In the aftermath of World War II, wandering out from the rubble that remained of their lives, were countless Jewish orphans. Bereft of parents and home, these children had nowhere to turn — until the Skulener Rebbe stepped into the picture. He took them into his home and treated them as though they were his own children, caring for both their physical and spiritual needs.
These unfortunate souls, who had seen more suffering than they could take, felt the true love that poured forth from the Rebbe's caring heart. They called him their father and some even changed their family name to his.
To such a degree were they treated and felt as though they were biological children of the Rebbe, that Rabbi Eliezer Zusha's only son, today's Skulener Rebbe, did not get as much attention as they did.
In fact the joke went in Tchernowitz: The Skulener Rebbe has many sons and daughters and among them one adopted son.
When he was once asked why his son seems to receive less attention than all the orphans — surely he deserves at least as much — the Rebbe replied, "My son has a father to look after him, while these yesomim have no one in the world to care for them.
The Rav of Potik, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Horowitz, related a story that took place when he was in golus Tchernowitz, under Communist rule.
"I was about to daven shacharis, when the Rebbe approached me. He would not be joining in the tefilloh today, he informed me, and since I am a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, he requested that I step forward to the amud and have him in mind in my tefillos.
"When I asked him for what I should have him in mind, he replied that there was a Jewish family that had been caught trying to escape over the border and they were in great danger. The Rebbe was now going to try to plead with the authorities on their behalf.
"Here the Rebbe begged me again to daven well for him for he needed rachamim gedolim, `because a few days ago, I went to intercede for another family that had been caught trying to escape the border, and after releasing them, the officer warned me that the next time I come pleading on behalf of these lawbreakers, he will shoot me.'
"Upon hearing this, I began to shout and scream, `Who gave you the heter to go? It is forbidden to go, even if there is a sofek of risk to your life!'
"The Rebbe, however, was totally unimpressed by my cries, and calmly answered:
"`I am only one person, while they are a family of nine, they are the majority. Furthermore, with me it's a sofek pikuach nefesh, whereas their danger is definite.'
"I tried to speak to the Rebbe, to persuade him that perhaps it would be wiser to wait a few days until the officer's anger would abate, but Rabbeinu refused to even hear me out and rushed off with determination. I accompanied him as far as I could with my tefillos and tears that he return to us besholom.
"Several anxiety-filled hours later, the Rebbe returned, limping home. I was so glad just to see him alive. He related that the officer had released the family, but, 'in reward for his efforts' had thrown him down the stairs.
"The Rebbe's face wore a smile of victory. `The main thing is Boruch Hashem they are free.' "
Once the shackles of the Communist-ruled countries had fallen off him, the Rebbe settled in America.
From there he traveled often to Eretz Yisroel to visit his many `children' in the various moshavim.
The Rebbe once spent a Shabbos in Kiryat Malachi in order to give chizuk to the new olim there.
On Shabbos morning, he prepared to go to mikveh. The shamash tried to dissuade him from going: The way was far too long for a man of his age and the freezing waters could be detrimental to the Rebbe's health, chas vesholom. The Rebbe, however paid no attention to his dire warnings and set off for the mikveh. Reaching the mikveh they were faced with a locked door, but the Rebbe was not put off and sent a boy to bring the key.
While waiting, it occurred to the Rebbe that perhaps he is causing tircha detzibura, making everyone wait so long for him. He found a solution by way of a small window high up in the wall of the mikveh building, and without further ado asked that his attendants lift him up so he could climb through, which he managed with surprising agility. In fact when some of the young men accompanying him attempted to do likewise, they were unable to.
The same determination was shown on another occasion, this time when the Rebbe spent a Shabbos in the North, near Tzfas, with a group of new arrivals from Rumania.
The distance to the nearest mikveh was about a two hour's walk, and the gabboim succeeded in preventing the Rebbe from going, convincing him it would cause the tefilloh to be delayed by four hours, during which everyone would be waiting — a great tircha detzibura. The Rebbe acquiesced to their words, but after davening, in the heat of the day, he walked the two hours there and the two hours return, wrapped in his tallis, in order to immerse in the mikveh. Finally, at three thirty in the afternoon he made kiddush.
Skulener niggunim are a favorite among lovers of authentic spiritual niggunim. The Rebbe's musical talent combined with his ability to express ruchniyus through song is well known. Every occasion brought with it a new song that the Rebbe composed and sang with ethereal deveikus.
In the Soviet prison, where the Rebbe was incarcerated with his son as a punishment for teaching Torah, the two of them realized that it was Rosh Hashonoh.
Their immediate dilemma was how they would fulfill the mitzva of tekias shofar.
It was then that the Rebbe was filled with inspiration to compose a new, unique song to the words: 'Nichsefa vegam kolsoh nafshi lechatzros Hashem, libi uvesori yeranenu leKeil choi.'
With intense devotion, father and son sang the niggun over and over again instead of tekias shofar.
Particularly renowned are the Skulener niggunim composed in honor of Shabbos kodesh, which are sung in Yiddishe houses the world over, the deveikus of the Rebbe being felt throughout.
Indeed, the holy avodoh of the Rebbe on Shabbos and Yom Tov were in a class of their own.
During the last weeks of his life, the doctors insisted that the Rebbe must rest and should refrain from his usual exertion on Shabbos.
The shamash informed the ailing Rebbe that he could not go in to lead the tisch on Friday night, explaining it was pikuach nefesh.
Countered the Rebbe, "If I do not do my avodas Hashem of Shabbos it would be pikuach nefesh mamash," and so saying he went in to fihr tisch as usual.