Why I am a Chasid of the Belzer Rebbe

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by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Kehillas Ahavas Yisrael, Passaic NJ

As many of you remember, I have spent many a happy moment in the court of the Rebbe of Belz Shlita. Indeed, I once waited till 2:30 a.m. to be received by him. I still remember the incident vividly. I was told I had a 9:30 p.m. appointment. At 9:30 the Gabbai contacted me that the Rebbe was running late and I should arrive at about 11 p.m. When I arrived, the waiting was packed full of people and the Gabbai informed me that the Rebbe was still quite back-logged. I went back to where I was staying and at 1:30 a.m. I called the Rebbe’s Gabbai to inform him of my inability to remain awake any longer as I had a 7 a.m. flight back to the States the next morning with my children and mother. The Gabbai said, “I’ll call you when you are next, if you are still awake come, you won’t regret it”. At 2:20 a.m. the phone rang, it was the Gabbai. “Come right now, the Rebbe is waiting”. I threw my clothes on, grabbed a cab and off I sped, half asleep to the Rebbe of Belz.

The Rebbe received me warmly and calmly. I felt as if it was two o’clock in the afternoon as the Rebbe was cheery and vivacious and showed no signs of the fact that he had been seeing people for hours and hours already. The Rebbe inquired as to the size of my kehilla and family and gave me a Brocha that I should be zoche (privileged) to spend more time in Eretz Yisrael. I left feeling uplifted and inspired.

The next morning when I arrived at the airport with my wife, children, mother and twenty suit cases, a man came over to me and asked me if I would agree to be ‘bumped’. He offered all of us- my wife and I, our five children traveling with and us and my mother, a free El-Al round-trip voucher to be used any time in the year; a free hotel stay for the ‘extra’ night in Israel, a paid taxi to and from the hotel and one more night in Eretz Yisrael. The decision was not a hard one to make, and as I left with my family to our hotel, I kept thinking about the Rebbe’s Brocha the night before.

However, that is not why I am a Chassid of the Belzer Rebbe.

I had always been intrigued by the Rebbe of Belz. Not because I have any connection to Belz or Belzer Chassidus. My family originated in Lita (Lithuania) and arrived in Yerushalayim with the Talmidei HaGra over two hundred years ago. I have no Chassidic blood in me. As far as I know I am a Litvak (Lithuanian Jew) through and through. Why then do I have a fascination with Belz? It is historically inspired. When I was about 17 years old, I came across a small Hebrew book which gave a first hand account of how the previous Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon Zt”l, was secretly spirited out of the Ghetto in Europe in the midst of the inferno.

I remember how inspired I was by his love of all Jews. When I read that his oldest son, Moshe was thrown into the flaming Shul with other Jews of the Ghetto and he and the rest of the Jews in the Shul were sacrificed on the flaming altar in the Shul, I was moved to tears. However, when I read that the Rebbe never observed his son’s Yahrtzeit even though the date was known to him for he would often say, “how can I observe my one’s son’s Yahrtzeit when millions of my brothers have no Yahrtzeit to be remembered by”, I was moved towards awe and admiration.

However, that is not why I am a Chassid of the Rebbe of Belz.

Rav Yitzchak Halevi Herzog the Chief Rabbi of then Palestine, was personally and intimately involved in securing the Rebbe’s arrival in Eretz Yisrael as the British controlled the keys to the gates of Eretz Yisrael back then. Rav Herzog spared no effort to obtain the necessary documents to get the Rebbe to the land of Israel. When the Rebbe finally reached Damascus in 1944 and was about to complete the final leg of the journey, Rav Herzog was leaving the land to try to save the Jews in Europe. Rav Herzog detoured to Damascus to first greet the Rebbe. The Rebbe, who in order to insure his safety, was clean shaven and wearing non-Chassidic- Western type clothing, allowed, as a sign of gratitude, Rav Herzog’s son Chaim to be photographed with him. This was the only time the Rebbe allowed himself to be photographed with a clean shaven face.

A few years later, when the Rebbe, who had lost his first wife and all of his children in the inferno that engulfed Europe, remarried, he insisted that Chief Rabbi Herzog officiate at the wedding. Reb Aharele of Belz was not a Religious Zionist as Rav Herzog was and represented; however, he was a religious Yid, and he knew that Hakaras HaTov (gratitude) cuts across ideological boundaries and therefore Rav Herzog was the one the Belzer Rebbe charged with officiating at his wedding.

When this incident became known to me, I was moved to great wonder and esteem of this man and his Chassidus.

However, that is not why I am a Chassid of the Rebbe of Belz.

The Rebbe, Reb Aharele, had no more children. His younger brother, Reb Mordechai who also managed to escape with him, also remarried in Israel after the war. Although Reb Mordechai died young in 1949 at the age of 47, he did have one son with his second wife; that son, who was named Yissachar Dov and was born in 1948, would eventually succeed his uncle Reb Aharele, as the next Belzer Rebbe when his uncle died in the 1957.

Rav Yissachar Dov, the present Belzer Rebbe, was childless for quite a while. After almost ten years of marriage he was privileged to have his one and only child, a son named Mordechai.

