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[Page 137]

Legends and Mystery Stories


[Page 137 - Yiddish] [Page 138 - Hebrew]

Why Shebreshin?

by Moshe Messinger

Translated by Moses Milstein

Why is our shtetl called Shebreshin?

When the enemy of Israel, Chmielnicki, entered our shtetl with military forces, it was a Saturday long ago. Since there lived in our town many pious Jews, all the stores were shut.

Chmielnicki and his Cossacks had no idea where they were and what the name of the town was. Everything was closed. People were afraid to be seen in the street.

Suddenly, the Cossacks spotted an old Jew, a pious businessman, who was on his way to shul. They stopped him and asked him the name of the town. The Jew, not wanting to speak about secular matters, was silent. One of the soldiers became enraged and hit him on the face with his Cossack fist and broke his teeth. Even then the Jew did not want to desecrate the Sabbath, but from great pain he screamed, “Shavar shen!”[1]

The Cossacks then happily replied, “Now we know the name of the town, Shebreshin.” Since then our shtetl has been called Shebreshin.


When I was a small child, a very old man told me all kinds of stories. He liked to gather the children around him and tell them stories. This was one of his anecdotes.

Translator's Footnote

  1. “Broken tooth!” Return


[Page 139]

The Jewish School

by Feige Ethel Boim

Translated by Moses Milstein

After the Jews were expelled from Spain, a number of them settled in Shebreshin. At the time, the authorities forbade the Jews to study.

So the Jews, early in the morning, on a secret signal, stole out of town far into the countryside. In a village, Kovencik, there were tall mountains and deep valleys and even deeper hidden caves. In one of these caves, the Jews gathered and studied Talmud and the laws. When they finished a tractate, they carved the name of the tractate on a tree so that they would know which portion they had done, and what remained to do.

The goyim, on more than one occasion, would tell them when the authorities, who persecuted them, were coming.

The spot was holy to the goyim, especially the mountain, under which, in the deep cave, the Jews studied Torah. They called it, “Zhidovske Szkole.”[1]


When I married R' Abraham Mordechai Boim, z”l, and moved to S., my mother-in-law, Rachel Leahle, told me this story of the old Shebreshin.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Jewish school Return


[Page 140]

About the Spanish Exiles in Poland

by Menashe Unger

Translated by Moses Milstein

In the New York newspaper, “Der Tog,” a fragment of the serial, “Fun Eibekn Kvall”, by Menashe Unger, was published. It referred to the book, “Chutim Meshulshim,” by Abraham Stern, published in Montreal, Canada. We cite below the following excerpt.

Among the old people of Shebreshin it was said that in the middle of the forest there was an empty spot, where no snow ever persisted, and the local peasants called, “Zhidovske Szkole.” (Jewish school), and that on some of the old trees there were words carved in Hebrew, “Here we ended the tractate Shabbat,” and so on.

This oral tradition says that these words were carved by a contingent of Spanish exiles that ended up in Poland and founded the nine communities of which S. was one.

Among the exiles, great mystics were to be found. In the deep caves and cellars found in those forests, these mystics used holy words to create a pathway so that those who are worthy can, via the cave, come quickly and easily to Eretz-Israel.


[Page 143 - Yiddish] [Page 141 - Hebrew]

Bringing Salvation Before its Time

by Ephraim Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

It is winter. The whole town is covered with a blanket of snow. Near the bridge over the Wiepz, sits the old wooden Radziner shtibl, holes in its shingled roof. Some of its windows are sunken close to the earth from old age. But now it is winter and the shtibl has a holiday air, the snow covering it with a white coat.

Glimmers of light from the burned out candles can be seen through the sunken window. The voice of someone late to prayer carries over the shtetl.

The winter would have passed like all other winters in Shebreshin had not a shleper, or just a buffon, showed up in town claiming to be a Radziner Chasid. He stayed in the Radziner shtibl and said that he had heard of the cave in Kovencik that leads to Eretz-Israel, and he intends to make his way there.

Upon hearing such a story, we became very interested in the honored guest. Everyone wanted to have this remarkable guest at his table. It's no small thing! A Jew is ready to attempt the hidden Kovencik cave! And if he were successful and arrived in Israel? The very thought that he might make it, meant salvation could be so near: Kovencik—Eretz Isael. Every Jew in the Diaspora held, deep in his heart, a secret longing.

