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14 Adar 5775 - March 5, 2015 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Sparks of Greatness
The Stropkover Rov Ha'Admor Menachem Mendel Halberstam zt"l

In honor of his yahrtzeit 6th Iyar 5714/1954

During the first years of World War II, Rabbeinu wandered from town to town, finally reaching Pressburg where he sought a place to hide out.

Many Jews there were living under false identity in those days, or hiding in cramped bunkers to escape deportation.

On the outskirts of the town, in the yard of a house hidden from the wayside by trees, one such bunker had been dug under the small house used as a washroom.

Somehow, the Stropkover Rov found his way there and requested to be allowed to join the Yidden already there.

The bunker's occupants were hesitant. What would happen if they were forced to flee? How would the elderly Rebbe keep up with them? Yet leaving him there in danger would also be unthinkable. To take him in would be liable to place them in a life-threatening quandary.

Seeing their reluctance, Rabbeinu gave them his written promise that if they would permit him to take refuge with them, all the bunker's inhabitants would survive the war.

With such a promise the door was immediately open to the Rebbe. And, as the tzaddik had promised, they all lived to see the war's end.

It is interesting to note that when the war was over, one of those saved asked Rabbeinu how he could be so sure and even promise the others that they would survive. Rabbeinu answered:

"As a child, I grew up on the knees of my grandfather, the Divrei Yechezkel of Shinova zt"l. When I was six years old my Zeide had to travel out of town in a horse-drawn carriage. I very much wanted to join him, but was refused permission to go along. I made numerous attempts to persuade the Zeide to take me, crying and pleading, until the Shinover said, `You still have time to travel until you're seventy.'"

The Stropkover smiled as he concluded, "I knew then that I would live at least to seventy. When I entered the bunker I still had a few years to go. Thus my guarantee that I would survive the war."

There in the bunker, as my uncle HaRav Sholom Ber Stern sheyichye testifies, the Stropkover Rov would rise daily long before dawn. At three in the morning his day began with Tehillim and limud Torah. He was then osek beTorah and tefilloh throughout the day.

With them too, was the famed Reb Michoel Ber Weissmandel zt"l, and together they would assess the situation and work out what could be done to help save Europe's Jews.

Before Pesach they persuaded the owner of the house, whose political views were against the regime, to obtain wheat for them. This they ground with a small hand grinder, and then baked their matzo shemurah in a tiny oven that they had kashered.

One day the Stropkover Rov turned to a certain Mr. Funk, a Yid who was living disguised as a gentile, with false documents. He requested that he leave the bunker and go outside to find his granddaughter Sheindele.

Mr. Funk doubted the possibility of finding Sheindele on the streets just like that, but agreed to try, out of respect for the Rebbe. Miraculously, he returned to the hideout with Sheindele in tow.

Out of all Rabbeinu's family she was the sole survivor. His Rebbetzin, their son HaGaon Reb Chaim, and all his young family went up in flames on the mizbeiach of Auschwitz Hy"d.

Eventually it became too dangerous to remain in the bunker and they arranged to flee by traveling in a German army truck.

The Allied armies were drawing closer and they were bombing German army targets from the air. The convoy was forced to stop on the roadside for awhile. Suddenly, Rabbeinu turned to my grandfather R' Shloime Stern z"l telling him to instruct their driver to move on with utmost urgency. My grandfather bribed the driver to break away and with a roar their truck sped off. Only moments later a giant explosion was heard behind them. The Allies had bombed the rest of the convoy, leaving only a pile of rubble and twisted metal. Bechasdei Hashem Rabbeinu had saved them all.

Subsequently they reached the safety of Switzerland where they settled temporarily.

Rabbeinu's name spread as a po'el yeshuos, and many were helped through his brochos.

Often he would demand large sums of money from those requesting his blessing. Once, the refugees who were with him asked for a yeshua on behalf of one of their fellow survivors. As was his way , Rabbeinu demanded a large sum of money which was duly raised. Then one of them dared to ask, "Is that how it goes Rebbe? Without money it's impossible to give the yeshua?"

In his typical humility, Rabbeinu explained. "When I come up to the Olom Ho'emmes they will charge me accusingly, `How could you dare be so bold as to accept kvittlech and pidyonos and dispense brochos. Are you worthy of all that?'

"So how will I answer? What will I say? The only way I can justify myself before the Heavenly court is to say that I had to provide a livelihood for my family; that this is my parnossoh. But without money, I really have no right to give brochos."

(Of course Rabbeinu's "family" extended to include all those he helped by distributing all the pidyonos to tzedokoh.)


My uncle R' Sholom Ber Stern relates that HaRav Yitzchok Binyomin Mendelowitz, rov of Lodan, once travelled to Los Angeles to collect money for tzedokoh.

One wealthy individual promised a generous donation on condition that the Rebbe would bless him with children. Rav Mendelowitz blessed the man, and upon his return to New York, he went to the Stropkover Rov asking him to reinforce the brochoh so that indeed the man would have a child. The Rebbe responded that if the man would keep Shabbos, then the blessing will be fulfilled. Rav Mendelowitz relayed the message to Los Angeles and the man promised to keep Shabbos.

A while passed and Reb Mendelowitz was informed of the joyful news that his brochoh had helped and a child was on the way. Before his next trip to Los Angeles, Rabbeinu told Rav Mendelowitz to enquire whether the man's shop was not open on Shabbos. The Rav checked the matter out and discovered to his dismay that it was open. Several days later the woman miscarried R"l.


On one occasion when my grandfather R' Shloime Stern z"l begged him to bring a yeshua concerning a difficult case, the Rebbe answered, "When the shoemaker is not at home and without his tools he cannot work. I too cannot work while I am not in my own place."


When people would exclaim in wonder at his greatness and ability to work miracles, he would humbly tell of the day he came to visit in a certain town.

Upon his arrival, among the crowds of people he heard one young boy say to his friend excitedly, "That's the Rebbe. Ober nisht der Rebbe vos lernt," meaning, "Not the melamed who teaches in cheider."

With a humble laugh the Rebbe would finish, "Oy is der yingel gevein a meivin." ("Oi, was that boy perceptive." The remarks can also be interpreted to mean, "Not the Rebbe who learns Torah.")


While still in Switzerland, a bochur who suffered epileptic fits came to Rabbeinu asking for a brochoh that he be healed. Rabbeinu blessed him and indeed the fits stopped. Years later the man suffered another attack. He called to Rabbeinu's house in New York, and discovered that on that very day Rabbeinu had passed on to the next world.



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