Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem Danziger • “The Alexander Rebbe”

Rabbi Yisroel Spira • “The Bluzhever Rebbe”

The oldest of the Rebbes, the Rav and Tzaddik Rabbi Yisroel Spira Zatzal of Bluzhev, passed away on Tuesday, Heshvan 2, 5750 in Brooklyn at the age of 100.

His death brought with it heavy mourning in the Torah world in general and among the chassidim of Bluzhev in particular. Everyone felt that he was a remnant that G-d had left from previous generations, left in order to describe to us the Torah greats of those times, men whose personalities were reflected in his own.

On Wednesday, Heshvan 3, 5750, the week of Parsha Noah, his casket arrived in Jerusalem. Multitudes attended the Rebbe’s huge funeral, and in accordance with his wishes no eulogies were given. The public accompanied his casket along the entire length of Meah Sharim Road. Kaddish was recited at the Chibat Yerushalmi Kollel, where the Rebbe had been appointed as Honorary President. Dozens of buses waited at the end of Meah Sharim Road, and thousands followed the casket by car all the way to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where the Bluzhever Rebbe was buried.

The son of Rabbi Yehoshua Spira (the previous Bluzhever Rebbe), Rabbi Yisroel Spira was born during the month of Heshvan in the year 5650 (1889) in the Galician town of Reischa. From his early youth, it was obvious that he was destined for greatness. At the age of 13 he received both the crown of Torah and the crown of teaching, being given Semichah by the Maharsham, the Rav of Brezhan, who testified to the magnitude of his Torah understanding.

Rabbi Yisroel Spira was the beloved grandson of the Rebbe Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech, the author of Tzvi LaTzaddik. When he ascended to the Torah on the Shabbat of his Bar Mitzvah and came to the verse in the Haftorah, “Israel in whom I glory,” his holy grandfather turned to him and repeated it with the cantillation. His diligence in Torah study knew no bounds, and was extremely studious in serving G-d.

After his marriage, Rabbi Yisroel Spira became the Rav of the small town of Istrik, near Sanok. This soon became a place to which many turned to ask him questions in Halachah, as well as to seek his advice. After the death of his father in 5691 (1931), he was crowned as Rebbe in his place and continued the glorious Dynow-Bluzhev dynasty.

During the Holocaust, Rabbi Yisroel Spira experienced the sufferings of hell. He lost his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. Yet it was there, precisely in the valley of tears, that his holy personality stood out. He displayed goodness and kindness to his Jewish brothers, encouraging each Jew to place his trust in the Creator of the world and to await deliverance. After being saved from the Holocaust, he settled in Brooklyn, and it was there that he had a great influence on the religious community.

He used to say, “The reason I remained alive was so that I could continue recounting to future generations what happened to us during those times.” He was an amazing storyteller, and his accounts and expressions, emanating as they did from a pure and holy heart, entered the hearts of his listeners, who could never forget what he said.

Here are some of his accounts:

During the days of Chanukah, the Rebbe lit candles in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Once when he recited the blessings, a Jew asked him a question: “Rabbi, even if you stubbornly lit the Chanukah candles and said Lehadlik Ner and She’asa Nissim, what justification do you have in saying Sheheheyanu Vekiyemanu Vehigi’yanu Lazman Hazeh [“Who has kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this time”]? During a time in which thousands of Jews are dying terrible deaths, why would you say Sheheheyanu?”

“I too asked myself this question,” the Rebbe replied. “I looked for an answer and found one: When I recited the blessing, I saw that a large crowd had gathered – risking their own lives in so doing – to watch the lighting of the candles. By the very fact that G-d has such loyal Jews – prepared to give their lives for the lighting of the candles – by that very fact alone we may recite Sheheheyanu.”

The Rebbe described what once happened to him while being forced to work in a concentration camp: “I was cutting wood when I suddenly heard the voice of a woman: ‘Jews, have pity on me! Someone find me a knife!’

“The woman approached me and said, ‘Maybe you have a knife?’ The first thought that went through my mind was that she wanted to kill herself, so I told her that it was forbidden to do such a thing. All of sudden a German guard came by and began to strike her. ‘Why are you asking for a knife?’ he said. However she didn’t answer, repeating only, ‘I need a knife.’

“The German gave her a pocketknife, and the woman took it and rushed to a cloth bundle that was lying on the ground. She opened the bundle, and to my amazement it contained a sleeping baby. I stood frozen in place as I understood that she was attempting to circumcise her son. In a loud voice he said the blessing for the circumcision. She then got up, turned to heaven, and said: ‘Master of the world, eight days ago You gave me a baby in good health. I will return it to You as a perfect Jew.’ She then bent down and circumcised her son.

“When she closed the bundle and returned to the German, she handed him back his blood-soaked knife with one hand, and her baby with the other.”

The Rebbe continued, tears filling his eyes: “I then thought that what this solitary woman had done made a profound impression on the Throne of Glory, for a Jewish woman had not made such a sacrifice since the binding of Isaac.”

The Rebbe always carried with him a piece of paper that he had received in a concentration camp from a pious man five minutes before he was executed. This is what it said: “My dear Rebbe, I know that I will be killed. I insistently ask that you merit to be saved and go to Eretz Israel. See that my memory is not forgotten, that my name and the name of wife be commemorated in a Sefer Torah. I leave my remaining 50 zlotys for this task.”

The Rebbe once said to those close to him, “You know what my passport is for the World to Come? You know what I will say when asked what merit I have to enter?”

“The number engraved on your arm?” someone attempted to answer.

“Not at all,” the Rebbe replied. “It is this piece of paper. It is the only thing that I will wave in the World of Truth.”





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