Rabbi Aaron Rokeach • “The Rebbe of Belz”

Who is not familiar with the name of Belz? Who has not heard the well-known melancholy niggun Mien Shtetele Belz? This small city was made famous around the world because of four Rebbes who lived in it, a city to which thousands of Jews flocked in order to warm themselves by the light of these great Tzaddikim.

Four generations of Belz Chassidut reigned in Galicia and Poland, until Jews were massacred in the Holocaust. Only Rabbi Aaron of Belz was miraculously saved, arriving at the gates of Eretz Israel on Thursday the 9th of Shevat, 5704 (1944).

The old chassidim of Belz would say that in the prayer Shochen ad, one can find an allusion to their four holy Belz Rebbes: “By the mouth of the upright You are exalted” alludes to the first Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Rokeach, whose conduct was upright and pure; “By the lips of the righteous You are blessed” alludes to his son, Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, commonly known as the Tzaddik of Belz; “By the tongue of the pious You are hallowed” alludes to his grandson, Rabbi Issachar Dov, who acted piously in all things; “And in the innermost part of the holy ones You are praised” alludes to his great grandson, Rabbi Aaron, who was holy from his mother’s womb and whose every deed was holy.

The third Rebbe, Rabbi Issachar Dov, the father of Rabbi Aaron, was the son-in-law of Rabbi Zusha, the Rebbe of Chernobyl. After his marriage he lived with his father-in-law and studied Torah day and night. His father, Rabbi Yehoshua, instructed him to write all his Torah commentaries in a notebook. One day when he arrived at his father’s home, the latter asked him, “Issachar Dov, show me your commentaries.” When he went to get the notebook in which they were written, he was unable to find it. As it turned out, his writings had been stolen when he spent one night at an inn while traveling. Rabbi Issachar Dov was very bothered by this, but his father told him, “Issachar Dov, my son, don’t worry about this and don’t be sad. In place of your lost Torah commentaries, G-d will give you a son that will illuminate the eyes of Israel by the light of his Torah and his great wisdom.” One year later, on Tevet 17, 5640 (1880), a son was born to Rabbi Issachar Dov that he named Aaron, after the great Rabbi Aaron of Karlin. Rabbi Issachar Dov said, “In the same way that the great Rabbi Aaron accepted upon himself all the misfortunes that could have struck Israel, my son will also take upon himself the misfortunes that will come down upon Israel.”

When Rabbi Aaron was a boy and in Cheder to learn Torah, he would take with him some bread and coffee. One day he called his guardian and asked him to bring his bread and coffee to a certain Jewish tailor. The guardian did not understand why the little Aaron requested this of him, and he wondered what this meant. The boy replied, “Today when I was at the mikveh, I heard this tailor say to another Jew, ‘After such a cold mikveh, it would be wonderful to have a piece of bread and a cup of hot coffee.’ At that point, I decided to send him my bread and coffee.”

One day Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga, the Rabbi of Shinova, noticed him and carefully looked him over. He exclaimed, “Apparently the evil inclination has completely forgotten about this young man.” The young Aaron certainly showed great brilliance, be it in Torah knowledge or by his extreme diligence, and above all in his sterling character traits and purity of heart. All those who saw him knew that he was destined to become a great sage and Tzaddik among the Jewish people.

Rabbi Aaron was very modest by nature, and the verse “to walk humbly with your G-d” (Micah 6:8) was a guiding principle for him. The chassidim recount that Rabbi Aaron studied day and night, and although he knew the Talmud and Poskim, he concealed the extent of his knowledge. After the death of his father Rabbi Issachar Dov, Rabbi Aaron took his place. After a few years, the name of the young Rabbi of Belz was known throughout the world. The more he advanced in age, the greater his Torah knowledge and holiness became, and he developed into a light that brightened the whole Jewish world, for everyone became aware of his holinesses, his righteousness, and his greatness.

During his time, Belz Chassidut increased and spread to many countries. Multitudes of Jews from many places considered Belz as a spiritual center and source from which one could draw Torah and the fear of G-d. However when Belz achieved the summit of its growth, calamity struck Poland as the accursed enemy began World War II.

