Rabbi Yisroel Spira - Bluzhever Rebbe

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Rabbi Yisroel Spira, ‎אדמו״ר מבלאזוב

Hebrew: כ"ק אדמור הרב רבי ישראל שפירא, ‎אדמו״ר מבלאזוב
Also Known As: "‎אדמו״ר מבלאזוב"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Błażowa, rzeszowski, Podkarpackie Voivodeship, Poland
Death: October 30, 1989 (97)
Maimonides Hospital, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, United States
Place of Burial: Jerusalem
Immediate Family:

Son of R' Yehoshua Spira, Admur Rybotycze and Tziporah Spira
Husband of Perel Spira and Rebitzin Bronia Spira' {Koschitzky} (Melchior)
Father of Sirka Mindel Rappoport
Brother of R' Eliezer Spira; Yota Horwitz; Hinda Horwitz; Chaya Horowitz and Chana Halberstam
Half brother of Daughter Spira; R' Meir Spira, Admur Blazowa and Taba Tila Horwitz

Occupation: Rabbi
Managed by: Rabbi Shlomo Leib Mund
Last Updated:

About Rabbi Yisroel Spira - Bluzhever Rebbe

Hebrew Books

Hebrew Books

Rabbi Spira New York Times Obituary who was descended from a line of rabbis, led congregations in several Polish towns and survived confinement in concentration camps during World War II, including Bergen-Belsen.

In 1982, Yaffa Eliach authored an important book called Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, in which Jewish survivors of the concentration camps told their harrowing stories of survival.  One of the most moving tales was that of Israel Spira, a Rabbi who suffered horribly in the camps, yet survived to become one of the great spiritual leaders of the Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York after the war.  His wife and children were not so fortunate; all of them were murdered by the Nazis. Spira recalled one particular incident that took place during his imprisonment in the Janowska concentration camp in Poland. 

On a cold winter night, a German voice over the loudspeaker barked out the following order:  “You are all to evacuate the barracks immediately and report to the vacant lot.  Anyone remaining inside will be shot on the spot!”  Exhausted and emaciated, the prisoners stumbled to the vacant field and saw before them a large open pit.  The voice commanded, “Each of you dogs who values his miserable life must jump over the pit and land on the other side.  Those who miss will get what they rightfully deserve – ra-ta-ta-ta-ta.”  The voice imitated the sound of a machine gun.

According to Spira, jumping over the pit would have been nearly impossible even under the best of circumstances.  The prisoners were “skeletons”, feverish from disease, and physically exhausted from their daily labors.  Spira himself suffered from bruised and swollen feet.  Awaiting their turn to jump, he and a close friend watched prisoners die in a hail of bullets with each unsuccessful attempt.  The bodies began to pile up in the pit.  Spira’s friend recommended that they not bother trying and simply accept death, but Spira encouraged him to jump. They leapt into the darkness and found themselves alive on the other side of the pit.  Incredulous at their success, Spira’s friend asked him how he did it.  “I was holding on to my ancestral merit,” said Spira.  “I was holding on to the coattails of my father, and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, of blessed memory.”

Spira then asked his friend how he reached the other side of the pit.  “I was holding on to you,” he said.

Spira miraculously survived several years in the camps.  During that time, he buoyed the spirits of his fellow Jews by secretly performing important Jewish rituals and ceremonies, such as lighting the menorah, saying blessings, and obtaining matzah.  To acquire materials for these observances, Spira would establish a rapport with the camp commandant or guards.  When asked why he bothered to recite the Hanukah blessing amidst such suffering and death, Spira noted that he saw “faith” and “devotion” in the faces of the prisoners all around him.  “If, indeed, I was blessed to see such a people with faith and fervor, then I am under special obligation to recite the blessing,” he said.

Heroes help people even under the most grim of circumstances.  Spira witnessed the horrors of the holocaust unfolding right before him, but it didn’t deter him from doing everything he could to lift the spirits and faith of those around him.  Six million people perished in the camps, but Spira lived to become a highly revered religious figure for many years before passing away peacefully in 1989.  He once said, “There are events of such overbearing magnitude that one ought not to remember them all the time, but one must not forget them either. Such an event is the Holocaust.”

Rav Kook - Moving Story by Rabbi Yisroel Spira during the Holocaust


http://wiki.geni.com/index.php/Jewish_Dynasties


http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1070&pgnum=3

N.Y.


The oldest of the Rebbes, the Rav and Tzaddik Rabbi Yisroel Spira Zatzal of Bluzhev, passed away on Tuesday, Heshvan 2, 5750 in Brooklyn at the age of 100.

His death brought with it heavy mourning in the Torah world in general and among the chassidim of Bluzhev in particular. Everyone felt that he was a remnant that G-d had left from previous generations, left in order to describe to us the Torah greats of those times, men whose personalities were reflected in his own.

On Wednesday, Heshvan 3, 5750, the week of Parsha Noah, his casket arrived in Jerusalem. Multitudes attended the Rebbe’s huge funeral, and in accordance with his wishes no eulogies were given. The public accompanied his casket along the entire length of Meah Sharim Road. Kaddish was recited at the Chibat Yerushalmi Kollel, where the Rebbe had been appointed as Honorary President. Dozens of buses waited at the end of Meah Sharim Road, and thousands followed the casket by car all the way to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where the Bluzhever Rebbe was buried.

—————-

The Emotion of Bluzhever Hakafos

The Bluzhever Rebbe, R' Yisroel Spira, who was an important Chassidic leader in Galicia before WWII, experienced indescribable suffering during the Holocaust, and lost all of his immediate family. He eventually moved to America and emerged once again as a prominent and much-loved Torah leader. He was known for his deep emotion and outpouring of love for Hashem while performing mitzvos. On Hoshana Rabba, his face radiated with an otherworldy glow as he circled around the bima, and the whole congregation was drawn to look at his radiant face. His tears would flow, especially during the world, "Hosha Na - for the sake of the kedoshim who were cast in the fire."

Unlike many other shuls, the hakafos on Simchas Torah in the Bluzhever beis midrash were not performed with unrestrained joy. The congregation was affected by the flowing tears of the Bluzhever Rebbe during each Hakafa. The Rebbe was known to say, "Whatever salvation one can possibly attain can be attained during the Hakafos." An example he gave was "Ozer dallim hosha na" which he said was a tefillah for children. The initials of the words, ayin, daled, heh, and nun, spell out a world, ednah, a world which appears only once in the Torah - when Avraham and Sarah were told that they would soon have a son. (Torah Luminaries)

The son of Rabbi Yehoshua Spira (the previous Bluzhever Rebbe), Rabbi Yisroel Spira was born during the month of Heshvan in the year 5650 (1889) in the Galician town of Reischa. From his early youth, it was obvious that he was destined for greatness. At the age of 13 he received both the crown of Torah and the crown of teaching, being given Semichah by the Maharsham, the Rav of Brezhan, who testified to the magnitude of his Torah understanding.

