The Chortkover Rebbes

The Chortkover Rebbe,
Reb Dovid Moshe zt'l

  Hailed as the Rebbe of Rebbes, the tzaddik of tzaddikim, the Chortkover Rebbe, Reb Dovid Moshe zt"l, was regarded as one of the greatest gedolim in the last hundred and fifty years. His kedusha was considered to be beyond ordinary human grasp and even his physical strength was not understood. The Rebbe was capable of going for days on end without sleep, food and drink, and even then he didn't show any sign of weakness. He once proclaimed that from the age of seven he had never moved a limb, except to perform the wish of his Creator.

Although the Rebbe spent most of the day behind closed doors, there were certain occasions when he would emerge from his room and then the chassidim would be granted the opportunity to witness the Rebbe's great avodah (service) and kedusha (holiness). Every Friday night the Rebbe would recite Kiddush in front of his chassidim. As the Rebbe started the first words of Kiddush, a terrible dread and fear fell on all those assembled. The Rebbe's Kiddush made such an imprint on those who heard it, that even many years later the chassidim who had witnessed it would shed hot tears as they reminded themselves of the event.

In his memoirs, the Maggid of Kolomei, Reb Yitzchok Weber zt"l, relates his impression of the Rebbe's Kiddush. "Who can possibly describe the intensity of the Rebbe's avodah. Those who saw how he wept, and those who heard his heavenly voice felt as if a fiery flame was enveloping them, cleansing them from all their impurities. The words emanating from his holy mouth pierced the very heart, causing tears to well up in the eyes. Anyone who had just the slightest knowledge in our holy Torah could see with his naked eye how the Rebbe's every move and act was performed with intense kavono (intent, concentration) far beyond our understanding."

During the tish (Rebbe's table) the Rebbe often didn't utter a word except for the Kiddush, any addition would have been superfluous. A second chossid writes in his memoirs: "After the Rebbe had finished reciting Kiddush one doesn't hear from him anything else, but one feels. One feels a new level of kedusha which fills the whole body. One feels like a new person, clean and pure. One appreciates the meaning of the words 'oneg Shabbos,' (Sabbath delight) one understands what it means 'yismechu b'malchuscho shomrei Shabbos v'korei oneg.' (Those who observe the Sabbath and call it a delight, shall rejoice in Your Kingship) We have experienced the words of Chazal that Shabbos is a taste of Olam habo." (the world to come)

Amongst the many great gedolim and tzaddikim who flocked en masse to Chortkov was the Shiniva Rov, Reb Yechezkel Halberstam zt"l. When the Shiniva Rov was asked to describe the atmosphere in Chortkov he replied: "How is it possible to describe the ruchniyus (spiritual atmosphere) that one feels in Chortkov? All I can say is that I looked around me whilst the Rebbe was giving a tish, and I noticed that when he calls out suddenly in deep dveikus: 'Heiliger Tatte! Heiliger Rachamim of the whole world' (Holy Father Holy Merciful One), there isn't a dry eye in sight as each and every person there is gripped with intense feelings of teshuva." (repentance)

Revered by hundreds of thousands of chassidim, Reb Dovid Moshe was regarded as more like a heavenly malach than an ordinary human mortal. His father the Ruzhiner once exclaimed: "My son Dovid Moshe is the Amud Hayirah (pillar of fear) of our generation." Indeed his vivid fear of Hashem was noticeable on him in all his actions and words, even in his sleep, he didn't rest from his avodas Hashem and he would call out, "Heiliger Tatte, Heiliger Rachamim of the world", begging Hashem to have mercy on His people.

The Rebbe of Slonim, Reb Shmuel Weinberg zt"l, was once present when Reb Dovid Moshe's gabbai came into the room to inform him that it was time to daven Mincha. Reb Shmuel later related that as the Rebbe heard that it was time to stand up in prayer in front of Hashem, his hair stood up on end in fright, such was his fear of Heaven.

Reb Dovid Moshe was born on the second day of Shavuos 5587 (1827). At the time of his birth the Ruzhiner was conducting a tish in honor of Yom Tov. The chassidim present asked the Ruzhiner to serve a l'chayim, as is the minhag (custom) for a ba'al simcha. (person celebrating a joyous event) "Perhaps it's you who should provide the l'chayim," exclaimed the Ruzhiner. "I have brought you today a great neshomo (soul) which will bring Yiddishe hearts closer to their Father in Heaven."

