Yehudah Leib הסבא משפולה Girun-Zeida

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Yehudah Leib הסבא משפולה Girun-Zeida

Also Known As: "דער שפאלר זיידע"
Birthplace: Szpola near Uman, UKR.
Death: September 24, 1811 (86)
Szpola near Uman, UKR.
Immediate Family:

Son of Baruch ברוך Girundi and Rachel רחל
Husband of Pesia Girun-Zeida and Pesia Mirel פסיה מירל
Father of Yaacov יעקב Zeida; Boruch Gad Girun-Zeida; Abraham אברהם Girundi-Zeida; Pesach פסח Zeida; Daughter? and 1 other

Managed by: Eitan Nachman Perlman
Last Updated:

About Yehudah Leib הסבא משפולה Girun-Zeida

Rabbi Aryeh Leib - The Shpole Zeide

Rabi Aryeh Leib Gerondi of Shpole

One of the early great Chassidic masters was Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib (1724-1811), renowned as the “Shpoler Zeide” – the "Grandfather (living in the town) of Shpola." (the Shpoller Zayde)

His devoted love for his fellow Jews and his many miraculous rescues of Jews from distress, made him into a legendary personage. It is known that the Zaide, zy"a, was a direct male descendant of the Maharal from Prague,

The Shpoler Zaide

The exceptional figure of the Shpoler Zaide graces the history of Chassidus with his deeds of chessed and mesirus nefesh for each and every Jew – he dedicated his whole life to helping any Jew in need of assistance.

Rabi Aryeh Leib Gerondi of Shpole, known by the title of ‘Shpoler Zaide’, was born on the first night of Chanukah, the 25th of Kislev in the year 5485, as a result of a brachah from the Baal Shem Tov zy”a, who had blessed his father, Rabi Baruch, that he would merit to have a son who would light up the eyes of klal Yisrael. There are those who insist that it was the Baal Shem Tov himself who gave him the title ‘Zaide’, when he blessed him that he should grow to be as great as Avraham Avinu, of whom it is written, “Avraham was old and came with his days.” The Shpoler Zaide’s family originated in Ukraine, but following the wars that were fought in that region, his father uprooted the family from their home and travelled to Bohemia, where they settled on the estate of Graf Pototski in a little town near Uman – and it was there that the Shpoler Zaide was born.

At a young age, it was already evident that the Zaide possessed a great intellectual capacity, and he was sent to learn Torah by Rabi Pinchas of Koritz zy”a. At the age of eighteen he married the daughter of the shochet of the town of Medivdovka and he went to live there in his father-in-law’s house, who provided his every material need in order that he might be able to entirely devote himself to Torah without any outside distractions. When he reached the age of twenty-eight his teacher, Reb Pinchas Koritzer, took him to Mezhibuzh, to the holy Baal Shem Tov, who saw immediately that his blessing had been fulfilled. He advised the Zaide to embark on a personal galus that was to last seven years, in order to reach greater heights of self-perfection. In the year 5515 the Zaide left on his wanderings, which took him to towns and villages all across Europe. Wherever he encountered Jews in predicaments, he attempted to assist to the best of his ability. His greatest efforts were directed towards the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, to rescue Jews that had been imprisoned, almost always unfairly.

Many stories are told that centre around his wanderings, especially of his exceptional efforts to rescue Jews from imprisonment, of which the most famous is probably that of the ‘dancing bear’. The tale relates that one of the villages he visited in the course of his wanderings was owned by a very evil, cruel poritz. On the estates of this poritz lived a poor Jewish tenant, who only with great difficulty managed to pay his yearly rent to the poritz. When the Shpoler Zaide arrived in the village, he found that this year the tenant had been unable to find the means to pay his rent, and the poritz had thrown him into prison. The ‘custom’ of this evil poritz was that every year on his birthday he would invite all of his friends to a grand party to celebrate. In the middle of the party, when all those present were in good spirits from the drink and the atmosphere, he would request to have brought in the unfortunate prisoner who happened at that time to be held in his dungeons, dressed in a bear’s skin. The poritz would hold in his hands the end of a chain which was bound around the neck of the prisoner and would force him to dance with him, a crazy, drunken dance. If the guests agreed that the ‘bear’ had danced well, the poritz would release the prisoner – but if they decided that his performance had not been up to par, he would be sentenced to death. In general, the prisoners were so weakened by their extended stay in the poritz’s dungeon without sufficient food or water that they had little strength to dance, and so inevitably the poritz would win the contest.

