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Reb Avrahamele Sochaczewer

by Aharon Cejtlin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Reb Yechiel Meir Gastininer would call the Sochaczewer Rebbe nothing other than: the Torah Jew

“It is clearer to me than day”, he used to say, “That just as the Torah Jew decides below, it is decided in Heaven above.”

The Sochaczewer lived with Torah, breathed Torah, and simultaneously – lived with Hassidism and breathed Hassidism. This Gaon, from the mighty upholders of Torah, the author of “Eglei Tal” and “Avnei Nezer” on the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) was indeed one of the greatest of Polish rabbis.

Aside from his own pedigree and aside from the pedigree of his ancestry (he stemmed from the Rema and the Shach) [1] he also had the pedigree of Kock. The Kocker was his father-in-law. His father, Reb Zeev Nachum, an eminent Gaon, was a rabbi in Olkusz, and later in Biala. The father, just like the son, was both a Gemara Jew and (as the son wrote in the introduction to the father's book) a person “versed in miracles”.

It was also told regarding the mother of the Sochaczewer, Dovrish as they called her, (see “Abir Haroim), the she merited to see a vision of Elijah. This should not surprise us. The Hassidic stories relate that the grandmother of Reb Michel Zloczewer, Yentl, used to open up a heaven full of angels. The angels would sing Kadosh [2], and Yentl the prophetess – as they called her – used to sing together with them. Reb Nachman's mother Feiga [3], the granddaughter of the Baal Shem Tov, Hodel's daughter, used to be called Feiga the prophetess by the Hassidim. They used to relate regarding her that she used to unify herself with the Baal Shem's soul. Hodel herself, the daughter of the Baal Shem, used to take part in her father's ascendancies and rectifications, as is told by Hassidic tradition.

The Misnagdic, anti-Hassidic learning based itself upon the statement that, since the destruction of the Holy Temple, “G-d only has the four ells of Halacha” [4] – that only Halacha remains before the Creator of the World as it were. On the other hand, Hassidic learning was all encompassing. Everything in Judaism was bound and cemented to learning (as is espoused, for example by Zhidachov and Komarno, but especially Chabad [5]) and it is thought that the Halacha itself is the universal revelation of G-dliness, like a Halacha oriented tradition. The “four ells of Halacha”, are surrounded – in all worlds, and are seen through the prism of the Jewish people, the “singular nation in the land”.

Reb Avrahamele Sochaczewer, just like Reb Avrahamele Czestochower, and just like virtually all or almost all of the great rabbis, was a living confirmation of the thought that I had developed in the previous discussion: the thought that Hassidism created a synthesis of Jewish values.

He was born in the year 5599 (1839) in Bendin. The Kocker – Hassidim relate – told a secret to his father, the rabbi of Biala, that he merited such a son on account of the bizarre incident. One Purim, Jews were so deeply immersed in the mitzvah of the joy of Purim, that there indeed was a moment when no Jew except for the rabbi of Biala was studying any Torah. Were it not for him, the world would have remained without a sound of Torah at that moment. It was good fortune that the rabbi of Biala did not desist from his learning even at such a time. Therefore, it was decreed in Heaven that they would send him a son would enlighten the eyes of all of Israel.

The father's diligence in Torah was transmitted to the son. Reb Avrahamele Sochaczewer fulfilled the adage “and you shall delve into it day and night” with the same dedication as his father.

He once said that, since from the moment a Jew dies until his burial, he has nothing to do – it is good that the corpse would not lie empty, but should rather recite Mishnas by heart.

Here you have the entire essence of the Sochaczewer: the exceptional learner whose “mouth does not desist from study” – literally that he cannot imagine that a Jew would desist from Torah even between death and burial; and the Rebbe, whose sense for the mystical reality is worthy of discussion, to whom the revealed and the hidden are within the same boundary; and a Jew to whom it is an obvious and self-evident matter that someone between death and burial would lie and recite Mishnas by heart.

The Sochaczewer often used to cite what his father-in-law, the Kocker once told him about the path of Hassidism and the path of learnedness. The Kocker would say that if the Baal Shem Tov was sent to earth in order to lead a new way of the worship of the Creator, it was not because that path, the Hassidic path, is higher than the path of learnedness. No. It was therefore because of the false interpretations with which one had interpreted the Torah – because of this, with our great sins, an injury came upon the Torah and a great accusation was taking place in Heaven. There was no other solution than to send the Holy Baal Shem Tov to our world, so that he would found a new way. However, aside from this, the path of drawing close to the Master of the World through learning is much greater.

We have already seen that Hassidism, in any case, at its summit, bound together the revealed and the hidden into one unit. Thus, the path of learning and the path of Hassidism indeed became one. Indeed, we can bring a proof from the Kocker himself and from the Sochaczewer himself. However, not only from them. We see this everywhere in Hassidism, from the “Toldot Yaakov Yosef”, the Baal Shem Tov's direct student until Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, and from the author of the Tanya until the Ostrowicer, the last great Rebbe personality in Poland.

