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The Admor Rabbi Shmuel of Holy Blessed Memory

by A. Ch.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Second of the house of Sochaczew (known by the name of his book “Shem Mishmuel”)
4 Chesvhan 5617 (1856) – 24 Tevet 5686 (1926)

Notes about his personality

Rabbi Shmuel of holy blessed memory was born in the year 5617 in the house of his holy grandfather Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (his righteous mother was Sara Tzina the daughter of the fiery Admor of Kotzk) during the time that his father the Gaon Rabbi Avrahamele was supported at the table of his father-in-law. His youth was spent in Parczow and Krosniewice, places that Rabbi Avrahamele served as rabbi and spread Torah publicly. During those days the young Reb Shmuel soaked up most of his Torah from his father – for the rabbinate did not take much of his time, as he was coronated as a Rebbe only in 5630, -- and even at that time the lines of Hassidim that knocked on his door were not too long, and did not disturb him from his learning. Therefore, he was able to give of his time freely to the education and teaching of his only son who was fitting, and to give him to taste of his treasures.

In 5634 (1874) he married Yuta Lea the daughter of the well-known Kotzker Hassid Rabbi Eliezer Lipman, the son-in-law of the holy Rabbi Shlomo of Radomsk, the author of “Tiferet Shlomo” (this did not prevent Rabbi Eliezer Lipman from being an enthusiastic Hassid of Kotzk). Even after his marriage he did not leave his father’s house, as was customary in those days, to be supported at the house of his father-in-law. He rather remained to live near his father in Krosniewice, for it was difficult for the two of them to part. The couple moved together with Rabbi Avrhamale of holy blessed memory to Nasielsk and later to Sochaczerw. There they lived in a separate dwelling on Warsaw Street, and they made their livelihood from a wine store. In truth, he did not ever spend much time with his business, for a trusted associate ran it.

After his first wife died after a reasonably long life, he married (in 5663 – 1903) Mirel the daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Moshe Natan Shapira, the head of the rabbinical court of Kaszionz (the author of “Shemen Lemaor”).

After the passing of his father the Gaon Rabbi Avraham of holy blessed memory in 5670 (1910), the Hassidim coronated him to take his father’s place as the Admor of Sochaczew, and he then moved to live in the home of his father in the Hassidic courtyard.

At the outbreak of the First World War, (Av 5674), he was with a healer in Germany. He was arrested there as a Russian citizen, and only after great efforts did he succeed – along with other Admorim who were in the same position – to return to Poland. However due to the persecutions of the Jews by the Czarist government and the scheming of the officials, it was dangerous for him to return to Sochaczew, a small town, and therefore he decided to remain for a period of time in Lodz. He lived there during the days of the war, and was not in Sochaczew at the time of its destruction in 5675 (1915).

In Lodz, in the midst of a large community of his Hassidim and friends, he spent the difficult days of the war, he suffered with all of their sufferings, and was available to encourage and assist them, and to guide them with advice and counsel during the days of confusion. It is interesting that during those days he excelled in his energetic activity to raise up the stature of Torah and Hassidism, as is testified to by his humorous essays – printed in the book Shem Mishmuel – which he produced for his community of faithful, and which occupy most of that book. Not only did Hassidim of Sochaczew come early in the morning to his door, but most of those that turned to him were Hassidim of other dynasties, as well as many non-Hassidim.

However, the life in the big city with its large population was difficult for him, and the many who turned to him distracted him from his holy work, and his state of health also suffered due to this. The many tribulations weighted down to him as a heavy burden, and therefore he left in 5679 (1919) to live in Zagorze, a small town near Lodz, in order to distance himself somewhat from the tumult and crowds of this active city. He settled there and established his Yeshiva there only temporarily, and he never ceased to make plans to return to the destroyed Sochaczew.

In 5686 (1926) his illness became more severe. On the advice of his physicians, he moved to Otwock, a resort near Warsaw, however not long thereafter he passed away at the age of 70, on the 24 of Tevet 5686. He was brought to eternal rest near the grave of his father in Sochaczew, and the entire house of Israel mourned the loss bitterly.

He was the only son of his parents (aside from him they had a daughter by the name of Esther, who was married to Rabbi Meir Borenstein, the brother of her father. They lived in Sochaczew and she died there during her father’s lifetime). from his youth he never moved from the side of his father. He was always with him, and he saw himself as his student in every way, and he revered him without bound. Even as time went on, and he himself was the father of a large family, not one day passed when they did not see each other. Even afterward, when he filled the place of his father, when he himself was already an Admor, he did not see himself as standing upon his own authority, setting out his own path. It was always to him as if he was resting upon the shoulders of his father the Gaon, as if he was only an interpreter of his father’s words.

This was not because he was weak minded and always required support to stand up. On the contrary, Reb Shmuel of holy blessed memory was strong in his opinions and did not give in to anybody. He stood his own very firmly with a clear and sharp wit. However it was different with respect to his father, since he would always give into him, and he was always an attentive son and student.

On the other hand, the relationship of his father to him was also extraordinary. The famous Gaon of his generation, the halachic decisor whom nobody could dispute, related to his son with respect and reverence. He valued greatly his opinions in Torah, both in the revealed and hidden Torah, and he looked upon him as a person of worth. He would refer to him (not in his presence), my Reb Shmuel (“Mein Reb Shmuel”). Most of those who would turn to him with respect to matters of spirituality or matters of the world he would send to Reb Shmuel, by saying: “Have you already been to my Reb Shmuel?”. He was always interested to hear his opinion on important matters. This powerful man did not do a small or large matter without soliciting the advice of his son.

Here is an interesting tidbit. The author of “Avnei Nezer”[1]did not have the custom (in particular during the latter years) to have a communal third Sabbath meal. Therefore the Hassidim would gather in the house of Reb Shmuel of holy blessed memory, who would arrange the third Sabbath meal, replete with words of Torah as was the custom among Admorim (and this was in the life of his father, and in the same city!). The father would advise the Hassidim who gathered before him at this time to go to the table of Reb Shmuel of holy blessed memory, and he would even show some anger to those who did not do so.