This past week was the celebration of the Rebbe’s oldest grandson’s bar mitzvah. Thousands upon thousands of Chassidim attended. In many ways it was the culmination of the celebration of the victory of Belz over the Nazis. Belz: which had been destroyed during the war; Belz: whose Rebbe came to Eretz Yisrael as a broken and bereaving individual; Belz: whose Rebbe never had any more children; Belz: whose Rebbe’s brother dies when his only son in just one year old; Belz: who the present Rebbe was left an orphan at one year old, and whose uncle, the former Rebbe dies when he is nine years old and who he himself was only privileged to one son after many years of marriage; was now celebrating a simcha.

The Chassidus is no longer on the brink of decimation Chas V’Shalom; quite the opposite, the Chassidus is thriving with thousands and thousands of Chassidim vying for the Rebbe’s attention.

On Thursday the attack occurred. The Rebbe upon hearing the news stopped seeing anyone and secluded himself in his room to daven and say Tehillim. Even though thousands of Chassidim had arrived from all over the world to participate in his Simcha, the Rebbe stopped what he was doing and had to daven for those in need.

On Friday he attended the levaya of those who were killed.

On Sunday he personally went with his son to visit the wounded in the hospital.

The Belzer Rebbe is not a religious Zionist. He does not ascribe to the philosophical world view of Rav Kook. He does not agree with all of the hashkafos of Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav.

However, he is a caring and feeling Jew; and he knows that when one Jew is hurting, all Jews are hurting. He knows that when part of the body has been injured, the entire body must show its concern. He knows that ideological differences do not impact on concepts such as concern and compassion. He loves all Jews, irrespective of how they dress and if they are Belzer Chassidim or not.

That is why I am a Chassid of the Rebbe of Belz.

“If not now, then when”- Hillel

[Thanks to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Los Angeles]

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16 Responses

  1. zalman says:

    Who knows the impact of a person’s deeds?
    Perhaps the current Rebbe’s actions and transcendence of ideological differences, were inspired by the first Rebbe’s act of gratitude to Rav Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, which were in turn inspired by Rav Herzog’s unsparing efforts to save and honor the first Rebbe (including a detour to Damascus)… all notwithstanding ideological differences.

  2. Michoel says:

    Rabbi Oberstein wrote:
    “Rav Elyashiv and RavNosson Tzvi Finkel and many others of that stature did indeed attend the funeral at Mercaz Harav.”

    Rav Eyashiv is by-pass surgery survivor who bli ayin hara is in his upper nintees and walks very slowly with a walker. Rav Finkel has suffered for years with severe Parkinson’s. They both attended the levaya with unavoidable shoving and heat. Will Garnel please apologize for his accusation of “non-action”? Why on earth did you make such an assumption?

    We need not be overly pollyannish but we need to also know the Klal Yisroel is EXTREMELY GREAT! The Charedim, the Religious Zionist, baal habatim, yeshiva and seminary students, all of Klal Yisroel. And assuming bad things about them is not a simple matter at all.

  3. Michoel says:

    Garnel wrote:
    “but rather we should ACT like he did. Then something positive will have come of all this.”

    Nu? So writing something positive or negative is also a form of acting, is it not?

  4. Ori says:

    Garnel Ironheart: We should not be inspired by the Belzer’s acts, may he and his family be blessed with long life, health and happiness, but rather we should ACT like he did. Then something positive will have come of all this.

    Ori: Good point. What have you done today to increase the unity of the Jewish people? Can you think of something extra you could have done but didn’t, and if so will you do it tomorrow?

  5. LOberstein says:

    A colleague told me a short while ago that he had just spoken to the Rosh hayeshiva , Rav Aharon Feldman who told him that Rav Elyashiv and RavNosson Tzvi Finkel and many others of that stature did indeed attend the funeral at Mercaz Harav.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Garnel,

    You’re under a misimpression that the Belzer Rebbe’s was a solitary act. Check around the Jewish Web and you’ll see this was far from the case.

  7. kar says:

    thank you for this post

  8. Garnel Ironheart says:

    We cannot allow ourselves to be inspired because it ends up producing absolutely nothing.

    How many people that attend “inspiring” Shabbatons make it to shul for the 6:45 am minyan the next Monday morning? How many chasidim will look at their dati leumi brothers with more understanding and a greater feeling of family because of the Belzer’s inspiring example?

    The greatness of the Belzer is not in that his act was inspiring but that he acted. Period. Instead of perfunctory statements or expressions of grief, he conducted himself with holiness and ACTED as a Jew should. And that is what sets him in stark relief to all the others who simply wrote stirring words and expressed heartfelt sympathies.

    And all he did was what any Jew who was able to should have done – comfort the mourners and visit the sick. Have we sunk so low as a people that a visit by a leader from one group to the stricken of another is a cause for inspiration?

    Is it not enough that there is literally a whole world out there working towards our destruction? Can this tragedy lead not just inspiring thoughts but actual Jewish deeds?