When the Shpoler Zaide arrived in this village and was informed of the poor Jew in the dungeon, he hurried to the prison and managed to speak with the Jew, who told him of the poritz’s terrible custom of the bear dance. The Jew wept desperate tears, as he described his inability to dance, especially as he did not know the dances of the gentiles, and in any case was too weak to dance properly. The Shpoler Zaide tried to comfort him, and presented him with his plan; on the evening of the party, shortly before it was to commence, the Zaide would once again manage to enter the dungeon and would switch places with the imprisoned Jew there. The Jew would then escape, and the Shpoler Zaide would dance in his place. At first the Jew refused to allow the Zaide to put himself in danger, but after the Shpoler Zaide managed to convince him that he himself would be able to dance with energy, the Jew finally agreed to the plan.

The Shploler Zaide then managed to emerge from the dungeon again, and started to worry about how he would learn how to dance. Although he had succeeded in convincing the imprisoned Jew that he was the most suited to the task, in fact, he had absolutely no idea how to dance the dances of the gentiles. As he was still standing there, pondering his dilemma, Eliyahu haNavi suddenly appeared before him. Eliyahu haTishbi then proceeded to teach him all the secrets of how to dance, so that he would be able to perform the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, and in a short amount of time, the Shpoler Zaide was able to dance expertly in the manner of the gentiles. On the appointed evening, the Zaide returned to the dungeon as agreed, and when the guards of the poritz arrived to take the Jew to the party, he himself dressed in the bearskin and accompanied the guards to the great hall of the palace. In the meantime, the Jew managed to exit the dungeon undetected, and ran out of the unlocked doors toward home and family. In the large hall, a huge crowd of drunkards was waiting for the entrance of the Jew in his bearskin. The sign was given for the festivities to commence, and the band started to play a wild tune. The evil poritz grabbed his end of the chain which was attached to the Shpoler Zaide’s neck, and began to dance. And then – a wonder – not only was the Jew not weak, barely dragging his feet, but he danced perfectly, with steps far more lively and capable than those of the poritz himself. The band changed its tunes to many different styles, but still the ‘bear’ danced beautifully, without tiring. The poritz himself, who had imbibed a large quantity of alcohol during the evening, soon tired himself, and eventually dropped to the floor in exhaustion. The Shpoler Zaide had been waiting for precisely this opportunity, and he leapt towards the poritz and began to strike him with heavy blows, as befitted such a hater of the Jews who behaved towards them in such evil ways. Eventually, with the poritz sprawled on the floor, bruised and wounded, the Shpoler Zaide let him be and went on his way.

After the Shploler Zaide had completed his years of wandering, he settled in the town of Zlatipoli where he served as a shammash in the local beis knesses. Despite his humble manner of conduct, the local townspeople soon discerned the exalted nature of their new shammash, and people then started to flock to Zlatipoli in order to request brochos and yeshuos from the Zaide. The Jews wanted to crown the Zaide as their Rebbe and give him the title of ‘Harav’, but the Shpoler Zaide refused this, only agreeing to be called ‘Zaide’ without any other title of honour or leadership. After a period of time, the Shpoler Zaide left Zlatipoli and went to live in the village of Shpoli, which gave him his lasting title of ‘Shpoler Zaide’. There too, many Jews continued to flood to him, and he continued to show exceptional warmth to all those who came seeking his help, which he gave to the best of his ability.

During the years in which the Zaide lived in Shpoli, one particular miracle occurred in connection with him. The Shpoler Zaide was invited to take part in a bris, and in order to arrive at the required place, he had to traverse a river, which was frozen in the cold of winter. As the Zaide was crossing the river, the ice broke under him and he fell into the icy waters beneath. However, the Zaide was miraculously saved from drowning, and the day on which this occurred, the 19th of Shevat, was set as a festive day for him and all succeeding generations, until today.

The Zaide Rabi Aryeh Leib ztz”l was niftar in the village of Shpoli on the 6th of Tishrei in the year 5572 when he was eighty-seven years of age. According to his own instructions, no matzeivah was erected over his grave – instead, a small cabinet was placed at its side, into which the chassidim who came there to daven would place their kvittlach.

A few of the divrei Torah of the Shpoler Zaide have been preserved in the sefer ‘Tiferes Moharal’, which also details his life. In addition, many sayings are retold in his name, including one that says that “one who davens without kavannah is like one who builds a mound out of earth and limestone but does not add water – how will the materials stick together?” Another saying of his is; “I promised in my old age that the Jews would not return in teshuvah because of rebuke – and therefore, Ribbono shel olam – why should You punish them for nothing? If You would only be as a Father to them, then they would return to You in teshuvah.”

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Yehudah Leib הסבא משפולה Girun-Zeida's Timeline

November 29, 1724
Szpola near Uman, UKR.
Age 38
Age 42
Age 45
Shpola, Cherkasy, Ukraine
Age 50
September 24, 1811
Age 86
Szpola near Uman, UKR.