Rabbi Refoel Yom Tov Lipman zt"l was born in 5576
(1816) when his father, Reb Yisroel zt"l, was rov in
Razinoi. He learned first with his uncle the Kedushas Yom
Tov of Kapoli and, when the family moved to Minsk, he
learned under Reb Mendele Minsker.
At the age of 15 he married the Rebbetzin Mira Golda,
o"h, daughter of the nogid R' Yosef of Minsk. He
was supported by his father-in-law until the age of 20, when
he accepted a rabbinical post in Kreva, close to Volozhin.
In this small impoverished community, Reb Yom Tov served as
rov on an extremely meager wage. It was there that he was
stricken with typhus and was honored with a visit of two of
the gedolei hador, Reb Itzele Volozhiner and R'
Leibele Kovner, zt"l.
In 5601 (1841), he became rov in Kaidan. There he had a
bitter feud with the city's wealthy leaders. On Rosh
Hashanah, two women broke into the Rov's beis medrash,
crying hysterically. Their sons had been kidnapped before
tekiyas shofar with the intention of sending them into
the army — a spiritual as well as a physical danger.
Reb Refoel immediately gathered all the townspeople and in a
voice breaking with emotion he bewailed the fact that this
could happen in the community. Then, lifting the
shofar for all to see, he proclaimed in no uncertain
terms that if within half an hour the two boys were not
returned home, he would impose a cheirem on those
responsible with the shofar.
The wealthy roshei kehilloh, who had allowed the
kidnapping to take place, were shocked and fearful. Sure
enough, the boys were returned home but those responsible
held the Rov in contempt and would ever after trouble him to
the extent that he left Kaidan.
He moved to Tchechnovitz near Bialystok and in 5610 (1850)
became rov of Mezritch in Poland. Meanwhile Bialystok had
become a major business center between Germany and Poland,
bringing many Jews to live there. Many shuls were
built to encompass the growing community and in 5619 (1859)
Reb Refoel Yom Tov was appointed rov.
Reb Refoel was highly esteemed throughout Klal
Yisroel. Upon seeing one of the chiddushim in his
sefer, the Avnei Nezer remarked, "Only one who has
never tasted sin can write such true novella."
When the first, "bolder" Yidden of Bialystok wanted to
send their children to the local state Gymnasium schools,
the Oneg Yom Tov gave a drosho in shul. With
heart rending tears, he declared that such a move would be
paramount to the beginning of shmad. His words,
emanating straight from the heart, found their mark and his
listeners withdrew their applications.
In 5639, the Oneg Yom Tov took ill. Demonstrating their love
and devotion to their rov, the townspeople raised large
amounts of money in a desperate attempt to call the greatest
doctors to heal him. However, his decree had been sealed in
heaven and on the 6th of Shevat Reb Refoel Yom Tov Lipman
The kehilla would have liked to bury him in the town's
old cemetery where the great rabbonim lay buried, but they
knew that according to the map they had, there was no place.
Nevertheless the levaya made its way to the chelkas
haRabbonim and, by way of a miracle, found a single plot
He left one son, Reb Chaim Naftoli Hertz, zt"l, who
published his father's sefer, Sheilos Uteshuvos Oneg Yom
Tov in the year following his demise.
His son-in-law, R' Aryeh Leib Horowitz, zt"l, was rov
of Rezin and son of R' Yisroel of Salant.
His sefer, Oneg Yom Tov is one of the prominent
seforim learnt in today's yeshivos.
* * *
The ruler during the Oneg Yom Tov's time was Czar Alexander
II. He annulled the Cantonist decree whereby young boys were
kidnapped at random and taken to serve in the army. Instead,
he instituted a system where each town had to give a certain
number of young men who would serve in the army for 15
Naturally everyone tried to avoid the draft, the most
popular method being bribery.
This resulted in the poor people always being left to be
drafted as they had no money with which to free themselves.
Reb Refoel worked tirelessly against this unfair system and
personally went from door to door collecting the 300 ruble
fee that was payable for an exemption.
This extremely annoyed the officers in charge of drafting
the young men and they reported the Rov's activities to the
Czar. The latter immediately dispatched a delegation to
investigate. Upon arriving in Bialystok, the messengers
confiscated all the Oneg Yom Tov's writings, hoping to find
incriminating evidence. Their intention was to imprison the
Rov in Grodno, but due to the efforts of the Roshei Kehilla
on his behalf, he was only put under house arrest. After
half a year, international pressure was put to bear and
Rabbeinu was freed.
HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira, shlita, rosh yeshiva
of Be'er Yaakov heard personally a few of the many wondrous
stories circulating about the Oneg Yom Tov's mofsim in
Bialystok. He related, "I heard from R' Alter Shamesh of the
beis din in Bialystok the following story:
"On one side of the city was a mountain where they used to
dig sand to use as building material. Generally this
backbreaking work was left to the cheap labor of the city's
"One day, R' Refoel Yom Tov looked out of his window to see
a poor Yid making his way on an old rickety wagon to
the aforementioned mountain. Rabbeinu sent me to call him
and when he came in, the Rabbi told the astonished Jew to
wait in the antechamber of the Beis Din.
For a long hour the poor man waited, wondering what he was
supposed to do. Perhaps someone had summoned him to a court
case? Just as his wait was becoming seemingly interminable,
the news came that the mountain of sand had collapsed,
burying alive all the diggers. The Rov now came out to the
oni, saying, `You can go home now!'"
The Griz of Brisk related an amazing story that he heard
from his father, Reb Chaim, zt"l.
Rabbeinu Refoel Yom Tov was once engaged in a difficult
sugya, grappling with a problem and unable to find an
answer. Drawing near the window, the Rov saw one of the
Bialystok townspeople and beckoned to him to come inside. He
explained to the Yid that he would like to learn the
difficult sugya with him since he could not manage
Astonished, the Jew, who was not particularly learned,
wondered what he could add to the deep understanding of the
Rov. Nevertheless, the Oneg Yom Tov persuaded him to join
him and sure enough, as they studied, the whole sugya
became crystal clear.