Evey cheder boy, hearing such bizarre, secretive words from the adults, began to fantasize. We imagined the cave full of snakes and evildoers. Legends about the cave were widespread among the residents of Kovencik. The farmers in the surrounding region used to say that at the time of “Bozhe Tshialo” you could hear the muffled sound of church bells. They said, that at other Christian holidays, you could hear the secret church bells.

The whole area was hidden in mystery. There were names of scholarly books carved in the bark of the trees in the forest around the cave by wandering Jews. In the caves of the mountain in Kovencik, the Jews from the time of the expulsion from Germany, found a hiding place not daring to settle yet in the occupied settlements. In all probability, most of the Shebreshiner Jews came from these harried and persecuted Jews. A fog of legend surrounded the cave that the Chasid was ready to descend into in order to reach Eretz-Israel.

One frosty morning, the visitor got himself ready. He put on a pair of big boots with double leggings, wrapped straw around his boots, then sprayed water over them in order to form an icy barrier. He put a fur cap with ear flaps on his head. He stuffed his nostrils with cotton so as not to lose any body heat. Over his Chasidic mantle he pulled a farmer's sheepskin coat, and bound it all tightly with his Shabes gartle. No small thing! He was going to discover the way to the land of our fathers.

Of course, they made a lechaim. He took his leave of everyone, except for those who were to accompany him to the cave. Horses and wag,ons were harnessed and a mass of people and children accompanied the bizarre visitor. The Shebreshiner gentiles, observing the commotion before the departure, wondered at the celebration of the “zhidkes.” Are they accompanying a rabbi, or a messenger going to greet the Messiah? The Shebreshiner gentiles already had seen how the Chasidim hosted a rabbi visiting the shtetl. That the rabbi was not wearing a shtreml, they did not understand. So they stood and gaped at the unusual Jewish celebration.

After mutual good wishes, the wagon moved out. The wagon was accompanied a good distance out of town to the mill. The wagon moved further away on the road leading to Bloine , until it was lost to view in the orchards of the village.

The shtetl held its breath waiting for the good news to arrive. The accompanying men returned. Days and weeks passed and no news came. Those who went with him did not look each other in the eyes when they met. All were dazzled as if by a solar eclipse. According to all calculations the Chasid should have already returned from Eretz-Israel and announced: “Yidden, pack your things and set forth!

But the Kovencik goyim brought bad tidings to the shtetl. They had seen a Jew, a shleper, stumbling around in the snowy mountains of the village. Winter passed and the mountains were covered in green, and the messenger had not returned. The shtetl had forgotten the whole affair.

Suddenly, in the middle of the shachrit prayers, the door of the Radziner shtibl opened, and the visitor unexpectedly appeared. His fatigued appearance affected everyone. The shleper's feet were covered in rags. His clothing was tattered. Everyone was so dismayed, no words came out of their mouths. It was as if language had been forgotten.

When the whole crowd surrounded the visitor, he related in broken tones how, halfway there he had encountered Eliyahu Hanavi. Eliyahu looked at him with gentle eyes, extended his hand and greeted him. Then he said with anger, “ How does a Jew dare to bring salvation before its time? Go, tell Shebreshin that the time has not yet arrived!”

Then the shleper sat down on a pew and covered his face with his hands. People saw how torn his clothes were, his feet covered in mud. In a loud voice he yelled, “ Go home, Jews. The ketz[1] has been postponed. We will arrive in Eretz-Israel in our time!”

I heard this story when I was a cheder boy in the shtetl.

Kiryat Yam

Translator's Footnote

  1. Coming of the Messiah Return


[Page 146]

“Angels Carried him from
Shebreshin to Eretz Israel”

by Avraham Stern

Translated by Yocheved Klausner


I think that the author of “Mar'eh Kohen” also wrote the book “Matnot Kehunah” – a commentary of Midrash-Rabbah. In some of the volumes of Seder Hadorot he states that it all happened in 1624.

I asked some of the Torah scholars in Shebreshin (at the time I was living in the house of my father-in-law Hirsch, the ritual slaughterer from 1896 to 1900) about the event and the man: how is it possible that the tombstone of the author, the rabbi of Shebreshin, z”l, is standing in the Shebreshin cemetery, while Rabbi Chida, z”l (R'Chaim Yosef David Azulay) wrote in his book Shem Hagedolim that he saw his tombstone in Eretz Israel? They replied that according to a tradition, passed from person to person for many generations, angels from Heaven removed his body from his grave in Shebreshin and buried it in Eretz Israel.

Yet his grave in Shebreshin was treated with respect and piety, and people visited and prayed there, asking for help and support; they were assured that the prayers would be answered.