Rabbi Yisroel Spira was the beloved grandson of the Rebbe Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech, the author of Tzvi LaTzaddik. When he ascended to the Torah on the Shabbat of his Bar Mitzvah and came to the verse in the Haftorah, “Israel in whom I glory,” his holy grandfather turned to him and repeated it with the cantillation. His diligence in Torah study knew no bounds, and was extremely studious in serving G-d.

After his marriage, Rabbi Yisroel Spira became the Rav of the small town of Istrik, near Sanok. This soon became a place to which many turned to ask him questions in Halachah, as well as to seek his advice. After the death of his father in 5691 (1931), he was crowned as Rebbe in his place and continued the glorious Dynow-Bluzhev dynasty.

During the Holocaust, Rabbi Yisroel Spira experienced the sufferings of hell. He lost his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. Yet it was there, precisely in the valley of tears, that his holy personality stood out. He displayed goodness and kindness to his Jewish brothers, encouraging each Jew to place his trust in the Creator of the world and to await deliverance. After being saved from the Holocaust, he settled in Brooklyn, and it was there that he had a great influence on the religious community.

He used to say, “The reason I remained alive was so that I could continue recounting to future generations what happened to us during those times.” He was an amazing storyteller, and his accounts and expressions, emanating as they did from a pure and holy heart, entered the hearts of his listeners, who could never forget what he said.

Here are some of his accounts:

During the days of Chanukah, the Rebbe lit candles in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Once when he recited the blessings, a Jew asked him a question: “Rabbi, even if you stubbornly lit the Chanukah candles and said Lehadlik Ner and She’asa Nissim, what justification do you have in saying Sheheheyanu Vekiyemanu Vehigi’yanu Lazman Hazeh [“Who has kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this time”]? During a time in which thousands of Jews are dying terrible deaths, why would you say Sheheheyanu?”

“I too asked myself this question,” the Rebbe replied. “I looked for an answer and found one: When I recited the blessing, I saw that a large crowd had gathered – risking their own lives in so doing – to watch the lighting of the candles. By the very fact that G-d has such loyal Jews – prepared to give their lives for the lighting of the candles – by that very fact alone we may recite Sheheheyanu.”

The Rebbe described what once happened to him while being forced to work in a concentration camp: “I was cutting wood when I suddenly heard the voice of a woman: ‘Jews, have pity on me! Someone find me a knife!’

“The woman approached me and said, ‘Maybe you have a knife?’ The first thought that went through my mind was that she wanted to kill herself, so I told her that it was forbidden to do such a thing. All of sudden a German guard came by and began to strike her. ‘Why are you asking for a knife?’ he said. However she didn’t answer, repeating only, ‘I need a knife.’

“The German gave her a pocketknife, and the woman took it and rushed to a cloth bundle that was lying on the ground. She opened the bundle, and to my amazement it contained a sleeping baby. I stood frozen in place as I understood that she was attempting to circumcise her son. In a loud voice he said the blessing for the circumcision. She then got up, turned to heaven, and said: ‘Master of the world, eight days ago You gave me a baby in good health. I will return it to You as a perfect Jew.’ She then bent down and circumcised her son.

“When she closed the bundle and returned to the German, she handed him back his blood-soaked knife with one hand, and her baby with the other.”

The Rebbe continued, tears filling his eyes: “I then thought that what this solitary woman had done made a profound impression on the Throne of Glory, for a Jewish woman had not made such a sacrifice since the binding of Isaac.”

The Rebbe always carried with him a piece of paper that he had received in a concentration camp from a pious man five minutes before he was executed. This is what it said: “My dear Rebbe, I know that I will be killed. I insistently ask that you merit to be saved and go to Eretz Israel. See that my memory is not forgotten, that my name and the name of wife be commemorated in a Sefer Torah. I leave my remaining 50 zlotys for this task.”

The Rebbe once said to those close to him, “You know what my passport is for the World to Come? You know what I will say when asked what merit I have to enter?”

“The number engraved on your arm?” someone attempted to answer.

“Not at all,” the Rebbe replied. “It is this piece of paper. It is the only thing that I will wave in the World of Truth.”—- ——————————— Passing (it) On JWR's Binyamin L. Jolkovsky reflects on a transformative moment -- and the relative worth of a keepsake.

FOR MOST JEWISH YOUTH, Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is remembered as a time of harmless gambling, limitless presents and feasting on potato pancakes, known as latkes. While this was, in fact, true in my case, there was one Chanukah that changed my life, an experience that affects me deeply to this day.

As a teenager, I would often frequent the small European-style synagogue (shtiebl) of the late Bluzhever Rebbe, Grand Rabbi Israel Spira, whose remarkable wartime experiences are chronicled in the runaway bestseller Chassidic Tales of the Holocaust, and who died in 1991, a few days shy of his 100th birthday.

One Chanukah eve, after the Rebbe's communal candle lighting ceremony, a number of the sage's admirers queued up to receive his blessing. As my turn approached, I handed a friend a camera and asked him to capture the moment for posterity. But when I approached the Rebbe, he motioned to my friend to put the camera away. The Rebbe then grasped my young hand and placed it into his white, cold palm. Peering directly into my eyes, he said affectionately in Yiddish: "Bochurel [young man], your wanting a picture with me likely stems from a desire to have a photo of a remnant from a vanished world. While it is indeed important to remember what Jewish life was like before the Holocaust, it is far more important to realize that within you and your generation lies the ability to guarantee its survival."

INDEED, it wasn't until recently that I began to fully appreciate the depth of the Rebbe's statement -- and his concerns. As a teen, I was disappointed that the picture of the two of us was never taken; that my descendants will never share, even minimally, what I had experienced. But today, I realize that on that winter night the rebbe enabled me to acquire a far more valuable heirloom --- one that I will do my best to pass on to my progeny.

While browsing in a book shop recently, I noticed a family -- grandparents, mother, father, and their children -- huddled around photographer Roman Vishniac's posthumously published book To Give Them Light. Gazing wide-eyed at the stunning pictures of pre-Holocaust European Jewish life, the younger generations were being instructed by the bubbe (grandmother) and zayde (grandfather) about the daily trials and travails of the Old Country.