The Ruzhiner used to say that each one of his six sons corresponded to one seder of the six volumes of the mishna. Reb Dovid Moshe being the fifth son, corresponded to the fifth volume - Kodshim, and the Ruzhiner would finish, "And he is indeed holy of holies (kodshei kodshim)."

After the Ruzhiner's petirah, (death) his property and belongings were divided among his sons and daughters, each getting what they required without argument or dissent. Only about one particular item - the tefillin (phylacteries)- did a problem arise to whom it should go. These were no ordinary pair of tefillin, the Ruzhiner had inherited them from his father, Reb Sholom, who, in turn had been given them by his father Rev Avrohom, who had received them from his father, the Maggid of Mezeritch. The Ruzhiner had treasured these tefillin more than all his other possessions, and therefore it wasn't surprising that all his sons wanted to inherit them. Finally, it was decided that each son would write on a slip of paper how much of the total inheritance he was ready to forego, if the tefillin were given to him. The oldest of the brothers, Reb Sholom Yosef didn't agree to this scheme, why should they forfeit their rights to the inheritance in order to obtain the tefillin? The brothers then decided to draw lots for the ownership of the tefillin, and in that way they came into the possession of Reb Dovid Moshe.

After the division was completed, one of the older brothers, Reb Avrohom Yaakov of Sadiger said, "It would interest me to see what each of us had intended to choose for himself." When he opened the slips of paper they saw that Reb Dovid Moshe had written that he was willing to forego his whole share in the estate - in exchange for the tefillin.

About two years after the inheritance had been divided, Reb Avrohom Yaakov, the Sadigerer Rebbe, was sitting with a group of his chassidim and the topic of the tefillin came about. Reb Avrohom Yaakov remarked, "I envy my brother Reb Dovid Moshe, he has the zechus to wear the tefillin of our holy zeide (granfather) the Mezritcher Maggid." At these words, two young men in the crowd grew pale. Mustering up their courage, they announced that they had a confession to make. Knowing how much these tefillin meant to the Sadigerer Rebbe, they took upon themselves to get hold of the parchment scrolls inside the tefillin and bring them to their Rebbe. They had succeeded in removing the parshiyos (scrolls) from the battim (housings) of Reb Dovid Moshe's tefillin, putting in their place ordinary parshiyos, but as yet hadn't found an opportunity to hand them over to the Sadigerer Rebbe.

The Sadigerer Rebbe ordered his chassidim not to breathe a word of what had happened, and the next day he left Sadiger to go to see his brother. On his arrival he didn't mention a word about the reason for his visit. The next morning Reb Avrohom Yaakov entered the room in which his younger brother used to daven. On the table he found two pairs of tefillin - the priceless pair inherited from the Maggid and another pair. As Reb Dovid Moshe joined him, he approached the table, took up the Maggid's tefillin, sighed and returned them to their place, then picked up the other pair in order to put them on.

"Why don't you wear the Maggid's tefillin which you rightfully inherited?" Reb Avrohom Yaakov asked his brother. "I'll tell you the truth," replied Reb Dovid Moshe. "Not once in these two years have I donned these holy tefillin. You see, every time I pick them up, I don't feel any more their kedusha, and I can't feel their kedusha, then I am not worthy of using them."

"No, my dear brother," Reb Avrohom Yaakov exclaimed. "You are indeed worthy of using those holy tefillin. It's not you who is at fault. The reason why you didn't feel their kedusha was because the holy parshiyos have been removed from them! Now here they are. Return them to their place for you are truly worthy of using them!"

Already as a young man the Chortkover Rebbe became famous for his extraordinary self-denial, abstaining from even the most basic minimum needed to keep his body and soul together. His nightly sleep was never more than two hours, and even then not always in bed, but sitting in the chair where he had been learning. As a rule he never went to sleep on Friday night, he would say that we have been commanded to guard the Shabbos (sh'mor es yom haShabbos) and who has ever heard of a guard sleeping on duty! Similarly on other occasions such as Seder night and Yom Kippur he would also not go to sleep.