I read in the book by the Holy SHELAH, before the chapter called Yesh Nochalin, that several rabbis (Rabbi Yosef ben Matityahu, z”l, Rabbi Shmuel Eidels [the MAHARSHA], z”l, the BACH [author of Bayit Chadash] and others) agreed that it was in 1624.

Let the cynics, who don't believe in miracles by the merit of Tzadikim, not be astonished: how could angels carry him to Eretz Israel? The wise King Solomon has already written: There is nothing new under the sun. And it already happened that the prophet Elijah, z”l – a long time after he rose to Heaven – buried Rabbi Akiva (Tosefta Bava Metzi'a, 114, 2).

Montreal (Canada), 24 Nissan 5714 (1954)


[Page 147]

Folk Tales

by Mendl Messinger

Translated by Moses Milstein


The groom makes seven circuits…

With a great commotion, in wagons drawn by two horses, and accompanied by music the groom would be brought from Frampol, not far from S.
According to an old tradition, a groom coming from elsewhere, along with his guests, had to make seven circuits of the courthouse.

In 1912-1913, this tradition was halted because of the hatred of the anti-Semitic peasants who would stand on the stairs of the court house with boycott posters proclaiming “Buy from our people: “Swoj do swego.”

The result of this anti-Semitic hatred was that dozens of Jewish families living nearby had to abandon their homes and businesses.


The marriage of two orphans

In the old shul siddur, where the important events of the town were inscribed, the following story is told.

In 1880, the so-called “Black Plague” broke out in S. and the surrounding area. It struck down large numbers of young and old. The elders of the time decided, after long deliberation, to marry two orphans in the cemetery as a remedy to stop the plague.

With great joy and the musical accompaniment of the Blum family, who were specially brought down from Zamosc, the chupah of the two orphans was erected. The town had promised to support them their entire lives. The orphans were Mendl Ketzeleh's and his wife who were given the exclusive right to sew tachrichim.[1]


We find this story completed in the following writings of Yankel Lam (Brooklyn, New York).

There were many deaths due to the plague. First the rabbinical court called for a communal fast. Later, when the plague continued, it was decided that they should mount a “black chupah” in the cemetery for a poor young woman and a poor young man of the town.

All the healthy residents took part in the wedding. Then God came to their aid. The plague ended and the sick were healed.


The revolutionaries are honored

The great revolutionary waves, which broke out in in Czarist Russia, also knocked at the gates of our shtetl.

On a foggy autumn day, when even the church steeple could not be seen, some of the young people gathered at the wooden dwelling of Leibish Schneider. Secrets of the struggle between the revolutionaries and the Cossacks were passed from mouth to mouth.

Breathless and inflamed one of the youths arrived and passed on the news, in the name of Simchele Feldsher (Simchele Rophe), that some of the wounded had just been brought to the local hospital and that in the morgue, lay three dead revolutionaries .

The Czarist authorities permitted visits to the dead. The revolutionaries took advantage of this permission, and with hatred and grief, they marched around the dead bodies and gave the last honors to those who gave their lives for a better tomorrow.


The shul is burning!

Before dawn, still dark, the old shames, R' David Hersh, with his great boots, holding a lantern, goes from house to house, knocks on each door with his staff, and in his deep voice shouts, “Wake up for sliches!”[2]

Suddenly, in the still sleeping shtetl, light entered the windows of the houses.

The bells of the churches began to ring without ceasing. The wind gruesomely whistled and scattered the burning sparks from the roof of old shul.

Young and old, Jews and Christians, ran to put out the fire, some, to save their own houses. The word was passed from mouth to mouth that the roof was ignited because, a large ammunition supply of the revolutionaries had been hidden in the attic.


Translator's Notes

  1. shrouds Return
  2. Slichot, morning prayers Return


[Page 149]

Legendary Figures

by Yehuda Kelner

Translated by Moses Milstein

From early childhood, I used to listen to the stories told by the old people in the shtetl. I carried them around in my mind for many years, until I wrote them down for this article. The first two stories are from the 19th century.


The remarkable Lamed Vavnik

Shlomo Frank, or as he was called, the Rabbi, R' Shloimele, Mechele Treger's great–uncle, was usually in the country: he dealt in fish, probably also brought calves on his narrow shoulders. He was small, thin, with a little goatee. He used to wear a thick caftan and big boots. He gave the impression of an ignorant youth who could not even daven.

