treats his people; on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur He allots food for us for the whole year, and afterwards places us under his wings in the Sukkah to protect us
There were wise men among the Rebbes, such as Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz, who once said: I am not afraid of Geihinom (Hell), a long as they don't seat me in Gan Eden (Paradise) next to a fool. He often said: A Jew must be good-hearted, dedicated and clever all together. One who is good-hearted alone is an adulterer, one who is clever alone is a thief, and one who is dedicated alone is a fool.
The wise Rabbi Naphtali told this story: In my whole life no one ever got the better of me except for one small girl. I once was in the small town of Zabov, a town the size of the palm of my hand. There were only ten Jews in the town, but it had a synagogue and a cemetery. I met a young girl in the street and asked her: If you have a synagogue in which to pray with a minyan (ten men), why do you need a cemetery, because if one of the men should die, you won't have a minyan so you won't need a synagogue? She answered me that we only have a cemetery for those who come to visit us.
Rabbi Naphtali was born in 5520 (1759) and died in 5587 (1826).
[Pages 61 - 63]
Reb Nachum lived not far from the synagogue. He was tall, with a trimmed beard. He loved his horse more than anything else. When he died, his son-in-law, Fishel Berger, took over for him. Fishel had three daughters, one of whom survived. I believe that Fishel and his horse got old together. Often, when I would ride home with him from the train station, I would get out when we went uphill, in order to lighten the load. Like most of the Jews of the Shtetl, he wore a shtrimel (fur hat) on Shabbat, even when he brought his horse to the river to drink.
The third wagon driver was Berele. His father-in-law was a merchant who sold horses, but since he wasn't a good businessman he became a wagon driver. He was a very religious Jew, and so became the wagon driver of the Rabbi. It is told that once he demanded an exaggerated fee for moving the Rabbi's furniture, because, he said, there were three who had worked: himself, his horse, and his wagon! The Rabbi wasn't able to stand up against such an argument!
Pesach'l tried to be away from home as much as possible because of his wife, a Cossack-like woman who didn't understand him. There wasn't much love between them. When their relations became critical, after the birth of their first son, they went to the Rabbi to be divorced. The Rabbi, who wanted to make peace between them, advised them to wait until their second child is born, after which they could divide things equally between them when they are divorced. What did fate do? They had twins!
His golden opportunity came when war broke out. He then fled eastward, as many men did, to avoid being conscripted into the army. I met him in Lwow, in the winter of 1939, in the Bet Hamidrash (study hall), where most of the men who had fled from Ropshitz had gathered. These included Mendel and Moshe Goldner, Hersch Hillel Weitz, Haim Parker, Naphtali and Yissacher Hezenkopf, Gedaliah Balfeld, Yitzchak and Avraham Ruck. We had a special table in this Bet Midrash, where we would sit and sing all the songs from Ropshitz, especially the melodies composed by Pesach'l Desser. He would lead this choir. How unfortunate it was that most of these men returned to their families in Ropshitz that winter, and were killed with all the people of the Shtetl.
[Pages 64 - 67]
Yehudah Leibish Kurz, the enlightened and Zionist author, would often debate about Zionism with the Hasidim. The Hasidim would say: Our Rebbes are opposed to Zionism, so you see that it is forbidden. Reb Leibish Kurz, who was also a pious Jew, would answer them: The Rebbe is, indeed, familiar with the heavenly pathways, where he safely walks, but walking here, on earth, he stumbles and falls over a straw.
Reb Pinchas Moshe was a lovable Jew, overflowing with humor and wise sayings. Here is one of his sayings: Why did Rav Avraham Danziger name his book about Jewish law, Hayei Adam (Man's Life)? Because after Rav Yosef Karo wrote his Shulchan Aruch (which comprises an extensive compilation of all Jewish law), Rav Shlomo Ganzfried wrote Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (a shortened version of one aspect of the Shulchan Aruch), and Reb Pinchas Moshe didn't want anyone to write a shortened version of his book. No one would write a book called Kitzur Hayei Adam (Shortened Man's Life)!