Thus did they live together for 35 years, acting jointly in all areas. It was as if they possessed the same soul – and the legacy of their soul was one, together the breathed the air of the heights of Kotzk On occasions it seemed as if the father, the famous Gaon before whose utterances many trembled, found support from the solid Kotzk shoulders of the son. (It should be pointed out that Reb Shmuel was also impressive and strong in body build, he was tall and had a glorious countenance, he walked upright and his face was glowing and splendorous despite the seriousness of his expression.) For here, perhaps, we can begin to understand the unusual relation between these two, the father and the son. Who, aside from Reb Shmuel, had such intimate contact with the internal world of the ‘Avnei Nezer”, and merited to recognize his internal greatness in Torah and fear of Heaven, – and from that comes the boundless reverence of the son to the father. He was more a prized student than a son – due to his knowledge of him. The respect of the father to the Kotzker son, very strong and powerful, comes from the reverence which is beyond description, and the cloak of his fiery father-in-law from Kotzk, who from a young age merited to enter into the inner sanctum of his courtyard, and subordinated himself to him completely, to the exclusion of any personal desire and youthful whims, and did not free himself from this subordination all the way through his old age.

This strong line – the way of Kotzk – accompanied him through all of his days of activity, and influenced all of his deeds and words. He expressed himself through his books – the eight volumes of “Shem Mishmuel” which appeared posthumously – in which he published words of Torah and Hassidism organized according to the weekly Torah portion, words which he spoke before his congregation of Hassidim during the years 5670-5686 (1910-1926). These words are written clearly with rich expression, with a warm breath – as if these words are only now coming out of his holy mouth.

The main point of his words, the recurring theme, serve as a means to peek into the inner depths of his personality and to recognize the great yearning which he yearned, and for which he worked without tiring. He constantly stove for completeness of the soul and for a complete unity in worship of G-d. This unification of personality was the main point of his words. The desire of the heart for the Creator of all, with constant enthusiasm, and without ever letting it out of his mind, and his task to direct the waves of yearning for the object of his yearning – the unification of the soul with G-d and his Torah, – this was the purpose of this elite man, it was about this that he preached, and it was this that he demanded of others as well as himself, first and foremost of himself. With regard to the life of activity – in his words: “ the six days of effort – one will only see the scattering of the soul, the scattering of the desire, at a time when most of a person’s effort is centered around one goal; and if a person is able to direct his thoughts and desires to one point, thus he will succeed in understanding the depths of it, – obviously, I am referring to coming close to G-d, – this is signified by the Sabbath, when all work is forbidden, and the soul is free to direct itself specifically to this holy purpose. The Sabbath is a taste of the World to Come, the barriers fall down on it, and particularly those whose root is in the physical nature of man, and he is able to come close to his Creator.” These words and others give us a key to understanding his mighty personality, and the also mark his outward behavior. This is the Hassidism of Pshischa and Kotzk in the style of Sochaczew.

He was also involved in the communal life of Polish Jewry. He took a clear stand, without fear, with respect to all of the problems that afflicted that era, including also mockery[2]. He expressed his opinions in a clear fashion, without wavering. His words were not always acceptable to his opponents, however they were forced to respect the earnestness, uprightness, and lack of personal interest in his words.

All his days, he desired to settle in the Land of Israel. In 5651 (1891), he visited the Land of Israel with the encouragement of his father, the author of “Avnei Nezer”, in order to acquire land and found a Hassidic settlement. However, the prohibition of selling land in the Land of Israel to citizens of Russia interfered with their plans. On this occasion, he traversed the length and breadth of the Land of Israel, and he always spoke about this wonderful experience of his. During the time of the awakening surrounding the Balfour Declaration, he took the view that it was required to settle in the Land of Israel – and to establish agricultural settlements of Hassidim, and he spoke about that topic in his capacity of participant in all of the leadership councils of Agudas Yisrael. He urged Agudas Yisrael to include effort for the Land of Israel on its agenda. Even in his latter years when it was impossible for him to acquire land in the Land of Israel for many reasons, he never ceased to desire and to speak about his desire to settle in the Land of Israel.

With the passing of his father the Gaon Rabbi Avraham of blessed memory (5670 – 1910), the Hassidim of Sochaczew coronated him as their Admor. All the elder Hassidim including famous Gaonim, such as the Gaon Rabbi Yoav Yehoshua the head of the rabbinical court of Kinczek (the author of the book “Chelkat Yoav”), the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Feigenbaum the head of the rabbinical court of Warsaw, and many other elite spiritual men, Hassidim and men of worthy deeds, gathered around him and accepted his authority. He continued in the path of his father of holy blessed memory – a blend of Torah and Hassidism, resting in the depths of halacha with enthusiasm and spirit, however he added his own breath, and wove a fundamental thread in the tapestry of Kotzk-Sochaczew Hassidism. His rich and powerfully expressive manner of speech established Sochaczew Hassidism and added an important layer upon the glorious edifice that was Polish Hassidism. His books were accepted in wide circles, and became fundamental texts of Polish Hassidism.

He also had an important role in the spreading of Torah. He renewed the Yeshiva of Sochaczew and appointed the young sage Rabbi Aryeh Tzvi Frumer, may G-d avenge his soul (who later became the head of the Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin) to head it. This Yeshiva existed until the outbreak of the First World War. Many of the rabbis and sages of Poland came from that Yeshiva. He also founded a Yeshiva “Beis Avraham” in Lodz, which existed until the Holocaust.

He expended great effort in organizing and publishing the manuscripts of his father the Gaon of holy blessed memory, and he published the seven-volume responsa set “Avnei Nezer”. He include his own glosses on the content on almost every page, noted discreetly in the name of the publisher, and sometimes only noted by parentheses.

He occupied the seat of the Admor of Sochaczew for sixteen years. Only part of those years were spent in Sochaczew itself, and most of them outside of the city. However, he always saw himself – and others saw him – as tied to Sochaczew and whatever transpired in it. He was laid to rest honorably in Sochaczew.


The Admor Rabbi Dovid of Holy Blessed Memory

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Iyar 5638 – 8 Kislev 5703 (1878 – 1942)

By Rabbi Yehoshua Moshe Aharonson

The last rabbi of Sanok which was near Sochaczew.
Currently a member of the chief rabbinate of Petach Tikva.