The Kocker's aforementioned statement was certainly a sort of a paradox. We can take it as a correct formulation of the way that Hassidism had experienced if we understand that talking about service the Creator of the World through study is what the Kocker meant by the Hassidic path of learning. The only reservation is with regard to the Baal Shem Tov. The truth is that the Baal Shem Tov's methodology did not place “service of the heart” higher than learning. It only placed more stress on “service of the heart” for the reason that the Kocker brought down. Hassidism, I repeat, was the one and only path, but this does not imply that it did not have its own dialectic.

Illustrative of the truth – the Sochaczewer searched both in learning and in Hassidism. He said the following regarding his way of learning:

There is an enlightened intellect and a dark one. If a person has novel ideas in Torah in a wonderful manner, and then finds a contradiction to his novel idea and wishes to forcefully resolve the contradiction because it would be a shame for him to lose such a wonderful didactic; he mixes the dark intellect with the enlightened one, and comes up with the resolution. In such a case, he has a personal stake, he is a stakeholder, it must be the case! My way and no other. If I want to innovate something, I would first search in every hole and in every crack in case I find some contradiction to it. Why should I come up with something that is not the truth? My nature is, that if I search for a problem in my own achievement more than in someone else's, and if I say or write to another about some innovation of mine – my sole intention thereby is: perhaps the other might find an opposing piece of evidence, and through that, I myself might clarify the matter.

From the “dark intellect”, the Sochaczewer leapt to the illuminated.

The Torah Jew, the Sochaczew, was a Torah Jew with an illuminated intellect from childhood. Once, at noontime, he was reaching for cereal at the table. His father, the rabbi of Biala, asked him in jest: Nu, Avrahamel, to such a question do you also have an answer? [6]

“Now I am eating”, said the youth, “we will see after eating”.

“Nu?” his father reminded him later, “What do you say?”

“An answer”, said Avrahamel, “Is relevant when there is a question (kashia). Now there is no more cereal (kasha). So why is an answer needed?”

During his entire later life, the Sochaczewer did not seek for any answers when there was no question.

The young genius lived in Kock for approximately six or seven years, until his father-in-law's death. Throughout his entire life, the Sochaczewer did not cease to talk about his father-in-law with enthusiasm and wonderment. Exactly like the Chidushei Harim [7] – he was struck with wonder not only about the Kocker's greatness in the revealed, in his power of Torah. The Sochaczewer possessed that power of Torah himself in his younger years. The Chidushei Harim, to whom the young genius used to travel after his father-in-law's death, said about him once, when he was taken by a touch of genius, the following words: The holy Kocker left us a beautiful inheritance; in every generation there is one who is the mirror of the generation, and they look into that mirror from Heaven. Today this young man, the Olkuszer genius, is reflecting thus.

Since one has to concern oneself with one's sustenance on the earth, it was no longer appropriate to remain in Kock. The privation increased, and the Kocker's son-in-law became the rabbi in Parczew. He was persecuted in Parczew, and it even came to the point where he was left without bread. In later years, he would relate that he did not even have a room in which he could sit and learn – he would go out to learn in a field among the stocks of corn. Even at that time – he would say with a sigh – even at that time, I grew by leaps and bounds. Where did those years go? The learning among the stocks of corn was so pleasant… if the persecutors would only know, the persecutors did such good, the persecutors would have kissed the coat tails…

There, he became acquainted with the young rabbi, the Gaon Reb Yehoshuale Kutner. The Kutner [8] was very active. Due to his greatness, he wanted to have him close by. This lasted for a long time, and his Rebbe, The Chidushei Harim, no longer had to help his persecuted student with a weekly allowance, which he used to send him from Ger. Since Krosniewice needed a rabbi, Reb Yehoshuale himself went there. He called together the householders into the Beis Midrash, went up to the bima, and made the following statement: “My masters, since you are left without a rabbi, you should know that I have engaged in Torah didactics with a certain young man. If you accept him as the rabbi of the city, your city will have a rabbi as great as the Rashba [9]. My masters, I rarely defeated this young man, and only with great help from heaven was I saved from defeat by him [10].”

The Krosniewicer householders agreed, not even knowing to whom Reb Yehoshuale was referring. Later the Kutner Gaon disclosed that he was referring to the young Parczewer rabbi, the Kocker rabbi's son-in-law. He himself, the Kutner, inscribed the authorization of the rabbinate. In it, he entitled him as: Prince of Torah.

He had no rest in Krosniewice as well. The householders stirred up trouble and complained that the rabbi “Mixes himself into too much”.

He was the rabbi in Krosniewice and he also became a Rebbe there after the death of the Aleksandrer. Reb Henech was his third Rebbe. The first was the Kocker, and the second was the Chidushei Harim. After the death of the Chidushei Harim, he traveled to the Aleksandrer and became his greatest confidante. He bound himself strongly to him. When the Aleksandrer passed away, and a portion of the Hassidim cast their eyes upon him, the Krosniewicer rabbi, after a long period of deliberation, he agreed to lead the community. His own father, the rabbi of Biala, traveled to him as a Hassid to his Rebbe. After Krosniewice he went to Nasielsk, and finally to Sochaczew – the city by which he is called. It is related in the pure book of wonders, “Abir Haroim”, which has a treasury of material regarding the Sochaczewer (and the Kocker), that the “Nefesh Chaya” came to Sochaczew and told the assemblage that the city must purify itself and prepare to welcome the holy Jew, who is the equal of a Torah scroll.

