Thursday, July 19, 2007
THE KEDUSHAS TZION - REJOICING IN HASHEM'S GIFT
Today is 4 Menachem Av, the 66th yahrzeit of Rebbe Ben Zion Halberstam ZT”L, the second Bobover Rebbe (1874–1941). He was born in Bikofsk, Galicia in 1874 to his father, Rebbe Shlomo Halberstam ZT”L (1847–1905), the first Rebbe of Bobov. He was also a great-grandson of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz (1798–1876).
At the age of thirty-one he succeeded his father as Rebbe. Rebbe Ben Zion led the Bobover Chassidim from 1905 until his murder near Lvov by the Nazis on 4 Av 5701/1941. Under Rebbe Ben Zion's leadership, Bobover Chassidus was almost alone among Chassidic groups in its focus on youth, and the network of 50(!) yeshivos which Rebbe Ben Zion founded recaptured the hearts and minds of thousands of youth who were left spiritually devastated by the first World War.
He wrote a commentary on the Torah called Kedushas Tzion. Rebbe Ben Zion was succeeded by his son, Rebbe Shlomo Halberstam ZT”L (1907–2000), who rebuilt Bobov in the United States.
Besides his tremendous talents as a Rebbe, leader of his Chassidim and a visionary educator of Bobover youth, Rebbe Ben Zion was very gifted musically. He composed scores of niggunim, many of which have been recorded by Bobover Chassidim as “Shirei Zion.” Besides the Rebbes of Modzitz, Rebbe Ben Zion of Bobov was perhaps the best composer amongst the Chassidic Rebbes in the 20th Century.
A wonderful book, Nor the Moon by Night [Feldheim, 1997], has been written about the Halberstam Family, by Devora Gliksman. The following story has been excerpted from this book and adapted for my blog.
Rejoicing in Hashem’s Gift
The Bobover Rebbe, R. Ben Zion Halberstam, scanned the room, his eyes resting briefly on each talmid. Moshe David Mandlebaum, Chaim Shlomo Koenigsberg, Leibush Braunfeld, Moshe Shia Zanger…His eyes alighted. “Shaul,” the Rebbe called, “a niggun!”
Shaul Hutterer lowered his eyes modestly. The budding talmid chacham [Torah scholar] and diligent student was often called upon to begin the singing. Not only was his voice sweet and clear, the devoted Chassid sang his Rebbe’s niggunim with the same feeling and expression as the Rebbe himself.
In thunderous harmony, the entire assemblage raised their voices as one. The Rebbe swayed to the music, his eyes closed, his expression serious.
The song ended. The Rebbe sat in silence. Everyone waited for a movement or a signal, something to tell them what to do.
Softly, Rebbe Ben Zion began to hum, and his talmidim strained to hear the new tune, “Yismach Moshe...'' the Rebbe sang softly, swaying back and forth. The boys listened to the words of the Shabbos Shmoneh Esre [silent prayer], describing how Moshe Rabbeinu rejoiced in his gifts from Hashem: the title of Hashem's faithful servant, the crown of splendor placed on his head at Har [Mount] Sinai, the honor of transmitting the luchos [tablets] containing the mitzva of Shabbos...
Around the tables, the guests sat spellbound as the haunting melody beckoned them to exult in their heritage as Moshe Rabbeinu had exulted in his. Slowly, soothingly, the tune trailed off. Rebbe Ben Zion looked lovingly from student to student, communicating his care and concern for them as individuals, before encompassing the assemblage in a warm, sweeping gaze. And then he began to speak.
''The niggun you just heard is no ordinary melody. It was inspired by an incident that occurred just last week''.
Intrigued, mystified, and always eager for a good story, the bachurim inched a bit closer, as the Rebbe told his tale.
The postman delivered boxes to the yeshiva. Innocuous, ordinary looking boxes. Shipments of sefarim regularly arrived in such plain brown boxes and these looked no different. As was his practice, Rebbe Ben Zion began opening them to verify their contents.
With a pocket knife, he cut through the wrapping and reached inside for the uppermost sefer. Disbelieving, he stared at the book, his face pale, his hands trembling. Dropping it like a hot coal, he ran to the Rosh Yeshiva, R. Mendele Rottenberg.
"R. Mendel,'' he called, ''you must come quickly. I have something terrible to show you.'' R. Mendele followed unquestioningly as Rebbe Ben Zion led him to the other room.
''Look what they have sent us,” he cried. “Apikorsis [heresy]! Those missionaries in London are trying to get their apikorsis to seep into our yeshiva! Isn’t it written in sefer Devarim, Parshas Re’eh [13:18]: ‘v’lo yidbak byadecha me’uma min hacherem - Let nothing that is forbidden remain in your hands.’ Reb Mendele, we must begin our task.”
Motioning to the Rosh Yeshiva to help him with the boxes, he started down the hallway. Neither spoke until they reached the fireplace near the office. Then R. Mendele began vigorously chopping wood as the Rebbe built the fire. Once the flames had gained strength, the Rebbe threw in one book at a time, watching each deteriorate into a mass of ashes. When he finished, he tossed the box, the wax that had sealed the box, the wrapping paper, and the string into the pyre and proceeded to the next box.
Finally, when every book, every scrap of string and packaging, everything that might have had contact with the idolatrous writings of a heretic was aflame, the two men stood silently and watched, not moving from their places until the embers snuffed out and only ashes remained.
“Then I turned to R. Mendele and declared my intention to compose a niggun which would capture the meaning of the words of Yismach Moshe and inspire all who heard it to do teshuva and mend their ways. This story teaches us how we must always be on guard,'' the Rebbe thundered, ''we must be on guard! We must protect ourselves from the goyishe [non-Jewish] souls who for thousands of years have tried to taint our neshamos. We must strengthen our yetzer tov and fight our yetzer hara. We must remember to share Moshe Rabbeinu’s joy in our heritage, and then we will be protected from all evil.''
Lifting his hands in one glorious motion, he began to sing once more, “Yismach Moshe…”
Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael - May the Kedushas Tzion's merits protect us all!