Rabbi Nahumke of Horodno

Many previously unfamiliar cities are famous today because of the Rabbis, Gaonim, and Tzaddikim that lived in them, yet Horodno (Grodno) is the only city to have become famous because of a Gabbai. This Gabbai was Rabbi Menachem Nahum, or as he was affectionately known, Rabbi Nahumke of Horodno.

Rabbi Nahumke was one of the greatest Tzaddikim of his generation, as well as one of the most generous. Not wanting to draw any profit from his studies, he was content with being the Gabbai of Horodno.

In all of Russia, there was no such thing as a Jewish child who had not heard of Rabbi Nahumke. With respect and veneration, children told one another marvelous stories about this Gabbai who was a Tzaddik. People spoke of his birth, his childhood, his youth, as well as his greatness in Torah, his integrity, and his humility. Stories abounded concerning his extraordinary qualities, his goodness, and his heart filled with compassion for all.

We will describe this exceptional man, who in a semi-miraculous way and with unrivaled persistence reached the greatest spiritual heights.

Rabbi Nahumke was born to Uziel and Maida in 5572 (1812). His parents were simple, yet G-d fearing people who loved Torah. They lived in a tiny village near the city of Beissigola, part of the Schabel region in the province of Kovno. His father was poor and earned a living by working as a day worker in a distillery, and what he earned was barely enough for his family to live on.

Nahum was a beautiful, charming, and healthy child like all the other children in the village, but more intellectually developed than those of his age. When he grew older and needed to be taught Torah, no tutor could be found for him in the village. Hence his father Uziel brought him to the distillery, and with each spare moment he taught him how to read the prayer book. The child learned the prayers and the beginning of the Chumash very quickly, but his father could not teach him more because that was all the Torah he knew.

However the child’s yearning for Torah study knew no bounds. Having no other choice, Nahum left the village and traveled nearby to the tiny city of Beissigola, and there he entered the Beit Midrash in the hopes of finding a Jew who wanted to teach him Torah. That same day a famous Chazan, accompanied by a choir, arrived in town. Since Nahum had a nice voice that was pleasing to the Chazan, he brought the boy with him. It was in this way that he left the region of his birthplace and traveled throughout the country. With the Chazan, he passed by different towns until one day he arrived in the city of Mir. There, he left the Chazan and his choir and ran to the great yeshiva. He opened the door slightly and saw hundreds of young people studying Torah with a pleasing melody. He was filled with jealously for not being able to enter and learn, swearing at that point to someday return and study Torah there.

After a few years, he returned to the Mir yeshiva and immersed himself entirely in Torah study, to the extent that he ended up becoming a great Talmid Chacham. He was the best in the yeshiva by virtue of his noble character and upright conduct. In him, everyone saw a marvelous combination of scholarship and sublime character traits. The Rosh Yeshiva said of him, “He studies Torah with us, but as for character traits, we should be his students.”

One day, a wealthy Jew from the city of Nischwitz arrived in Mir, and he chose Rabbi Nahum to marry his daughter. When he arrived at his father-in-law’s place, a special room was reserved for him where he could devote himself to Torah as much as he wanted without disruption. Rabbi Nahum devoted the greater part of his time to Torah study, and for several hours each day he occupied himself with charitable causes. He used to say, “Whoever spends their time solely in study, without paying attention to the suffering of those around him, will not succeed in his study. It is only when a person devotes himself both to Torah study and good deeds that he will develop a taste for Torah, which is a Torah of life and a Torah of man.”

In the meantime his father-in-law lost his fortune, and so Rabbi Nahum went to live in Horodno. Many towns wanted him as their Rav, but he decided not to take up any offers, for he considered that his only role in life was to demonstrate generosity to others. Hence a Rav, who depends on other people’s opinion of him, can encounter difficulties in this area. He therefore offered his services as a servant and Gabbai in the Chevrat Shas synagogue in Horodno, saying: “By being a Gabbai, I will be able to get closer to everyone. I will know what concerns them and be able to help them.” However his wife protested rigorously with his decision, and one day she told him: “Nahum, for how long will we live in poverty? Become the Rav of a community so that we can earn a good and honorable living.”

“I’m telling you,” replied Rabbi Nahumke, “that here in Horodno everyone knows me. They know that I have neither Torah nor wisdom, but they still believe that I have the required qualifications to be a Gabbai. That, however, is not the case if I go to another place and become a Rav there, for people will come to me with their questions and problems to decide, and they will immediately realize that I am devoid of Torah and wisdom. I will then be viewed with shame, and I will even lose the possibility of becoming a Gabbai!”

Rabbi Nahumke devoted himself entirely to acts of generosity and to the needs of the community. He was concerned with the education of children from poor families, and all day long he would hurry from one house to another collecting money for the needy. By his behavior and faultless character traits, Rabbi Nahumke himself served as an example for his Jewish brothers.

People say that once on a winter night, a person entered the hall of the great synagogue and saw a man sleeping on the floor. When he leaned over him, he saw that it was Rabbi Nahumke!

“Rabbi,” the person said in shock, “what are you doing here?”

“The Beit Midrash is closed,” Rabbi Nahumke replied. “Those who study Torah are sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake them up. I couldn’t go home either, because people are sleeping there as well. I therefore decided to spend the night here, but sleep overwhelmed me.”

On Shabbat, the 8th of Heshvan 5640 (1879), Rabbi Nahumke rendered his pure soul to his Creator. The loss was great for all the Jewish people. Rabbi Nahumke died several weeks after the Malbim, and Rabbi Israel of Salant in his eulogy for both of them said, “When I will come before the Celestial Court and be asked why I was not like the Malbim, I will answer that Heaven did not grant me his intelligence. However when I will be asked why I was not like Rabbi Nahumke of Horodno, I do not know what I will say, for Heaven granted me a heart.”




Hevrat Pinto • 32, rue du Plateau 75019 Paris - FRANCE • Tél. : +331 42 08 25 40 • Fax : +331 42 06 00 33 • © 2015 • Webmaster : Hanania Soussan