His light spread to the entire Poland from Sochaczew. Students from everywhere came to his Yeshiva. Chasidim streamed to him in order to be helped spiritually and physically. They told wonders regarding him.

Although the Sochaczewer conducted himself entirely differently from the Kocker, he nevertheless would on occasion utter a sigh and relate out loud a dream that he had regarding a quorum of Jews… For if the Kocker required a quorum of Jews on a roof, beyond and outside of the world, the Sochaczewer's dream regarding a quorum was entirely different. He dreamed of ten students. He sat with the ten students somewhere on an island. This was a miniature Yeshiva on an island, and he, the Sochaczewer, sat and studied Torah with them for its own sake, without any disturbance in the great silence of the island.

“If such were possible”, he would say, “I would thereby bestow a good turn upon the entire world. This would be the proper rectification.”

This means that one must detach oneself from the world, but only in order to help the world – to bestow a rectification upon the world. One must go away from it in order to rectify it.

That dream of a Yeshiva on an island with ten people who would rectify the world through Torah – that alone was a piece of Torah, one of the finest and most typical Torah statements of Reb Avrahamele Sochaczewer.

(“The Morning Journal”, July 30th, 1950)


The Rebbi's Court

M. B. Sztejn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Jewish community of Sochaczew and the Rebbi's Court are now, to our great sorrow, in the world of truth [11]. From both, all that remains is a gnawing sorrowful elegiac legend. The blood, which was once hot, is now congealed. The old controversies are long, long forgotten, and the excitement does not even cause any stirrings any more. Only the memories, which are etched in our minds, always grow with us; and I wish to tell you about a life that so tragically ended. I hope that I will be forgiven if I make any error in my recollections.

The Rebbe…

Many years ago, in the year 5642 (1882), Hassidim from all areas of Poland purchased a single-story, brick house in Sochaczew, close to the end of Trojanower Street for their Rabbi, Reb Avrahamele. Spread out around the house were the outlying fields, the priest's gardens with tall linden trees, the peasant's paths into the forests, and the gently flowing tributary of the Bzura – the Sochaczew Creek. In front of the house were five broad-branched chestnut trees; which sparkled through the panes of the windows, cast green shadows in the spacious room, and guarded the gates to the yard of the house like watchmen.

This house, with its paved courtyard and former gardens, once belong to a gentile official of the post office. He did not maintain the gardens. A dog guarded him and his trees. He made sure to maintain the rooms in a nice and convenient fashion. There was an entranceway built there, and obnoxious, frivolous, noisy people used to enter there….

Reb Avrahamele was known as the rabbi of the city of Sochaczew. He was not only the Gaon (genius) and the expert teacher, but also the Rebbe. Hassidim used to flock to him since the time that he was the rabbi and Rebbe in the cities of Krosnowice and Nasielsk before he was known in Sochaczew. Rabbi Avrahamele's Hassidim were not content to have their rabbi live in the staleness and the moldiness of the communal houses near the communal Beis Midrash, above the communal mikva (ritual bath) where the previous Sochaczewer rabbis lived.

The Hassidim cast their sights upon the house of the gentile postal official. They redeemed it from him, the obnoxious, frivolous tenants, and the dog; and the house with its neglected garden, paved courtyard, five chestnut trees by the entrance – became a place of Torah and Hassidism for the rabbi, Rav Avrahamele.

The joy was great in Sochaczew when Rav Avrahamele came to the city as rabbi. Residents came out to greet him in coaches, and they accompanied him into the city with music. Children and adults were out on the streets in order to welcome the rabbi. The streets leading to Grodzisk and Zyrardow were full of people. The enthusiasm was great when Rabbi Avrahamele, dressed in long, black, silk rabbinical cloak, adorned with a graying, black, thick beard, ascended the three steps in front of his house, and with his white, delicate hand that had never before held a hammer, took up that tool in order to affix the large mezuza [12] to the door of the front entrance.

A shiver, like the sound of the rustling corn in the surrounding fields, passed through the group of people that were assembled in the street. Everyone waited with restrained breath, and when they heard the bang of the hammer, everyone felt that redemption has come. On the house with the dog and the frivolous residence, there is now affixed a mezuza with large 'shin' 'daled' 'yod' letters, and Reb Avrahamele, with a pure, holy hand, affixed it himself. The impurity no longer has a hold on that house. Holiness came to that place. The city and the Jewish hearts became purified. Jews looked at the chestnut trees in front of the house, and saw that they spread their green, elongated shadows like a canopy, hiding and protecting the holiness from evil.

Reb Avrahamele's head, adorned with his large hat, arched toward the doorway, his hands rested on the door, and there was a silence around. Everyone waited for Reb Avrahamele's blessing. Soon, he began his awesome “Blessed art Though”, and a bang of the hammer broke the silence. An echo resounded in the distance. Another bang and another bang, and the mezuza was affixed to the doorpost. The crowd expressed their glee. A song broke out among the people, and the musicians of Sochaczew started playing a freilach [13]. People drank 'lechayim' [14]. Everyone stretched out their hands to Rabbi Avrahamele to wish him happiness and a long life. Arms and shoulders joined together in a dance, and it seemed as if the surrounding fields and trees were also participating in the dancing. The sun shone brightly, and the waves of the Bzura splashed joyously. The singing and music was joyous, and the dancing was enthusiastic. Reb Avrahamele, accompanied by his family, entered in the house had been furnished for him.

