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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Belzer Rebbe’

They Will Take My Shas

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Rav Yosef, shlita, born in Krakow in 1919, was 18 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland. He came from an illustrious Belzer family of talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), dayanim (judges), and people renowned for their charity and kindness. He had the privilege of meeting the Belzer Rebbe, zt”l, a number of times, as well as spending yamim tovim in Belz. All this left a deep and holy impression on him.

Rav Yosef’s Torah learning did not stop with the war. Torah learning was so deep within him, so intrinsic to his soul, that even the horrors of the Nazis could not eradicate it. On many occasions, he commented that it was his learning and faith that helped him survive.

As he was being physically broken and tortured by the Nazis, learning Torah kept him alive. As the kapos were standing over them, my father and other inmates learned among themselves, talking Torah at every available opportunity. Each one would bring another chiddush that they recalled from their yeshiva days.

The starving, tortured prisoners studied among themselves from memory. There were no spacious batei midrash. There were no comfortable tables and chairs. There were no Gemaras or seforim to use as reference. All they had was their deeply embedded love of Torah. This love was so strong that not even the fear of the Nazis and kapos could eradicate it.

“Ki hem chayeinu v’orech yameinu, u’vahem ne’he’ge yomam v’laila – For they are our life and the length of our days, and we will learn them day and night.” The Torah gives life, even in our darkest moments.

Recently, Rav Yosef had a visitor from the neighborhood.

He had received a large bill from the hospital, which greatly upset him. The

visitor tried to reassure him that it was probably an insurance mix-up that could easily be rectified.

But Rav Yosef could not be comforted. He looked at his guest with clear blue eyes and quietly repeated in Yiddish, “But I am very worried! Ich hob agmas nefesh!”

“Farvus?” asked the guest. “Why are you worried?” Rav Yosef lifted his arm and pointed to his bookcase.

“I’m afraid that if I can’t pay the bill, they will come and take away my Shas (Talmud set).”

At that moment, the visitor felt a tremor go through his being.

Rav Yosef had spent 1939-1945 in five concentration camps. He had witnessed the unspeakable – beatings, mass murder, starvation and illness. His family was butchered in his presence. He’d experienced the depths of evil and horror. Yet his face shone with purity and faith. After all he had endured, he was not afraid that the insurance company would come and take away his car, his home, or his bank account.

He was only afraid of losing one thing – his precious Shas.

Rav Yosef’s simple sentence, “I’m afraid they will come and take away my Shas,” rumbled like the awesome sounds of the shofar, the lightning and thunder from Sinai, emanating throughout the universe.

Hashem will surely soon bring Moshiach – in His love for Rav Yosef.

The Hineni Tour (Part One)

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

I have just returned from Eretz Yisrael. Hineni tours are life-transforming experiences – those who are secular become Torah committed, and those who are already observant reach a new plateau in their emunah and love of Hashem. The change commences from the moment we set foot in the Holy Land.

Israel’s Ben Gurion is a modern, state-of-the-art airport; it’s probably more high-tech than most. But we were determined never to lose sight of where we were, so before boarding our bus, we found a moment to kiss the earth and thank Hashem for having granted us the privilege of beholding Eretz Yisrael.

In the 21st Century, it is easy to forget where you are or where you are going, so as we approached the Holy City of Yerushalayim, we got off our bus, recited Psalms and focused on the awesomeness, the miracle of entering the City of David, the City of Hashem. As if by magic, we were linked to our brethren, who throughout the millennia, yearned and wept for Jerusalem.

And now, we were actually in the Holy City. After such a long trip, it would have been normal to go to our hotel, freshen up, grab a bite, and rest, but we were in Yerushalayim. In this holy place, we first had to go to the Kotel, cut Kriah as a sign of mourning for our Beit HaMikdash, and pray that we may soon see our Holy Temple rebuilt. It was with this sense of awe that we commenced our journey, and this awe never left us. From the very first moment, every day was punctuated by amazing events that revealed to us the constant, guiding hand of Hashem.

That very first day, after davening at the Kotel, we visited with Pamela and Aba Claman, whose beautiful home faces the sacred Wall. From their rooftop garden, we had a breathtaking view of the Kotel, Har HaBayit, and Yerushalayim. Over 80 young members of the IDF joined us. Pamela offered them dinner, while the members of our Hineni group felt honored to help serve them and present each and every soldier with a copy of my book, Life Is A Test, and I was honored to address them

Since we were in the land of our fathers, the following morning, we made our way to Beis Lechem and Chevron to render homage to our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. In Chevron, our guides were David Wilder and Noam Arnon, leaders of that amazing courageous community that lives in a sea of hostile Arabs.

From Chevron we made our way to Beis Lechem and poured out our hearts at the gravesite of our Mama Rochel.

