(This Torah-shmuess wassaid in the city of Nikolsburg, Czech Republic, during a trip to visit thegravesite of Rebbe Shmelke of Nikolsburg zt”l on occasion of his yartzeit)
אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר וגו' עד מלאת ימי טהרה.
“When a womanconceives and gives birth to a male…. until the days of her purifying will becomplete.” (Vayikra 12:2)
We are now in a city in which the greatest giants ofTorah Jewry lived. In this city, the sounds of Torah reverberated through thestreets at all hours of the day and night. Our saintly master, the holy tzaddik RebShmelke, established here his famous Yeshiva that included as students thegreat tzaddikim Reb Moshe Leib Sossover, the holyChozeh, and according to some the holy Barditchiver tzaddik, whose greatness is beyond our comprehension.
Reb Shmelke was like an angel of Hashem, and even thenon-Jewish emperor of his country titled him so. This took place when theemperor made a decree that was detrimental to the Jewish community in hiskingdom. Reb Shmelke traveled to the capital city in order to meet the emperorand request that the decree be annulled. He arrived at the riverbank oppositethe capital, but was unable to cross. It was at the end of the winter and thefrozen river was beginning to thaw. Large blocks of ice were interspersed withsemi-frozen water, creating a very dangerous, impassable waterway.
Reb Shmelke was determined to cross the river, but hewas unable to find a boatman who was willing to risk such a trip. The floatingice could tear apart any type of vessel that dared to set out on the river.Finally, Reb Shmelke found a small, dilapidated boat on the riverside andstepped into it along with his trusted disciple, Reb Moshe Leib. The boat wasso tiny, they didn’t even have room to sit! Reb Shmelke started to sing the shirah thatBnei Yisroel sang after the Splitting of the Sea, and sure enough, the huge iceblocks split apart to allow the boat to pass!
The entire population of the capital city camerunning to the riverfront to witness this miraculous spectacle. The river wasvisible from the imperial palace, and the Emperor watched the entire scene fromhis window. Upon seeing the two tzaddikim alighting from the boat, the emperorremarked in awe, “These are ‘angelmen’ –angels!”
People of such greatness and unbelievableTorah-powers populated Nikolsburg. Their miraculous powers were not the onlyfacet of their greatness. Their devotion to learning Torah with their last bitsof strength was equally legendary. It is told that the scholars of Nikolsburgwould tie their peyos (hair) to the lower edges of therafters, so that if they dozed off while learning in the wee hours of themorning, they would be awakened instantly by their pulling hair. This is howthey studied Torah, disregarding their fatigue and discomfort!
And they didn’t just learn – they learned with suchfear of Heaven we cannot even comprehend such greatness. Reb Shmelke obligatedone of his students to ensure that he – the Rebbe – would not forget aboutHashem’s presence while learning. The student never needed to remind the Rebbe,but one day, he saw the Rebbe so deeply immersed in learning that he clearedhis throat to speak up and remind him about Hashem’s presence. The Rebbe sawthis and nodded to him, saying, “I remember, I remember.”
We cannot comprehend their greatness in Torah, theirfear of Heaven and their devotion to serving Hashem. It is so painful to seethis city in a state of spiritual desolation, without the sounds of Torah,without the sounds of prayer. This certainly pains the saintly tzaddikimwho rest in this city. It is ourresponsibility to make the most of our short stay here and learn as much Torahas possible. When we will visit the holy gravesite of Reb Shmelke on MotzeiShabbos, he should be proud of us and grateful that after so many barren years,the sounds of Torah and an atmosphere of purity and holiness were returned toNikolsburg.
The Gemara says that at the destruction of the firstBais Hamikdosh, Avrohom Avinu came to intercede for the Jewish people. Uponseeing Avrohom, Hashem said, “How come My friend has come to My home?” This isa puzzling remark, for Hashem’s “home” was already destroyed. Besides, a friendis always welcome and his presence should not be questioned.
When Avrohom came towards Hashem, he brought alongwith him the same spiritual aura that existed when the Bais Hamikdosh stood,hence the question, “How come My friend has come to My home? My home no longerexists, so how is he there?”
The same could be said, albeit on a lower scale, whenwe recapture the spiritual aura that our masters and teachers left behind.Before Reb Shmelke became the Rov of Nikolsburg, he was Rov in Shiniva. Yearslater, when the saintly tzaddik,the Yismach Moshe, was Rov in Shiniva, he lived in the same house in which RebShmelke had lived. He sensed a special aura of holiness, full of love and fearof Heaven, which he said was left behind by Reb Shmelke.
Reb Shmelke certainly left behind large doses of loveand fear of Heaven here in Nikolsburg. There is much discussion among Chassidicmasters as to which of these attributes come first. Should a person first workon developing a deep love of Hashem or should he first work on developing hisawe of Him? The saintly Maggid would say that the attribute of loving Hashem isa very lofty concept, and it can only be achieved through fear of Heaven. Heused a statement of the Gemara (Kiddushin 2b) to imply that since “fear” isreferred to in feminine terms while “love and kindness” is referred to inmasculine terms, the fear of Heaven should be developed first.
Using this teaching, we can see a similar lesson inthe first verse of this week’s Torah portion. “When a woman conceives and givesbirth to a male…” The Hebrew word for woman – isha – is an acronym for the Hebrew words“Our master Shmuel Shmelke Halevi Horowitz,” the Rebbe of Nikolsburg. The fearof Heaven (hinted at by the word “woman”) that our Rebbe has implanted here cangive birth to love of Hashem (hinted at by the word “male”). By upholding hislegacy and following his teachings, we can achieve the supremely loftyattribute of loving Hashem.
Why do we come to the gravesite of a tzaddik topray? Hashem is everywhere, and we can pray to Him from our own homes withoutincurring so many travel expenses and spending so much time on the road. Butthe verse is telling us that although we are leaving our shuls and yeshivos andcannot uphold our regular Torah study sessions while traveling to the tzaddik, we benefit so much from the holiness of thetzaddik that it “completes our days withpurity.” Indeed, by traveling to the tzaddik’sgravesite,we achieve far more than could be accomplished at home.
May the merit of the tzaddik RebShmelke protect us and may we merit continuing his legacy until the coming ofMoshiach, Amen.