Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Shvat 5772 - January 26, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by











The Oneg Yom Tov: HaRav Refoel Yom Tov Lipman Heilpern

In honor of his yahrtzeit - 6th of Shevat

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 was niftar.

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 still available.

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 years.

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 poor.

"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 alone.

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.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.