Our master the honorable Admor of Sochaczew the holy Rabbi Dovid Borenstein, may his blood be avenged, was born in 5638 in the city of Nasielsk, to his father the holy Gaon the middle Admor Rabbi Shmuel of blessed memory, the author of the book “Shem Mishmuel”. He in turn was the son of Rabbi Avraham of blessed memory, the author of the books “Avnei Nezer” and “Eglei Tal”, who was the son-in-law of the holy glorious elder Rabbi of Kotzk of blessed memory.

From his earliest youth, exceptional traits were noticed in him, a wonderful sublimity Torah and Hassidism. He was a quick learner and had a phenomenal memory, clearness of thought, uprightness of the heart, and a beautiful sublime soul.

The kindness of his grandfather and the might of his father were blended in him to form the glory of truth and peace.

His private tutor was the Hassid Rabbi Yitzchak Shlomo Lieberman of blessed memory of Ozorkow, however he was mainly educated from his childhood by his grandfather, the Gaon and sign of the generation. He learned both the revealed and hidden Torah from him, along with his unique methodology in understanding the depths of the early sages. He was dear to him as his own son, and his hand never left his grandfather’s hand. As he got older he became closer to his exalted grandfather, until his soul was bound up with his soul.

As he became Bar Mitzva, his grandfather the “Avnei Nezer” said about him: “He is already a complete man”.

At the time when he was being propositioned for marriage prospects, the “Avnei Nezer” said to one of the examiners: “Behold my grandson has a broad intellect, which extends from one end to the other end. However, I do not permit him to express new ideas about Torah at such an early age. For the righteous Gaon Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of blessed memory, the Admor of Tzanz may his virtue stand us in good stead, told my father the Rabbi of Biala that it would be best not to permit me to innovate at such an early age.”

At the age of 17 he married Esther, the daughter of the Hassid Rabbi Mottel Weingut (a relative of the author of the Tur) of Zadnoska Wola. However the “Avnei Nezer” did not permit his grandson to leave the house of study of Sochaczew. Even later, the spiritual connection between him and his grandfather did not cease (see the Avnei Nezer on Choshen Mishpat, paragraphs 60-63).

He acquired for himself the Torah and character of his grandfather: excellence in Torah and Hassidism, a deep sharpness along with common sense and a clear mind, diligence and self sacrifice in his efforts to search out the absolute truth, and to distance himself from premises that are distant and contradictory to the truth.

The elder Admor of blessed memory rejoiced greatly in his beloved grandson, his Torah and Hassidism, his diligence and character. He saw in him his spiritual heir, who would carry on his path into the future.

In approximately 5668 (1908) he accepted upon himself the rabbinate of Wyszogrod. His grandfather traveled with him in order to be present during his coronation as the rabbi of that city. He conducted the rabbinate sublimely as did his father, and he also set up a Yeshiva in the city, where the learned true Torah day and night according to the method of Sochaczew. After the outbreak of the First World War, the rabbi lived in a temporary dwelling in Lodz, in the home of Rabbi Dovid Proshinowsky of blessed memory. However after the termination of the war he did not wish to return to Wyszogrod, due to the persecutions that he suffered there at the hands of the strong-handed people, due to his not knowing how to flatter the parnassim who walk at the head of the people, but he rather would tell them off without worrying about their rank.

Just like his grandfather, he knew no rest during the time of his service. Since he was already famous as one of the Torah giants of his generation, many important communities turned to him, such as Bendin, Pabianice, and others, with requests to serve on the rabbinical seat. Ultimately, he was appointed rabbi of Tomaszew.

He lived in Tomaszew for several years, and he did not find rest there either. However, before he had even found his bearings there, and begun to spread the light of his Torah and wisdom upon the communal structure, his father the author of “Shem Mishmuel” was summoned to the Heavenly court, and immediately during the funeral, on the 24 of Tevet 5686 (1926), all of the Hassidim of Sochaczew appointed him to fill his father’s place.

He first lived in Otwock, later in Pabianice, Kolumna, and again in Lodz. In that active city, he spread the Torah of Hassidism according to his own unique style, and influenced people with his Torah and wisdom. His countenance was sublime, since the glory of kingship was anointed upon him, he radiated honor and glory.

He very quickly became famous as one of the great and important Admorim in Poland. The Hassidic masses, learned people, and people of good deeds from all sectors related to him with honor and reverence, and saw in him the continuation of the way of the Gaon of Sochaczew.

He walked in the footsteps of his holy father the “Shem Mishmuel” who founded a large and magnificent Yeshiva called “Beis Avraham” on the first yahrzeit of the “Avnei Nezer”. The head of the Yeshiva was the Gaon Rabbi Aryeh Leib Frumer the head of the rabbinical court of Kozieglowy, may G-d avenge his blood. The pious Rabbi Mendel Borenstein of Siedlec taught the second level. The Yeshiva was run by his son-in-law Rabbi Aharon Rotenberg of blessed memory. The Yeshiva existed until the outbreak of the First World War, and hundreds of boys were educated in it. Many of them were outstanding in Torah and fear of heaven, and they received their path in life from that Yeshiva.

After the war, the Yeshiva “Beis Avraham” was established in Lodz. Its chief activist was Rabbi Meir Bunim Hakohen Neihaus of blessed memory, with the support and proper assistance of the Admor Rabbi Shmuel of holy blessed memory.

There was also an attempt to establish a Yeshiva in Zagorze in 5684 (1924), under the direction of the son of our rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yisrael, may he live a long life. The head of the Yeshiva was Rabbi Mendel Wachsler of blessed memory. However, after the death of the “Shem Mishmuel”, this yeshiva ceased to exists.

His son the Admor Rabbi Dovid of holy blessed memory also established a network of “Beis Avraham” Yeshivas in cities of Poland – Warsaw, Lodz, and others, in which was educated a generation of learned Hassidim, lofty thinkers and people of worthy deeds.

