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A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Sivan 5765 - June 8, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








From Zevhil to Yerushalayim — The Sixtieth Yahrtzeit of the Admor Rabbi Shlomo Goldman of Zevihl — R' Shlomke of Zevihl, zt'l

by A. Avrohom

As the nations of the Western world commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II, we note the sixtieth yahrtzeit of the Rebbe, Reb Shlomke of Zevihl.


"Ai, Reb Shloime, Rebbe of Zevihl, who can measure how much I owe him?"

Exclamations such as this can be found in profusion among the pages of the two biographical volumes that tell the story of Reb Shlomo of Zevihl zt'l, the fourth admor of the Zevihl dynasty. Reb Shloimke settled in Yerushalayim almost eighty years ago, becoming a source of inspiration, comfort and hope to the countless Yidden who came to his home in the Beis Yisroel neighborhood seeking his help, his advice, his blessings and his prayers.

The book contains personal stories told by people whom he supported both materially and spiritually, and by others who were delivered from problems and who emerged from crises through his blessings and prayers. The many wondrous stories that are told by those who experienced them, transform our picture of the exceedingly pious, modest and retiring figure whose life is the subject of this article, into a spiritual hero who was widely revered and loved. Clearly, it is impossible to fully portray such a life in the confines of a single article. If the following lines succeed in simply providing a frame of reference for appreciating the greatness of the man and his deeds, they will have served their purpose.

Hand in Hand

Twenty-one children were born to Reb Mordchele zt'l, the third Rebbe in the dynasty of Zevihl, in the Ukraine. Sadly, most of them died young, in their father's lifetime. Two sons remained: the oldest, Reb Michel'e and the youngest, Reb Shloimke. The two brothers were exceptionally close to one another.

Reb Shloimele married when he was fourteen years old. His father supported him to begin with, but one day he firmly resolved to place his trust in Hashem and forgo his father's support. His Father in Heaven, he declared, would supply all his needs. In consequence, his young rebbetzin stopped her customary daily visits to her father-in-law's home.

As the days passed, the signs of privation began to show, as the young couple experienced the pangs of hunger. After almost a week, there was still nothing in their house. The situation progressed beyond the merely uncomfortable to the serious. Apparently, Hakodosh Boruch Hu meant their sustenance to reach them via Reb Shloimke's father . . . The young husband therefore instructed his wife to return to his father's house and to receive the allowance that he provided for them.

As soon as the rebbetzin entered the house, the Rebbe said to her, "You haven't been here for a whole week, so you can't have received any allowance." As he spoke he took out a ruble for their living expenses.

While the rebbetzin was at her father-in-law's house, two visitors, Zevihler chassidim, knocked on Reb Shloimele's door to congratulate him on his recent marriage. When the brief visit had ended, one of the chassidim took a ruble from his pocket, intending to give it as a wedding gift to Reb Shloimel'e. However, he kept the ruble in his hand while they spoke and then, unwittingly, put his hand — with the ruble — back into his pocket and opened the door to leave. At that very moment, the rebbetzin arrived home holding onto the ruble that she'd received from her father-in- law Reb Mordchele.

Upon pondering the incident Reb Shloimel'e saw it as a clear demonstration of the power of faith and trust in Hashem. The ruble was ready and waiting for him in the hand of the giver but it went back into the man's pocket, in order to show him that everything depends on Divine Providence . . . absolutely everything!

This wonderful story highlights the theme that ran through Reb Shloimele's life. His entire life was a lesson in faith; the faith that he lived and that he taught others to develop because "everything is in Heaven's Hands . . . absolutely everything!"

Another Link in the Golden Chain

Reb Shloimke attempted to avoid accepting the mantle of leadership, preferring that it should go to his elder brother Reb Michel'e. For a time, attempts were made to persuade him to change his mind, until the situation was finally resolved by the Rebbe Reb Dovid Moshe of Chortkov zt'l. After Reb Shloimele spent a Shabbos in his company the Rebbe told him, "When you get home, start accepting kvitelach."

