Speaking of “choice fruit,” the following are among the notable personalities whose Yahrtzeits are observed in Shevat:
Shaul HaMelech (1 Shevat); Meshulam Zusha of Hanipol and the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch (2 Shevat); Asher ben Yaakov, Moshe Leib of Sassov and the Baba Sali (4 Shevat); the Sfas Emes (5 Shevat); Rebbetzin Rivka Schneerson, for whom Bais Rivka girls’ school is named (10 Shevat); Yechezkel M’Kuzmir (17 Shevat); the TaZ (26 Shevat); the Alter of Slabodka and Chananya Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum (29 Shevat).
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Once seen to give a substantial sum of tzedakah to a man of questionable character, Reb Moshe Leib Sassov explained to his curious onlookers that by giving such a person charity, “Hakodosh Boruch Hu will be charitable with me despite my own unworthiness.”
The Tzemach Tzedek, Reb Menachem Mendel, was on his way to shul when a simple man heading to the marketplace asked him for a loan of three ruble. The Rebbe answered that he had no money on him but would gladly accommodate him from his home after davening.
As he donned his tallis, the Tzemach Tzedek did a double take. “What have I done?! Today is market day and this poor Jew lives off what he’ll be able to earn in these scant few hours.”
He shook his tallis off, ran home to get the three ruble and rushed to the marketplace to search for the man. Only after locating him and giving him the amount he had asked to borrow did the tzaddik return to daven — for chesed precedes prayer.
Reb Zusha Hanipoli once stopped to rest at an inn and was in need of a footstool. A wooden crate was placed under the table for the tzaddik’s use. But as Reb Zusha lifted his legs, he shuddered and exclaimed, “Oy, Oy – a holy object must lie here!” When the crate was opened, it was found to contain a small sefer Torah that a guest had mistakenly left behind.
The Turei Zahav sheds light on why he always recited Kiddush from a siddur. Apart from the kedusha inherent in the letters, the TaZ sought to alleviate the discomfort and embarrassment of his guests who would experience hardship in making Kiddush by heart.
May the lessons of our holy forbears serve to imbue us with the deep sensitivity they demonstrated in their lifetime — in their kavod haTorah (honor for the Torah) as well as kavod habriyos (respect for every human being).