I stood back a few feet and observed.

In front of the grandfather was a portrait of two yeshiva students in Uzhgrod, Hungary, studying Talmud. The fact the two boys shared the same volume and wore unblocked hats testified to the depths of their poverty, as did their frail bodies.

"That could have been me," the grandfather said, with a noticeable touch of nostalgia. Then one of the grandchildren caught his zayde off-guard. "What's that book they're studying all about?" he asked earnestly. Embarrassed, the grandfather mumbled something about Jewish traditions and quickly changed the subject.

A few pages later, the family patriarch came across a picture of the altar in the Lask, Poland synagogue, with a mystical chart placed behind the candelabra.

Now it was the father's turn to pose a question. "Why is that poster above the altar there?" The zayde obliged with a laconic response: "That's how they did it there, I suppose." And so it went until the picture book was eventually closed -- and with it, the multi-generational family's glimpse into their shared past.

"That was then," the family seemed to be saying of the quaint world they had just visited, as they returned the tome to the shelf. "Now is now. It's time to move on."

IT WAS this loose connection with the past implied by such attitudes, I believe, that alarmed the Rebbe. Pictures may be worth 1,000 words or more, lending a glimpse of the past and a perspective on the present and future, but they should not become ends in and of themselves.

Nor should the Holocaust.

The phrase "the glory of pre-Holocaust Europe" has become all but a cliche for Generation X Jews like myself. Without belittling the tragedy of the Six Million, it must be noted that for all too many, the Holocaust has almost as tragically become an ersatz religion through whose lens Jewish identity is now viewed. Indeed, on college campuses nationwide, Holocaust Memorial Day remains the one event -- besides Yom Kippur and anti-anti-Semitism rallies -- that mobilizes otherwise apathetic Jews. And in the common culture, the requisite television fare before Jewish holidays has also gotten into the act. But the storyline of Jews confronting their Jewishness -- nearly the only circumstance in which Jewish characters are identified as such -- almost always seems to deal with anti-Semitism as its theme. Instead of pride or joy, Jews and Gentiles alike see Jews encountering frustration and baseless hatred because of their ethnicity.

What is more, a favorite of the Jewish establishment these days is the propagation of the Holocaust museum culture. All that seems to be missing from these multi-million-dollar monuments to tragedy that seem to be popping up all across the fruited plain are carnival barkers, shouting: "Come one, come all! See the dead Jews and their vanished culture under glass."

WHEREAS the celebration of the warmth and vitality of Judaism once nurtured one's Jewishness, today these vibrant experiences are increasingly being replaced with a somber substitute: the horrors of World War II. Post-Holocaust American Jewry has been taught to define itself in terms of being a nation of victims rather than a nation entrusted with the transmission of the Divine Word.

Jewish life did not end with the near-destruction of European Jewry. Nor did it begin in Europe. For thousands of years, Jews contributed heavily to the well-being of their host-nations in every field of endeavor. But Jewish life, in which the Torah is the focal point, is not limited to any specific time or place. Communities should not let nostalgia -- or tragedy -- blur their sense of direction or priority. "Within you and your generation lies the ability to guarantee Judaism's survival," the Rebbe observed.

Photographs and other forms of nostalgia, like anything else that is essentially neutral, can be used productively or can be abused. A snapshot can capture the fascination of a bygone moment, but we must take care not to allow images of the past to become the sole objects and endpoints of our sense of meaning. Our own lives are here today to be lived and imbued with wonder.

Binyamin L. Jolkovsky is the editor-in-chief and publisher of JWR. ©1997, Jewish World Review

Courage: Rabbi Yisroel Spira z”tl of Bluzhev

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

Ours is a time of confusion. Neither Orwell nor Jonathan Swift could have better imagined a world in which black is white, left is right, or up is down. Crass materialism is considered success. Ever more radical ideas and behaviors are considered the norm. Bluster is confused with moral courage.

The media is more than merely complicit in propping up our cardboard “heroes”, its very success seems to depend on performing this dubious function. So-called leaders – in business, politics, and even religion – seem more focused on protecting and enlarging their fiefdoms than on providing anything that might be actual leadership.

How many times have you looked at all the troubles in the world and wondered, “Where are the leaders?”

Where are the men and women who enlarge those they encounter with meaning and wisdom rather than looking to take advantage of them?

Ours are times that feel rudderless, when genuine goodness and courage is in short supply. It was not always thus.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the oldest of the Rebbes, Rabbi Yisroel Spira Zatzal of Bluzhev, passed away in Brooklyn. Even following on the heels of the turbulent sixties and the “yuppie” eighties, the time of the Rebbe’s passing seemed a simpler time. Certainly, there were charlatans and self-promoters then as well, but at least there was also this man, a man who personified all that is pious, learned and glorious.

One need only hear a few of the many stories told about him and his life immortalized in Yaffa Eliach’s Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust, to learn about his kindness and courage, and to know that there was a time in the not too long ago past when a real hero walked among us.

His pedigree is well known to anyone who continues to revere greatness, even in its absence. Born in 1889, he was the son of the previous Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Spira, and grandson of the Rebbe Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech, the author of Tzvi LaTzaddik. From his earliest years, it was clear that he was destined for greatness. At his Bar Mitzvah, he received both the crown of Torah and s’micha by the Maharsham, the renowned Rav of Brezhan.

Not long after his marriage, he became the Rav of the small town of Istrik, near Sanok. As might be expected of his great knowledge, pious nature and noble lineage, Istrik soon became a place where many came seeking his advice. In 1931, following the death of his father, he was crowned Rebbe, ensuring the continuation of the glorious Dynow-Bluzhev dynasty. However, whatever joys and blessings were to be his in his near future were too soon overwhelmed by the absolute darkness of the Holocaust.

My thoughts of this incredible man come to the fore now, at this time of the year, because of my own chance to meet him and because Tisha b’Av causes us to think of terrible destruction and how to find hope and blessing from out of the ashes of our history. Once, I was given the chance to gain a small glimpse of insight into his thinking.

There were just a few moments before we would be able to pray Maariv. The fifteen Jews present in the Hunter synagogue in upstate New York drifted towards the Rebbe, as one Jew politely asked the angelic-looking Chassidic leader how he was feeling, and whether he was enduring the fast well. With his custom¬ary loving smile and piercing eyes, the Rebbe replied that for one who was used to fasting and starvation for more than a week at a time, many a time during the Holocaust, fasting for just twenty-four hours was “really not difficult.”

