|HaRav and Admor HaGaon R' Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock
In 5649, a young genius arrived in Ostrowiec, R' Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock, who was crowned the city's rabbi. This genius, who over time became one of the most prominent personalities in the Hasidic world, publicized the name of the city to fame.
by HaRav Yitzhak Yedidya Frenkel
Translated by Sara Mages
Hasidim tell about the great Mezeritcher Maggid, that when he was a five-year-old boy a fire broke out in his father's house and the house burned down. When the boy saw that his mother was sitting in great sorrow, he asked her why she was so sorry. His mother answered him, God forbid, I'm not sorry for the house, but for the burning of our family tree whose genealogy go up to Rabbi Yohanan HaSandlar. If so, answered the boy, you have nothing to cry about, the genealogy begins with me. Ostrowiec's family tree also began from Rabbi Yechiel Meir, and not only that, his whole character was a rare legendary figure about whom it is very difficult to say all there is to say.
In Savin, a small town near Warsaw, Rabbi Yechiel Meir Halevi Halstock was born in 5610 to his father Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak, a bagel seller, who named the boy after the tzadik, Rabbi Yechiel Meir of Mogielnica. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak was a simple Jew who, as aforementioned, made a living from baking bagels, and used to knead the dough while reciting chapters of Tehillim by heart. He was an upright Jew in all his deeds and truly feared God. The Rabbi of Ostrowiec mentioned his father with extraordinary admiration, and once said with great enthusiasm when he delved into a Hasidic conversation: when I was young, I used to think that I had a machine in my mouth, and I would be able to conquer the world with my speaking talent and the power that God graced me with and put in my mouth. However, later I saw that my father zl was more right. My father zl said that an oven gives off more heat as long as you keep it closed. And indeed, from his childhood Rabbi Yechiel Meir learned the way of life from his humble father. His mouth was a holy mouth that was created only for the Torah and words of holiness, and he never uttered small talk or a joke. Every word he took out of his mouth was measured by a scale, if there is satisfaction in it, may God bless it.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak used to take his young son in his trips to Rabbi Elimelech of Grodzisk, son of the Rabbi of Mogielnica. The little boy showed signs of a child prodigy, because his memory and sharpness were not quite according to his age. The rumor quickly reached the famous scholar, the genius R' Beril of Grodzisk. After the boy also surprises him with his sharp mind, he pleaded the boy's father to leave him in Grodzisk, and all his needs on him. The father granted his request and the boy stayed in Grodzisk. Soon he ascended the steps of the written and oral Torah in supreme awe. In the late hours of the night they saw him walking around for hours on end and repeating to himself in tears: Create for me a pure heart,
O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me [Psalms 51:12], in a melody that got louder from moment to moment and sometimes reached to the depths of his soul. With vigor and enthusiasm he then went to study with unusual persistence. His father's melody in the long nights while baking the bagels, saying: A prayer for a poor man when he enwraps himself and pours out his speech before the Lord [Psalms 102:1], absorbed into the young child and became part of his being. For days and nights his mouth did not stop reciting his studies and was a gemstone to Rabbi Elimelech of Grodzisk.
After getting married at the age of seventeen in the city of Warka, he closed himself off in the world of Halacah [Jewish law] and he became famous as the Genius of Warka. Young men gathered around him and he studied with them the Six Orders of the Mishnah and Poskim by heart. At the same time, the Rabbi of Skierniewice passed away, a city with exceptional scholars and of residence of the Admor of Skierniewice ztl. Rabbi Elimelech of Grodzisk immediately suggested the community of Skierniewice to appoint Rabbi Yechiel Meir Halevi as the city's rabbi. At first the city activists were surprised by the strange offer to accept a young rabbi, but when the Rabbi of Grodzisk described the greatness of Rabbi Yechiel Meir Halevi, they agreed on the condition that he would receive his ordination from HaGaon Rabbi Yisrael Yehusua of Kutno, and from father-in-law HaGaon Rabbi Chaim Eleizer Wax author of the book Nefesh Haya. After HaGaon of Kutno tested his proficiency in the Six Orders of the Mishnah and Poskim, he realized that before him stands a real genius. In his letter of approval he describes him as one of the Torah greats of his generation. HaGaon Rabbi Eliezer Wax was even more impressed and wrote in the ordination certification: How a wingless fly can dare a great eagle that will fly in the sky. And then he came down from the house and accompanied him a long distance through the streets of Warsaw to continue with the biblical discourse. And by the house, 7 Nalewki Street, he parted from him in these words: Tree, Tree, with what can I bless thee? That your water and fruit may be sweet they are already sweet…. but may your offspring's be like you. And when the Rabbi of Ostrowiec married his grandson, the Rabbi of Nasielsk, to the daughter of the Rabbi of Amshinov, granddaughter of HaGaon Rabbi Eliezer Wax author of the book Nefesh Haya, he told his father-in-law how the Rabbi of Kalisz blessed him then with the blessing: may your offspring be like you. Probably already then the Rabbi of Kalisz predicted that our grandchildren will get married, therefore he wished me this blessing.
When he was appointed Rabbi of Skierniewice at the age of twenty seven, a new star has risen in the Polish Jewry sky. Students began to flock to him from all over the country. He introduced the method of acuteness and the sharpening of the mind with profound reasoning out of wonderful proficiency. Along with this, he led the community's public affairs with great grace and wisdom.