During Shemini Atzeret 5700 (1939), the Rebbe was forced to take the baton of pilgrimage into his hand and leave the city of Belz. He wandered for four years, but his chassidim protected him so that no harm came to him. His entire family was killed, yet it was G-d’s will for the Rebbe to be miraculously saved from the Nazi inferno and make it to Eretz Israel.

The following is an account that he himself gave: “It is impossible to describe the miracles, and the miracles within miracles, that the Holy One, blessed be He, has done for us. The man who drove me from the Bochnia Ghetto all the way to Budapest in Hungary visited me every day while I was in Pest. I once asked him, ‘How could you dare leave the car in Pschemichl, while we were on route, in the middle of the road for more than an hour while you went to the cabaret to see your soldier friends and have a drink with them, leaving us there in the car? Weren’t you afraid that a Gestapo agent traveling along the roads would catch us and realize that you were driving with Jews?’ [Note: This man was a Hungarian military officer who pretended that the Rebbe and his brother were officers who were taking their retirement]. He replied to me, ‘I knew with whom I was traveling.’ No one saw us along the entire route, for a large cloud covered the car throughout the duration of the trip.”

The 9th of Shevat, the day when the Rebbe arrived in Eretz Israel, became an occasion for joy and good deeds in the homes of Belz chassidim. The chassidim would assemble in his Beit Midrash and seat themselves at the table, while the Rebbe would give them a “Tikkun” and recount the miracles that occurred to him in hiding. He finished by saying, “Thank G-d, I arrived in Eretz Israel.” He spent his first Shabbat in Haifa, and the group of people that crowded together during prayer and in preparing “tables” left an atmosphere of spiritual elevation in the city.

An incident occurred in Haifa that we may learn from. The chassidim who had come from Jerusalem to spend Shabbat with the Rebbe in Haifa had brought with them a special shochet to slaughter chickens for the Rebbe and his close friends. However the Rebbe refused to benefit from the services of this shochet from Jerusalem, saying that he had received a tradition from his father that when a person goes to a Jewish community in which an organized shechita already exists under the supervision of the local rabbinical authority, he must use the local shochet in order to avoid causing strife. When someone pointed out to him that since the shochet had already arrived from Jerusalem, he should not be rejected lest he be put to shame, the Rebbe replied: “A community should not be put to shame by taking a shochet from another city.” Thus a local shochet was called, and after the Rebbe inspected his knife he was given the chickens to slaughter.

The Rebbe settled down in Tel Aviv. To the utter surprise of the chassidim (who thought that he would live in Jerusalem), he told them that he had secret reasons for doing so, reasons that he could reveal to no one. When it was suggested that he live in Bnei Brak or Petah Tikva, he replied, “When there were incidents with Arabs, no Arab was allowed to enter Tel Aviv, which is not the case with those other cities. This is why I want to live in Tel Aviv, for only Jews live there.” The influence of the Rebbe on Tel Aviv has been considerable, leading to noticeable reforms in the spiritual landscape of the city. To a Belz chassid living in Tel Aviv, who was cutting his son’s hair on his third birthday and leaving him with payot, the Rebbe said: “Take your son and walk with him along Allenby Street [the main street in Tel Aviv] so that people may see that the city now has another child with payot.”

In 5704 (1944), the Rebbe directed his family to purchase gardening equipment and to work in the garden of his yard. He entered the garden each day to see how people were working on it and how it was progressing, and several times the chassidim were surprised to see their Rebbe take a shovel and work the earth. When the Shmita year arrived, the Rebbe said: “Now that the Shmita year has come, we will stop working in order to accomplish the mitzvah of Shmita.” Everyone then understood why he was interested in his garden.

Rabbi Aaron lived for 13 years in Eretz Israel, elevating the standard of Belz high over the Holy Land. At the conclusion of Shabbat of Parsha Eikev, on the 21st of Av, 5717 (1957), his holy and pure soul left him.




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