R' Efraim Fiszel Szpiro

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R' Efraim Fiszel Szpiro (Szapira)

Hebrew: רבי אפרים פישל פישל ה"סבא קדישא" מסטריקוב (שפירו)
Also Known As: "Reb Fiszele Strykover", "Reb Efraim Fiszele Szapiro", "Reb Fiszele Stykower", "Strykower Rebbe", "Reb Efraim Fiszel of Strykow", "Ephraim Fiszle", "Admor of Strykow", "Reb Fiszele", "Efroim Szapiro", "Efraim Fiszel Szpira"
Birthplace: Bila Tserkva, Kyivs'ka oblast, Ukraine
Death: January 10, 1822 (74-83)
Stryków, Zgierz County, Łódź Voivodeship, Poland
Place of Burial: Stryków, Zgierz County, Łódź Voivodeship, Poland
Immediate Family:

Son of R' Josef Juda Arye Lajb of Balta
Husband of First Wife of R Ephraim Fiszel of Strykow and Laja Szpiro
Father of Rabbi Yaakov Szpiro; Rabbi Yitzhak Szpiro and Dwojra Kasher
Brother of Szymon Abram Szpiro

Occupation: Rabbi of Strykov
Managed by: Malka Mysels
Last Updated:

About R' Efraim Fiszel Szpiro

Alternate dates: Efraim Fiszel Szpira, (c 1742 - December 31, 1823) Stryków, Mazowieckie, Polska , as per Deborah Long

In the 17th and 18th centuries a fine Jewish life bloomed in Brzezin that was well-known all over Poland. There were rebbes [Hasidic rabbis] in Brzezin who were considered famous people in the Jewish world of the time in Poland. From Brzezin they spread Hasidism far and wide all over Poland.

A notable example from that generation of “good Jews” was Reb Fiszele (Efroim) Szapiro,12 who was a rov [official town rabbi] in the neighboring town Strykow and was known as Reb Fiszele Strykower.

Always absent-minded and pensive, a homebody who knew nothing about the shape of a coin, he always ate in his private room in the service of Torah, always practicing mortification of the flesh and fasting while the Spirit was in the Disapora. The “Holy Light” [from title of book he wrote], as the Hasidic literature dubbed him, came from Podolia, the cradle of Hasidism.

His father, Reb Jozef-Lajb, who was called by the name “Hasid” because of his strict piety, was a student of Reb Jakub Jozef from Polonnoye, one of the major students of the Baal-Shem-Tov and author of the well-known Hasidic seyfer [book] Toldes Yakov Yosef [Family of Jacob Joseph].

Reb Fiszele Szapiro was born in Belotserkovka, where his father was the rov (1743).

Reb Fiszele, left Brzezin and stayed a long time with Rebbe Reb Ber, the Mezritcher [from Miedzyrzecz] maged, and also with Reb Elimelech from Lizhensk [Lezajsk]. While at the latter's, he studied and devoted himself to Cabala [Jewish mystical philosophy], together with the Kozhenitser [from Kozienice] maged Reb Isroel'cie.

Then he returned to Brzezin, married his second wife there, spent many years af kest [receiving room and board from in-laws while studying] and later was accepted by the neighboring town of Strykow as rov. He had children in Brzezin –

- Reb Jekiel Brzeziner and

- Reb Icek, later rov in Zarnow.

- His son-in-law, Reb Rywen Kosher, was rov in Ujazd.

In Brzezin, as in the entire region at that time, the Hasidim did not have any home base. Becoming a rov, Reb Fiszele established a nest there for Hasidism, from which he became the spiritual leader of the movement. Being very famous as a kodesh [holy man] and a bal-moyfes [miracle worker], he had a large following grouped around him, and the great rebbes of Poland sent Jews with heavy hearts to him, and they were helped by him.