In that early period he had already started the life of afflictions. He fasted every day until the evening hours. These afflictions continued for over forty years, and his body shrunk to skin and bones which were fed by the infinite spiritual treasures. Different formulas have been said about his way, but one thing is clear, that despite being involved in life and nothing was hidden from him, his body moved far away from the vile world and the vanity in it. Once he even uttered words that his listeners saw as the motto of his life, and so he said: The Midrash says about Moshe the man of God. If God why man, and if man why God? from the middle and below man, from the middle and above God [Devarim Rabbah 11:4]. Moshe Rabeno had the power to unite the two forces: what concerned him was bound and adhered to God. Sanctified and purified and always invited to speak with the Divine spirit face to face. However, on the other hand, what concerned to the public needs, he was a man. He knew the material needs of the Jews, protected them against any accusation, and demanded meat, water and other needs. He tried to reconcile one with the other, and solve any difficult matter brought to him. His students saw in it the image of Rabbi Meir Yechiel: for the public - a real man, and for himself - a real angel that does not enjoy the pleasures of this world.
With the death of his rabbi, Rabbi Elimelech of Grodzisk, his best students and great scholars asked the Rabbi of Skierniewice to agree to be their teacher and rabbi. They were tied to him with thick ropes of love. He never wanted to derive pleasure from them, except for his meager salary as the rabbi of the city, which was barely enough for his family, and he lived a life of austerity and stress. A special Hassidut method has been created: loving the Torah and learning the Torah without limit. Guarding and caution from even the slightest sin. Humility and staying away from publicity and honor, renunciation and forgiveness, and if a person won, and was one of the offended and not the offended they would be jealous of him. And the rabbi used to say blessed are you that you were granted this.
After he moved to Ostrowiec in 5649, as rabbi of this city, he worsened his ascetics and did not take off his clothes every day of the week except on the Sabbath. His stomach could no longer tolerate food and in the evening they prepared him a little porridge and a cup of sweetened coffee. His body was purified with purity and holiness until he was unable to do anything else but to sail the spiritual world. I remember when I saw him a few months before his death in Warsaw when I have been called to be one of the three for Hatavat Chalom. He stood in facing us pale, and trembling and when he said the words, as tears flowed from his closed eyes, I've dreamt a good dream I was gripped by fear. I felt that I was standing before of a creature that could not be judged, that this whole world, with its stupidity, seems to him like a bad dream that needed a good solution. And, at the same time, his genius mind worked and calculated astronomical and mathematical calculations, and he solved all the most complicated calculations in an instant.
Not only from food and feast did he not want to enjoy, he also did not want to enjoy a beautiful melody. When he heard someone singing on his table,
and the singing was beautiful and the melody began to draw your attention, he immediately said to stop singing. He also didn't enjoy his teachings. When he renewed his wonderful innovations they excited the admiration of all who heard them, but a smile was not visible on his lips. Only, rarely, like on the night of Purim, when he spoke about his love of the Jews, a smile hovered on his lips. And so he said: I don't find on any holiday a mitzvah of mishloach manot, which, according to the sayings of Hazal they exchanged their meals with each other, and what kind of joy is that? But Hazal said that that generation was not careful about kashrut and enjoyed the feast of that evil man. It is clear, that those who feared God's word didn't want to associate with them and didn't want to taste each other's food. However, when the miracle happened and they re-accepted the Torah and its commandments, the first thing they had done was send each other their meals, to show that you are a allowed to eat at my place and I at your place, and then the joy was complete, and therefore the main joy is Mishloach manot.
Already early in the morning he stood and dealt with a serious issue. And then, he prayed in terror and fear with cries that wet the floor. Even a heart of stone would have melted when it saw how he stood in terror before the God and said words of confession. At the end of the prayer he immediately returned to his regular lessons, and even when he stood up and spoke to those who greeted him, they saw, every not and then, a tremor passing through his body because he was distracted, even for a moment, from the fear of God and the glory of his genius.
His love for Eretz Yisrael was immeasurable, and he used to say that if a Jew is asked where he is from, he should answer I'm from Eretz Yisrael, and in the meantime I'm here. That's why Hazal said about Moshe that he did not acknowledge his country, because he heard them saying, an Egyptian saved us, and did not respond to it. Once, the rabbi's wife wanted to light the candles for a holiday and found that the silver candlesticks had disappeared. She made a noise thinking that they had been stolen. The matter reached the rabbi's ears and he called her and reassured her by saying: I had no money to give in honor of the holiday for Eretz Yisrael, so I pawned the candlesticks to get the money. Because, in fact, we had to make the pilgrimage, and since we aren't able to do so, then we don't have permission to earn the expenses that the pilgrimage would have cost us.
In the month of Adar 5685 (1928) the rabbi fell ill with pneumonia and the doctors were not able to help him. Hundreds of Hasidim filled Beit HaMidrash and the rabbi's house and prayed for his health. But on Shabbat night, after he was called to the reading of the Torah in the Mincha prayer, and read the blessing in bed, he passed away at the age of 76.
By his grave, in the presence of the greatest rabbis in country and thousands of students, his son, R' Yehezkel the Rabbi of Nasielsk, was crowned the Rabbi of the community of Ostrowiec. He was the last rabbi of the city. He and his six children were led to the slaughter, together with the Jews of the city of Sandomierz, in the great Holocaust that befell the Jewish people during the days of the great Nazi oppressor.
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