No, for one who had endured what he had endured, such a simple fast was not so much at all. The Holocaust. Hell on earth to those who lived through its vile torments. In the Holocaust, Rabbi Yisroel Spira lost so much dear to him; his wife, his children, even his grandchildren. He had been blessed the leader of a great dynasty only to see it turned to ash before his very eyes.

Would any man begrudge him bitterness? Would any among us second guess him if he turned a fist to the heavens and, like Job, demanded a witness? Would anyone condemn him for giving pained voice to his hurt? Such reactions would have been understandable and understandably human. But Rabbi Yisroel Spira was not simply a man like you and me. He was a man of exceeding courage and grace, rare and genuine. He did not display bitterness or arrogance in the face of his suffering. He did not posture. He was a hero.

He displayed goodness and kindness to his Jewish brothers and sisters, encouraging each to place his trust in the Creator of the world and to await deliverance.

After being saved from the Holocaust, he settled in Brooklyn, where the weight of the Holocaust never left him. He believed he survived solely to ensure that neither he nor anyone else ever forgot those dark, dark times.

In recounting those dark days, he displayed not only the courage of his character but also his great gift as a storyteller. No one who heard him relate his experiences ever forgot what he shared with them. He truly touched the hearts of his listeners.

He told of the Chanukah when he lit candles in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He had no sooner recited the blessings than he was asked, “Rabbi, even here you have lit the candles and said, ‘lehadlik ner’ and ‘she’asa nissim.’ Fine and good. Painful as it is to me, I can understand. But what justification do you have in saying she’he’cheyanu? How can you bless a God who has ‘kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this time’ when all around us, thousands of us are dying before our very eyes?”

The Rebbe held his questioner in his thoughtful and penetrating gaze. Unlike the educators of today, he did not criticize the man who questioned him. He was not brittle or short. Rather, he found what was common between himself and the one challenging him. “I too ask myself this question,” he replied softly. “I looked for an answer and finally found one, When I recited the blessing, I saw that a large crowd had gathered – risking their own lives in so doing – to watch the lighting of the candles. By the very fact that God has such loyal Jews – prepared to give their lives for the lighting of the candles – by that very fact alone we may recite she’hecheyanu.”

Rather than seeing only the horror of his surroundings, he saw the Jews who lived and he blessed their lives!

Another time, he was cutting wood in the concentration camp when he heard a woman cry out. “Jews, have pity on me! Someone find me a knife!”

As he related it, the woman came up to him and said, “Maybe you have a knife?”

“The first thought that went through my mind was that she wanted to kill herself, so I told her that it was forbidden to do such a thing. It was just then that a German guard came by and began to strike her. ‘Why are you asking for a knife?’ he demanded. She didn’t answer his question; she kept repeating, ‘I need a knife.’

“Finally, the German gave her a pocketknife. The woman took it and rushed to a cloth bundle that was lying on the ground. She opened the bundle, and to my amazement it contained a sleeping baby.” The Rebbe stopped in his retelling of the story and his expression changed, as if the event was happening in front of him as he related it. “I stood frozen in place as I understood that she was attempting to circumcise her son.” He shrugged sadly. “What could I do? IN as loud a voice as I could, I said the blessing for the circumcision. She then got up, turned to heaven, and said: ‘Master of the world, eight days ago You gave me a baby in good health. I will return it to You as a perfect Jew.’ She then bent down and circumcised her son.

“When she was done , she closed the bundle and returned to the German. She gave him back his blood-soaked knife with one hand, and her baby with the other.”

Tears filled the Rebbe’s eyes. “I was so moved by what she had done. I thought, certainly this woman’s act has caught the attention of God. No Jewish woman had made such a sacrifice since Sarah watched as Abraham left with his servant and Isaac…”

Having survived the Holocaust, the Rebbe was confronted with the task of how to go forward with his life. Despite his losses, he took heed of God’s dictum that, “man should not be alone” and married again.

During that time when my path and the Rebbe’s crossed in upstate New York, I was able to observe him often. There was so much I wanted to ask him. Seeing him at his summer cottage, sitting in a such a peaceful setting, deep in thought intrigued me. I came to know his grandchildren who were always gracious, kind, and exceedingly friendly. They always managed to hint, without saying so directly, that the great man was tired and preferred not to be disturbed.

So, my “interaction” with the Rebbe was almost entirely observing him. It was obvious that he was a very kind, compassionate, pious and optimistic soul. Although not imposing physically, he walked erect and proud.

Into the summer season in the late 1970’s, one of his grandchildren asked about a ride for the Rebbe and Rebbetzin to go into New York City. By very good fortune, Rabbi Yaakov Rabinowitz was driving down and I was able to travel with them.

The Rebbe insisted on sitting in the back seat with the Rebbetzin, who seemed at least as thoughtful and introspective as he.

She seemed to be even more so as we got underway. We’d only just started out when it began to drizzle, and the windy, curve-filled mountain road became somewhat slick and slippery. As the curves came to an end and we were now on a more, safe, straight highway, the Rebbetzin remarked that we “must thank God for having saved us from this danger.” What danger? I thought. We have traveled these windy roads tens of times and have rarely viewed them as dangerous! Throughout the trip her conversation was optimistic in tone, constantly referring to God’s grace, goodness, and protection.

I was intrigued as much by her as by him. Who was this special lady?

I knew that the woman who thanked “God for having saved us from this danger” had lost her first husband, Rabbi Israel Abraham, in Belzec’s gas chamber. He did, however, manage to break the iron bars of the cattle car’s only window and squeeze their six-year-old son through, toss him into freedom, sure that Rebbetzin Bronia would find him again. And she did find him, as well as his brother, and spent the duration of the war making sure that the blessing she insisted on receiving from the famed Rabbi of Belz, in the Bochnia ghetto, that she would yet see “fine generations in the future,” would indeed come true. She kept reassuring her sons that “we will live through this war.”

She came to insist that, “at times one has to be aggressive about blessing.” And so she was! And, as a result, she became a blessing herself, not only surviving the Holocaust but saving a dynasty.

The Rebbe, from the ashes of history, found a mate worthy of his courage and piety.

After the war, the Rebbe often spoke about his experiences and the courage and dignity of the Jews he had known. At these times, he would often take from his pocket a piece of paper that he always carried with him. It was a scrap that he had received in the concentration camp from a pious man five minutes before the man was executed. It read, “My dear Rebbe, I know that I will be killed. I insistently ask that you merit to be saved and go to Eretz Israel. See that my memory is not forgotten, that my name and the name of wife be commemorated in a Sefer Torah. I leave my remaining 50 zlotys for this task.”

