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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

 

A Shul is Built in Belz


Today is 27 Elul, the 151st yahrzeit of Rebbe Shalom Rokeach of Belz, the first Belzer Rebbe, known as the “Sar Shalom [Prince of Peace]”.


Rebbe Shalom could trace his ancestry to the great Gaon, Rabbi Eliezer of Amsterdam, author of Ma'aseh Rokeach. Orphaned at a young age, he was brought up by his uncle, Rabbi Yissachar Ber, the Rabbi of Skol, under whose tutelage he studied Talmud and Halacha with great intensity. The fire of his Chassidus was nurtured by his mentors, the Chozeh of Lublin, Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, the Maggid of Kozhnitz, and Rebbe Uri of Strelisk.


After his marriage, he devoted 1,000 days and nights to the uninterrupted study of both the revealed and Kabbalistic Torah, emerging as a recognized scholar of eminent stature. Young students and accomplished scholars flocked to him in even larger numbers, to see and to learn; foremost among these was the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody. In Belz, Rebbe Shalom blazed a new trail: the fusion of excellence in Torah scholarship with the burning mystical zeal of Chassidus.

***

In the city of Belz, the new Shul was being built. Amongst those who were involved in its construction was the Rebbe himself, Rebbe Shalom of Belz. Just like the other workers, the Rebbe was passing bricks and mixing cement. His brother objected to the Rebbe's actions: a community leader is not permitted to do that type of work. Rav Shalom explained to his brother the reason for his working. “When I was in Yeshiva, I learned with two close friends. It was revealed to us that we would be rewarded by seeing Eliyahu HaNavi if we would learn 1,000 nights in a row without sleep. We longed to experience such a great spiritual encounter so we took it upon ourselves to remain awake for the next thousand nights, learning Torah. We did this for hundreds of nights when one friend couldn't bear the difficult task. My friend and I continued our learning until the eight hundredth night when he gave in. I continued on my own, determined to complete the thousand nights and finally, that night arrived.

"It was terribly stormy and the windows blew open, the glass shattered and the candle blew out. It was terrifying experience. I took it upon myself to weather the storm, and not forfeit the past 999 nights. I opened the Aron Kodesh and cried out to Hashem for His help. I cried and begged until Hashem accepted my plea, and the storm calmed. It was quiet outside when I suddenly heard footsteps. Who could possibly be walking outside in the middle of the night after such a storm? I looked up and saw Eliyahu HaNavi! We began to learn Torah together all night.”

“The last Halacha he taught me was regarding the Beis Knesses [Shul, synagogue]. Now that our city is fortunate to build its new Shul, can I let others do the work while I sit still?”

***

While the big synagogue in Belz was being built, Rebbe Shalom was constantly seen browsing through a certain book of Kabbalah. One day the book disappeared, and construction was halted until the book was found again. On another occasion, construction was halted when Rebbe Shalom announced that he needed two rare books in order to allow the construction to continue. Fortunately, it just so happened that there was a book dealer in town who had these books, and when the requested books were handed to Rebbe Shalom, construction was allowed to continue. Years later, his son and successor Rebbe Yehoshua remarked that he had looked through those books and never saw any connection between the books and the building of a synagogue.

***

The magnificent yeshiva and study hall in Belz that the Sar Shalom had erected soon became the spiritual center for tens of thousands of Belzer Chassidim in Galicia. After the Holocaust, the disconsolate scattered remnants of Belzer Chassidus - under the leadership of the surviving scion of the Belz dynasty, the young Rebbe Yissachar Dov - miraculously restored the former grandeur of Belz. Today the glorious new Belzer yeshiva building, modeled after the one built by the Sar Shalom, graces the Jerusalem skyline.

***

TO COME: Gems from the Sar Shalom



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