By the time we returned to Yerushalayim, it was close to 7:00 p.m. Nevertheless, Rabbi Friedman, of the magnificent Belzer synagogue, waited for us and welcomed us. The beauty of the Belzer shul is beyond words, but even more significant is that every part of the shul, down to the smallest detail, was constructed under the supervision of the Belzer Rebbe.

What I found most inspiring was the beautiful story that Rabbi Friedman related about the old Belzer Rebbe. When the Rebbe built his original shul in Europe, the women’s section was not yet completed, although the men’s section was ready. The men were anxious to begin davening there, but the Rebbe would not grant them permission. He explained that the tears of the women were needed to ensure that the prayers of the men would reach the Heavenly Throne.

It occurred to me how critical this teaching of the Rebbe is for us. While we sleep Ahmenidjidad plots to annihilate our people; the pressure on Israel to give away Yehudah, Shomron and parts of Yerushalayim, keeps mounting. So, more than ever, we need the prayers and tears of our women, for it is only with Hashem’s help that our salvation will come.

Next we visited Tiveriah and Tsfat. Praying at the burial places of our Torah giants infused us with strength and renewed commitment. We met a resident of Tsfat who told us that they had just completed building a “state-of-the-art” mikveh for women not far from the mikveh of the Ari HaKadosh. She begged us to come and visit, so while the men immersed themselves in the mikveh of the holy Ari, we took her up on her invitation.

In these two cities, Tiveriah and Tsfat, there were so many tzaddikim at whose gravesites we wanted to daven, that by the time we arrived in Amukah, we found ourselves in total darkness. There were no lights or candles to illuminate our path. Nevertheless, our group was determined… so we slowly made our way to the graveside of Rabbi Yonasan Ben Uziel. Since it was pitch black and we couldn’t see anything, there was no point in opening our siddurim or Tehillim, so we decided to offer prayers from our hearts.

Then, as if from nowhere, chassidim appeared, carrying breathtaking lights. We felt as if they were malachim from Hashem sent to give us illumination. But when they came close, they told us that we were standing in the men’s section, and we women would have to relinquish the place.

For a split second we were disappointed, but then I decided to speak to them and related the story of the old Belzer Rebbe, who taught that the prayers and tears of women were needed to open the Heavenly Gates. Without a moment’s hesitation, they agreed to let us daven first, while they remained outside to daven Maariv.

On the bus back to Yerushalayim, I told our Hineni group that we should engrave this moment on our hearts and remember that no matter how dense the darkness, no matter how hopeless our situation, we must forge ahead and daven. And if we do so, Hashem will send us light. As it is written: “G-d is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”

(To Be Continued)

The Belzer Rebbe’s Flight To Freedom

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Beginning in the tiny Galician town of Belz, Rabbi Aharon Rokeach, better known as the Belzer Rebbe, maintained his chassidic court despite the constant danger. At first, Belz was too insignificant to be awarded German scrutiny. Nonetheless, the Rebbe followed events closely, and when word came on Hoshanna Rabba that the Germans would be invading Belz the next day, he made preparations and issued instructions.

Despite the sheer panic that had seized his flock, the Belzer Rebbe calmly declared that a Day of Judgment was clearly at hand, and that full Jewish life must be practiced as long as humanly possible. To that end, he decreed that the traditional hakafos would take place that night. He ordered that wagons be loaded with everyone’s possessions, so that after the hakafos, they could all take flight.

The Chassidim rushed to do his bidding. And when that night’s emotional service was concluded, the Rebbe removed his elaborate holiday shtreimel and donned his weekday hat. “Let us put on our Exile clothing!” he declared; and with that, he and virtually all the remaining Jews of Belz, fled across the border to the Russian-occupied zone of Poland.

The Germans were incensed that the intrepid spiritual leader of Belz – known as “the Wonder Rebbe” – along withhis followers, had escaped from their clutches. They would attempt to vent their fury upon the Belzer synagogue; but this, too, inexplicably failed. For some bizarre reason, the dynamite they set would not detonate, and their torches did not succeed in destroying the building.

SS troops unable to burn down a synagogue – how could this be? This daily ritual had become a hallmark of the Nazi invasion.

Every time-tested method of wrecking and incineration was employed to no avail. In mounting fury, the Gestapo turned to the Jews themselves. The handful of unfortunates who had remained deep in hiding inside Belz were rooted out and commanded to pull apart their precious shul, brick by brick. At gunpoint, in an acrid bath of their own sweat and tears, this is what they did.

Their captors may have had their own explanations as to why standard methods of destruction proved ineffective on the Belzer shul but the Chassidim of Belz knew the truth. The legendary founder of the dynasty, Rabbi Shalom of Belz (known as the SarShalom),had personally helped build the magnificent structure, which was dedicated in 1843 and resembled an ancient fortress – with walls that were three feet thick and a seating capacity of 5,000 worshippers.