On erev Succos 5661 (1901), when his father passed away, Reb Shloimel'e acceded to the general wishes of his father's followers and undertook the leadership of the chassidim of Zevihl. He was thirty-one years old, but already a worthy successor to the line of leaders that had been radiating spiritual light and warmth for many generations, spreading faith and trust and strengthening their followers' attachment to Hashem. Reb Shloimele's holy conduct and his refined, sublime character drew multitudes of chassidim to him.

As soon as he assumed leadership, he became active in spreading Torah and organized charitable enterprises in the city. He opened chadorim and encouraged the townspeople to learn Torah and to bolster their mitzvah observance.

Even after the Communists came to power and began their persecution of religious life, he did not diminish his efforts to disseminate Torah. He feared nothing and nobody; when it was made known that furthering Torah could incur Siberian exile, his work continued as before.

When the situation grew more serious and it appeared that spreading Torah involved risk to life, he moved his operations underground, literally. He prepared the cellar beneath his house to serve as a Talmud Torah and dedicated it for that purpose. Any child or youth whose soul yearned for Torah was welcome at the Rebbe's house. Reb Shloimel'e taught them Torah, showed them how to daven and provided them with nourishment. He clandestinely hired tutors who made their way to the cellars and spent long hours teaching the youngsters.

Who Dares?

One day, Reb Shloimele's son Rav Gedaliah Moshe zt'l, who served as rov of Zevihl, encountered a grim-looking Russian officer outside his father's house to which he was seeking entrance.

"We have been informed that there is a talmud Torah in this house," the officer told him. "I've come to investigate whether that is so."

Rav Gedaliah Moshe was dumbstruck. He had no idea what to say to the smartly-dressed officer, whose high rank was apparent from his uniform. Suddenly, Reb Shloimel'e was there, boldly demanding, "What's going on here? What has the officer come for?"

"He's come . . ." Rav Gedaliah Moshe began, in a tense, quavering voice, " . . .he's come in connection with the talmud Torah."

"What?" Reb Shloimel'e yelled, "What? They want to harm the talmud Torah?" As he spoke he went over to the officer, grabbed hold of him and encircled him in his arms. The members of Reb Shloimele's family who witnessed this were terror-stricken. In the atmosphere that prevailed at the time, who would dare to touch a Russian officer?

The officer, flushing and growing pale alternately, was trying unsuccessfully to free himself from the Rebbe's grip. "Please Father . . . release the officer. Please, release him," Reb Shloimele's son begged, but the Rebbe wouldn't leave him. Everyone watched in terror to see what he would do next.

Then Reb Shloimel'e relaxed his grip and let go of the officer, who immediately ran for the door.

What would happen next, everybody wondered anxiously. Would the officer return? The only one who showed no concern was Reb Shloimel'e. He continued going about his daily routine as though nothing had happened and he didn't even utter a word about the incident.

Reb Shloimel'e boldly continued leading his flock, working to strengthen Torah and elevate its status, while himself growing all the time in Torah, in halochoh, in holiness and in separation from the mundane. His reputation as a wondrous and unimaginably holy figure spread far and wide.

To Eretz Yisroel

Mordchele, Reb Shloimele's grandson, was a young boy. One day, as he made his way through the streets of Zevihl, he was accosted by several ruffians who barred his way. Mordchele raised his eyes — which were usually lowered — and looked at the boys in front of him, among whom he recognized some of his old friends, youthful victims of the spiritual death blows that the Soviet regime had already dealt to the collective soul of Russian Jewry. Bare-headed and brazen, with the hatred and denial with which they had been indoctrinated glinting in their eyes, they started tormenting Mordchele. He tried to escape, but they wouldn't let him go. What caused him most anguish was the cruel sport that they made of his payos. Nobody had laid a finger on those payos since Mordchele's birth; now they became a game, as one tuft of hair after another was torn from the long locks, while all his entreaties fell on deaf ears.

