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Wednesday, September 27, 2006



Tonight is the 6th of Tishrei, and the 195th yahrzeit of Rebbe Aryeh Leib, known as the Shpoler Zeide [“grandfather”]. Rebbe Aryeh Leib was a disciple of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz. For a long time Rebbe Aryeh Leib was a nistar, a hidden tzaddik, until he was "forced" to reveal himself. The Shpoler Zeide was a folk Rebbe: singing, dancing, joyful. He consoled, encouraged, counseled, gave remedies, made peace between man and wife and between parents and children, defended the weak, threatened the strong with spiritual punishment, and stood up in defense of the abused Jewish lessees. “He was a father to many, many Rebbes, each one blessed in his own right…a father of perceptions, grimaces, manners, middos [good character] and madreigos [spiritual levels], father of banter and amazing stories…father of the trait of self-amazement which characterized many Rebbes…Rebbe Leib of Shpole, this Zeide, is the father to a multitude of Jews, that is, good Jews and Rebbes.” [from Morei HaChassidus, by Eliezer Steinman].



Every Rosh Hashana, before blowing the shofar, the Shpoler Zeide would spend time alone in his room. Nobody knew what he did there and it remained a mystery for years.
One year, a Chassid came from a distant land and when he heard about the Shpoler Zeide’s practice of spending time alone before blowing the shofar, he decided he would solve the mystery. What did he do? Before the Shpoler Zeide entered the room, he quietly hid, and from his hiding place he peeked through a crack into the room.
The Shpoler Zeide entered the room and to the Chassid’s great surprise he saw him lying spread out on the floor crying and pleading:
“Master of the Universe, what do you want of your nation, Israel? If I didn’t see for myself the mitzvos and good deeds that the Jewish people do, I would not have believed that in this bitter Galus [exile], where the Satan dances among them and everything desirable is before their eyes, they could fulfill even one mitzva.
“You described Gehinnom [hell] in Reishis Chochma (a Mussar work that describes the punishments for every sin), but You place temptation and trials right before their eyes. I promise You that if you had done the opposite, and had described the temptations in a book and put Gehinnom in front of their eyes, not a single Jew would transgress even a minor transgression.”
Then the Shpoler Zeide got up, passed his hand over his eyes, left the room and began his avoda [Divine service] before the blowing of the shofar.


The Baal Shem Tov gave the Shpoler Zeide the following bracha [blessing]: "Wherever the sole of your foot should be placed on the earth, it should join well with the ground below. From this bracha came a wonderful talent for dance, which he made into a yesod [fundamental principle] in avodas Hashem. His dancing on Shabbos and Yom Tov with great fervor aroused tears and joy simultaneously, and brought pangs of teshuva into all who witnessed it.

Once, Rebbe Avraham Malach, the son of the Maggid of Mezritch, was with the Zeide for a Shabbos. After Kaballas Shabbos, the Zeide began to dance in his usual wondrous manner, as the mispallelim [congregants] sang. Afterwards, Rebbe Abraham, who had carefully watched each step, remarked: “Your dancing was so good... that I saw in each step another yichud [spiritual unification].” The Zeide told of his bracha from the Baal Shem.
“But you dance so nicely and simply, to the beat of the niggun, from where does that come?”
“Graceful dancing,” replied the Zeide, “I learned from Eliyahu HaNavi.” He then related the following story.


The Shpoler Zeide's Niggun ("Hup Cozzack!")