The Sabbaths in Sochaczew became like festivals. Each Sabbath was a different festival. Housewives baked fat, sweet kugels [15] to send to the Rebbe's Sabbath table. Simple folk along with veteran Hassidim heard words of Torah from Reb Avrahamele's mouth, worshipped at the Rebbe's Hassidic minyan (prayer group), and boasted about their Rebbe and the merit that their city of Sochaczew was blessed with. They became surer of themselves. They had where to take refuge, G-d forbid, in a time of misfortune; and who to pray on their behalf at a time of danger, or to plea for their livelihood. Indeed, one looked with greater confidence at the green meadows and forests that grew around the city, from where their livelihood was derived. People joyously hitched up their horses and wagons on Sunday [16] mornings; walking with sticks in their hands and sacks over their shoulders, bent under the heavy burden; when they were wandering around on the routes, they would cast a glance at the Rebbe's house, which filled them with faith and hope emanating from the light of the Rebbe's private room. They would hear the quiet chant of the Rebbe's Torah study, and with faith and hope in their hearts; they would ascend the steps of the Rebbe's house where the mezuza was affixed, touch the holiness with their hand, and give it a pious kiss.

They began to make a greater livelihood in the town. People set up guesthouses for Hassidim who would come from outside to visit the Rebbe on Sabbaths and festivals. Already on Thursday, they would be cooking large pots of fish and meat for the Hassidim who would certainly be coming for the Sabbath. Scampering about with red cheeks, the wives of the guesthouse owners went about, doing everything with great haste. They sampled the Sabbath victuals to see if they were missing a bit of salt or pepper, and they went out to see if the Hassidim were already arriving along the highways.

In the shops, it was also evident that Hassidim were coming. The pidyon [17] also became larger. The baker in town also felt the blessing in his bakery.

Things went well even for the tailor and the shoemaker. They had more work and more mending, for who could go around in an unkempt state. It would be embarrassing for an arriving Hassid if one of his garments or his boots would fall apart.

The most fortunate were the wagon drivers. The crack of the whips resounded like shots, and the horse's feet made a din and noise on the cobblestone. With a “viau' [18], the wagons, packed with Hassidim, traveled through the streets and the market. Velvet Hassidic caps, streimels, and silk and satin kapotes [19] glittered in the sun. A Sabbath is coming… A Sabbath is coming… and the windows of the houses sparkled. Another carriage, another covered wagon is arriving.

Later, they laid the bricks for the large, spacious Beis Midrash, and paved the courtyard with cobblestones. The walls of the Beis Midrash went up literally overnight. The lumber was set up, and the holy place was ready. The singing of the Hassidim was heard louder, the sound of the learning of the young men in the Rebbi's Yeshiva was louder, and the quiet Trojanower Street was enlivened. They were no longer bothered by the priest's gardens and the “Lustgarten” where there was a “Czemtasz” in old times. The Kohanim no longer had to go around [20] .

Jealousy, Hatred, and Controversy

Those who are familiar with the history of Sochaczew are able to relate that the Jewish community of Sochaczew is older than that of Warsaw. There was a time when the Jewish dead were brought on wagons from Warsaw for burial in the Sochaczew cemetery.

The rabbinate of Sochaczew also has a rich tradition. The rabbi and well-known Gaon (sage), the author of the book “Panim Meiros” had been a rabbi on Sochaczew. We know about Reb Aryeh Leib, known as the Holy Jew, from Reb Moshele Charif, who left a will before his death stating that during times of tribulation, a quorum [21] should gather together at his grave to recite Psalms, and he stated that he would intercede before the Throne of Glory that the tribulation should pass. However, the location of his grave disappeared, and even the members of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), were not able to find it. At a time of tribulation it became revealed, Jews prayed and were helped, and the grave disappeared again. Thus did our grandfathers relate. The old timers still thought that Reb Eliezer of Sochaczew, about who we are talking, was saved from a blood libel in Sochaczew.

In the evenings, in the anteroom of the communal Beis Midrash, the older residents would share stories that they had heard when they themselves were children. These stories would be about great rabbis, Tzadikim, and lamid-vovnikim [22] who lived in Sochaczew in an unassuming fashion and intermingled with the common folk. They, the residents, were disgruntled with the Hassidic enthusiasm, with the haughtiness and with the great racket around the Rebbi's courtyard. It happened that the Hassidim would be mocked by the common folk. They took umbrage to the noise and clamor that interfered with the sleepy, small-town stillness. The wagons and carts of the Hassidim drove too fast, the horseshoes clanged too noisily on the pavement and the Hassidim sang too loudly when they were with the Rebbe in the Beis Midrash. Quietly, so nobody should hear, they would call the Hassidic scholars “Lamdzuches”, the ordinary Hassidim – “schleppers” [23] and “Hassidikes”, and the unfriendliness grew. There was no longer a quorum in the synagogue… the communal Beis Midrash was vacant… a pall pervaded around the rabbi's empty dwelling over the city mikva… – thus did the talk, and they began to look upon the center of Torah and Judaism that had moved to the end of Trojanower Street as if it was not theirs, as alien…

Rabbi Avrahamele himself was not the same type of rabbi as the preceding rabbis. His door was not open for the local communal members, as was the case with the prior rabbis. One could not go to see Rabbi Avrahamele when one wanted. One had to first make a request from Rabbi Avrahamele's shamash that he be allowed in to the Rebbe. They were saddened by Rabbi Avrahamele's seclusion, which therefore made him pale in comparison to the esteem and greatness of the prior rabbis, to whom one could enter to visit whenever one wanted…

Slowly, little by little the separation grew, until the more impetuous communal members lost their tempers.