An honorable monthly publication was published in Warsaw called “Beis Avraham”. Its purpose was to promote the Sochaczew style of learning. It was published by Rabbi Leibel Elbinger may his blood be avenged – as well as, may he be granted life, the author of this essay. Torah giants of that generation as well as the elders of the Sochaczew Hassidim may their blood be avenged participated in this publication.

As did his holy father, he also played an active role in communal life, in that he was the leader of the rabbinical organization of Poland. As a member of the leadership of the Council of Torah Sages and one of the heads of Agudas Yisrael, he was always very interested in communal affairs, and his opinions were decisive.

Many of his followers who were closest to him were renowned people of Poland. They were famous Torah giants, such as: the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Weinberg may G-d avenge his blood the author of “Reishit Bikkurim”; the Gaon Rabbi Aryeh Leib Frumer may G-d avenge his blood, the author of “Siach Sadeh”, the book of responsa “Eretz Hatzvi”, and the head of the Yeshiva “Chachmei Lublin”; Rabbi Eliahu Laskowski may G-d avenge his blood, the head of the rabbinical court of Dobrut (who was hung in the marketplace of his city by the German Nazis may their names be eradicated, after he had sanctified the name of heaven and the Jewish people in public by giving a lecture – while upon the gallows – as is recorded in the chronicles of the days of the Holocaust and the uprising); Rabbi Velvish Borenstein of holy blessed memory from Czestochowa; Rabbi Baruch Laznowski may G-d avenge his blood, the head of the rabbinical court of Ujazd; Rabbi Chaim the head of the rabbinical court of Konstantyno; Rabbi Goldschlag the head of the rabbinical court of Pieszyce; The Rabbi of Piniatki; Rabbi Eliezer Shalom the righteous teacher of Wola; Rabbi Yisrael the righteous teacher of Radomsk; Rabbi Eliezer Lipman Leventhal may G-d avenge his blood, the head of the rabbinical court of Cieladz; and others.

Along with his great zealousness for G-d and His Torah – which he inherited from his father of strong character – he was also very deliberate in his words and actions, he walked deliberately and spoke deliberately, he weighted and measured his actions, he was pleasant to his fellowman, always took the opinions of others into account, received every person pleasantly, and excelled in the trait of true love of his fellow Jew.

His prayers were also calm and deliberate, with a soulful voice, word for word, properly enunciated, measured and precise, coming from the depths of a sensitive and pure heart with a special tune, which penetrated into the hearts of the congregation with pleasantness and splendor.

He felt a definite obligation with regard to the upbuilding of the Land of Israel, just as did his holy fathers the “Avnei Nezer” and the “Shem Mishmuel”. (see Avnei Nezer on Yoreh Deah part 2 section 454 and 455 which where he addressed the holy Rabbi of Pilow of blessed memory in a lengthy fashion; and in the collection of responsa Avnei Nezer for the end of Choshen Mishpat, section 95; and in the book “Abir Haroim” pages 106 and 107.) His pining for the Land came to the fore during the Sabbath meals, when he would deliver a discourse on Torah at the table with his congregation of Hassidim, for there was pretty much not one Sabbath in which he did not mention in his discourse the holiness of Torah, the Sabbath and the Land, all three of which were intertwined together by him with the weekly Torah portion. His Torah discourses were said with great devotion, with the wisdom and understanding of the mind influencing the emotions of the heart.

In similar fashion to his father Rabbi Shmuel of holy blessed memory, who visited the Land of Israel in 5651 (1891) along with his brother-in-law and uncle Rabbi Meir of holy blessed memory on a mission of the “Avnei Nezer”, who did not suffice himself with acquiring a portion of our holy land in his inner room in Sochaczew, by means of explaining the deep laws and commandments which are dependent on the land; he also sent his son and aforementioned son-in-law with a large sum of money in order to purchase a plot of land in the Land of Israel. They remained in the Land for three months, and traversed its length and breadth in order to actively acquire it. To their distress, their plan was aborted, since the government of Turkey at that time forbade the sale of land to Jews of Russia.

His son as well, Rabbi Dovid of holy blessed memory, visited the Land of Israel twice. At first he came there in the summer of 5684 (1924) with a complete plan to start a Hassidic settlement in wide areas, and he also purchased land for this purpose.

His words upon his return to Poland still ring in my ears. They were delivered in a large public gathering in a hall on 31 Zamenhof, where he lectured with great enthusiasm on the commandment of settling the Land of Israel. He called upon the well to do of his Hassidim to purchase properties, to go there and settle.

The depression that broke out in Poland immediately after his visit prevented the materialization of his plans.

On the 20th of Tevet 5684 (1924), at the festive opening of the fourth national convention of Agudas Yisrael in Poland, he called out to the convention in a fiery speech for practical activity for the sake of settling the Land. Thus were his words:

“Blessed are you who come in the name of G-d – blessed are those who are brought here through the will of G-d, Whose spirit gathered you here, for His spirit brought you to the service of G-d, in order to strengthen the religion and the Torah.

We bless you from the house of G-d, that is the Land of Israel. For it was from there that G-d commanded the blessing of life to the world. From there will come the everlasting life of Israel, for ever – until the days of the Messiah, and He acts gracefully toward his Messiah, to David and his children forever. Our rabbi, my revered father of holy blessed memory used to call out all the days of his life for the work for the Land of Israel, and in the last convention in which he participated, he declared it to be his pure will that everyone should act with all his might for the sake of settlement of the Land of Israel. Our rabbi, my grandfather the Admor of blessed memory taught in the Avnei Nezer that it is in accordance with halacha (Jewish Law) that the commandment to settle the Land of Israel applies in this day and age.

The holy Jew used to say: “Is it not true that every Jew is required to fulfil all of the commandments of the Torah, the 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments, however everyone has special commandments, one positive commandment and one negative commandment which are set aside for him, for whose sake he came into the world, as it says in the Gemara, ‘your father, what was he most careful about’, however how do we know which is the special commandment for any person? That is the commandment for which the person has a desire, he pines for it, that is his commandment, it belongs to him. And even if there is a negative commandment for which he has a desire to transgress, G-d forbid, he has to watch himself extra carefully from it, so that he will G-d forbid not stumble in it. And that is his task in this world.