Once, he confided to those close to him, “You know what my passport is for the World to Come? You know what I will say when asked what merit I have to enter?”

Knowing of his experiences in the Holocaust, one person hazarded to say, “The number engraved on your arm?” The Rebbe shook his head. “Not at all,” the Rebbe replied. “It is this piece of paper. It is the only thing that I will wave in the World of Truth.”

What do we learn about courage from the Rebbe’s example? How is it set apart from what passes for bravery in our world? Perhaps nothing so much as his fundamental humility. Despite everything, he never presumed himself to be more than any other Jew. Indeed, as this final incident makes clear, he felt his actions – and his life – were to serve, not to be served.

As it is told, a note passed between two inmates was intercepted by the Camp wardens. Passing such a note was a terrible breach in the Camp and the Nazis were determined to punish whoever sent the note. But finding the culprit was not that simple. So they brought the Bluzhever Rebbe before them.

“You’re the rabbi,” one said in mocking tones after explaining the crime, “surely you can find who sent it.”

“You have twenty-four hours to deliver the man. If you don’t, then you will suffer the punishment.”

The Rebbe did not hesitate. He opened his shirt and bared his chest. “There is no need to wait. You can kill me right now. I can assure you that I will never give over a fellow Jew to be punished by you or anyone else!” As he said this, he was sure he would be murdered on the spot. However, even these cruel men were impressed by his spirit.

“Rabbi, you are truly a good Jew. But the others are all pigs.”

“You are mistaken,” he replied. “The other Jews are great, wonderful people. I am the lowest among them all!” That is the way it is with true heroes who show true courage. If we are truly blessed, we know that they walk among us, even during our darkest hours.

an.] Rabbi Yisrael Spira, the late Bluzhever Rebbe, was a revered rabbinic figure in Eastern Europe well before the second world war. During his internment at various concentration camps, the Rebbe was guide, father and source of inspiration to thousands. His last stop during the war was at the Yanowka death camp, where the Bluzhever Rebbe was one of the eleven people that survived among the three thousand inmates.

In Yanowka, on the night of January 13, 1943, a kapo entered the barracks where the Rebbe slept and called for the Rebbe to come forward. Everyone thought that the Rebbe was being singled out for torture, so no one—including the Rebbe—moved. However, the kapo, himself a Jew, assured everyone that he had come only to deliver an important message to the Rebbe. The Rebbe then rose from his bed and came forward. The kapo handed the Rebbe a crumpled envelope which contained a piece of paper on which someone had hurriedly scribbled a note. The note read:

January 13,1943

My dear Rabbi Yisrael Spira,

May you enjoy a long and happy life, They have just surrounded the bristle factory in which some 800 of us have been working. We are about to be put to death.

Please, dear Rabbi, if you should be found worthy of being saved, and if you should be able to settle in the Land of Israel, then have a little marker put upon our holy soil as a remembrance for my wife and me. No matter where you will make your new home, perhaps you can have a sefer Torah written in our memory. I am enclosing fifty , American dollars which I hope the messenger with whom I am sending this note will give to you.

I must hurry, because they have already ordered us to remove our clothes.

When I get to the Next World, I will convey your greetings to your holy ancestors and will ask them to intercede on your behalf so that your days may be long and happy.

Your servant,

Aryeh ben Leah Kornblit

P.S. My sister's children are now living with a gentile family named Vasilevsky, near Gredig. Please take them away from there and place them with a Jewish family. Whatever happens, they must remain Jews. My wife, Sheva bas Chaya, was shot yesterday.

An old fifty-dollar bill fell out of the envelope.

From that day and on, the Rebbe carried this letter with him wherever he went. In 1946, at a public gathering in New York, the Rebbe read the letter to the crowd and appealed to everyone to help him fulfill Mr. Kornblit's wish. Though few among those present were well-to-do, virtually everyone responded generously. A sefer Torah was written and placed in the aron hakodesh (ark) of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. A few days prior to the sefer Torah's dedication, the Rebbe held Mr. Kornblit's letter in his hand and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, said,

"Take note of the spiritual strength God gives his people! Here is a man whose wife was already killed and who himself was about to die. Yet, he found in his heart the strength to think of others—not only his sister's children, but also those whom he would never know, and would hold his sefer Torah in their arms.

"How good is our lot, how beautiful is our heritage!"

Holding On Story by Yaffa Eliach from "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust", based on a conversation between the Grand Rabbi of Bluzhov, Rabbi Israel Spira and Baruch Singer: January 3, 1975.

It was a dark, cold night in the Janowska Road Camp. [The Janowska Road Camp was situated near the cemetaries and sand mountains outside the city of Lvov, in the Ukraine]

Suddenly, a stentorian shout pierced the air: "You are all to evacuate the barracks immediately and report to the vacant lot. Anyone remaining inside will be shot on the spot!"

Pandemonium broke out in the barracks. People pushed their way to the doors while screaming the names of friends and relatives. In a panic-stricken stampede, the prisoners ran in the direction of the big open field. Exhausted, trying to catch their breath, they reached the field. In the middle were two huge pits. [The vicinity of the Camp was scarred with bomb craters from WW1. The huge pits were used as torture sites and mass graves.]

Suddenly, with their last drop of energy, the inmates realized where they were rushing, on that cursed dark night in Janowska. Once more, the cold healthy voice roared in the night: "Each of you dogs who values his miserable life and wants to cling to it must jump over one of the pits and land on the other side. Those who miss will get what they rightfully deserve - ra-ta-ta-ta-ta." Imitating the sound of a machine gun, the voice trailed off into the night followed by a wild, coarse laughter. It was clear to the inmates that they would all end up in the pits.

Even at the best of times it would have been impossible to jump over them, all the more so on that cold dark night in Janowska. The prisoners standing at the edge of the pits were skeletons, feverish from disease and starvation, exhausted from slave labor and sleepless nights. Though the challenge that had been given them was a matter of life and death, they knew that for the S.S. and the Ukranian guards it was merely another devilish game.

Among the thousands of Jews on that field in Janowska was the Rabbi of Bluzhov, Rabbi Israel Spira. He was standing with a friend, a freethinker from a large Polish town whom the rabbi had met in the camp. A deep friendship had developed between the two.

"Spira, all of our efforts to jump over the pits are in vain. We only entertain the Germans and their collaborators, the Askaris. Let's sit down in the pits and wait for the bullets to end our wretched existence." said the friend to the rabbi.