Eventually, they left him alone, laughing in derision as they walked away, leaving behind a bitter aftertaste of the hatred and scorn for religion and for religious observance that the Soviet system inculcated. Mordchele returned home humiliated and hurting. He took himself off to a quiet corner and began reflecting on what had happened. Eventually, he arrived at the conclusion that it was impossible to remain any longer in Russia; aliyah to Eretz Yisroel was the solution.

Taking pen and paper, Mordchele composed a letter to rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel requesting three `certificates,' as the immigration visas for Palestine were then known — one for his grandfather, one for his grandfather's loyal gabbai and a third for himself. He told nobody about what he'd done.

When the certificates arrived, Mordchele approached his grandfather and asked him for permission to settle in Eretz Yisroel. Reb Shloimel'e didn't answer him straightaway. Several days later, he responded that he too had decided to settle in Eretz Yisroel.

Reb Shloimele's decision was not an easy one. Having led his chassidim for twenty-five years, he was very reluctant to leave them. He had devoted his life and all his strength to his city. All the boundless generosity of his heart had been channeled into his community. How could he now abandon them and leave them adrift?

At the same time though, he saw how the Communists' stranglehold was continually tightening on Jewish life. The Torah institutions and charitable works that he had built in Zevihl with his own hands had been hounded and closed. Religious life was being suffocated and Reb Shloimele's life's work had already been destroyed. He grappled with the dilemma for several days until he made a firm resolution to leave for Eretz Yisroel.

On the same day that the Rebbe told his grandson that he also intended going to Eretz Yisroel, Mordchele found an opportunity of telling his mother about his plans. She was aghast and immediately went in to speak to the Rebbe about her concerns and worries over her son traveling alone to Eretz Yisroel.

"There's no need to worry, my daughter," Reb Shloimel'e assured her. "He won't be going alone . . . I'm traveling with him and I'll look after him . . ."

A Difficult Parting

Astounded at what she had just heard from the Rebbe's holy lips, Mordchele's mother went to tell her neighbors. In no time, the city was in an uproar and a cry of protest arose. Many visitors came to the house attempting to sway the Rebbe's mind and get him to revoke his decision but he would not do so.

The townspeople refused to accept this; they sorely wanted to believe that he would ultimately remain with them. As the days passed, however, and the planned day of departure drew closer, they began to understand that their Rebbe was indeed about to leave them.

The day of parting arrived. A wagon stood by the Rebbe's house loaded with his belongings. As the hour of departure drew near, more and more of the townspeople kept arriving in order to accompany the Rebbe as he set out, until crowds filled the surrounding streets. Their beloved leader, who had steered them through the hardest of times and set them squarely on the path of Hashem's service, treating each individual as his own beloved child and raising them to sublime levels, was now about to leave his flock permanently. The beneficiaries of his countless acts of kindness and hours of counselling walked behind the wagon, which trundled along slowly because of the lack of space. Many tears were shed along the route from the Rebbe's house to the railway station.

There were several outbursts, too. Some were convinced that they could still change the Rebbe's mind. They blocked the wagon's path, preventing it from continuing. Others lay themselves on the ground in front of the wheels, as if their heart's desire might somehow be attained through this act of desperation. Reb Shloimel'e was crying too. He took his painful leave of the people, extending to all the broken hearts and beseeching eyes his blessing that they too, should merit settling in Eretz Yisroel.

The townspeople gazed at the departing train until it disappeared, along with the spiritual radiance and splendor of their town. With Reb Shloimele's departure in 5686 (1926), a glorious chapter in the history of the Jewish community of Zevihl came to a close.

Anonymity and Penury

There could be no greater contrast to Reb Shloimele's departure from Zevihl than his arrival in Yerushalayim. He came to the Holy City intending to live there in utter privacy and concealment. He wanted to be just another one of the people of Yerushalayim, who spent their days and nights immersed in Torah and in serving Hashem.

