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29 Tishrei 5774 - October 4, 2013 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Piaseczne Rebbe — Rabbi Klonimus Kalmish Shapira, zt"l, Hy"d

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 4th Cheshvan 1944-5704

In the great world of prewar Chassidus, the young rebbe, Reb Klonimus Kalmish was different. Never had there been a Rebbe who devoted himself entirely to the leadership of the bochurim and younger chassidim. When he was asked on numerous occasions why he went to such extreme lengths to save a bochur from being conscripted to the army, he would retort, "A rebbe who is not prepared to go to Gehennom to save his young chossid is no rebbe."

He would go on to cite his father's words in the sefer Imrei Elimelech, "One who risks his life for a fellow Jew is even greater than risking his life for Hashem. He proves his extreme loyalty to the King by being ready not only to save the King himself but even the King's son."

At the end of each busy day of Torah and avodoh, streams of people would knock at his door, each to unburden himself of his tales of woe so the Rebbe should alleviate their suffering.

One day the jostling crowd became overwhelmingly large, causing a tumult in the house. The gabboim wished to push the multitude outside, but were immediately stopped by the Rebbe's quiet rebuke. Quoting Rashi he asked rhetorically, "And is this how one answers broken people?" and refused to allow them to be sent out, giving each one his turn for an audience and making every person feel the world was created only for him.

With the same dedication, he summoned all the resourcefulness, determination and strength he could muster to save a young boy from veering from the correct path. Many long hours he spoke, cajoled and persuaded until he had convinced him to make a fresh start and turn into a ben aliyah. Whenever he would be told a `wonder story' of tzaddikim, he would reply, "The greatest mofes is to return a Yiddishe neshomoh to the Ribono Shel Olom."

His self sacrifice was even in the literal sense, when the cause of Torah was at stake.

The Rebbe made an annual journey to Koznitz to pray at the grave of his father-in-law, R' Yechiel Moshe of Koznitz on his yahrtzeit, 13 Elul. One year, as a result of this trip, he caught a bad cold. His condition worsened steadily and by the time it came to Rosh Hashana, the infection in the Rebbe's throat was grave. With superhuman strength, he managed to overcome his illness enough to blow the shofar.

It seemed obvious to all that there would be no droshoh from the Rebbe that Shabbos Shuvoh.

However, to everyone's surprise, a message was sent round on Shabbos morning to all the shuls in the city that the droshoh would take place after all, despite the Rebbe's condition.

The reason was soon to be revealed by Reb Klonimus Kalmish.

A wealthy resident of the city had openly desecrated the Shabbos in recent weeks. The Rebbe tried to influence, persuade and warn the Jew that he had better change his ways, to no avail. The man even threatened the Piaseczne Rebbe that he would have him removed from the rabbonus by the governmental authorities because he could speak Polish. Hearing this gave Rabbeinu an obstinate determination. Summoning his last reserves of strength, he gave a Shabbos Shuvoh droshoh centering mainly on the topic of the sanctity of Shabbos.

"Not only am I prepared to sacrifice my rabbonus for the sake of Shabbos and Hashem Yisborach, but also my very health and well-being. Come what may, in this town, Shabbos will not be profaned."

His vast audience was deeply stirred by the Rebbe's sincere call, and by their sheer numbers they forced the guilty individual to repent and keep Shabbos.

Although the Piaseczne Rebbe's rebuke and mussar were sharp, they were always wrapped in his constant love of his talmidim and chassidim. His sharp cries were those of a father who shouts to his son lest he slip and fall into the abyss.

Once during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, Rabbeinu refused to give mussar to his chassidim. His explanation: Human nature is such that the person wants to hear news even if it is horrific or gruesome, like a drink of liquor that burns in the mouth yet gives pleasure. "You're all waiting to hear a sharp vort, without much intention of internalizing my message," continued the Rebbe. "I have no wish to be your liquor."

Elder Chassidim later recalled that these profound words had more of an effect than many mussar shmuessen combined.

During the devastating months of World War II, the Rebbe's moral strength and enduring emunoh were wonders in themselves.

In 1940, between Yom Kippur and Succos, during a spate of fierce shelling, the Rebbe's only son, R' Elimelech Ben Zion, was mortally wounded. The young man was rushed to the hospital where his wife, the Rebbetzin Gittel, hovered anxiously waiting to hear news of her husband's welfare. There, another shell exploding near the gate of the hospital took her life as well.

Subsequently a young yeshiva bochur passed by and saw the body of Gittel. Knowing that women at the time generally carried their jewelry with them to be used in case a bribe was needed, he quickly decided to remove her jewelry and return it to the Rebbe.

Just as he was finishing stripping the body of all its valuables, the dreaded sound of Nazi boots stopped him. Too late! He had been caught in the act. The Nazi hauled off the trembling "thief" to Gestapo headquarters, where he was sure to be shot for his crime.

After being roughly interrogated and trying in vain to prove his innocence, the boy was sure his end had come. Suddenly, to his surprise, a familiar and beloved figure came rushing into the office. The Piaseczne Rebbe, having just been hit by the double tragedy in his family had no other concern than to save this bochur. He had personally run into the lion's den to insist on the boy's innocence and left no stone unturned until, his face radiant with elation, he walked out of the Gestapo with the bochur at his side.

The first days of Succos passed in a display of superhuman strength. In honor of the yom tov of simchah, the Rebbe made every effort to bring joy into the tefillos. The usual shaliach tzibbur for shacharis was an elderly man who would surely find it difficult to control his emotions and would cry during the tefilloh. The Rebbe, therefore, asked that today a younger baal tefilloh take his place.

The new chazzan sang all the usual joyful yom tov niggunim until after the sefer Torah was taken out.

Tradition in the Koznitz court was that at this point an exceptionally exultant niggun was sung to the words al Hakol. This proved too much even for the young chazzan, who broke down. As the rest of the Yidden cried with him, the Rebbe was the only one who, like a lion, strengthened himself and, banging his fist on the table roared "Nu — Yom Tov, Yom Tov!"

Every Shabbos and yom tov throughout the war were treated likewise, with the Rebbe refusing to fall into despair or to allow the sadness to overcome him on the holy days.

During the week, he continued his constant writing, while those around him wondered who would be left to learn his chidushim. Miraculously after the war, his works were recovered from deep beneath a house in the Warsaw ghetto.

From the Warsaw ghetto, it is told that the Rebbe was deported to a concentration camp in the Lublin area and from there, on the 4th of Mar Cheshvan 1944/5704 he joined the millions of other kedoshim who were killed al Kiddush Hashem.

Hashem Yikom Domo.


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