Shmuel Czundik, the horse dealer, whose house was on Trojanower Street near the Rebbi's house, woke up from his Sabbath nap one Sabbath afternoon, went out in the street, and screamed out in a loud voice against the Hassidim who were interfering with his Sabbath rest. He gestured to them and shouted that he would teach “the Hassidikes” a lesson.

The youth were also unfriendly. The Sochaczewer Rebbe's supporters were quite pious, and they wanted their children to be educated in the manner of the “courtyard”. At every step, they moralized to their children, and had them educated by the youths of the Rebbe's Yeshiva, who were themselves also young and spent the entire day and night learning. The youth resented this, and found fault in the Rebbe's court. In order to antagonize the Rebbe's court, students took to learning in the communal Beis Midrash in order to demonstrate that one can also learn outside of the court. At the same time, they began to introduce Chovevei Tzion [24] and socialist ideas into the town in competition with the Rebbe's court, which held that Zionism and, even more so, socialism, were heresy and apostasy, Heaven protect us.

There were also those residents who were burning with jealousy toward the innkeepers and other Jews who made their living from the Rebbe's court. Stories, true and false, were dragged from the town to the court and from the court to the town. Jewish Sochaczew was divided into two camps, and the hatred became more and more intense…

I do not know who is guilty of the following incident. Rabbi Avrahamele was deposed as Rabbi of Sochaczew by the Russian regime. It is quite possible that the pretext for this was the law at that time regarding the exams that rabbis must pass in order to be recognized as rabbis [25] .

Suddenly, Rabbi Avrahamele was called before the gubernator of Warsaw. The gubernator suggested to the rabbi that he set a timeframe as to when he would take the exam. Even though many older rabbis, who entered the rabbinate prior to this law being passed, were exempted from the exams, the gubernator requested that Rabbi Avrahamele be examined. Did the Czarist governor know anything about the conflict that Rabbi Avrahamele had in the town; was this simply an evil deed; or was this a framing or set-up by the lesser officials in town? We will never know why Rabbi Avrahamele was forced to take the exams. He boldly answered the gubernator: “I am certain of matters of the intellect. It would not take me long to learn, but I do not wish to spend the time studying a language. My time is more precious. ”

Reb Avrahamele's opponents were victorious. Rabbi Avrahamele became an ex-rabbi [26]. This affected him deeply, and he wrote about it: “If I were to live in the forest, the trees would struggle with me, but not with the rabbi of Sochaczew. ” The court was conducted as previously. On Fridays and eves of holidays, the streets of Sochaczew were full with Hassidim who came from outside. Shiny kapotes continued to glitter in the sun, Hassidim in caps and streimels were seen hear and there. The windowpanes in the houses glittered from the movement of the covered wagons that arrived. The noise in the town did not cease. The jealousy and hatred did not let up, but greater levels of controversy did not arise.

Furthermore, Rabbi Avrahamele's yeshiva continued to exist. Students from all areas of Poland would travel to Rabbi Avrahamele. His name as a Gaon spread through the entire world, wherever there was a Jewish community. People from all Jewish communities would ask him questions, and he became a halachic authority. The Rebbi's court remained in Sochaczew until the First World War (1914-1918).

Rabbi Avrahamele passed away in 1910. His successor was his only son, Rabbi Shmuel the Sochaczewer Rebbe. The five chestnut trees, almost at the end of Trojanower Street, continued to stand and guard the entrance to the Rebbe's court.


The Rebbe's Funeral

by David Wolrat of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My town of Sochaczew, which lies between Warsaw and Lodz, is known throughout Poland on account of the great Tzadik, Reb Avrahamele of blessed memory. Hassidim from the four corners of the world would come to the Rebbe, and the court was a source of livelihood for a large portion of the residents of Sochaczew.

Since as I was a grandchild of Malka the cake baker, whose cake made it to the Rebbe's court, I had opportunity to go the Rebbe's palace every Friday. I would bring cake, and always give it over to the Rebbetzin herself.

I spent the entire Friday morning at my grandmother's, ready for the mission. I stood with outstretched hands, tight as rods, and grandmother placed the cakes one on top of the others, like boards, until they were stacked higher than my head. Thus, with obstructed eyes, did I set out on my weekly trek.

The Rebbe lived at the extreme edge of the city, on Tranower Street [27]. His house (palace) stood in a garden surrounded by a fence with barbed wire at the top. The route was a considerable distance. With numbered steps, so that no stumbling would Heaven forbid occur, I arrived in peace at the Rebbetzin's. I often encountered the Rebbetzin as she as was in the middle of reciting the Shmone Esrei [28]. Since she did not want to interrupt her prayer, I had to stand with my “rods” without uttering a peep until she finished Shmone Esrei, recited Aleinu Leshabeach [29], and spat three times. Only then did she come over to me.