Reb Yankel Zeigermacher (Burstein) was a very poor man who had daughters in America. Once, his daughters sent him a ticket to come to America. He went, but a short while later he was again seen sitting in his regular place in the kloiz (prayer house), praying from his siddur (prayer book). Why did you come back? Who comes back from America after only a few weeks? Reb Yankel answered them: How can one live there? Even the stones are treifa (not kosher)! Reb Pinchas Moshe answered: Who told you to eat stones? One eats bread! One eats meat!
Nachum'le Desser was not known for being very religiously observant. On one occasion several men came to the kloiz (prayer house) and said that they had seen him eating a non-kosher sausage in the store belonging to the Pole Burstein. This caused considerable agitation, and when Nachum'le appeared he was strongly criticized. Nachum'le denied the accusation. The men then told him that he had been seen holding the sausage and eating it. Nachum'le answered: It was not a sausage, it was a date (taitel in Yiddish). But it was something large and thick replied the men. It was a large date answered Nachum'le. At that point Reb Pinchas Moshe intervened and said: In that case it was not a taitel (with the diminutive ending el), it was a toit! (a dead one).
More about Nachum'le: In those days, fliers, which came from Eretz Yisrael (Palestine), would sometimes be posted on the walls, telling about the economic distress of the Jews there, and asking for financial help. Once, such a flier appeared on the door of the kloiz (prayer house), on which was written in large letters: Ra'av gadol sorer ba'aretz (great hunger reigns here), and on the next line: Ki kaved ha-ra'av m'od (the hunger is very severe). A crowd gathered to read the flier, and among them was Nachum'le. He said: Ma ze? Tzvay 'rav-en', un ayn m'shorer!! (Two Rabbis and one poet!!). [This is a play on the words ra'av (hunger) and rav (Rabbi), and on the words sorer (reigns) and m'shorer (poet).]
Reb Ara'le Blut and Reb Lebe'le, who was a descendant of Tzadikim (righteous men), studied together in heder in their youth. They were friends, but sometimes quarreled, as friends do. Once, during a quarrel, Ara'le said to Lebe'le: What are you boasting so much about? In learning we are both equal. In writing we are both equal. So what if you are the grandson of Reb Asher? I know how to swim and you don't!
My brother, Avraham Reis, was a very learned man. Here is something he said: There is a Yiddish expression Fun zugen vert man nisht trugen (One doesn't get pregnant from words). Where in the Bible is there a hint for this? The answer is in Psalms, Chapter 75, where it is written: Ki lo mimotza umima'arav, v'lo mi-midbar harim (Neither from the east nor from the west, nor from the desert can one be lifted up). (This is apparently a play on words, comparing the Yiddish zugen, which means speaking words, with the Hebrew midbar, which means desert but its letters m d b r could also mean speaking words.)
It is a winter evening and the Jews of the Shtetl have gathered in the kloiz (prayer house) for the afternoon and evening prayers. The place is completely filled. After the prayers, as usual, most of the men do not go directly home. Some remain and engage in quiet conversation. The more learned ones sit at tables, light the small lamps which hang above the tables, and begin to study. Some engage in the study of Mishna, led by Reb Naphtali Lender or others. Some old men sit around the hot stove and tell stories about Tzadikim (righteous men). Many of the men stand around in groups near the western wall, discussing various matters. The discussions are vigorous and loud. From the opposite side of the kloiz are heard voices studying Gemorah: Abaye says Rava says what does this teach us?... In the middle of the kloiz there is a mingling of voices: the sing-song voices of those studying the Gemorah and the noise of those just conversing, but one does not disturb the other, and it is warm and good and pleasant. Suddenly, a loud, strong voice calls out from one of the corners of the room, silencing the other voices. It is a voice singing one of the prayers from the High Holidays: As long as man's soul is in him. The men are astounded and amazed at what they hear. What does the prayer As long as man's soul is in him have to do with the evening of an ordinary weekday? Eyes are turned to where the voice is coming from, and there stands Reb Shmuel Yitzchak Rosemarin on a bench, singing this prayer! It turns out that in a conversation between Reb Leibesh Lazar and Reb Shmuel Yitzchak, who was a Ba'al Tefilah (a man who leads the prayer service), Reb Leibesh said to him: I will give you a glass of beer if you will stand up on a bench and sing As long as a man's soul is in him. Reb Shmuel Yitchak then stood on the bench and his powerful voice rang out in the kloiz: As long as a man's soul is in him, G-d yearns for the repentance of man, who was fashioned from His earth, to grant him life and ultimate benefit.