    We should not be inspired by the Belzer’s acts, may he and his family be blessed with long life, health and happiness, but rather we should ACT like he did. Then something positive will have come of all this.

  9. Michoel says:

    I wonder what the Belzer Rebbe would think of posts 1,3, and 5. Why can’t we just allow ourselves to be inspired without adding the cynicism about others?

  10. L Oberstein says:

    Garnel Ironheart is correct.I am finding out that everyone across the board shared in the mourning. Below is the message that Rabbi Hopfer, President of the Vaad Harabanim put in his shul’s bulletin. The question now is who will attend the shloshim, will other great rabbis also particiapte? Time will tell.

    “Families of the eight kedoshim just got up from shivoh this morning. We are fast forgetting what happened in the Darkei Tzion just one short week ago. We must be mishtateif b’tzaarom – feel the pain and anguish of the parents, siblings, families, and friends of these eight young Bnai Torah who were brutally murdered with Gemorras in their hands (and we must not forget the dozens of wounded).
    These young men had dreams. They dreamt they would grow up and do something for Klal Yisroel — do something for the honor of the Ribbono shel Olam — and their lives were ended for one reason only: they were Yehudim,and there is a whole wide world of people who do not want that.
    There is Amalek here today – let us not forget that, and let us realize what they truly want for us. Listen to the krioh this Shabbos, of Parshas Zochor very attentively; it will make a great difference.”

    A Gutten Shabbos,
    Yaakov Hopfer

  11. Bob Miller says:

    From the current issue of Yated Neeman (Monsey, NY):

    “We Are All Merkaz Harav
    by Avrohom Birnbaum

    Can dry ink on paper describe the magnitude of the tragedy?
    A friend who attended the levaya of the eight kedoshim murdered in cold blood at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva last week told me that although being in the journalism business in Eretz Yisroel has unfortunately afforded him many occasions to observe and attend many tragic events, he can not recall a maamad such as last week’s levaya. The outpouring of grief, the pure Yiddishe tzaar, the tears and the anguish were so powerful and tragic that no person with a heart could remain unmoved.
    No person at that tragic levaya of eight innocent bochurim could return to mundane, everyday life. None of the attendees could return home to eat lunch, read the paper, or even engage in the pursuit of parnassa. All felt the instinctive pull to bury their tear-stained faces in a Gemara, Tehillim, or anything that could invoke Divine mercy and beg Hashem, “Mi she’omar l’olamo dai, yomar litzaroseinu dai.”
    For those not at the levaya, just the media pictures of eight figures wrapped in tachrichim lined up next to each other were heartbreaking. As ehrliche Yidden, we have an obligation to be noseh b’ol, to share the burden of tragedy with those directly affected.
    Just think of the parents, the fathers and mothers of these bochurim, who raised these children from infancy, merited to watch them grow and blossom, and sent them to learn in yeshiva…
    Human nature is such that, rightfully or not, we will eventually move on and forget about this tragedy.
    Their parents won’t. Theirs is a life sentence.
    Every night, when going to sleep, the mothers and fathers of these bochurim will face their pillows with torturous feelings of grief, guilt and thoughts of “where would he be now if he was still alive?” The pain that is their lot and will continue to be their lot is something that we, as Jews, are obligated to feel. Their pain should be our pain. Their tragedy is our tragedy. It is the most elementary duty of being noseh b’ol im chaveiro…”

  12. Garnel Ironheart says:

    It’s said that in the end of days, the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog which Rav Elchanan Wasserman interpreted as: just as a dog runs ahead of its master, supposedly leading him, he constantly looks back to make sure he’s going the right way.

    This would fit in well with Loberstein’s column.

    The kiddush Hashem of the Belzer’s actions only cast into greater relief the non-action of all his colleagues. Is he a modern day Noach, the single righteous man in his society?

  13. Shalhevet says:

    From people who were able to attend the levaya, I heard that many people – across the religious spectrum – DL, MO, Yeshivish, Charedi, Chassidish, Litvish, Sefardic, not-yet-religious, all turned out together. A tragedy in Klal Yisroel is a tragedy for Klal Yisroel. A student of Torah is that to all.

  14. mycroft says:

    Moving story-because unfortunately Klal Israel does not usually act and feel as “Am Echad” The generalnon-reaction to the tragedy by those who are not from the machene of the victims is something to cry about.

  15. mb says:

    Even this English Yekke can’t fail to be deeply moved by this posting.

    Thanks a zillion.

  16. LOberstein says:

    This morning a chusheveh member of the hanhalah of Ner Yisroel told me the same thing. He praised the Belzer Rebbe for attending the levaya and visiting the hospital. I think normal human beings think that way. The question is why others didn’t. I once heard the answer from Rabbi Moshe Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe. He told me about 40 years ago that the gedolim of the previous dor would state their opinion without hesitation but today he said, they first have to look around the room and think what will the others think of me if I take this position.
    The Belzer Rebbe is his own man, he doesn’t care what others will say and that is why he does what is right without concern for ultra-orthodox political correctness. I was told that the Roshei Yeshiva of Hebron were at the levaya also.