The Rebbetzin was an elderly woman with a satin black hat on her head and a face as pale as milk. Two severe eyes peered out from silver spectacles. She began to lay out the cakes in a row, going through them like a general on an inspection, inspecting each cake-soldier separately with her eyes. She would cut each one in the middle, and insert her “fat” finger to touch it to see if the cake was baked well. She was never able to select enough for her liking on the first shipment.

The Rebbe would often pass through while I was standing and dealing with the Rebbetzin. He never walked but only ran. He would stop by me, pat me on my head, whisper something quietly to me, and be off. My young heart jumped with joy at that time. The rods remained paralyzed at that moment…

I recall that spring day when the Rebbe of blessed memory passed away and was brought to burial.

That spring morning, when the entire town was awakening from sleep, when it still smelled of the dampness of morning due, Jews were already going to morning services with their tallis and tefillin under their arms. The shops had just opened and the dairymen from nearby villages came to the market with dairy products. The sun had begun to warm up and the day had broken, when suddenly the sad news spread about like a bolt of lightning, “The Rebbe is on his deathbed” [30]… Jews, women, children, everyone tore out of their houses as if they had caught fire. Large groups of people congregated wherever one turns. Stores began to close. Crowds of people filled the synagogue, Beis Midrash and all of the shtibels to recite Psalms. Women with “moral” voices went to the cemetery to “pick a quarrel” [31]. The entire Sochaczew quickly became a place of prayer for the Rebbe.

The news quickly spread like a fire in a dry forest. It reached the nearby cities, and throughout the day, rabbis and Rebbes began to arrive. This went on for an entire day and night. Nobody slept that night. Tranower Street was black with Hassidim throughout the entire following morning. Nobody could enter the court. Some Jews reached the window of the room where the sick man was lying, and from there were informed of the situation…

Suddenly a deathly silence passed over everybody – “The Rebbe has requested his tallis and tefillin”… The Jew standing by the window whispered with trembling lips… Hearts began to beat faster. The congestion became greater and thicker. “They dressed him in his tallis and tefillin”… “The Rebbe is reciting the confessional” [32]… Large and small stood with outstretched hands and heads turned Heavenward. Terrible shrieks cut through the air: “Save our Tzadik!”… A sound of a shofar on a mountain peak cut through the air: “It is the time of the departure of the soul…” Everyone's hands and feet froze. Clairvoyant people fell silent. A Jew by the window declared with a face contorted by pain, and hands clutching the hairs on his head: “Blessed is the true judge!” [33] The crowd repeated with muffled voices: “Blessed is the true judge!”…

The city was enveloped in a dark grief. People were weeping as they passed by. People looked at each other silently. They cast a glance and then continued walking. Crowds of people came from all ways and paths. People came by coach, carriage and wagon. People came by foot from the Warsaw highway, from the Lewiczer highway – Misnagdim, Hassidim in satin kapotes with velvet hats, rabbis with velvet hats, Rebbes with streimels, shoes and white socks. All of the streets were black with Jews, with long beards, short beards, thick beards and thin beards. There were boys with blond “sprouts” – everyone converged on the Rebbe's court on Tranower Street. Every Jewish house turned into an inn, even though nobody was going to go to sleep. All of the Jewish houses, all of the shtibels, the Beis Midrash, the synagogue – all were full with out-of-town Hassidim.

Correspondents from the Jewish newspapers of Warsaw and Lodz arrived. The late journalist B. Joaszon and my brother Pesach “dressed up” in satin kapotes and went into the courtyard. I begged my father of blessed memory to take me as well. It took a half a night for us to reach the room where the deceased was lying. With great effort, we finally went indoors. The room was almost dark. Walls of people were standing all around. A hazy light shone from the middle and cast long shadows on the walls and the ceiling. My father lifted me up over the nearby heads, and I saw: in the very middle a small hill lay [34], dressed with a black satin kapote that the Kocker gave to his great son-in-law the Sochaczewer. A yellow, wax candle flickered at the head. Rebbes with books in their hands, weeping in the great sorrow, were half sitting, half lying on the ground around the deceased.

The next day, all those who had the merit to occupy themselves with the matter, whether with the new shrouds or with the tahara [35] had to immerse themselves before they could touch the deceased. The route from the Rebbe's court to the cemetery, though the weeping bystanders, took three quarters of an hour; for the pallbearers stopped at every step. The bier and the coffin were made from the table by which the Rebbe used to study.

The correspondent B. Joaszon had the idea that my brother should photograph the procession. I brought the apparatus. We went up to the roof of the butcher shop and set up the apparatus under the chimney so that nobody would notice us. We could see from afar how they meandered with the bier around the swarm of heads. When they drew near, some Hassidim noticed us and drove us way…

I then set out for the cemetery. There were already thousands of people there. They tore around and argued in order to approach a piece of the coffin so that they could write down their name. With great difficulty, I managed to reach an edge of a board and I wrote down the names of my parents, my brother and myself.

The sun was about to set and was sinking in the other side of the Bzura River, which flowed close by the hill of the cemetery. At nightfall, they brought the great deceased Reb Avrahamele Borensztejn of blessed memory to burial. Throughout the thirty-day mourning period (Shloshim) Hasidim stood day and night as they were erecting the canopy.

