The sixth of Shevat is the yahrzeit of Rav Chaim Sanzer of Brod (1720-1783), not to be confused with Rav Chaim Halberstam of Sanz who lived a century later. To understand the influence of Rav Chaim, it is necessary to understand the significance of the Brod Kloiz. Founded around 1740 by Rav Chaim Landau (no relation to this writer), father of the Nodeh B’Yehudah, it quickly became known as the premier bais medrash in Poland. At the time Brod had the largest Jewish population of any city in Poland and unlike other batei medrash in Brod, the Kloiz was not supported by the community at large, but by an individual benefactor. No later than 1745, Rav Chaim Sanzer arrived in Brod and began to lead a portion of the members of the Kloiz in the study of Kabbalah. Among the members of the Kloiz at that time were Rav Gershon Kittover (brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov), and Rav Yechezkel Landau, the Nodeh B’Yehudah.
The members of the Kloiz who studied Kabbalah davened in a separate room with the nusach and kavanos of the Arizal, lived an ascetic lifestyle and dressed in white on Shabbos. Rav Chaim and the Nodeh B’Yehudah developed a close relationship, and a number of their conversations in halacha are recorded in the seforim of the Nodeh B’Yehudah. While the Baal Shem Tov spoke very highly of Rav Chaim, he was an opponent of Chassidus. The Baal Shem Tov believed that Rav Chaim was a giglgul of the taana Rav Yochanan ben Zakai. The Baal Shem Tov said that every time Rav Chaim said viduy, he was lying because he had never sinned. Rav Chaim’s son married the daughter of the foremost student of the Baal Shem Tov, the Toledos Yaakov Yosef, who quotes his mechutan in a number of places. Rav Chaim was known for being very serious and never smiling and there are stories in which the Baal Shem Tov sent him messages that were geared to make him laugh.
Rav Chaim sided with Rav Yaakov Emden in his persecution of Rav Yonason Eibshutz and sided against the Bais Din of Frankfurt in the dispute over the Get of Cleves. Before his death he requested that musicians play at his bedside. The students of the Baal Shem Tov, who understood Rav Chaim to be a gilgul of Rav Yochanan ben Zakai, believed that he wanted to die in a state of joy to create a tikkun for the fact that Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakkai died while he was crying. The Sar Shalom of Belz (Rav Shalom Rokeach) was born a day or two after the passing of Rav Chaim. His father, Rav Elazar Rokeach, had studied under Rav Chaim in the Kloiz, as had his maternal grandfather, Rav Yehudah Zunderl Ramraz. They felt that the Sar Shalom was a gilgul of Rav Chaim.
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The sixth of Shevat is also the yahrzeit of Regina (Rivka) Horowitz-Margareten (1863-1959). Born in Hungary to a family that was descended from Rav Shmelke of Nikolsburg, she arrived in the United States with her parents and husband in 1883, when she was pregnant with her first child. In order to be able to observe Orthodox Judaism, rather than finding employment elsewhere, they opened their own grocery on the Lower East Side. The first year they were in America they made their own matzah for Pesach only for the family. By the next year, they purchased fifty barrels of flour and were baking commercially, with Regina busy lighting the ovens and kneading the dough. Over the years matzah baking became the main, and then the sole, focus of the family business. It grew to a million dollar business by 1931. In order to improve the quality of their matzah, Regina proposed using a blend of wheat from three states; she also spearheaded the move into other kosher products.
Between the wars she returned to Hungary frequently and even purchased a Hungarian coal mine in 1923 to provide jobs for her extended family. When WWII broke out, she and her son worked tirelessly to obtain visas so that family members could escape to the United States. She helped to fund over one hundred synagogues, organizations to help the poor and those supporting new mothers. She was most devoted to Beth Midrash HaGadol Anshei Hungary; Ohel Torah Talmud Torah, which had a malbish arumim fund that provided indigent students at the Talmud Torah with new clothes for Pesach; and the Nashim Rachmonios Society, which helped needy women during pregnancy and after childbirth. During the Depression she made sure that anyone who came to the factory looking for something to eat, was left feeling satisfied.
When her husband died in 1923, she became treasurer of the company and was profiled several times by the New York Time who called her “The Matzah Queen.” She was a company spokesperson, appearing on radio every year before Pesach and making presentations in Yiddish and English. In 1945 New York City took over their original plant to build public housing, and the factory relocated to Long Island. She visited the plant daily until two weeks before her death at the age of 95. She would inspect the matzah in the morning and have samples sent to her throughout the day to ensure the quality was always up to their standards. After interviewing her when she was ninety-one, the New York Times said she was a “sturdy, mentally alert, little woman.” After she passed, the Roshei Yeshiva of Torah Vadaath referred to her as “an eishes chayil whose lifetime of chesed provides a model for all of Klal Yisroel.”