[Pages 68 - 69]
There was one woman, called Frima Malkah, who was known for her exaggerated religiosity. Whenever she came into a house, she would open the door with her elbow, because one of her hands was for dairy food and the other was for meat food. Only with her elbow was she able to avert any chance of making anything treifah (non-kosher).
There was one house which the prophet Elijah had to enter twice on the night of the Seder. This was the house of Leah Rosemarin. There, each one of the couple would separately recite the passage Sh'foch Chamatcha (the passage in the Haggadah which is recited when the door is opened to invite the prophet Elijah to come in). Once, when she went to open the door, her long skirt got caught. Really now, Reb Elijah, that's not proper for you, she said!
Our neighbor, Golda Alter, would come in every afternoon, to chatter with my mother (may G-d avenge her death). In the summer they would sit on a bench outside, and in the winter they sat by the stove in the kitchen. She would talk about everyone and everything in the Shtetl. When she got up to leave, she would wrap her shawl around her and say: I think I didn't speak any idle gossip about anyone!
Once when I was sitting with my friend Idel, the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Rubin, we were talking about one of the girls, and were saying things which were not very praiseworthy. Rabbanit Mirrile Halberstam came in and criticized us for talking gossip, and then, by the way, said it's better to speak perversely about a women than not to mention her at all; the main thing is to speak.
Fruma Malka used to wash off the meat in the stream, especially before Passover. Once, before Passover, she was washing off the chicken she had bought, as she usually did. This time, since the current is very strong in the spring, the chicken was washed away in the stream. Just then, the carriage of the non-Jewish governor of the district was crossing on the bridge, and he saw how miserable the woman looked. Out of pity for her he promised to buy her another chicken.
Once, during a very severe winter, a farmer brought a goose to the market to be sold. He was the only farmer who had come to the market. Because of this, he demanded an exaggerated price for the goose. The Shtetl's clown had an idea, and he asked all the buyers to repeat after him what he said. He approached the farmer and asked him what is the price of the rooster. Several buyers repeated the same thing after him, as he had instructed them. Out of desperation, the farmer said: When I left home I took a goose with me, and now in the town it has turned into a rooster!
[Pages 70 - 73]
Among those who were arrested by the Russians was a young man named Feivel Green, the son of Yosef Green, a learned Jew who used to give lessons in the Bet Midrash (study hall). His grandfather was the first Jewish victim of the first bombing of the Shtetl. After his arrest Feivel was sent to northern Russia, an area where there is no night in the summer, and in the winter the day is very short and the temperature reaches minus 50°.
In 1941, when the Germans attacked Russia, and the Russians were forced to ask the help of their allies, the British made it conditional on the Russians negotiating with the exiled Polish government headed by Sikorski. The exiled government demanded the release of all the Polish nationals imprisoned in Russia. Among them, Feivel was also freed. Without clothing and without any money, he wandered to central Asia, looking for a warmer climate. He barely existed until 1943 when he enlisted in the Polish army, named after the leftist poetess Wanda Washilvaska, which came into being under the auspices of Russia. He served in the artillery and advanced with the front, together with the Russians, until they reached German territory. At one point the Germans stopped their retreat and intended to counter-attack. The Polish command ordered Feivel's unit to retreat. The non-Jewish soldiers retreated, without telling Feivel about the command, and he remained alone with his mortar. He operated the mortar in place of three men who were in the original crew, and continued firing even more than before. Many Germans fell in the zone of his firing and the counter-attack was repulsed. The Polish command came to see which unit it was that had held on and had repelled the Germans, and they found only the Feivel Unit, with one mortar! For this brave action, Feivel received the highest Polish citation, Virtoti Militari. After the war he emigrated to the United States.
Zvi Antwerpen, who is now in Israel, and others about whom I have no details, also served in the Polish army.
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