(“Tag” – 1944)


{Photo page 96: The rabbi Rav Shmuel, the “Shem Mishmuel”}


The Shem Mishmuel

by A. Chetzroni

Translated by Jerrold Landau

(4th of Cheshvan 5617 – 22 Tevet 5686) [36]

The Shem Mishmuel was born in Kock (5617) and spent his childhood in Parczew and Krosniewice, where his father, the Gaon was the rabbi. He learned Torah from his father. His mother, the righteous woman Sara Tzina, was the daughter of the Admor of Kock Reb Menachem Mendel of holy blessed memory. In 5634 (1874) He married the daughter of Reb Eliezer Lipman of Radomsk, the brother of the author of “Tiferet Shlomo” – an enthusiastic Kocker Hassid. He remained with his father and went with him to Nasielsk and Sochaczew. He lived in a separate house in the center of the city, and he earned his living from a wine business, even though he was not very interested in business.

After the death of his first wife, he remarried (in the year 5673 – 1903), the daughter of the Kozinczer rabbi, Reb Moshe Natan Szapiro.

After the death of his father the Gaon, he was coronated as Admor in his place, and he moved his residence to the court.

He was at a spa in Germany at the outbreak of the First World War. After much wandering, he succeeded, along with a series of other rabbis, to return to Poland. Due to the pressure of the Czarist army, he decided to remain in Lodz. He moved his family there. Thus, he was not in Sochaczew at the time of its destruction in the year 5675 (1915).

He remained in Lodz during the war years, where he led a community of his Hassidim. He directed them and encouraged them during the difficult times. He moved to Zgierz, a small town near Lodz, in the year 5679 (1902) in order to continue on without the tumult of the large industrial city. There, he founded his Beis Midrash and settled there, despite the fact that he never ceased to make plans to return to Sochaczew.

He became ill in the year 5686 (1926). He was brought to Otwock, where he died in the 24th of Tevet, 5686. He was brought to burial in the canopy of his father in Sochaczew.

The entire Jewish world bitterly lamented he loss.

The Shem Mishmuel was the only son of his parents. (They also had a daughter, Esther, who married the Gaon Rabbi Meir Borensztejn, her father's brother, and lived in Sochaczew, where she died.) From his earliest youth, he became closely knit and bonded with his father. He was always with his father. He was seen as his student, and he revered him. Even in the later years, when he was the father of a large family, not a day went by when he was not with his father. At the time that he took over as Admor of Sochaczew after his father's death, he was seen as nothing more than an elucidator and commentator of his father's Torah.

This was not because he had a soft and mild nature. Just the opposite: he was strong in his opinions, with a sharp, independent intellect, which he did not quash before anyone. In relation to his father the Gaon, however, he was always soft and mild, a son and a student.

As well, the relationship of the father to him was extraordinary. The father related to him with honor and respect. He used to call him (not by his instruction) “My Reb Shmuel”. He valued his opinion, and did not make any great or small decision without conferring with him.

Thus did they live together for 35 years, with full collaboration in all domains of life. Thus did they have one soul, one vision, and together breathed the sublime air of Kock. It often was the case that the father the Gaon, whose word was yearned for by many, found his support and refuge on the strong Kocker shoulders of his son. Therein may indeed lie the reason for the tremendous reverence of the son for the father. Who other than he knows his spiritual elevation, his greatness in Torah and fear of G-d. Even the relationship of respect between the father and the son, the Kocker grandchild – is a reflection of his boundless reverence to his Kocker father-in-law from whom he was not freed until his old age.

Even this trait – the style of Kock – accompanies his very active and spiritual life, and expresses itself in various of his books that were published after his death – the eight volumes of “Shem Mishmuel” that discuss the Torah and Hassidism as related to the weekly portions, that he used to say before of his Hassidim between the years 5670-5686 (1910-1926). These books were written with his fine and rich language, and with a warm heart – as if they were today heard from his mouth.

The chief point of his Torah: the incessant demand for completeness and unity of all parts of the soul in Divine worship; that the heart should yearn for the Creator with full zeal and feeling, and simultaneously that the brain should exert its influence to rectify the activity of the feeling, so that the purpose can be achieved – to elevate and unite with the Creator and the Torah.

He was simultaneously active in Jewish societal life. He had a clear opinion on all kinds of problems, and also on the question of Zionism. He expressed his opinions clearly and boldly. He always aspired to settle in the Land of Israel. During his youth (5651 – 1891), with the urging of his father the Gaon, he visited Israel in order to purchase land for a Hassidic colony, however the ban of selling land to Russian Jews prevented this. He had a positive attitude toward religious settlement in the Land of Israel even at the time of the Balfour Declaration. He thought about aliya to the Land of Israel even at the end of his life.

When he was coronated as Admor after his father's death, all of the Sochaczewer Hassidim gathered around him, including Gaonim such as the Kinczkewer Rabbi, Reb Yoav Yehoshua, the Ravad from Warsaw, Reb Yitzchak Fajgienbaum, and others. He presided over the way of his father – Torah conducted with Hassidism, and engrossing oneself in Halacha with enthusiasm. However, he did not bring in his own traits, his own novel ideas in the Torah of Kock – Sochaczew. With his grasp of language and his wonderful skill in expression, he strengthened Sochaczewer Hassidism. He also imprinted his mark upon Polish Hassidism prior to the First World War. His books were accepted in wide circles.