He was never seen in the streets. He took great pains to avoid talking to his neighbors. But if he heard a baby crying in his crib when no one was home, he would steal into the house, sit down by the crib, sing a lullaby, and rock the cradle. When any of the people living in the house would return, he would get up, and without a word, he would leave. He refused to accept any thanks. He said that thanks should be given to God.

A strange person, the people in town said. A person who seeks no pleasure from this world, but only from the world to come. He ate barely enough to sustain his soul. He argued that it was neither nice, nor Jewish, to eat too much, that a Jew should be tall, fat and healthy.

When he brought his fish to town, he sold the biggest ones, and ate the smallest. “With these little fish, there will be a good Oneg Shabbat.” Quietly, he made Kiddushand sang zmires.

Friday evening, after eating, he would lie down to sleep without a pillow, on a bench so small he could not extend his legs, so that he could not enjoy his sleep too much.

He would seat himself at a table covered by a cloth of rough peasant cotton. His chale was of black flour, not properly baked, and burnt. He davened in the small shul. His Shabes clothing consisted of a thin caftan, and since it lacked even one button, he would wage war with the wind, and hold it together with his hands.

During the week, he rarely slept. After midnight, he sat on his doorstep and napped. He spent many a night in the cemetery.

The Jews in town wondered: What does this strange person want? Which Chasidic group does he belong to–maybe the Breslaw? Maybe to the Haskala, or even to the Shabtai Zvi? However, the Shabtai Zvi were an immoral sect, because according to widespread rumor, they carried on orgies with naked women, and for such a Jew as he was, it was impossible to imagine.

He was the object of much speculation until his death, where in his room, many books were found. So much speculation began that he was a Lamed Vavnik. And so the women, perhaps our mothers and grandmothers, visited his grave and inserted kvitlach[1] in order to gain favor from his merits.


The heroic warrior

Everyone in the shtetl knew the Shper family, especially Itche Mayer Shper who had the responsibility for the whole cemetery on his head, and maybe even on his long yellow beard. He guarded the cemetery records, and didn't let anyone see them.

His business was a stall where he sold beverages. Saturday, after prayers, I used to go there with friends to get something to drink. He would take a flask out of his back pocket and ask, “ Chevreh, the 45, or the 95?” He would not keep a written tally of what someone drank or ate–a cookie or strudel, but always on Sunday, he remembered what everyone owed.

Neither he nor his family knew that in his family there was a great hero who fought for freedom and for Polish independence. There is no written history of the accomplishments of this Shper and the time it occurred, probably in the previous century (1863).

Outside Shebreshin, there was a great battle between the rebels, the revolutionaries, and the soldiers of the Romanov regime. The commander of the revolutionaries was this legendary Shper. Did he wear a beard? I believe so. He won the battle. In honor of his heroism, the revolutionary command named a village after him. The village is called Szperowka. All Shbreshiners know this village.


The rebbetzin and her seven sons

At the entrance to the cemetery, on the right, the first grave is that of a rebbetzin and her seven sons, Kohanim. The writing on the tombstone is illegible having disappeared with age, and washed away by the rains.

It is said that the rebbetzin, and her seven sons inaugurated the cemetery. If so, it is the holiest place in S. It must have happened soon after the founding of S., because there cannot be a Jewish city without a cemetery.

Something must have happened at the time: an evil decree, an antisemitic law, or perhaps a pogrom and the murderers killed the rebbetzin, and her sons, who died for the Holy Name like Chana and her seven sons in the time of Antiochus. Or perhaps it was a plague that killed them? I believe it was more likely to have been a pogrom.

Why did our ancestors not record this? Our Shebreshiner cemetery is rich with undocumented history. Our pain is great that the holy place began with a family grave at the shtetl's founding, and ended with mass graves perpetrated by Hitler's henchmen who made a mountain of dead of our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, threw them into mass graves, and destroyed our Jewish shtetl, Shebreshin.

Buenos Aires, December, 1952

Translator's Footnote

  1. Hand written notes to God Return


[Page 152]

A Far Echo from King Solomon's Judgment

by Zanvel Aschenberg

Translated by Moses Milstein

Dedicated to my late mother

The small shtetl of Shebreshin, lay constrained between the mountains and the river, so that in order to grow, it would have had to expand into the goyishe neighborhoods, and this was something they didn't want, and we didn't want. The Gorajec mountains stood at the head of the shtetl. They provided us with lime for the cholent ovens, but nothing else. The river at its feet provided us with a little more–the bath which was located hard by the river had enough water for the mikvah, and to pour buckets of water on yourself, as much as the heart desired.