Therefore when we see that the desire for our holy Land is revealed and growing, that a mighty desire is awakened from observant people who seek G-d and concern themselves with His commandments, and all Jews now desire to go up to the holy Land, it is a sign that now is the special time to busy oneself with the commandment of settling in the Land of Israel.

However the foundation and cornerstone of settling in the Land of Israel is the keeping of Torah and the commandments. Even after the four expressions of redemption, “I will take you out”, “I will save you”, “I will redeem you”, and “I will take you”[3], the condition follows “For I am the L-rd your G-d”, and only after that does it say “I will bring you to the land”. It is explained in the Or Hachayim, for there is no damage G-d forbid to the command of G-d that is worse[4], and now that everyone is gathered together for this great commandment, to strengthen the religion and the Torah by settling the Land of Israel, at the time that the community does this commandment, the blessing “His community is founded upon the Land” will belong to them. When the “community” is banded together to build the Land, in a strong and proper foundation, they will be successful, for only then will our service for the Land of Israel come to the point of a peaceful and mighty fulfillment.” Thus far were his words.

His holy words made a mighty impression upon those gathered, and the seal of the Land of Israel was stamped upon the convention.

In the winter of 5684 (1925), our rabbi visited the Land of Israel for the second time, accompanied by the Gaon of Kozieglowy, may G-d avenge his blood. They spent Purim in Tel Aviv, Passover in Jerusalem, and the left the Land on Lag Baomer[5].

On Rosh Hashana 5699 (1938), he preached to his Hassidim, especially to the youth, that they should learn Mishna off by heart, for there will be a time when books will not be available…

When the German legions broke into Lodz at the beginning of the Second World War, they broke into his house, tortured him, and dragged him through the streets of Lodz. When he was saved from them he fled to Warsaw with his entire family, broken and crushed from the many disasters which befell the world, from persecution and torture, expulsion and humiliation of the Jewish people, who were now found in distress, trouble and straits, who were now caught in the lowest recesses of hell in this world.

The rabbi of holy blessed memory took the terrible situation deeply to heart, and his sublime face was etched with the bitterness and sorrow that was in his heart that was pained for the troubles of the Jewish people. He was completely frightened from the terrible news that his ears heard, that was worsening from day to day, and from the troubles of his people that his eyes witnessed. Nevertheless, he attempted to show a pleasant face, and to give spiritual protection for those who came to the shadow of his protection in order to hear words of comfort and support from his mouth.

On the festival of Shavuot 5700 (1940), I still merited to be among those who sat at his table that he set up in his hidden dwelling in Warsaw, opposite the Zaks garden, together with a community of prominent Hassidim. With emotion and outpouring of the soul he expounded the verse “You shall be straight with the L-rd your G-d” (Deuteronomy 18:13) with Rashi’s commentary on that verse, that you should go with Him in a straight path and you should wait for Him, and do not try to divine the future, etc. In those days our rabbi of holy blessed memory still hoped that he would merit to ascend to the Holy Land. At the time that my brother the prominent Rabbi Avigdor Leibish may G-d avenge his blood fled from Warsaw to Lodz, our rabbi requested that he should inquire if the missing documents that were needed to arrange his emigration had arrived to his address in Lodz. When I received a negative reply in a letter from my brother, in which he described the tribulations of the Lodz Ghetto, I went to the Admor of holy blessed memory and informed him of these matters. He sat steeped in his thoughts about the tidings of Job that I had brought him, and in front of him on the table was a book of the Bible. He turned to me and said: "You know that the purpose of the creation of man and his coming into this world is to rectify and complete his soul, and a Jewish person is required to strive and act to attain this completeness that is required of him until the goal is reached, in order to fulfil the intent of creation, however not every person merits to complete his soul by virtue of his spiritual work during the days of his life in this world. On the contrary, most people destroy rather than rectify, go down rather than ascend, and from where can come their completeness? Therefore there are times when G-d looks and gazes unto the end of all generations, and arranges things so they can be completed in a different fashion, according to the statement “there are some people who can acquire their world in one hour”…

I was brazen enough to stop him and ask him: “Did not our sages say in Pirke Avot that one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than the entire life of the world to come?”

He answered me: “Certainly we desire and pray that we shall merit to fulfil our souls through life, repentance and good deeds, however if we do not merit that, Heaven bestows upon us the opportunity to attain eternal life in other means… We learn this from the first section of our holy Torah, where Abel was righteous and Cain evil, and nevertheless the blood of Abel was spilled, and Cain the murderer lived …” And the holy rabbi continued on with similar words, and this is not the place to publish them.

With regard to the above, see what is written in the book Maggid Meisharim on the portion of Vaerah, that the angel informed the house of Joseph: “And you will merit to be a burnt offering before Me, and to be burnt for the sake of My holy name, your flesh and bones will be completely burnt before Me, and left cut up and will be removed like queen wool”. And see the book Bikurei Aviv page 3, by the holy Rabbi of Radzymin of holy blessed memory.

It is related that in those gloomy days he would say: “I reflect, I was in the Land of Israel, and I had intention to settle there, even though at that time it was possible to live in the exile, but nevertheless I did not merit at that time to set up my residence in our Holy Land. Now when it is not possible at all to live here, am I not worthy to ascend to the Land of Israel?”

Before Rosh Hashana 5741 (1940), our rabbi of blessed memory published a proclamation (published in stencil) with words of encouragement and awakening for repentance. I remember that the words of Torah were based on a statement of the holy Zohar, section 3:168: “A tree to which light does not rise will be knocked down and lit, a body in which the light of the soul does not rise will be knocked down and lit”.

The Admor of holy blessed memory encouraged the Gaon Rabbi Frumer and the Gaon Rabbi Stuciner to establish a Yeshiva and teach Torah even in the darkness of the shadow of death of the Warsaw Ghetto. The groups of Rabbi Avrahamele Weinberg and of the Gaon of Kozieglowy were among those who were well known during the time of the Holocaust for their strength of spirit, and for keeping the tradition of Hassidism – and also for their preparations for the revolt. The youth studied Torah with diligence in an underground bunker below the house on 14 Mila. Every night after midnight they would go out to search for food in the abandoned and empty houses in order to sustain themselves.