When their boat docked at Yaffo, Reb Shloimel'e stood on the deck and called his grandson to come to him. "I'm throwing my rabbinical coat into the sea," he told him and he forbade Mordchele to reveal his grandfather's identity to anyone.

For three years, Reb Shloimel'e lived in abject poverty. He learned Torah like the other talmidim of Yeshivas Chayei Olom in the Old City.

Nobody knew who he was. All they knew was that there was a Yid from Zevihl who sat in the corner of the beis hamedrash learning continuously.

The Yid from Zevihl didn't speak much; his mind dwelt on Torah day and night. He lived in a small rented apartment in the Old City, supporting himself with money that he'd brought with him from Zevihl — although in time, it became harder and harder for him to get by. On many occasions, Reb Shloimel'e had to borrow in order to pay rent or be able to buy a loaf of bread.

His debts and privation came to bear more and more heavily upon him until there was almost no hope of ever extricating himself from them. He was unwilling to take any money from Chayei Olom and in the ordinary course of events there was no way for him to obtain money to live on. Reb Shloimel'e however, had long since placed his trust completely in Hashem. He therefore cast his burden entirely onto Hashem and continued applying himself to his learning.

The Secret Discovered

At around this time a resident of Zevihl took a trip to Eretz Yisroel and one of the places he visited was Yeshivas Chayei Olom. There was good reason to stop there — the yeshiva's balcony overlooked the site of the Mikdosh and afforded a view of the entire city. The visitor's gaze however was drawn to the corner of the beis hamedrash where Reb Shloimel'e sat toiling in learning, his face radiant.

The visitor asked who the individual in the corner was and was told, "A Yid from Zevihl."

He examined the face of this landsman of his and suddenly realized that he knew him. It was Reb Shloimel'e, Rebbe of Zevihl! Here was the Rebbe, Reb Shloimel'e!

The bochurim who turned around at the visitor's sudden excitement were amazed to discover that the man who had been sitting with them for years was none other than the famous Rebbe of Zevihl — a tremendously holy tzaddik whose reputation had spread far and wide. From that day Reb Shloimel'e was forced to become a leader once again and his penury was over.

Around the same time, the rov of Yerushalayim, HaRav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt'l, received a sum of money for delivery to "the Admor of Zevihl, Yerushalayim." He had no idea who the intended recipient was because Reb Shloimele's identity was still secret. At the same time Rav Sonnenfeld also received a letter from the people of Zevihl asking him to provide an apartment for the Admor of Zevihl, who was in Yerushalayim, adding that their Rebbe was someone whom it was worth keeping an eye on.

A Dwelling of Permanence

Reb Shloimele's house in the Beis Yisroel neighborhood indeed became a place to which many people looked for help. He planned and built the house himself, on a site that he chose. A small building, it stood towards the bottom of a hill, as though trying to remain concealed.

He engaged in the building work after making special spiritual preparations. While he worked he focused his thoughts on kabbalistic yichudim of Hashem, whose purpose was to enable the building to serve as a receptacle for the troubled and broken souls that would enter it in search of spiritual succor.

All the work was done quietly and privately, from the laying of the cornerstone to the finishing touches. The Rebbe stood alone, laying a block or a foundation, while his mind was clearly attuned to sublime, other-worldly reckoning.

Passersby would stand for a moment and stare, then go on their way with a doubting shrug. The foundation was made of clay, without any cement. Every day the Rebbe would add another row of stones, until the house was finished.

The entrance faced north. The room that one stepped into upon entering also served Reb Shloimel'e as a learning room. There were no windows along the eastern wall, for which, again, there were particular reasons. The front door had no lock. The house remained open to all comers and at all hours.

The sparse furnishings also attested to the owner's utter disinterest in worldly comforts. The chairs did not match, while some old couches were placed haphazardly around the walls, for visitors. There was a wicker chair and an old barber's chair with handles at the sides — that too was considered a respectable seat to offer a guest.