"My friend," said the rabbi, as they were walking in the direction of the pits, "man must obey the will of G-d. If it was decreed from heaven that pits be dug and we be commanded to jump, pits will be dug and jump we must. And if, G-d forbid, we fail and fall into the pits, we will reach the World of Truth a second later, after our attempt. So, my friend, we must jump."

The rabbi and his friend were nearing the edge of the pits; the pits were rapidly filling up with bodies. The rabbi glanced down at his feet, the swollen feet of a 53 year old Jew ridden with starvation and disease. He looked at his young friend, a skeleton with burning eyes. As they reached the pit, the rabbi closed his eyes and commanded in a powerful whisper, "We are jumping!"

When they opened their eyes, they found themselves standing on the other side of the pit. "Spira, we are here, we are here, we are alive!" the friend repeated over and over again, while warm tears steamed from his eyes. "Spira, for your sake, I am alive; indeed, there must be a G-d in heaven. Tell me Rabbi, how did you do it?"

"I was holding on to my ancestral merit. I was holding on to the coat-tails of my father, and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, of blessed memory," said the rabbi and his eyes searched the black skies above. "Tell me, my friend, how did you reach the other side of the pit?"

"I was holding on to you" replied the rabbi's friend.

Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 1 jhcsitedoc089012.jpg Devotion and Determination

Over the Holiday I read a tribute to the memory of Rabbi Menashe Klein, a Chasidic Rabbi, the leader of the congregation of Ungvar, in Boro Park, NY, the same community where I was raised.

I would see this majestic and distinguished man from time to time; what I did not know, was that he was a Holocaust survivor.

During his lifetime, he wrote a memoir of the horrific days he spent in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

He included in this memoir a description of how he and others fulfilled Mitzvos even under the most inhumane circumstances.

While he was changing into his striped prisoner garb, he was able to conceal a pair of Tefilin; and he and his fellow inmates were able to don them every day.

He writes, “A day before Rosh Hashana, as we were heading to work, someone found a small Shofar in middle of the road. It was the exact size necessary to perform the mitzvah, not bigger, not smaller. He brought it back to the camp and we used it to blow Shofar on Rosh Hashana!”

The prisoners fulfilled the Mitzvah of Succah by dragging a bunk bed into the open air, removing the middle planks and covering its top with wood fragments.

“When I saw the Kosher Succah standing outside, I entered it and made a blessing on two pieces of bread I had kept since the morning and made the Kiddush and Hamotzie blessings over the bread and then the blessing over the Succah and the Shehechyanu!” The Rabbi continues, “I think that from the day I left my home (due to the war) until the day I entered the holy and sanctified shade of the Succah, I did not experience joy!”

This joy was short lived: “The Nazi guards began shooting to scatter the Jews crowding around the makeshift Succah.”

While on the topic of the incredible and astonishing devotion this man and others had to cling to their traditions under such conditions during the war, please let me share with you what happened in the ghetto of Lublin in 1941. Tens of thousands of Jews, were gathered together in the ghetto square awaiting their – Final Solution.

Among the group was a very influential personality, Rabbi Yehuda Orlean. Rabbi Orlean turned to Rabbi Yisroel Spira – the Bluzhever Rebbe and said, “Tonight is the Holiday of Shemini Atzeres. We don’t have a Sefer Torah with which to rejoice, but at least we can recite the prayers and verses that are a prelude to the dancing of Simchas Torah.” With that, Rabbi Orlean raised his beautiful, powerful voice and signaled the crowd to respond to the familiar introduction to Hakofos – dancing on Simchas Torah, which speak of G-d’s ways and attributes of mercy and justice, whether we understand them or not. Thousands of voices repeated after him in a crescendo of devotion. Tears flowed like a river – this was their last holiday.

When the prayers concluded, Rabbi Orlean had another thought; again he turned to the Bluzhever Rebbe, “The Nazi’s saw us and heard us, they think we were crying because we fear them. Let us show them the truth.”

He began singing a beautiful poem taken from the Rosh Hashana / Yom Kippur prayers that foretells the End of Days when everyone, including the most distant of nations, will pledge their devotion to G-d, serving Him, proclaiming Him as King and concluding with “and they will give You the crown of Sovereignty.”

As he sang, other joined. Hands clutched one another and feet began to dance. It was Shemini Atzeres and the Jews rejoiced. Under the muzzles of German rifles, they sang that even the hated murderers, the most depraved and bestial of all men, would one day acknowledge the Kingship of Hashem – the Almighty!

They sang and danced until the SS commandant arrived and the death march began. Hardly anyone survived that horrible night. The Bluzhever Rebbe was spared; and he also eventually settled in Boro Park where he rebuilt a family and established a Shul. The same tune sung to that sacred song of the Ghetto of Lublin is joyously sung at the celebration held at the end of each holiday in his Synagogue!

Over this Holiday of Simchas Torah, we will conclude the Torah and we will almost immediately once again start reading the Torah from the beginning. This demonstrates the eternal bond we have with our Page 2 of 2 jhcsitedoc089012.jpg sacred and holy Torah. We have patented and an exclusive right to its practice and study and it is the hallmark of our survival, endurance and existence.

We, living in this wonderful country, where we have freedom of religion and expression, have incredible opportunities. We should genuinely declare and display our abundant gratitude to the Almighty for all our gifts that we at times take for granted.

  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hashana Rabah – 7th day of Succos Wednesday October 19th The Land of Israel is very much dependent on rainfall. The Torah tells us that the Hand of G-d is always visible in Israel through the amount of rain that falls. The Talmud relates that G-d’s judgment for the amount of rainfall is conducted on Succos, just as Rosh Hashana is the day of judgment for people.


In fact, during the times of the Holy Temple, a complex water drawing and libation service on the Altar was performed in the Temple as a supplication for G-d’s mercy to give water to the land.


On the Seventh day of Succos, the Judgment for water is sealed. This day is called Hoshana Rabah – the great plea for water. A longer prayer service is recited while we circle the Bimah in Shul with our four species, seven times. (On each of the other days we circle the Bimah only once.)


We then recite special prayers while holding five willow branches and they are then hit on the ground several times.

Shemini Atzeres – Thursday October 20th The eighth day of Succos is actually not part of Succos. The Torah calls it the eighth day of assembly. There is no Mitzvah of sitting in the Succah or taking the four species.