A little beyond the river, a magnificent grassy area spread covered with a mass of poppies and forget–me–nots that rolled like a green ocean wave with the slightest breeze. The picture was completed by fruit orchards that began the summer with red cherries, sour cherries, plums, and ended in autumn with apples that the Jewish sadovniks[1] stored in their cellars for winter when God might send good merchants from the larger cities. After summer, there was a sadness in the shtetl, which was covered in monotonous, and boggy mud.

A little closer to our time, that is when we, the young people, became aware of the outside world, the shtetl began to assume a different appearance. Awakening in 1918 from a long sleep to a new life, it began to move with giant strides, like water bursting through a dam. The first meeting for an eight–hour day took place in the Bet Hamidrash through the Bund. Respectable Jews were shocked by the news, but kept silent.

From there the movement grew until Shebreshin was called, “Shebreshin the Bundist fortress.” The Bundists won all the seats on city council except for one seat for the Citizen's Bloc. Under the influence of this movement, there was a school for poor children, a trade union, and the intellectual cream of the young boys and girls. There were also Zionists of all hues, religious Jews more than others, with their schools, Chasidic shtiblach and so on. In a word, a lively, beautiful, social and religious Jewish life.


Overflowing with superstition

I would like to relate an incident that gave me no rest since my mother told me about it.

In my earliest youth I saw “him” and did not stop thinking about him, until after a plea to my mother, I learned something about him. I would be righting a wrong when I clear him of guilt, especially because his mother's actions deserve it.

About a hundred years ago the shtetl was, like many other shtetls, full of piousness and more than that, full of superstition. Belief in demons and miracles were common.

It was believed that the great fire did not swallow more than the shul because armies of doves brought water in their beaks; that in Tsirl the baker's attic dwelt demons that came late at night, mostly in winter, to warm themselves in the bakery. It was even known that they looked German–like. Woe to him that they wished to harm. If someone was late crossing the shul courtyard, it could happen they would be called to the Torah in the middle of the night. That person was not to be envied. At dawn, when the rooster crowed, the shul was empty again and one could go to prayers without fear.

In general, according to the elders who told themselves stories around the stove in the small shul during the winter nights, life went on as normal along the well–worn paths of piety and poverty without excessive worry.

At that time–and here we come to the point–there lived a poor widow and her only son, Yosele. The mother, very pious and very poor, did all that she was able, all manner of work, the hardest it is understood, in order to send Yosele to cheder. She even performed mitzves, within her means, and the most important was the following: Part of her livelihood involved buying milk from the non–Jews, and selling it door to door. Every morning she brought a pitcher of milk, for free, to the rabbi, in order to gain merit for her son's education.

But fate decreed that her son sought out bad friends, and non–Jewish ones at that. There was no father to instill fear, and he went from bad to worse. He skipped cheder, and disappeared for hours, and later, for days. The more she begged that he should return to proper ways, the less it helped. But to forestall tragedy, she kept at it because she knew in her heart that bad things were to come. She ran to the rebbetsin for help and to ask her to tell her husband, the tsaddik, what was happening with her son. He should stop at nothing. She would have gone to the tsaddik, the rabbi, herself, but she didn't have the few pennies to submit a petition…She believed that the rebbetsin understood her difficult situation, her fear at the outcome for her child. She could not sleep at night, her heart was aching.


On a bad course

Unfortunately, her heart did not deceive her. One day, when her child did not return home, she learned that he had gone off to some village with his friends, and her premonitions were frightful. Days went by with no change. She feared the worst. To whom had she not already run with her troubles? The bad news reached the shtetl, and the mother lay sick in her bed. From the faces of those around her, the mother understood that something terrible had happened. She learned that religious goyim, in order to gain credit in the world to come, to bring a soul to the right way, had promised her son anything and everything, until he agreed and allowed himself to be baptized…

With her last strength, she got up from her sick bed, and ran to the holy tsaddik, like a wounded bird, with a heart–rending plea. Her weakened heart could not support this. On giving the rabbi the news, she fainted. The rabbi already knew. He was silent. She threw herself at his feet. “Rabbi, my only child has been taken from me!” The mother demanded help in her dire need.

The holy rabbi was crushed, and from great pity he said to tell her that he would pray for her, that he who lives forever should take pity on her and remove her shame, and the convert's. She did not understand at first what he meant. She asked again what the rabbi said. It was explained to her more clearly, and she began to stammer, “What? My child! No, great tsaddik, not this! I beg you! Anything in the world, but no harm should come to him. Great holy rabbi! There are so many goyim. Let there be one more!”