A large table stood in the center of the Rebbe's room. On it were a large paraffin lamp and the seforim from which Reb Shloimel'e sat and learned day and night. For all its unpretentiousness, the house soon became a world-renowned address. It stands to this day, over sixty years later, bearing a plaque that declares it the "House of the Admor of Zevihl."

At first, Reb Shloimel'e went to pray in the nearby "Reb Leibel's Beis Hamedrash" where he was accorded all the honor and respect that was due to someone of his stature. This was eventually the reason why he left.

One day, Reb Shloimel'e overheard one of the congregants, who was impatient at having to wait for the Rebbe to finish his prayer, say to his neighbor, "How long do we have to suffer waiting for sheine Yidden (fine Jews)?"

While in no way offended by man's remark, Reb Shloimel'e resolved to leave that beis haknesses. Until his own beis hamedrash was built he prayed in the beis hamedrash of the Slonimer chassidim, where he was given a place at the Mizrach wall. His prayer was a sight to behold and people would come in for the inspiration of watching him.

Open Door and Open Heart

Reb Shloimele's reputation spread and he became father and mentor to many people who were in need of a warm welcome and guidance. He took abandoned and neglected children into his home. He spent huge sums ransoming children who had been given to the missionaries and then undertook to care for them. The parents of these children had been willing to have them raised in a different faith in exchange for the material assistance extended by the missionaries. Once rescued, they found a warm haven with the Rebbe of Zevihl.

Once Reb Shloimel'e was seen rocking the cradle of a young child who had been rescued from the mission. After being extracted from the missionaries, the children were generally taken to an institution that concerned itself with their relief and rehabilitation. In the fullness of time it transpired that the Rebbe of Zevihl had been supporting the institution for many years — anonymously, of course.

Children who came to Yerushalayim from homes in outlying settlements, or even from abroad, in order to learn Torah, found lodging in the Rebbe's house. Local youngsters who had nowhere to sleep or nowhere to eat also became the Rebbe's guests.

Besides board and lodging, Reb Shloimel'e took a warm personal interest in each youth and would even provide them with a coin or two for pocket money. There were times when he hosted thirty or forty youngsters at his table.

There are many stories of Reb Shloimele's extraordinary acts of kindness, from the child for whom he gave up his own bed, to the group of youngsters who arrived one erev Shabbos and stayed for all the Shabbos meals. Had the children themselves not related their experiences, these and many other wondrous deeds performed by the modest and quiet Rebbe would have remained unknown, as countless more such deeds certainly do.

In Face of the German Threat

Reb Shloimele's conduct during the dark days of the Second World War was one of the highlights of his life of devotion to the klal. The Nazi hordes that engulfed European Jewry and laid it waste, threatened to invade Eretz Yisroel as well and mete out the same treatment to its Jewish inhabitants. The Rebbe acted as a fiery advocate in defense of the yishuv.

People close to him recalled how he stormed Heaven with his prayers, shedding rivers of tears for the safety of the Yidden of Eretz Yisroel. While saying Tikkun Chatzos his appearance was magnificent. He seemed to be a flaming torch hovering in higher and purer worlds in attachment to his Creator, as he sat in prayer with his head down between his knees for hours on end.

He would reassure worried friends that "Eretz Yisroel will survive." Somehow, he was absolutely sure of that. Yet, when the Nazi armies were advancing and drawing continually nearer to Eretz Yisroel, he became more and more immersed in his prayers. He was terribly pale during that period and was constantly cleaving to Hashem to a degree that is hard to imagine. He nevertheless stood by his assertion that they would not reach Eretz Yisroel.

On the eighth of May 1945, the world rejoiced at the news of the German final surrender. Throughout Eretz Yisroel shops were closed as people went out to celebrate the world's deliverance from the Nazi threat.