He renewed the Sochaczew Yeshiva, and placed the Gaon Reb Aryeh Tzvi Frumer (later the Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin) as its head. He developed his father's work.


  1. The Rema (Rav Moshe Isserles) was an early Polish rabbi who wrote the Ashkenazic glosses on the Shulchan Aruch. The Shach (Siftei Cohen) was one of the main commentators of the Shulchan Aruch. Return
  2. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the L-rd of Hosts”, considered being the song of the angels. Return
  3. Reb Nachman is Reb Nachman of Bratslav, the founder of Bratslav Hassidism. Return
  4. An 'ell' is a unit of measure. The term 'The four ells of Halacha' implies 'The narrow confines of Halacha'. Return
  5. These are the names of three Hassidic sects. The first two are named after towns. The third, Chabad, is the acronym for Chachma, Bina, Vadaat (Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding). Chabad Hassidism is the equivalent as what is commonly known today as Lubavitch. Return
  6. This is a play on words: “kasha” is kasha or cereal. “kashia” is Hebrew for question. Return
  7. One of the Rebbes of Ger. Return
  8. Kutner must not be his last name, but rather the appellation, “The Rabbi of Kutno”. Return
  9. A well known Talmudic commentator. Return
  10. Referring to the Talmudic discussions. Return
  11. The 'world of truth' refers to the life beyond this world, after death. Return
  12. A mezuza is the casing containing a parchment scroll that is affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes in accordance with the commandment of Deuteronomy 5:9 and 11:20. The scroll contains the verses surrounding those two sections of Deuteronomy. The casing is often designed in an ornamental fashion. The outside of the scroll, and sometimes the casing, is inscribed with the letters 'shin' 'daled' 'yod', which is one of the names of G-d, and is also an acronym of 'shomer daltot yisrael' – 'The Guardian of the door posts of Israel'. The affixing of a mezuza is accompanied by the recitation of a blessing: “Blessed art Though, oh L-rd our G-d King of the universe, who sanctified us with his commandments, and commanded us to affix the mezuza. ”Return
  13. The Yiddish word for joy, which also can have the connotation of a joyous round of singing and dancing. Return
  14. 'To life'. A traditional Jewish toast. Return
  15. A kugel is a pudding made from noodles, potatoes, or the like. Return
  16. Sunday being the first workday. Return
  17. Literally 'ransom'. Its connotation here is a payment to a Hassidic Rebbe for his blessing. Return
  18. The Yiddish word for 'giddy-up'. Return
  19. A streimel is a Hassidic fur hat, and a kapote is a Hassidic long black cloak. Return
  20. The reference here is not clear. Apparently, the “Czmentasz” is a cemetery. Kohanim (members of the priestly tribe in Judaism), are not allowed to come in contact with a dead body, nor to enter a cemetery, and the implication here is that, prior to the erection of the new Beis Midrash, it was necessary for them to take a circuitous route to avoid entering the cemetery. Return
  21. A quorum for Jewish prayer consists of ten males over the age of 13, and is known as a minyan. Return
  22. There is a Jewish tradition that in every generation, there are 36 hidden specially pious people (tzadikim) in the world. Such a person is known as a 'lamed vovnik', from the Hebrew numerical equivalent of 'lamed vov', 36. The terms can be used generically for a discreet pious person. Return
  23. A 'Lamdan' is a scholar, and the ending adds a derogatory tone to the word. The 'ke' ending of Hassidikes, also adds a derogatory tone, i. e. pesky Hassidim. A 'schlepper' translates as a hobo or a bum. Return
  24. Chovevei Tzion was an early Zionistically oriented group in the late 18th century, founded even prior to the founding of the formal Zionist movement. Return
  25. There were periods during the 19th century when Russia tried to impose academic standards upon Rabbis and Yeshivas. Return
  26. Apparently, he maintained his position of Hassidic Rebbe, but lost his position as the official rabbi of Sochaczew. Return
  27. Elsewhere, this street was spelled as Trajanower. It seems like one syllable is missing here. Return
  28. The main part of the daily prayer service. The Shmone Esrei is recited in silent devotion. Return
  29. Aleinu Leshabeach is a prayer recited at the conclusion of each of the three daily prayer services. The Aleinu prayer contrasts the monotheism of the Jewish people with the idolatry of the nations of the world. It contains a phrase “and they bow down to emptiness and nothingness, and pray to a G-d who does not save” – referring to the nations of the world. Some people, especially Hassidim, have a custom of spitting discretely when reciting this phrase. Return
  30. Literally, “The Rebbe, he should live, is destroyed”. Return
  31. To beg G-d. Return
  32. The deathbed confessional. Return
  33. A statement made at the time of hearing of a death, acknowledging the righteousness of Divine judgement. Return
  34. Apparently referring to the corpse. Return
  35. Tahara means purification. Here it refers to the ritual washing ceremony that the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) performs on the corpse before it is placed in the coffin. Return
  36. Nov 2 1856 – Jan 8 1926. Return

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