The Shpoler Zeide was famous for his love and concern for his fellow Jews. He had a special fondness for misfits, thieves, and scoundrels, Jews who had fallen on hard times, but who were nonetheless good-hearted souls.
Once, the Shpoler Zeide heard of a Jew who had been thrown in prison for not paying his rent. The Jew's life was in grave danger, and the Shpoler Zeide wanted to save him. In those days, it didn't take much to put Jews in jail and then throw away the keys.
The guilt or innocence of the Jew would be decided by “The Bear Dance.” The half-starved Jew would be dressed up in a bearskin (Purim style), and then forced to out-dance a Cossack soldier, generally the best, hand-picked, and most exquisite dancer in the area. If the Jew fell first, it meant that he was guilty and would be whipped to death. If the Cossack fell first, the Jew would go free. No Jew had a chance. The Cossacks were famous as powerful horsemen, and athletic dancers with tremendous energy.
One night the Shpoler Zeide was visited by the prophet Eliyahu. Eliyahu instructed him in the fine art of dancing, and blessed him with power to outlast the Cossack. He also taught him what was to become forever known as the "Shpoler Zeide's Niggun."
The Shpoler Zeide went to the prison, drank mashke (vodka) with the guard until he fell asleep, then lowered himself into the pit. Then he exchanged clothes with the other Jew, and helped him in his weakened state to climb out of the dungeon and escape.
The next day a messenger from the nobles and Cossacks arrived with the bearskin and threw it down into the pit. The Shpoler Zeide donned the bearskin and pulled himself up by the rope.
The messenger led him to the Great House of the nobles, where a drinking party was in full swing. Everyone hooted and jeered when he came in. The band started to play and the Cossack danced. Then the Jew danced. People were surprised to see that they were evenly matched. The Cossack danced again, and the Jew in the bear suit danced back. Hours passed as the band played song after song. Never had a Jew danced so hard and so excellently. Never had a Cossack met his match.
By now the lords and Cossacks had stopped laughing and sat there stunned. Finally the musicians got tired, and even the Cossack dancer was willing to stop. Not so the old Shpoler Zeide with his white beard hidden under the bearskin, who started singing the niggun he had been taught ("Hop Cozzack -- Dididiyamam-mamah -- hup Cozzack -- dididiyum!") , and danced as he had never danced before. Now he called tauntingly to the Cossack, "Come on, dance, you!" And the weary Cossack forced himself to dance on.
The band picked up with renewed vigor, and the tune accelerated rapidly. The dancers moved faster and faster and faster and faster, till even they did not realize how fast it was.
"Hop Cozzack -- Dididiyamam-mamah -- hup Cozzack -- dididiyum!" the Shpoler Zeide cried (part of the song means 'Hop, Cozzack -- Jump, Cossack!), swinging his arm and kicking his feet, as he continued to dance with astonishing ease, until they reached a pace that was so fast they couldn't make out their own singing and dancing of the niggun.
That's when it happened: suddenly the Cossack dancer's cruel heart gave out and he fell dead. So the Shpoler Zeide won “The Bear Dance,” and his fellow Jew was freed from prison.


The Zeide’s niggunim: To the best of my knowledge, all that we have are two known niggunim. I was privileged to have heard the “Kol Ba’yaarniggun from Rabbi Nachman Bulman ZT”L, who sang it slightly differently than the Chabad version linked below.

Kol Bayaar: It is said the both the text and the moving melody were composed by the renowned tzaddik, Rebbe Aryeh Leib, better known as the Shpoler Zeide (having lived in the town of Shpole in the Ukraine). He was one of the early followers of the Baal Shem Tov, the Founder of Chassidus, and was widely known for his great love and devotion to his fellow Jews. This niggun is a dialogue between the Almighty Father and His children, the People of Israel. The Father looks for His children in galus (the Diaspora) and implores them to return home to the Holy Land, "Dear children, please return home, I feel forlorn without you."

Kol Bayaar – Longer Version [Chabad]

Hup Kozak

Hupp Cossack – Avraham Fried version


Rebbe Aryeh Leib’s “mark was felt for over 200 years of Chassidic tradition. His influence was uninterrupted in all the generations following the Baal Shem Tov. He himself said, ‘My name is Aryeh [“lion”], and in all my incarnations it was Aryeh, and all the beasts bow before the lion. In all of the Ukraine, I have the [accepted] opinion in Heaven.’ All the tzaddikim on earth in his generation bowed their heads to him: Zeide’s honor.” [Steinman].

Zechuso yagein Aleinu – May the Zeide’s merit indeed protect us all!

Wonderful post!
I danced my way into frumkeit, so this story means a lot to me.
Thanks, Batya, I'm glad it "struck a chord" in you!
Thanks for bringing the Shpole zeide to life. I had always seen him as a bit of a mystery man, your portrait does not take away the mystery, but adds magic to it. Well done!
MCAryeh: Thanks for stopping by & learning about another "Aryeh", and for your kind words!
Great story!
thank you . . . had to wright a play baised on this story you helped emensly
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