Strange. The old people relate that no matter how pious people were in those days, no one bore any resentment against the mother.

Reprinted form “Unzer Gedank

Buenos Aires, No. 42 (52)

Translator's Footnote

  1. A Jew who would lease an orchard from a landowner Return


[Page 155]

In the Cemetery

by Mendl Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

The first tombstone at the entrance to the cemetery in Shebreshin, sunken into the earth with age, its letters half worn away, and hard to read, stood between two old, broad, oak trees.

One of these old tombstones was the tombstone of rabbi R' Simchele, who died 150 years ago. It was said that, in his will, he promised that if anyone should come to his grave with a request, he would try to see it fulfilled by God. And indeed, when a person, or the community found himself or herself in trouble, they would come to his grave to remind him of his will.

Among the important graves was the grave of the famous rabbi, R' Shlomo, or as he was called, R' Shlomo the Good. He died in 1840. It was said of him that at Yom Kippur, during “Leyl Kol Nidrei”, when all the men and women were in shul, R' Shlomo the Good would go around to the Jewish houses and listen to hear if a child was crying. Mothers would leave their babies in the care of older children during Kol Nidrei night. When the baby started to cry, the older child would also cry. R' Shlomo would enter, and with great love, quiet the children.

Among the tombstones there was also one of a mother and her seven children, Kohanim. People believed that they perished at the hands of Chmielnicki.

Kiryat Yam


[Page 156]

The Magnificent Road of the Seer of Lublin

by Aviezer Burstein

Translated by Moses Milstein

Chasidic story

A tenant was usually considered an illiterate Jew, who could daven from the siddur and read the Torah portion, and sometimes not even this. A tenant who could learn a piece of the Mishne was rare, and one who could read a page of Gemora did not exist.

Nevertheless, there once was a tenant in Lukow at Tarnograd who knew tractates of Talmud as a Jew knows ashrei. They wanted to make him a rabbi in Amsterdam, but he was not willing. It seems that Providence settled him in a quiet corner of Poland so that from him could arise the great Jewish figure who would later found Chasidism in Greater Poland, and his name is spoken with glory and praise until today.

He himself, the tenant, R' Yakov Kopel, was not a Chasid. But, he told his son Israel he should not say “Vayitzmach purkanei” in kaddish at his death. And once, when the Baal Shem Tov entered his home by the door, he jumped out the window. He regularly invited the poor to his home, a very righteous man, and a God fearing man. He dedicated himself to fulfilling the mitzvoth of the Torah.

And because he was a proper, pious Jew, he fulfilled the “Veshinantam levanecha.” He hired the best teachers for his son, Israel, and for his daughter, Shprintzl–Matel, he sought out a son–in–law, a tsatske, of important lineage, the Shebreshiner “ilui”,[1] R' Abraham Laizer Horwitz, and promised to support him for five years.

A year after the wedding, R' Yakov Kopel was blessed with a grandchild. Shprintzl–Matel gave birth to a son, Yakov–Itzchak. The grandfather's joy was not to be described. He loved his grandchild like one of his own eyes. He called him Itzikel, and carried him around all day like a Sefer–Torah. His lips whispered a prayer to the Creator that the child, his first grandchild, should grow up to be a God fearing person and a “Gadol b'Israel.”


Prodigal talent

It is known that the prayers of an honest person are heard in heaven. Itzikel, early on, began to show prodigal abilities. At three, he could read from the siddur, and at five, he could read a portion of the Torah with Rashi.

When the son–in–law, R' Abraham Laizer, became rabbi in Josefow, the grandfather kept the grandchild with him. He taught him Torah until his Bar Mitzvah. Afterwards, he sent him to study with the gaon, R' Hirsh Meizlish, in Zolkiew.

In those days, there was a famous yeshiva in Poland run by the Shiniver Rav, R' Shmelke. Itzikle was already a renowned scholar, so his grandfatrher sent him there to study. The rabbi, R' Shmelke had become a follower of Chasidut. He saw immediately that his student, Itzikel, was destined for higher things. So he took him under his wing more than the other students.

Even though Itzikel concealed his erudition, R' Shmelke honored him by having him say the morning prayers for him. Important students, older and well known, were envious of him. R' Shmelke told them, “When Itzikel says the prayers, God and his ministering angels answer, ‘Amen’”

Itzikel grew up to be a handsome young man, straight as an etrog. He had large velvet eyes, like cherries, a long, pale face with red freckles, and grew tall as a palm tree in an oasis.