They showered him with “red matbeyes [coins],” that is, what he called the “little golden rubles,” but he himself did not want to use the pidyones [payment for advice]. He lived on the few gulden the town paid him every week as rov. He used to give away the gold coins to poor people so they would have some prosperity, having great pleasure from the fact that the poor could have such delight from them.

The Rebbe Reb Fiszele had strange, one would say, non-Hasidic methods in his leadership. He gave no one sholem [greetings] with his bare hand. His hand was always covered with a kerchief or a towel. A story arose that once the Rebbe Reb Bunem from Pshiskhe [Przysucha] came to watch him perform the benediction. In addition, he brought with him the Rebbe Reb Henoch from Aleksandrow. Reb Fiszele gave the sholem with his bare hand. On the spot Rebbe Reb Henoch edged forward and also received the greeting with the bare hand. It immediately dawned on Reb Fiszele that he had given sholem without a covered hand to some stranger, causing him great consternation. He calmed himself only after the Pshiskher told him who and what Reb Henoch was.

Rebbe Reb Henoch and the Tshekhanover [from Ciechanow] rebbe, Reb Abramele, then became his closest Hasidim, serving at Rebbe Reb Fiszele's side for many years.

What happened then is that Napoleon the Great, in his war with Russia, marched with his great army through the Lodz-Brzezin region, but on account of the great dense forests, the army got lost and could not find its way to Brzezin and Warsaw. He demanded that the Lodz population give him a guide, but the town of Lodz was afraid, so they ran to Rebbe Reb Fiszele for advice. He told a Jew from Brzezin who, at that time, lived in Lodz – Reb Szmuel Berman13 or Reb Szmuel Pachter (well-known as Reb Szmuel Brzeziner) – that he should be the guide. Reb Szmuel Brzeziner knew the local forest roads well. Since “sar vgodl npl visroel” [a prince suddenly came to the people of Israel] and Napoleon was a great sar (interpreting the initials from the word “npl” to mean that Napoleon had dropped in amidst the Jews), Reb Szmuel Brzeziner led the army to Brzezin, from which there was a wider road to Warsaw.

The story continues that finding out from Reb Szmuel Brzeziner where the great miracle worker [Reb Fiszele] lived who had instructed him [Brzeziner] to show the way, Napoleon sent his adjutant with the Jew to thank the rebbe for the favor and reward him. But how astounded the Frenchman was to see before his eyes a hunchbacked old man with a snow-white long beard, sitting in tallis [prayer shawl] and tefillen [phylacteries] in a poor, utterly dark room in a half-sunken little house. The officer was overcome by a great reverence for the great tsadik, and he asked him to express his good wishes for the French Army to win the war. With that he poured out onto the table a considerable amount of gold pieces as pidyen [payment]. Then for the first time Rebbe Reb Fiszele understood that the “red pieces” were valuable coins with which one could buy something.

It was told in another story that a frequent visitor at Rebbe Reb Fiszele's was a poor little tailor for whom the rebbe had high regard. Once, at the time of Succos [Feast of Tabernacles], the little tailor had a lot of work. Now it was already the eve of Succos, and the rebbe did not have the suke [tabernacle] ready, so the little tailor abandoned his work – “What do I care about scissors ? What do I care about ironing?” – and he began to build the suke for the rebbe. Rebbe Reb Fiszele, thoroughly delighted with the little tailor, asked him what he wanted for the work – riches or long life. The little tailor asked that the rebbe sit with him in Gan-Eden [Paradise]. The tsadik promised him. It did not take long before the little tailor became sick, and on the same day – 17thTevet [December%E2%80%93January] 1822 – that Rebbe Reb Fiszele, the saintly Jew, died at the age of 80, the little tailor also died, and he was buried next to Rebbe Reb Fiszele, just as he wished.

Rebbe Reb Fiszele left two sons,

- Reb Jekiele Szapiro in Brzezin and

- Reb Icek in Zarnow, and a son-in-law,

- Reb Rywen Kosher, who was rov in Ujazd.

