Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem Danziger • “The Alexander Rebbe”

The last Rebbe of the Alexander chassidim was the Tzaddik Rabbi Yitzhak Danziger, who died in the Holocaust. He was born to Rabbi Shemuel Tzvi, the author the Torah commentary Tiferet Shemuel, in 5640 (1880).

From his earliest years, the Alexander Rebbe possessed an extremely sharp mind, and he was exceptionally diligent in Torah study. Still in his youth, the young Yitzchak Menachem’s deeds made it evident that he was born for greatness. At the age of 13 he married the daughter of an honorable Jew from Lodz. When his father-in-law came to Alexander, he was welcomed by the grandfather of the groom, Rabbi Yechiel (the first Alexander Rebbe), who asked him: “How do you find the groom?” The father-in-law answered quite innocently, “What a question – he’s your grandson!” The grandfather replied, “You are mistaken. Not only is he my grandson, he himself is a Rebbe.”

His father, Rabbi Shemuel Tzvi, passed away in 5684 (1924). Thus at the age of 44, Rabbi Yitzhak Danziger became the Rebbe of thousands of chassidim who flocked to him from all corners of the globe.

The chassidim would say that the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria were fulfilled in him: “I am like a man of 70 years.” This is because his beard was black when he began to lead the community, yet a few days later white hairs began to appear that gave him the appearance of a 70-year old.

His love for every Jew knew no bounds. He had the habit of saying that it is forbidden to make light of a Jew, for each Jew was precious in his eyes. This is why he devoted himself to bringing back to G-d all Jews who had distanced themselves from the Torah.

Day and night, his home was filled with people who came to see him asking for advice. Whenever a Jew entered with a pitka, and when the Rebbe looked at him and saw that he was being asked to pray for someone gravely ill, he let out a heavy sigh that broke the heart of everyone there.

Besides his greatness in Torah, Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem also possessed a sterling character, particularly with respect to humility, for he was extremely modest and behaved humbly with all people. Someone once heard the following story with his own ears: Near the beginning of his role as Rebbe, a chassid with the same name as he (Yitzchak Menachem) came to see him. It happened that the Rebbe’s secretary needed to speak to this chassid, and so he called out to him: “Yitzchak Menachem, come here!” The Rebbe, who was speaking with someone at that point, turned to his secretary and said, “Yes, yes, just a moment. I won’t be long.” Of course the secretary was aghast at what had happened, and he quickly turned to the Rebbe and asked for his forgiveness, saying that he absolutely did not mean to call the honorable Rebbe. The Rebbe turned to him with a pleasant and forgiving look and said, “Don’t feel bad. What do you think, that because you made me your Rebbe I’ve already forgotten my name?”

He astounded all his chassidim with his incredible memory. Sometimes several hundred chassidim would come before him asking for various things, yet he was familiar with all their sorrows, remembered all of them by name, and gave clear answers to each.

The Rebbe once traveled to Berlin, and there he encountered someone who had studied with him in Lodz some 40 years earlier. That person asked the Rebbe if he remembered him, and it turned out that he did indeed, even reminding him of all the commentaries he had written at that time.

Thousands of Jews came to see the Rebbe of Alexander, traveling to his Beit Midrash from near and far. Some came to hear him pray, for his words pierced the heavens and moved those who heard it to do Teshuvah. Very wealthy and famous merchants also came to him asking for business advice, and the Rebbe provided them with it, for he was very familiar with the affairs of this world. Yet above all, many came on Shabbat and the holidays to hear the words of Torah that he gave at his table.

Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem was the Rebbe of the city of Alexander, near Lodz, for 18 years. In his time there were 25 synagogues and houses of study, scattered throughout the city, for the chassidim and their followers. The Rebbe paid careful attention to praying in synagogue with the community, and he was always concerned that his chassidim should pray with the congregation. In conversations that he had with his chassidim, and in letters that he sent to them in other towns, he always stressed the importance of communal prayer.

In these letters, the Rebbe asked his followers “that everyone who prays with the chassidim should make himself a set rule to pray each day with the community, for this is a principle and unifying foundation of Judaism.” He also called upon them to fix times for Torah study, and that each synagogue be a gathering place for scholars. He intensely yearned for youngsters to study there each day.

Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem did not content himself with being the Rebbe of thousands of chassidim. As soon as he was appointed as head of the community, he founded a great yeshiva into which he devoted a great deal of his strength, closely watching over each of its students. Due to his energy and involvement, the yeshiva blossomed and knew great success, producing many rabbis and Torah greats that went on to occupy important positions. The Rebbe once stated that all his vitality came from the yeshiva.

Thus the Alexander Rebbe lived an active life, all while raising an exceptional family. He was the father of ten children (eight boys and two girls), and his sons and sons-in-law became great Talmidei Chachamim.

During the Holocaust, the Rebbe moved from Alexander to Warsaw with his entire family. There in the Warsaw ghetto, he carried upon himself the sufferings of his brothers and shared the grief of the entire Jewish people. On the 23rd of Elul, 5702 (1942), he was brought to the Treblinka concentration camp and there, at the age of 63, he and a large number of Jews were murdered by the Germans, may their names be wiped out.

 

 
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