A pall of sadness and mourning hung over the court of Bobov. The Rebbe Reb Shloime had passed away, shattering his many chassidim and talmidim. His son and heir to the Admorus, Reb Ben Zion, was visibly broken.
But the strange storm which was gathering on the horizon gave no time for complacency or even real mourning.
Reb Ben Zion saw the threat of Haskalah looming ever closer. It was aimed at the talented young Jewish boys who could soon, choliloh, be caught and lost to Yiddishkeit.
Casting aside his personal grief, the new Rebbe immediately set about opening a yeshiva to attract boys away from the foreign youth movements that promised great ideas and principles, but eventually led their members into the abyss of a life devoid of Torah.
Reb Ben Zion succeeded in attracting bochurim from all walks of Jewish life, whether they were close Bobover chassidim who lived nearby or boys from as far as Germany, Holland and Belgium.
All who came found in the Rebbe a mentor and guide, a listening ear and a fatherly figure, enabling them to grow with confidence in Torah and yiras Shomayim.
"What is the secret of his success?" wondered the gedolim of his time. How does he succeed to raise these boys and save them from falling by the wayside as so many of their counterparts in other institutions and yeshivos?
His clarity of vision to the goal he had set and how to achieve it, is one of the answers. As one bochur who poured out his heart to the Rebbe relates:
"Every bochur in the yeshiva was given time to speak to the Rebbe in private.
"During one such audience, I bared my thoughts and feelings to the Rebbe, informing him that I had decided to take on fasting and various other physical afflictions in order to do teshuvoh. In his sage wisdom, the Rebbe replied, `My dear son, don't measure our generation with the same yardstick as those before us. The previous doros broke their bodies with fasts and suffering and their minds and hearts were strengthened. However, nowadays we are frail and weak. If we break the body, we break the spirit too and have no more endurance.'
"`Then how will I fully repent?' I asked miserably.
"The Rebbe's answer: `Nowadays the only way to attain teshuvoh is omol baTorah!'"
It was early morning, still before shacharis, and the Rebbe was pacing up and down his room, his brow furrowed, creased with worry. His young son Shloimele stood nearby, watching, and feeling his father's pain. He knew that the financial straits of the Yeshivos Eitz Chaim that had been set up all over Galicia were the cause of his father's troubled look.
The debts that Reb Ben Zion was trying to shoulder were growing, with no salvation in sight. During this era of the great inflation in Poland, the value of the zloty was falling daily. Yet the roshei yeshiva and teachers in Yeshivos Eitz Chaim were the only people who received their wages in dollars for, in the Rebbe's own words: "They need yishuv hadaas to teach Torah. How would they ever be calm if they had to reckon each day the value of the coins in their pockets?"
It was no small wonder then that the situation pressed him terribly, so much that he needed to prepare himself for a long while before he could find the peace and correct mind track to daven shacharis before the King of Kings.
Seeing how his son was party to his pain, Reb Ben Zion turned to him lovingly.
"Shloimele my son, do you know that our grandfather, the holy Divrei Chaim of Zanz would penalize himself every evening by passing his fingers through a flame. Besides, each winter morning he would immerse himself in the biting snow and ice.
"These types of afflictions are difficult for us to deal with, but they are an ascent on the road to Torah and avodoh.
"What could I do? I took upon myself the burden of all the yeshivos' many debts. This penalty is to me like burning my hands in fire and rolling in snow and ice."
In the world of Chassidus, many are the well-known songs of Reb Ben Zion, songs of the soul. Many of these stirring melodies were composed specifically to draw the youth away from the maskilim and toward the world of Torah-true Yiddishkeit.
The Rebbe would capture them with his heartfelt rendition of "Beni, Beni, my son, don't go with them or their way, prevent your foot from stepping on their paths . . . "
When the song, "Yismach Moshe bematnas chelko," came out, nobody knew why the Rebbe had chosen these words particularly, until the shamash related:
"One day last week a beautifully wrapped parcel arrived in the post. We opened it, revealing a large donation of new seforim for the yeshiva.
"The Rebbe's expression did not match my elation. A donation of books without having been asked for immediately aroused his suspicion, and he asked to examine the seforim closely.
"As he opened the package properly, removing the top seforim, he discovered books. Books that spewed apostasy and secularism. Books that were sure to inject the yeshiva boys with a deadly poison.
"The Rebbe lost no time in burning the parcel, fancy wrapping included, thus preventing the scourge it could have caused.
"If the maskilim work so hard and go to such lengths to try and mislead Jewish boys, surely we must work at least as effectively in the opposite direction."
He then proceeded to compose in honor of Shabbos the song "Yismach Moshe," which proclaims how fortunate we are to have the Torah.
The pleasant tenor of his voice and his'orerus while davening were uplifting to all who heard him, even as a young man.
One morning during his father's lifetime, the Beis Medrash of Bobov was already emptied of its mispallelim. One lone figure remained at his place, his body swaying, his voice echoing in fervent, pleasant sound. The young Ben Zion had started together with everyone, but stayed on to finish davening for a long time after.
Seeing this, the dayan Reb Betzalel Bernstein, zt"l who had come from Yerushalayim to live in Bobov, asked Reb Shloime why he allowed his son to tarry so long in his tefillos, fasting until midday.
"Come with me," motioned the Rebbe to Reb Betzalel. Quietly they stood outside the Beis Medrash and placed their ears to the door. From within came a voice so sweet and sublime, a voice of tefilloh to Hashem that alternated between joyous singing, pleading and fervent yearning. Mesmerized, they listened for a long while and, as he stood entranced, Reb Betzalel understood that such a tefilloh could not possibly be disturbed.