A Bride, a beauty

It was time to talk about a match. A matchmaker from Krasnobrod arrived and suggested a match with an attractive daughter of a rich landowner. The bride herself carried on business, was on speaking terms with the nobility, and was a beauty. The landowner promised a rich dowry, and agreed to pass on all his holdings to his son–in–law after 120 years.

The match was welcomed by the grandfather, and the father. They broke a dish to seal the agreement and decided on a wedding date.

The wedding took place on a winter's night in Krasnobrod. A large crowd attended–relatives and rabbis and a couple of hundred guests. At the groom's meal, before the wedding, there were a couple of hundred guests, and rabbis. The groom turned to his grandfather and said, “I want to see the bride before the wedding!” The grandfather and the father were stunned. How can it be that the young man speaks such nonsense. Itzikel reminded them of what is written in the Gemora. “Asur leadam lekadesh ishah ad sheyerinah[2]” Nu, if the Gemora says so, it must be so.

So they brought the bride in. Itzikel gave her a sidelong glance, and suddenly went pale as chalk. Quietly he whispered in his grandfather's ear that he did not want the bride, because he did not see in her “Tselem elokim.”[3]


Escaped from the wedding

The grandfather was shaken and the father almost fainted. They argued with him that you could not shame a Jewish daughter. He should marry her, and later, they would see. They thought he was speaking childish nonsense. He would get married, and then he would see that it was good.

But it did not happen that way. Soon after the Sheva Birchot, while the crowd was dancing the mitzvah dance, he slipped away without anyone noticing, and in his thin silk caftan, he ran away. There was a full moon. The air was gripped with cold. It was hard to catch one's breath. The dazzling white snow squeaked under his feet like broken glass. The cold and silent forest was covered in fearful darkness.

Itzikel remembered that he had not read Kriyat Shema. With numb lips, he mumbled a few holy words. His thin caftan stiffened with the wind, and the cold entered his bones. He had probably been walking for hours, because the eastern sky was getting lighter. It was dawn.

He could see a village in the distance. He came on a Jewish home with a mezuzah on the door. He knocked on the door because he was exhausted. A middle–aged woman opened the door, her face rigid and astonished. She indicated a sofa for him to sit on, and went to light the samovar, to make something warm for her frozen guest. Before the tea was ready, Itzikel's eyes closed and he fell asleep.


Resisting temptation

He awoke when he felt the hot penetrating look of curiosity and desire on him. The woman, who said she was a widow, openly, and without shame proposed to him a sinful act. Itzikel trembled. He wanted to flee the house. So the woman, a sly person, argued with him. Itzikel began to shout–the woman, also. Soon, the neighbors appeared. As Potfier's wife did with Jacob, so did the widow repeat the old libel, and accused Itzikel, whom she had allowed to enter out of pity, of attacking her, and attempting to rape her.

The neighbors, stout Jewish farmers, began to assault Itzikel, and he barely managed to escape from the house. They followed into the street. It was a miracle that a Jewish carriage driver passed by and let him get into the wagon, and berated the farmers, “Even if he was guilty of all the sins, he does not deserve such murderous blows.”

At first the driver mocked him. He was certain that he was guilty. But afterwards, when they stopped and he saw how Itzikel davened, he understood that Itzikel was a scholar. He asked him where he wanted to go, and promised him he would take him to Rovno, to the Mezritcher magid[4]. He stayed with the driver for several days in Hrubieszow, and then he brought him to Rovno, to the magid.

When the driver brought him to the house, the magid, R' Ber, embraced him with great affection and said, “Don't worry, Itzikel! Satan has lost the game.”


A rare soul

From Rovno, Itzikel sent a divorce notice to his Krasnobrod wife, and then immersed himself, like a fish, in the sea of Torah and Chasidut. He became friends with R' Zishe Anipoler, and R' Zalman Lozhner. The magid also loved him, and said that a soul like his has not been seen since the time of the prophets.

R' Zalman thought the world of him because of something he had seen. Once, Erev Shabes, he saw Itzikel go into the kitchen and prepare a fish for Shabes. R' ZAalman wondered how he knew that that piece of fish would come to him? So R' Zalman tied a thin thread around the fish as a marker. Saturday night at table, the piece of fish was given to Itzikel's neighbor. Suddenly the neighbor was seized with a stomachache, and the shames passed the fish back to Itzikel.

Once a Chasid came to the magid with a request. The magid asked Itzikel to read the request and to make a prayer. That was a sign that he was ready to lead a group of Chasidim. But R'Itzikel was not yet agreed.