The Sar Shalom had decreed that the soaring structure be built strictly at the hands of Jewish artisans and laborers, who carried out the project with the ultimate devotion, sacrifice and tenderness. And so it was part of their beloved Rebbe’s plan – indeed, the Divine plan – that it could only be disassembled by Jews.

The Belzer Rebbe escaped from Belz to the Russian-controlled town of Skul, where the local rabbi was his nephew. The young scholar did all he could to accommodate his uncle, and the Russians did all they could to make life miserable – including their attempt to catch the Belzer Rebbe on a host of espionage, sabotage and speculation violations.

The scrutiny the Russians placed on the Rebbe all but eliminated his ability to converse with his Chassidim. Anything he said could be twisted and construed as confirmation of seditious behavior, and NKVD spies were everywhere.

After eight months in Skul, the Russians terminated their “hospitality” and offered their standard choice to hapless refugees: adoption of Russian citizenship or expulsion. The Jews shunned citizenship of a country that banned religion, rendering them candidates for Siberian exile.

Those refusing Russian citizenship were carted off to prison camps in freezing, desolate locations – convincing them that they had made the biggest mistake of their lives. Factually, the majority of those that were sent to Siberia managed to survive the war, as they were out of “Final Solution” range.

THE Belzer Rebbe wandered from town to town after Skul, welcomed nowhere until he arrived in Premishlan. There he was afforded a modicum of comfort until the Germans attacked Russia. Premishlan fell immediately, and the Nazis wasted no time setting about their priorities. Every Jew that was discovered, including the Rebbe’s oldest son, Moshe – a brilliant and revered sage – was herded into the local synagogue and the door was sealed. In one great blaze, the living and written Torah scrolls ascended Heavenward.

The Belzer Rebbe remained in hiding as feverish activity was launched to spirit him out of the region. A lot of money changed hands, and a Polish nobleman who was an official for the Germans was bribed to take the Rebbe, his brother Mordechai (the Bilgereier Rav) and attendant Nachman Hirsh to a safer location.

The Pole insisted that the passengers remove their beards and payos before boarding his car in order to disguise their identity. Other precautions were also adopted, and the foursome drove off in the middle of the night, encountering miracle after miracle. German border police, Gestapo officers and other militia were drunk, sleeping or otherwise engaged at each step along the way, enabling the car to pass from point to point undetected.

They drove through the night until the driver dozed off, resulting in an accident that totaled the car, but left the passengers with light, albeit painful, injuries. And then -unbelievably – abandoned on a desolate road in the midst of Nazi-controlled territory in the early hours of the morning, alternate transportation and lodging were acquired.

Word reached the Tarnov ghetto that the Rebbe was injured, and a team was activated to dress his wounds and whisk him off to the tiny village of Vicziza. It was hoped that the insignificance of this obscure town would afford a modicum of shelter. This tiny village, however, had a major problem named “Spitz.”

Although Jewish, Spitz had sold his soul to the Gestapo, and it was assumed that he would reveal the Rebbe’s hiding places. The opposite, however, was the case. Spitz secured work permits for the Belzer Rebbe and his brother – documents tantamount to a new lease on life.

As this was transpiring, enterprising Eliezar Landau assumed the leadership of the slave labor camp in the Bochniya ghetto, some 35 kilometers southeast of Krakow. Landau’s sole motivation was to save the lives of his brethren, and he was modestly successful at this goal – acquiring valuable Nazi connections along the way.

Landau figured that as long as Jews were providing a valuable service, they would – at least temporarily – be kept alive. He also reasoned that the Rebbe would be far better off under his control in Bochniya than under the aegis of a Gestapo collaborator.

The Belzer Rebbe was protected under Landau’s watchful eye and crucial bribes deftly applying his connections to smuggle the Rebbe in and out of Bochniya whenever an Aktion was planned or the conditions proved too dangerous to remain there.

Yet this was but a temporary solution, as Bochniya would undoubtedly be liquidated as all the ghettos before it. An immediate plan would have to be activated to whisk the Rebbe out of harm’s way.

Rabbi Michoel Baer Weissmandl, one of the most famous and saintly heroes of the Holocaust, developed an arduous escape route that entailed traversing the Carpathian Mountains. Simultaneously, a Hungarian army officer was hired for $5,000 to implement a different scheme. The Rebbe opted for the second plan, which would involve him and his brother posing as Hungarian generals being driven home to Budapest.

The masquerade worked without a hitch all the way to Hungary. Other contingencies would have to be implemented to get the Rebbe from what eventually became Nazi-occupied Hungary to the Land of Israel.

Chodesh tov – have a pleasant month!

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/chodesh-tov/the-belzer-rebbes-flight-to-freedom/2007/03/21/

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