On that day, the twenty-sixth of Iyar 5705, the forty-first day of the Sefirah, which denotes the combination yesod shebiyesod, Reb Shloimel'e of Zevihl was niftar. The man who had displayed such devotion to the needs of both individuals and of the Klal, putting every drop of his strength into the spiritual fight against our People's enemies, ended his own campaign on the day of the German defeat, as though his task in this world was complete.

While wild celebrations went on elsewhere, the people of Yerushalayim slowly accompanied this holy man, who left behind thousands of orphaned and bereft followers. They had just witnessed the last chapter in Reb Shloimele's life of holiness and selflessness — a life that would leave its imprint upon many future generations.

Miriam Hakoveses — The Laundress

Miriam, a worthy and modest woman, visited Reb Shloimele's house every week. After exchanging a few words of greeting, she would set to work doing the household laundry. Swiftly and reliably, she would soak, soap, scrub and rinse the clothes. She felt it was an honor to care for the garments of the Rebbe and the members of his household.

She was very pious and would fast frequently; all her adult life she fasted every Monday and Thursday, and every day of the month of Elul too. Prayers were constantly on her lips and her heart was always filled with a strong desire to fulfill Hashem's will.

There was always a tinge of sadness in her eyes though, even on joyous occasions, for she was childless. She never complained, neither did she speak very much about her situation. As the years passed, however, she decided to make use of her presence in the Rebbe's house and ask him to pray for her and bless her with offspring.

One day, when her work was finished, she stood in the doorway of the Rebbe's room and asked him to give her his blessing that she have a child. The Rebbe was immersed in his holy thoughts. After a few minutes he shook his head in the negative and told her, "I can't help you."

She was stunned by this reply, but after a few moments the Rebbe added, "I give you my blessing that in your merit, others should merit having children . . ."

Miriam carried the Rebbe's promise with her for many years, until she passed away in 5724 (1964). Her petiroh went all but unnoticed. She had no son to say Kaddish after her. On the stone over her grave the following words were inscribed, "Here lies the woman Miriam bas Mamah a'h. She passed away on the twenty-fourth of Teves 5724." Nobody knew about the Rebbe's promise to her.

Twenty-nine years later, in 5753 (1993), the time arrived for the promise to be kept. One of her neighbors described a dream in which Miriam had appeared to her and said, "I was the laundress in the house of the Admor, Reb Shloimele of Zevihl. I was childless and I asked him for a blessing and for salvation. The Rebbe said, `I can't help you but I give you my blessing that in your merit, others should merit having children . . .' The time has arrived for holy souls to descend to Olam Hazeh. I request that people go to my grave and pray for the elevation of my neshomoh. I promise barren women that they will have children. Here are the exact details of how to find the grave . . ."

The woman who had the dream told one of her friends about it and it was mentioned at a shiur for ladies in Yerushalayim. People followed the directions to the grave and found it easily, though it was just one among thousands of others on Har Hamenuchos.

On Sunday, the twenty-fourth of Teves 5753, the pathways of Har Hamenuchos were crowded with people. One after another, buses arrived and disgorged more and more visitors, all headed for the grave of Miriam bas Mamah a'h.

An avreich stood at the graveside emotionally reciting Kaddish in a tear-choked voice for the elevation of the soul of the childless laundress.

"Yisgadeil veyiskadeish Shemei rabbo . . ." and the crowd responded, "Omein!"

People were weeping as they called in unison, "Yehei . . .Shemei . . .rabbo . . .mevorach . . .le'olam . . .ule'olmei . . .olmayo!"

There were many emotional dambursts that day; many long-pent- up tears were shed by the side of the grave that had suddenly become a source of hope for childless women.

The prayers and supplications for the soul of the deceased woman ascended Heavenward. There are thirty-two known cases of women who prayed at the graveside and had children that first year. The grave has since been renovated and enlarged. The candle flames that flicker and dance there bear witness to the power of a single righteous woman who served Hashem with all her might, in anonymity and through her love of Hashem and His people, merited becoming the bearer of their prayers to their Father in Heaven.


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