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[Page 239]

Torah and Hasidism


[Page 252]

The Elder of Neskhiz and His Descendants

by Eliezer Leoni

Donated by David Kimmel

Note: The Elder of Neskhiz was R. Mordekhai Shpira (Shapiro), 1748-1800, son of R. Dov Ber of Tultchin. His thoughts on the Torah, festivals, and many topics about day-to-day life are collected in Rishpei Aish (“Sparks of Fire”). The Neskhiz Dynasty survived into the twentieth century and included rabbis named Shapiro, Katzenellenbogen, Perlov, and Padova.

The Elder of Neskhiz – or, as he was called by his hasidim, the Moharam (an acronym for moreinu verabbeinu harav rav Mordekhai, “Our Teacher and Rabbi, Rabbi Mordekhai”) – is associated with one of the miracle stories of the city [of Kovel].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Torah genius, the Moharam, had three sons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He asked him, “Who is your rebbe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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