The explanation for this is that during the seven days of the Holiday of Succos, the Torah relates that aside from other sacrifices, a total of seventy oxen be sacrificed in the Temple. The seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world who descended from the sons of Noah. These offerings were brought as an atonement for the nations and to make them meritorious of G-d’s blessing for water.


As the Holiday season draws to a conclusion, G-d reserved a day between us and Him, the eighth day – Shemini Atzeres as a day set aside as a special day between Him and His nation of Israel to the exclusion of all other nations, and said, “Please remain with Me for one more day, without a special Mitzvah, just to reflect on what we have gained spiritually during the Days of Awe and throughout the Holiday of Succos.”


We begin mentioning G-d’s power of providing rain in our prayers on Shemini Atzeres and Yizkor – the memorial prayer, is recited.

Simchas Torah, Friday October 21st We celebrate the completion of the public synagogue readings of the Torah with great rejoicing in prayer, song and dancing in honor of the Torah. After the Torah is completed, we start anew from the beginning of the Torah. This indicates that the wisdom, knowledge and study of the Torah is never ending and also is a display that we are not satisfied with what we accomplished, rather we eagerly wish to begin again.

Courage: Rabbi Yisroel Spira Zts"l of Bluzhev Dignity before History, dignity before G-d.

INN:RS Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran

The writer is an educator, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Mediations at Sixty: One Person, Under God, Indivisible,” published by KTAV Publishing House. He is the author of “Kos Eliyahu – Insights into the Haggadah and Pesach” which has been translated into Hebrew and published by Mosad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem. More from the author ► In recognition of the bravery and dedication of a generation that has risen to the call of duty – our IDF soldiers.

Ours is a time of confusion. Neither Orwell nor Jonathan Swift could have better imagined a world in which black is white, left is right, or up is down. Crass materialism is considered success. Ever more radical ideas and behaviors are considered the norm. Bluster is confused with moral courage.

The media is more than merely complicit in propping up our cardboard “heroes”, its very success seems to depend on performing this dubious function. So-called leaders – in business, politics, and even religion – seem more focused on protecting and enlarging their fiefdoms than on providing anything that might be actual leadership.

How many times have you looked at all the troubles in the world and wondered, “Where are the leaders?”

Where are the men and women who enlarge those they encounter with meaning and wisdom rather than looking to take advantage of them?

Ours are times that feel rudderless, when genuine goodness and courage is in short supply. It was not always thus.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the oldest of the Rebbes, Rabbi Yisroel Spira zts"l of Bluzhev, passed away in Brooklyn. Even following on the heels of the turbulent sixties and the “yuppie” eighties, the time of the Rebbe’s passing seemed a simpler time. Certainly, there were charlatans and self-promoters then as well, but at least there was also this man, a man who personified all that is pious, learned and glorious.

One need only hear a few of the many stories told about him and his life immortalized in Yaffa Eliach’s Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust, to learn about his kindness and courage, and to know that there was a time in the not too long ago past when a real hero walked among us.

His pedigree is well known to anyone who continues to revere greatness, even in its absence. Born in 1889, he was the son of the previous Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Spira, and grandson of the Rebbe Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech, the author of Tzvi LaTzaddik. From his earliest years, it was clear that he was destined for greatness. At his Bar Mitzvah, he received both the crown of Torah and s’micha by the Maharsham, the renowned Rav of Brezhan.

Not long after his marriage, he became the Rav of the small town of Istrik, near Sanok. As might be expected of his great knowledge, pious nature and noble lineage, Istrik soon became a place where many came seeking his advice.

In 1931, following the death of his father, he was crowned Rebbe, ensuring the continuation of the glorious Dynow-Bluzhev dynasty. However, whatever joys and blessings were to be his in his near future were too soon overwhelmed by the absolute darkness of the Holocaust.

My thoughts of this incredible man come to the fore now, at this time of the year, because of my own chance to meet him and because Tisha b’Av causes us to think of terrible destruction and how to find hope and blessing from out of the ashes of our history. Once, I was given the chance to gain a small glimpse of insight into his thinking.

There were just a few moments before we would be able to pray Maariv. The fifteen Jews present in the Hunter synagogue in upstate New York drifted towards the Rebbe, as one Jew politely asked the angelic-looking hassidic leader how he was feeling, and whether he was enduring the fast well. With his custom­ary loving smile and piercing eyes, the Rebbe replied that for one who was used to fasting and starvation for more than a week at a time, many a time during the Holocaust, fasting for just twenty-four hours was “really not difficult.”

No, for one who had endured what he had endured, such a simple fast was not so much at all. The Holocaust. Hell on earth to those who lived through its vile torments. In the Holocaust, Rabbi Yisroel Spira lost so much dear to him; his wife, his children, even his grandchildren. He had been blessed the leader of a great dynasty only to see it turned to ash before his very eyes.

Would any man begrudge him bitterness? Would any among us second guess him if he turned a fist to the heavens and, like Job, demanded a witness? Would anyone condemn him for giving pained voice to his hurt? Such reactions would have been understandable and understandably human. But Rabbi Yisroel Spira was not simply a man like you and me. He was a man of exceeding courage and grace, rare and genuine. He did not display bitterness or arrogance in the face of his suffering. He did not posture. He was a hero.

He displayed goodness and kindness to his Jewish brothers and sisters, encouraging each to place his trust in the Creator of the world and to await deliverance.

After being saved from the Holocaust, he settled in Brooklyn, where the weight of the Holocaust never left him. He believed he survived solely to ensure that neither he nor anyone else ever forgot those dark, dark times.

In recounting those dark days, he displayed not only the courage of his character but also his great gift as a storyteller. No one who heard him relate his experiences ever forgot what he shared with them. He truly touched the hearts of his listeners.

He told of the Hannukah when he lit candles in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He had no sooner recited the blessings than he was asked, “Rabbi, even here you have lit the candles and said, ‘lehadlik ner’ and ‘she’asa nissim’. Fine and good. Painful as it is to me, I can understand. But what justification do you have in saying she’he’cheyanu? How can you bless a God who has ‘kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this time’ when all around us, thousands of us are dying before our very eyes?”

The Rebbe held his questioner in his thoughtful and penetrating gaze. Unlike the educators of today, he did not criticize the man who questioned him. He was not brittle or short. Rather, he found what was common between himself and the one challenging him.

“I too ask myself this question,” he replied softly. “I looked for an answer and finally found one, When I recited the blessing, I saw that a large crowd had gathered – risking their own lives in so doing – to watch the lighting of the candles. By the very fact that God has such loyal Jews – prepared to give their lives for the lighting of the candles – by that very fact alone we may recite she’hecheyanu.”

