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]