R' Itzikel married his second wife, and settled in the shtetl, Lancut. He began to travel to R' Elimelech in Lizensk. It did not take long, and he became the right hand of the rabbi. R' Elimelech began to send young students to Lancut for R' Itzikel to teach them, and to show them the way of Chasidut.

Soon Satan made his way in. People began to gossip that R' Itzikel behaved as if he were a big rabbi. Quarrels began. So R' Itzikel moved to Rozwadow. But the Lizensk Chasidim pestered him there, so he moved back to Lancut where a big quarrel flared up. One day a Chasid appeared and told R' Itzikel a dream he had that R' Itzekel was wanted by heaven to move to Winawow. Where was Winawow? No one knew. That same day, a question about a divorce came to Lancut. It came from Czechow near Lublin, and it is mentioned in the divorce that Czechow is also called Winawow. So R' Itzikel did not waste any time and moved to Czechow. There the Chasidin from Lizensk had no influence.


Honor and glory in Lublin

In a short time, R' Itzikel's name was spread far and wide. Hundreds of Chasidim came to his door. His quarters in Czechow became too small. The wealthy Ephraim Zalman Margolis, the in–law of Ber and Tamarl Bergson of Prage near Warsaw, bought a place for him on Zseroka Street, in the heart of Lublin, and began to build a Bet Hamidrash and a house for him. Why did the rich man do this? Because during the revolution in Warsaw, his daughter was in Prage at his in–laws, and R' Zalman was very worried. So he went to the rabbi for advice. The rabbi calmed him down and said, “Your daughter is kneading noodles and rocking the cradle of a baby with her foot.” R' Zalman later found out it was true, “to a hair.” So he vowed to build a Bet Hamidrash, and a house in the middle of Lublin.

On the day of the dedication of the building there was celebration in the city of Lublin. The streets were full of people. Thousands of people watched from balconies and windows as a great crowd of Chasidim sang, and carried the rabbi, and the Sefer–Torahs to his new dwelling.


When the retinue passed an elegant non–Jewish street, a terrible thing happened. A noblewoman jumped from a balcony, and died on the spot.

Who was she? She was a convert, the wife of a nobleman, the Jewish daughter of a landowner from Krasnobrod, the first wife of rabbi R' Itzikel.


R' Itzikel had the honor of laying the foundation of Chasidut in Poland. He raised a generation of tzadikim and Chasidim that stretches to today, and his name is hallowed, and praised as the tzadik of a generation–R' Yakov, the Seer of Lublin.

Translator's Notes

  1. Child prodigy in Talmudic learning Return
  2. “It is forbidden for a man to marry a woman before he sees her” Return
  3. Appearance of a pious Jew Return
  4. Itinerant preacher Return

[Page 161]

Prevented by Heaven
Ma'ariv – Holiday Issue
Thursday, 3 June 1976 – 5 Sivan 5736

by Rav Menachem Guttman

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Our rabbi the BESHT [Ba'al Shem Tov] once heard that in the shtetl Shebreshin, in the Lublin District, an old tradition prevails: Shebreshin was the place where the exiles from Spain first stopped when they arrived in Poland, and there they founded the first Jewish community, of the nine communities that the Spanish exiles founded in Poland in 5290 (1530 CE). Near Shebreshin, there is a small grove where it never snows, and the peasants call it “The Jewish Synagogue.” According to an old legend, the Tractate Berachot is engraved on the trees, and a tradition among the Spanish Exiles in Poland says that from that grove one can arrive, with one step, directly in Eretz Israel. Our rabbi went to Shebreshin and asked – “Is there any truth in the story that a short way exists from there to Eretz Israel?” They said that in the neighborhood there is a robber whose dogs really eat people, and he knows the way to Eretz Israel; but the Jews were afraid to go to the places where the robber was living.

Our rabbi the BESHT, who longed to go to Eretz Israel, went, all alone, to look for the robber. When the robber saw him, he sent his big dog to eat him, but the dog stood up on two feet as if bowing before the BESHT. The robber came out and asked forgiveness from the holy rabbi, his hands full of fruits from Eretz Israel.

   Where did you take the fruits?

   In the next village.

   Can you take me to that village?

   Yes, but on the way there is a river, and only a narrow bridge made of a slab of wood can take us across.

The robber went in front and passed the bridge, and when the BESHT approached and wanted to cross, the waters of the river rose and the BESHT barely escaped, and he returned alone to Shebreshin.

The BESHT understood then, that it is Heaven that prevents him from going to Eretz Israel.


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