Rather than seeing only the horror of his surroundings, he saw the Jews who lived and he blessed their lives!

Another time, he was cutting wood in the concentration camp when he heard a woman cry out. “Jews, have pity on me! Someone find me a knife!”

As he related it, the woman came up to him and said, “Maybe you have a knife?”

“The first thought that went through my mind was that she wanted to kill herself, so I told her that it was forbidden to do such a thing. It was just then that a German guard came by and began to strike her. ‘Why are you asking for a knife?’ he demanded. She didn’t answer his question; she kept repeating, ‘I need a knife.’

“Finally, the German gave her a pocketknife. The woman took it and rushed to a cloth bundle that was lying on the ground. She opened the bundle, and to my amazement it contained a sleeping baby.” The Rebbe stopped in his retelling of the story and his expression changed, as if the event was happening in front of him as he related it. “I stood frozen in place as I understood that she was attempting to circumcise her son.” He shrugged sadly. “What could I do? In as loud a voice as I could, I said the blessing for the circumcision. She then got up, turned to heaven, and said: ‘Master of the world, eight days ago You gave me a baby in good health. I will return it to You as a perfect Jew.’ She then bent down and circumcised her son.

“When she was done , she closed the bundle and returned to the German. She gave him back his blood-soaked knife with one hand, and her baby with the other.”

Tears filled the Rebbe’s eyes. “I was so moved by what she had done. I thought, certainly this woman’s act has caught the attention of God. No Jewish woman had made such a sacrifice since Sarah watched as Abraham left with his servant and Isaac…”

Having survived the Holocaust, the Rebbe was confronted with the task of how to go forward with his life. Despite his losses, he took heed of God’s dictum that, “man should not be alone” and married again.

During that time when my path and the Rebbe’s crossed in upstate New York, I was able to observe him often. There was so much I wanted to ask him. Seeing him at his summer cottage, sitting in a such a peaceful setting, deep in thought intrigued me. I came to know his grandchildren who were always gracious, kind, and exceedingly friendly. They always managed to hint, without saying so directly, that the great man was tired and preferred not to be disturbed.

So, my “interaction” with the Rebbe was almost entirely observing him. It was obvious that he was a very kind, compassionate, pious and optimistic soul. Although not imposing physically, he walked erect and proud.

Into the summer season in the late 1970’s, one of his grandchildren asked about a ride for the Rebbe and Rebbetzin to go into New York City. By very good fortune, Rabbi Yaakov Rabinowitz was driving down and I was able to travel with them.

The Rebbe insisted on sitting in the back seat with the Rebbetzin, who seemed at least as thoughtful and introspective as he.

She seemed to be even more so as we got underway. We’d only just started out when it began to drizzle, and the windy, curve-filled mountain road became somewhat slick and slippery. As the curves came to an end and we were now on a more, safe, straight highway, the Rebbetzin remarked that we “must thank God for having saved us from this danger.” What danger? I thought. We have traveled these windy roads tens of times and have rarely viewed them as dangerous! Throughout the trip her conversation was optimistic in tone, constantly referring to God’s grace, goodness, and protection.

I was intrigued as much by her as by him. Who was this special lady?

I knew that the woman who thanked “God for having saved us from this danger” had lost her first husband, Rabbi Israel Abraham, in Belzec’s gas chamber. He did, however, manage to break the iron bars of the cattle car’s only window and squeeze their six-year-old son through, toss him into freedom, sure that Rebbetzin Bronia would find him again. And she did find him, as well as his brother, and spent the duration of the war making sure that the blessing she insisted on receiving from the famed Rabbi of Belz, in the Bochnia ghetto, that she would yet see “fine generations in the future,” would indeed come true. She kept reassuring her sons that “we will live through this war.”

She came to insist that, “at times one has to be aggressive about blessing.” And so she was! And, as a result, she became a blessing herself, not only surviving the Holocaust but saving a dynasty.

The Rebbe, from the ashes of history, found a mate worthy of his courage and piety.

After the war, the Rebbe often spoke about his experiences and the courage and dignity of the Jews he had known. At these times, he would often take from his pocket a piece of paper that he always carried with him. It was a scrap that he had received in the concentration camp from a pious man five minutes before the man was executed. It read, “My dear Rebbe, I know that I will be killed. I insistently ask that you merit to be saved and go to Eretz Israel. See that my memory is not forgotten, that my name and the name of wife be commemorated in a Sefer Torah. I leave my remaining 50 zlotys for this task.”

Once, he confided to those close to him, “You know what my passport is for the World to Come? You know what I will say when asked what merit I have to enter?”

Knowing of his experiences in the Holocaust, one person hazarded to say, “The number engraved on your arm?”

The Rebbe shook his head. “Not at all,” the Rebbe replied. “It is this piece of paper. It is the only thing that I will wave in the World of Truth.”

What do we learn about courage from the Rebbe’s example? How is it set apart from what passes for bravery in our world? Perhaps nothing so much as his fundamental humility. Despite everything, he never presumed himself to be more than any other Jew. Indeed, as this final incident makes clear, he felt his actions – and his life – were to serve, not to be served.

As it is told, a note passed between two inmates was intercepted by the Camp wardens. Passing such a note was a terrible breach in the Camp and the Nazis were determined to punish whoever sent the note. But finding the culprit was not that simple. So they brought the Bluzhever Rebbe before them.

“You’re the rabbi,” one said in mocking tones after explaining the crime, “surely you can find who sent it.”

“You have twenty-four hours to deliver the man. If you don’t, then you will suffer the punishment.”

The Rebbe did not hesitate. He opened his shirt and bared his chest. “There is no need to wait. You can kill me right now. I can assure you that I will never give over a fellow Jew to be punished by you or anyone else!” As he said this, he was sure he would be murdered on the spot. However, even these cruel men were impressed by his spirit.

“Rabbi, you are truly a good Jew. But the others are all pigs.”

“You are mistaken,” he replied. “The other Jews are great, wonderful people. I am the lowest among them all!”

That is the way it is with true heroes who show true courage. If we are truly blessed, we know that they walk among us, even during our darkest hours.



            

About Rabbi Yisroel Spira - Bluzhever Rebbe (עברית)

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Rabbi Yisroel Spira - Bluzhever Rebbe's Timeline

1891
November 12, 1891
Błażowa, rzeszowski, Podkarpackie Voivodeship, Poland
1989
October 30, 1989
Age 97
Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, United States
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Jerusalem