The Rabbi of Sochaczew advised me to leave Warsaw and to return to my family and community in Sanok, where I had served as a rabbi, and from where I had fled since the Gestapo interrogated me. When I came back to my house in the Sanok Ghetto, it became clearly evident to me – after about a year – at the beginning of the winter of 5702 (1941) about the establishment of a death camp in Chelmno (Kolmnhauf) by Kaul, and about the many acts of murder in the forests of Kozmir. From the information that I gathered and the terrifying news that was transmitted to me by the sons of Rabbi Yissachar Cohen of Gostynin, may G-d avenge his blood, and after I investigated the truth of the matter, I wanted to debunk the lie, for the Jews of the Ghettos were not sent out for work alone. I wrote a letter to the Rabbi of Sochaczew of holy blessed memory, in cryptic language, that the aunt Esther from Megilla street, house 7, dwelling 4 is coming… the innuendo was clear, for it says in verse 4 of chapter 7 of the Scroll of Esther “for me and my nation are given over to be annihilated, killed, and destroyed, and if we were only to be sold as slaves and maidservants I would have maintained my silence”. The hint was clear, for after a very brief period of time I received a response that advised me to draw strength from verse 4 in chapter 23 of the book of Psalms[6].

It became known to me only know, from the essay “in the vale of murder” by the eyewitness Mr. Feingold that “a short time before the deportations, the Rabbi of Sochaczew was the first to sound an alarm to the Jewish community that an evil decree was about to come upon the Jewish people. He, of blessed memory, said that this decree would be enacted by the men of the S.S. from Lublin, whom have bands tied to their sleeves with the inscription Fernichtungs Komand (“Extermination Unit”).

Adam Chernikov inquired about this matter to the governors Leist and Fischer, to the Commissar of the Ghetto Aaurswald, and the Gestapo chief Brand may his name be blotted out. They did not know about this new decree, but the Rabbi of Sochaczew did not rest, he called together people, and requested that they enter into council. In his house, meetings were held with regard to the uprising…”

On July 19, 1942, when the word of the impending expulsion began to spread, a top-secret meeting of activists and important people was called in the upper wall of the Warsaw Ghetto on 27 Nowalipki Street. The Admor of Sochaczew was there along with the Admor of Alexander of holy blessed memory, as well as the Rabbis of Pawianice and Kalice, and other honorable people of various affiliations. The topic of discussion was the difficult question: Are the rumors of extermination true?…

He lived in various different dwellings until the closing of the Warsaw Ghetto, for he feared to live in a set place. Later he traveled to Otwock, and then he returned to the Warsaw Ghetto and took up residence on 24 Murnowski at the home of Reb Yosef and later Reb Yitzchak Meir Elbinger, may G-d avenge their blood. They were former parnassim of Warsaw and among his closest Hassidim.

His home in the Ghetto was a central place for counsel, gatherings and meetings. He preached words of comfort, encouragement, strength, and hope in general and in detail. It is told that during the times of the deportations, he found refuge in a hidden room in a shop on 67 Genesha Street. He died there of heart failure on the 8th of Kislev 5703 (1942), caused by the great tribulations of the Jewish people which weighed on his pure heart.

On this day, a cold and snowy winter day, for a brief moment the honor of the dead returned to the Ghetto, which had been desecrated by that time just as had been desecrated the honor of the living. For there was arranged a funeral according to the former custom, in which a recognizable community participated. He was laid to rest with honor in the cemetery on Genesha Street, near the grave of the first head of the rabbinical court of Warsaw (the grandfather of my father of holy blessed memory) the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Lipschitz of blessed memory, the author of the book of responsa “Chemdat Shlomo”.

The righteous one will be remembered forever. May G-d avenge his blood, and may his merit protect over us.


Rabbi Dovid Borenstein, the Admor of Sochaczew

by B. Tzemach

Translated by Jerrold Landau

(Biographical notes)
{photo on page 639, the Admor Reb Dovidel of holy blessed memory. He died in the Warsaw Ghetto.}

He was a rabbi and Admor, a decisor of Torah law and an expositor of secret innuendoes of the Midrashic treasury, a deep thinker in novel ideas on the Torah and full of heartfelt emotion in prayer. His mind was for halachic decisions and his devoutness for Hassidism.

He was like his grandfather, the Admor Reb Dovidel of holy blessed memory was a rabbi and Admor, a decisor in halachot of milk and meat[7], and ways to raise up the soul. He occupied himself with expositing on the permitted and forbidden, laws of divorce documents and marriage, on the one hand, and a yearning for spiritual uplifting on the other hand.

Torah and Hassidism were combined one with the other – as was the way of the Admorim of Sochaczew.

This was a covenant between the youthful grandchild and the exalted grandfather, the author of the "Avnei Nezer". The hand of this Torah giant and halachic leader did not turn from the tender child, and later from the youth Dovidel. The hand of the youth was tied to the belt of the grandfather, who transmitted to his grandson the secrets of Torah from the pure wellspring of Kotzk.

Aside from the education that he received in his own father's house, the youth absorbed the spirit that was bestowed upon him by his exalted grandfather.

After the lessons in the Beis Midrash (study hall) along with the other yeshiva students, the grandfather gave over to the grandson that which can only be exposited in a one-on-one fashion, that which he in turn had received from his great teacher, his father-in-law of Kotzk.

The youth was a youth, serving before his grandfather. He listened, heard, and paid attention, and felt the love that his grandfather-teacher felt toward him, as he was transmitting his legacy to his grandson-student.

The tender and noble child was already almost a man. He studied the true Torah in a true fashion. Just as the Torah is true, the path toward it is also true.

The sharpness in learning was only a means in the Sochaczew style, in order to clear the thoughts, in order to discover similarities and connections, to understand what is taught. The main thing is the true path, the straightforward intellect, and the thoughts that come forth from the pure spring, the freedom of choice that is before the sin.

