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16 Marcheshvan 5773 - November 1, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaAdmor Rabbi Yissochor Dov Rokach of Belz, zt"l

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 22 Cheshvan

Each of the Admorei Belz in succession not only served as rebbe to their own chassidim, but also as chief rov of the large, bustling city of Belz.

Many of the local minhagim were kept according to the psak of its greatest posek, Rabbon shel Yisroel, the Bach (Reb Yoel Sirkish).

"Once I had been learning late into the night with my father, Reb Shiele, zt"l. Upon leaving his room, I was startled to see a prostrate figure lying across the floor. The man had fallen in a faint and was cold to the touch. We worked frantically to revive him and finally, after a few long minutes, he came around. Weakly he told us that he had been learning in the city's main shul, when he sensed all the benches and tables in the hall starting to vibrate. As the trembling grew increasingly violent, the lone masmid was terror-stricken. He rushed towards the Rebbe, Reb Shiele's room to warn him of the danger, but just as he reached the door, he collapsed.

"Upon hearing the story, the Rebbe's action was not one of shock and surprise. He just sighed and commented, `It seems that in the World of Truth they still have no rest because they insulted the Rov.'"

Reb Yissochor Dov went on to explain his father's words: "In Belz, in the days of the Bach, there were some people who did not accord the Bach sufficient respect. Furthermore, they even slighted his honor and although so many years have gone by, the severity of their sin against the Bach was so great that they have not yet been given rest in Olam Habo."


Reb Yissochor Dov was known to have been steeped in his Torah learning and avodas Hashem from his early youth.

As a boy, his singsong tune would ring out in the stillness of the night from the tiny roof top room where he hid so that he could learn undisturbed.

After his wedding, he stayed with his grandfather, Reb Mordechai of Tchernobyl. The latter once mentioned that the boy's father had asked him to make sure to be mekarev his grandson. "However, how much can I do if you're busy all day learning Torah and I don't have time to be mekarev you?"

There in Tchernobyl he lived a life of Torah and avodoh and wrote down his chiddushim.

When he went home to be married, he wished to take all his writings to his father, who would go over them. To his consternation, his papers had disappeared. In truth, the Tchernobylers had confiscated them on the grounds that he was wrong to disrespect the minhagim in Tchernobyl and instead clung steadfastly to minhagei haBach as in his hometown Belz.

Seeing his sorrow, his father, R' Shiele, reassured him. "Don't worry. It's written, `Zeh sefer toldos Odom.' To replace this sefer of your writing, you will merit to have a son who will illuminate the world with his greatness."

Upon his return to Tchernobyl, the chassidim there were prepared to return his writings on condition he share a lechayim with them.

Reb Yissochor Dov, however, refused, insisting that he did not want to forgo the brochoh he had received from his father in exchange for the loss of his work.

Indeed, his reward came with the birth of his son, Reb Aaron of Belz, zy"a.


When the idea of integrating secular studies into Jewish learning programs began circulating in Galicia, the Rebbe wrote a sharp letter in which he warned that this would not only weaken the limud Torah of those who excelled, but would also damage the weaker talmidim, ultimately leading them away from the derech haTorah, l"a.

One of the residents of Belz was offered a job as teacher of limudei chol in one of the chadorim that had taken up the idea, but he had to get the approval of the rov of his town. Knowing that under ordinary circumstances the Rebbe would never give him permission, let alone a hamlotzoh, the man took his son-in-law, who was a distinguished person, in to the Rebbe together with him.

At first the Rebbe welcomed them and offered them some "kibbud."

Since it was Friday, the two came to the point quickly and presented their request. The Rebbe pushed them off and instructed them to return on motzei Shabbos.

"I have a question," said R' Yissochor Dov, when the two entered. "We say every day in the Shemoneh Esrei: `We thank you Hashem, for Your wonders that are all the time — evening, morning, and afternoon.' Why do we use a double expression? If we said `all the time,' why do we have to enumerate evening, morning, and afternoon?"

The brazen man, at a loss for an answer, asked, "And does the Rebbe himself know the answer?"

"Despite the fact that you are an az ponim, I will explain the meaning of the sentence to you. However, I cannot give an approbation to someone who spoke to me with such chutzpah."

He then went on to explain: for the nissim that Hashem does for us at all times we thank Him three times a day, in shacharis, mincha and ma'ariv.

Thus, the Rebbe managed to save face yet not write his consent to an issue that he had so vehemently opposed.


In the realm of halacha, the chumros of Rabbeinu were well known.

Once on an erev Shabbos, the Rebbe switched on the electric light and then turned it off again. He explained that he had not the opportunity to do a melochoh the whole week and therefore quickly did a deed that would differentiate between Shabbos and the weekday.

Reb Yissochor Dov was extremely particular in keeping the holiness of chol hamoed. Even if someone had to do business during these days or else incur a loss, the Rebbe insisted that he go to work with his full Shabbos attire.

This stringency once proved crucial. A chossid whose business was renting property from the gentiles and subletting them to tenants had a heter to work on chol hamoed Pesach. Following the Rebbe's instructions, he donned his streimel and caftan before going to the poritz's house. These he took off in the hallway and then sat down to business. For several hours they sat, engrossed in transactions, accounts, deeds and profits. When they had finished, the goy offered his Jewish client some liquor as he would often do after completing difficult accounts. Having plunged so deeply into the business world, the Yid forgot momentarily that it was Pesach, and went to fetch his hat so that he could make a brochoh on the drink. Only when he saw his streimel lying on the table did the Yid remember, with shock and gratitude, that it was chol hamoed Pesach and liquor is chometz.


The Rebbe had a tremendous love for every Jew. He would often say, "It's better to be like the people of the large town of Cracow than those of the humble townlets. The former are proud and hold themselves in high esteem, but also think and behave likewise to their peers. The humble villager thinks nothing of himself, but neither does he accord anyone else respect."

In the same vein, the Berzhaner Rov (Maharsham MiBerzhan) writes in his haskomoh to the sefer Mayim Rabim, that his father R' Shiele Belzer would say: "If you want to perceive whether a person has true humility, see how he behaves towards his fellow Jew. If he is humble but holds other people in high regard, then his anovoh comes from a holy source. However, if a person has a low self- esteem and drags all his fellow Jews down with him, this is no humility, but is posul completely.


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