Reb Jekiele Brzeziner married off his son, Reb Jeszajele, to the daughter of a doctor to rebbes,

- Reb Dawid-Chaim Bernard from Piotrkow,

who had become a bal-tshuve [newly observant] at an advanced age. The Hasidim grumbled a great deal to Rebbe Reb Fiszele over this shidekh [match]. He consoled his Hasidim that because of that shidekh “a cure will come into the family.” And when Reb Jekiel Szapiro became ill, he actually traveled from Brzezin to his mekhutn [daughter-in-law's father], the doctor, to undergo treatment. Reb Jekiele died 19 Sivan [May%E2%80%93June] 1840 in Piotrkow.

In Brzezin Reb Jekiele Szapiro was a prominent merchant, a military contractor, and a successful man; on account of animosity, his competitors created serious disturbances and rebelled against permitting him to be the successor to his great father, so the dynasty ended with Rebbe Reb Fiszele Strykower.

After the death of Reb Fiszele, his student, Reb Szmuel Aba, became rebbe in Zychlin and founded the Zychliner dynasty.14


The Past: Far More Than Prologue

Who are we if not the product of our past? And sometimes we realize that the essence of our identity may have its roots a long time ago.

The following incident appears in the pages of the Memorial Book, of the Jewish community of Brzeziny, a town in central Poland not far from the city of Łódź: One day sometime in the first quarter of the 19th century in the neighboring town of Stryków, the Hasidic court of the revered Reb Ephraim Fiszele Szapiro (or Szpiro), known as Reb Fiszele Strykower, was thrown into turmoil. The Rebbe had gone into seclusion. A renowned kabbalist, Reb Fiszele had been a disciple of Dov Ber, the Maggid -- or Preacher -- of Mezeritch who had been the successor of the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, the Master of the Good Name. Suddenly, without warning, Reb Fiszele had withdrawn into his room and would not see or receive anyone. His Hasidim, his disciples, were dismayed, confused. Their anchor had suddenly disappeared. No longer could they seek his advice, go to the tzadik, the Righteous One, for guidance or consolation.

The news reached Reb Bunim of Pshyskhe, the Yiddish name of the town of Prszysucha, some 100 kilometers south-west of Warsaw. A former disciple of Reb Fiszele, Reb Bunim had become one of the most prominent Hasidic masters in Poland. Reb Bunim rushed to Stryków and insisted on seeing Reb Fiszele, who allowed him into his room. Reb Bunim wanted to know what had happened, what had caused this crisis. Reb Fiszele explained that a Jew, burdened with a large family but with no way to support them, had come to him for help. Reb Fiszele had advised him to play the lottery, and had promised the man that he would win. The man tried to do so, but when he did not have enough money to redeem the ticket at the final stage, it was sold to another man who won a large amount of money. And so, Reb Fiszele explained to Reb Bunim, if God did not implement what he as a tzadik had decreed, there was nothing more he could do.

Reb Bunim explained to Reb Fiszele that a tzadik must not dictate to the Master of the Universe how He is to help a person. "Because what right do you have to say what is to be done?" asked Reb Bunim. A tzadik can express his wish, and God will then determine whether or not to implement it, and if so, how.

Reb Fiszele immediately opened his doors, and his Hasidim were once again able to come to him and be comforted by him.

I have long been fascinated by this story for two reasons. First, because it casts a warm light on the personalities of two Hasidic masters. And second, because Reb Fiszele Strykower was my great-great-great-great grandfather.