The grandson received the true path from the grandfather, the clearness of thought, and the righteousness in judgement. All of this was gleaned from the Beis Midrash when the "Avnei Nezer" conducted classes. However above this, he was educated by his grandfather in the inner sanctum, privately. Thus did the grandfather give over to the grandson that which he himself had received from the holy wellspring of Kotzk.

He married the daughter of a scholar. His in-laws were not from the family of Admorim, and they were also not of rabbinical or judicial stock. His wife was the daughter of good people from an old Hassidic household (not of Sochaczew Hassidim), and she brought with her the nobility and good-heartedness of a rich and noble Jewish home. Along with communal spirit and secular education, she brought the spirit of moderation into the Hassidic court.

The young married man Reb Dovidel continued his education at the house of his grandfather, and he also gave lessons to other youths. He received and gave. He sat in the tents of Torah and his personality spread its influence beyond. He influenced and glowed out to the environs.

His sharpness, clearness of thought, vast erudition, and his way in Torah amazed his reverential followers. The pleasantness of his ways and facial expression endeared him to everyone. The noble young man who was great in Torah was beloved by everyone and acceptable to his fellowman. However, the time came for Dovidel to go out on his own path, on an independent path. Thus decided his grandfather.

Rev Dovidel who was already famous as a Torah giant wished to serve as a rabbi. Several respectable communities offered the rabbinical seat to the young student. The "Avnei Nezer" realized that his grandson must find his own path, however the grandfather who was very attached to the grandson decided that, at least, he should go to a city that is near to Sochaczew. Thus Reb Dovidel became the rabbi of the town of Wyszogrod.

Wyszogrod, on the banks of the Wisla, was a city of workers. The Jews worked all week in the gardens and fruit orchards, or they worked in river transportation. These simple and healthy Jews were not Torah scholars. The young scholar, who only recently had left the tent that was completely Torah and Hassidism, met the masses, average people, who did not necessarily understand even the words of their prayers. He served as a rabbi, teacher and guide in day to day life. Very few people were scholars in this town of gardeners, and there were also some who participated in the Haskala (enlightenment). These people would gather in the house of the rabbi on winter nights, and conduct discussions on matters of Torah and books of Torah research, which were also familiar to the young rabbi.

Nevertheless, the rabbi lived in Wyszogrod as if on a lonely island, and he found rest for his yearning soul in the books of halacha and Hassidism. There, far from the centers of Torah, he filled the wide margin of his Gemara with notes – short notes that explained matters in a simple and sharp fashion, replete with comparisons, connections, and sources. His friends were the shelves of books that filled the room of the court of law. Behold, there was not one book from among the thousands of books of halacha and responsa, both regarding the revealed and hidden Torah, that was not decorated with notes and glosses in his own handwriting.

Very soon, the fury of the war that broke out in 5674 (1914) caught up with him. The lot of the community of Wyszogrod was similar the lot of other Jewish communities, which were destroyed by the German invaders. The governments changed in quick succession, and the Jews of the small towns, weak and vulnerable, sought refuge in the larger cities. The rabbi of Wyszogrod sough refuge, empty handed, in Lodz. After a time, he was invited to serve as rabbi in the city of Tomaszew Mazowick. In contrast to the divergent opinions between the different Hassidic factions which existed in most of the cities, a spirit of unity existed in Tomaszew, and the entire large community of Hassidim and followers of Torah accepted his authority as rabbi of the city. However, a controversy broke out between the Hassidim on the one side, and the simple folk on the other side, who were suspicious that the rabbi was "too orthodox". His tenure in Tomaszew disturbed his peacefulness, and he finally decided to give up the rabbinical seat of that city.

Prior to that, he attempted to actualize his desire and to settle in the Land of Israel. Still during the lifetime of the "Avnei Nezer", he absorbed a love of the Holy Land, and the idea of ascending to the Land of Israel was comforting to his soul. During the time of the fourth Aliya, it appeared as if the opportunity presented itself, and the Rabbi of Tomaszew organized a delegation to be sent to the Land of Israel, headed by himself, with the intention of founding a religious settlement in the Holy Land. He visited the land, and acquired land for the organization for the purpose of setting up the settlement. When he returned to Poland, he was enthusiastic, and he engaged in activity to realize the objective; to his distress, the new conditions in Poland frustrated his plans. However the desire to ascent to the Land never ceased. All the days of his life he placed Jerusalem at the pinnacle of his joy and the pinnacle of his concerns.

His father, the Admor "Shem Mishmuel", died in the year 5686 (1926), and he was coronated as the Admor of Sochaczew. Nothing changed in his lifestyle, since even before that time he was revered as a Rebbe by his followers, and even before that time, he occupied himself in Hassidism and Kabbalah, just as he occupied himself in the revealed Torah. However, now the sealed wellspring of Torah and Hassidism was opened, it overflowed and waxed very great. A great many people came to drink with thirst of his words. His prayers were full of feeling, and poured out to his Hassidim with a broken heart. His Torah discourses during the Sabbath and festival meals were replete with words of his predecessors and hints of Kabbalah, and they encouraged his community of Hassidim also during the six days of work. Through his words, the thoughts that were hidden and locked in his own world were expressed, and all of his discourses were tied with a string of grace expressing his yearning for the Holy Land.

His sharpness in halacha and halachic decisions, his expertise in words in books of Kabbalah and Hassidism, his piercing power in jurisprudence, his deep understanding also of the ways of the world – all of these traits caused to be gathered around him a group of reverential followers, scholars, famous rabbis, heads of Yeshivot, Hassidim, men of fine deeds, as well as a large mass of people who would come to hear Torah and instruction on proper conduct from his mouth.

His pleasantness of speech, his personality which exuded wisdom, the deliberateness of his actions in every matter, the friendship which flowed out of him – all caused the Admor of Sochaczew to be revered, loved, and respected by everyone. This did not only include Hassidim of the line of Sochaczew, and not even only Hassidim. Hassidim from different factions streamed to him: some in order to clarify halacha and others to learn Torah from him and to benefit from his advice. Prominent Jews from the world of science, writers, and Jewish political leaders all came to him and were welcomed with a friendly countenance and a good heart which were characteristic of him.