Reb Fiszele's father, Reb Yosef Leyb, was a disciple of another of the Baal Shem Tov's inner circle, Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye. Reb Yosef Leyb was originally from Podolia, the same region in Ukraine where the Baal Shem Tov was born, and was the Rov, the Rabbi, in the Ukrainian town of Belotserkovka when Reb Fiszele was born in 1743. Reb Yosef Leyb took his family to Balta, some 200 kilometers from Odessa, where he was a Maggid, an itinerant preacher, and from there to Brzeziny. Perhaps it is because of Reb Yosef Leyb and Reb Fiszele, who studied with and learned from the early Hasidic masters, that I have always had an instinctive, intuitive love for the Hasidic world and its teachings.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro tells another story about Reb Fiszele in his book, Hasidic Tales:

Every night before he went to sleep, Reb Fiszele would pour himself a glass of vodka, say the blessing over the drink, take a sip from the glass, and say aloud, "L'Chaim, Reboyno shel Oylem, L'Chaim, Master of the Universe, a very good night to You." When his Hasidim came to him for an explanation, Reb Fiszele asked, "Is God afflicted by human suffering?"

"Yes," his students answered, "We are taught that God suffers when humans suffer."

"So," Reb Fiszele said, "if God is pained by our pain, it stands to reason that God rejoices in our joy. Now if this is true, then if the suffering of the world were to have a night of peace, this would bring God a good night as well, yes?"

"Yes," said the Hasidim.

"So, when I wish God a good night, there is only one way He can bring this about. He must give a night's rest to all the afflicted of the world!"

At the core of Reb Fiszele's philosophy was a pure, abiding love for both God and not just the Jewish people but humankind as a whole. In Souls on Fire, my teacher and mentor Professor Elie Wiesel quotes the Kotzker Rebbe as saying that, "We are going farther and farther away from the light at Sinai, yet we do not come any closer to the light of the Messiah!" As we observe the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, and enter yet another Jewish New Year, it may be that remembering where we came from -- in my case, remembering how Reb Fiszele Strykower viewed and understood the universe -- is more important and ultimately more helpful on our journey through life than knowing where we are headed.


Menachem Z. Rosensaft.



A disciple of R. Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, the successor to the leadership of the Hasidic movement after the demise of the Baal Shem Tov

For stories from his life, see http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/brzeziny/brz078.html

It was his son Jakub who first took on the name Szpiro

from http://www.mytzadik.com/tadik.asp?kever_id=1905&safaid=6

About רבי אפרים פישל פישל ה"סבא קדישא" מסטריקוב (עברית)

האדמו"ר רבי אפרים פישל מסטריקוב

נולד בשנת ה'תק"ג. נודע כאיש קדוש המופרש מחיי העולם הזה אשר מימיו לא הסתכל בצורת מטבע וצדיקי דורו כינוהו "עולה תמימה".

לאחר שנשא לאישה את בתו של אחד מעשירי העיירה ברזין היה סמוך על שולחן חותנו והתמסר כולו ללימוד התורה הקדושה. כאשר רבי משה יהודה לייב מסאסוב התעכב פעם בדרכו והוכרח לחגוג את הימים הנוראים בעיירה סטריקוב, רבי פישל הגיע מברזין הסמוכה ובצאת החג כאשר ניגש ליטול ברכת פרידה מהצדיק סמך רבי משה לייב את שתי ידיו עליו והפטיר 'מהיום הינכם הרבי מסטריקוב, כאן מקומכם'!

מימיו לא טעם בשר בקר, לא האמין כי יש ישראל חוטא, אהב כל יהודי ואלפים הגיעו לבקש את ברכתו כי ידעו שתפילתו אינה חוזרת ריקם. נהג להושיט את ידו לשלום כשהיא עטופה במטפחת או במגבת ובימי בין המצרים נהג לבקר בחצרות צדיקים

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R' Efraim Fiszel Szpiro's Timeline

Bila Tserkva, Kyivs'ka oblast, Ukraine
Brzeziny, Łódzkie, Polska
Brzeziny, Mazovia, Poland
January 10, 1822
Age 79
Stryków, Zgierz County, Łódź Voivodeship, Poland
Age 79
Stryków, Zgierz County, Łódź Voivodeship, Poland
Brzeziny, łódzkie, Polska