The Torah of the house of study of his grandfather, his learning acquired during his tenure in Wyszogrod, his depth of knowledge in the works of Hassidism and Kabbalah, his constant contact with scholars and people of all walks of life, his experiences from his travel through the lands of Europe, his meetings with Jewish leaders – all of these left their mark on his variegated personality. His discourses were noted for their broad horizons, widespread grasp, and exalted ideas.

From among the large group of people with whom he was in contact, there were those who met in council with him for long hours at set times. These included various Admorim whom he met in his visits to the healing spas. There, amidst the beautiful scenery, where there was no community of followers to disturb them, one-on-one discussions took place on the secrets of Kabbalah, of which the Rabbi of Sochaczew was one of the greatest experts.

The difficulties that afflicted the Jews of Poland, the difficult economic situation, and the new decrees that were starting did not leave the Admor in difficult straits. His personal plans and his position of great influence placed him at the center of the Jewish religious leadership of Poland. He acted indirectly upon his Hassidim through his emissaries in various institutions. He was influential in many different circles, and he participated personally in delegations to the government. Some of his Hassidim were the parnassim of communities, the leaders of the Warsaw community, and representatives to the Sejm (Polish government) and Senate. Every important matter of Jewish politics was brought before him. Decisive meetings regarding the status of Orthodox Judaism took place in his home. He paid attention with patience, listened with deliberation, and made judgements cautiously.

Aside from the responsibility that he bore on his shoulders for the Jews of Poland, his strong desire for the Land of Israel was also expressed.

When he was a member of the Council of Torah Sages, he influenced the relationship of Agudas Yisrael to the Land of Israel in his famous speech "His Society is Founded on the Land"[8]. – that is to say that the foundation of "Aguda" should be upon the Land of Israel…

He visited the Land again in 5685 (1925) accompanied by an entourage of family members and a group of his close associates.

The holy places of Jerusalem, Safed the city of the Kabbalists, as well as the new settlements that were creating new life – all places were to him a wellspring of inspiration, holy enthusiasm, and a refreshing of the spirit.

He spent Purim in Tel Aviv full of happiness and rejoicing, with days filled with dances and songs of praise. He spent Passover in Jerusalem, in sanctity as it was in days of old. He spent Lag Baomer in Meron, enlightened by the light of the Kabbalah and Hassidic devotion.

The entire duration of his visit to the Land of Israel was like one long day of exaltation and joy of the heart.

He attempted to settle his children in the Land, to assist his Hassidim to fit in there, and he established the foundation of a Yeshiva in Hebron, based on the study of Torah and agricultural work. He longed to settle in the Land, to see the joy of the creativity of its builders, and to fulfil with his own body the commandment of settling in the Land of Israel.

However, he realized that he was still needed back home, for there were the masses of his Hassidim who were troubled by their lot in life, and that was the place where the majority of the Jews lived. His departure from the land that he longed for was difficult for him, however stronger than his desire was the responsibility he had to his flock, to the part of his family that still remained there, to the embattled Jewry of Poland. He returned. His students needed him – his Hassidim in the Diaspora. There were two evil tidings. There was open hatred against the Jews, evil decrees and damage to the fundamentals of faith – and there was a ban on shechita (ritual slaughter). The disaster was looming. Jewry was embattled and suffering.

The Admor participated in national councils, delegations and along with the rest of the Jewish leaders he did what he could to lighten the load, to nullify evil decrees and sweeten the verdict. He was the bearer of words of strength and encouragement to his group of Hassidim during the difficult times.

However, in the future there would be days even more difficult than these.

The danger that was impending for the Jews of Poland with the outbreak of the war placed a different responsibility on the leaders.

The Admor of Sochaczew moved from Lodz to the capital city of Warsaw, and hid in various places. There, with suffering and mortal danger, he fulfilled the commandment to learn and to teach. He gathered Yeshiva students around him who maintained the flame of Torah with great self-sacrifice, ensuring that it would not be extinguished in the darkness of the disaster. It is amazing: in the midst of these turbulent times the Admor occupied himself with the publication of the Torah novellae of his grandfather the "Avnei Nezer", namely novellae on the Tractate of Eruvin[9] which had yet to be published.

A miracle took place in Purim of 5700 (spring of 1940): the news arrived that the Admor and his family could save themselves. The government authorities in Rome were willing to give him a permit to enter Italy, which was still a neutral country in those days.

This was the beginning of salvation. However the Admor did not leave. He did not leave his students, Hassidim, and friends, who were to him like one large family. He was like a captain whose ship is in danger, but does not abandon his ship until the last of his passengers is safe. The ship was going down, however he did not leave it. He did not leave his guard, his holy work in spreading Torah and comforting his people. He did not cease publishing the novellae of his grandfather, and did not leave his friends and students.

He remained with them until his soul left in purity, on the 8th of Kislev 5703 (December 1942).


1. Famous rabbis are often known by the name of their magnum opus. Thus, Rabbi Avraham was known as the Avnei Nezer, and Rabbi Shmuel was known as the Shem Mishmuel. Return

2. Most probably referring to the mocking of religion due to the enlightenment (Haskala) movement. Return

3. These are four expressions that G-d used in promising Moses that He would take the Jewish people out of Egypt. The four cups of wine drunk at the Passover Seder are based on these four expressions. Return

4. Implied here is the phrase "than not keeping the commandments". Return

5. A minor festival that falls about month after the conclusion of Passover, on the 18th of Iyar. Return

6. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me." Return

7. A reference to the Torah prohibition of eating mixtures of milk and meat products, and the halachic queries that arise by such accidental mixtures. Return

8. This is a part of a biblical verse, and is a play on verse on the word "His Organization", which is in Hebrew Agudaso (or Agudato), which he used as a reference to the Agudas Yisrael movement. His meaning was "The Agudas Yisrael should be based upon the Land". Incidentally, the Agudas Yisrael movement was and still is a non-Zionistic movement. Orthodox Zionism finds its expression through the Mizrachi movement. Mizrachi and the Agudas Yisrael differ philosophically in their outlook toward Zionism. Return

9. Eruvin is one of the tractates of the Talmud, dealing with the laws of carrying on the Sabbath. Return

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