One year in the Rebbe's later years when Seder night fell on Motza'ei Shabbos and the Rebbe had already denied himself two nights' sleep, his son, Reb Yisroel, went to his father Shabbos afternoon to try and convince him to rest for a bit, and said to him, "Dear father, it is already two nights that you have done without any sleep, and tonight and tomorrow night being the Seder means that you will miss another two nights, and I am worried that it could ruin your health. If you are concerned that due to the many years that you don't sleep on Shabbos, it has the strength of a vow, I'll call in three talmidei chachomim and they will annul the vow."
The Rebbe answered his son and told him, "Listen, my son, to what you are saying. In order to annul a vow one must regret what one has undertaken to declare the vow void. For many years I haven't slept on Shabbos, now because of a half an hour sleep today, I should regret and uproot my minhag (custom) of so many years?!"

On another occasion when he had already gone for four nights without sleep, and with the arrival of the fifth night he didn't show any intention of going to sleep either, his rebbetzin begged him with tears in her eyes to have pity on himself and to rest a bit. The Rebbe answered her, "If a person cleaves to Hashem with all his might, he can do without food and sleep for as long as forty days." Indeed, the Rebbe was once heard to comment that he has worked on himself until he achieved that whether he eats or not or he sleeps or not is immaterial. (Although it is written in the gemara that it is impossible for a person to go for more than three days without sleep, Reb Moshe Cordover writes in his sefer Tefilla leMoshe that the gemara refers only to ordinary people. But a tzaddik who has elevated himself above the ways of nature can exist much longer without sleep.)

The Chortkover Rebbe Reb Dovid Moshe zt"l

Once after Tisha B'Av, the Rebbe received a visit from his nephew, Reb Levi Yitzchok of Ozeranah, who said, sighing deeply, "What more can we do? The Yidden dutifully mourned the destruction of Yerushalayim and have fasted as the din (law) requires, yet the Geula (redemption) has still not arrived."

"Do you think that fasting means merely abstaining from food and drink?" replied the Rebbe. "A person may eat and drink and at the same time he can be fasting. How is that possible? A person who refrains from transgressing when he has the opportunity to sin, is also practicing a form of fasting. For example, if he has the chance to violate the Shabbos, slander someone or do anything the Torah has forbidden, and he stops himself from doing it because Hashem forbids it, in a way he is also fasting. If we would all fast that kind of fast, then we will be able to look forward to the coming of Moshiach." (Messiah)

True to his words, the Rebbe cut himself off from all this world's pleasures, he would tell his chassidim, "This world isn't worth anything, it's the next world which is important."

Once before Pesach the chassidim bought a beautiful golden dish for the Rebbe as a present. The dish had cost a fortune and the chassidim wanted very much to hear the Rebbe make a birchas Shehecheyonu (which one recites on receiving an expensive gift) in appreciation of their efforts. The Rebbe, however, refused to recite the brocho and said that the dish should be placed on the table at the Seder and when he then recites the Shehecheyonu, he will also have in mind the dish. At the Seder, before the Rebbe recited the brocho, he whispered a few words in his son's ear. The chassidim later found out that he had said, "Gold and silver have no value to me!"

With the approach of the Yamim Nora'im the Rebbe's avodah intensified even more, his fear and dread could be felt by all around him. Once on Erev Yom Kippur the Rebbe was sitting in his room, hot tears running down his cheeks as he reviewed his actions during the past year. When the Rebbe's son Reb Yisroel entered the room, he was taken aback by his father's sobbing and his white and ghostly appearance. "You see, my son," Reb Dovid Moshe exclaimed, "this is how one must cry when one isn't ehrlich!" (forthright, earnest)

The Rebbe's intense fear of Heaven governed all his actions and thoughts. A Yid once came to the Rebbe and told him about a brilliant deal which he had just been offered. A poritz (local non-Jewish landowner)wanted to sell him a vast forest for a fraction of its real value. The Yid had carefully thought through the offer and decided to purchase the forest. Before completing the deal he came to the Rebbe to receive his brocho. (blessing) He explained to the Rebbe that such a good opportunity could not be wasted. The wood could be chopped down and sold as timber for many times the price he had bought it for. From the profit he would be rich until the end of his days and all his financial worries would be at an end. He had already tested the wood for worms and decay, and found it to be of the highest quality. The Rebbe listened carefully to the man's story and when he had finished, the Rebbe told him not to buy the forest.

The Yid left the Rebbe's room in shock, he could hardly believe his ears. He hadn't come to seek the Rebbe's advice, he had come just to receive his brocho and now he would have to let this marvellous opportunity slip through his fingers. In the end the Yid decided not to listen to the Rebbe and he bought the forest from the poritz. After the trees were chopped down ready to be made into timber, disaster struck. Almost all the trees were wormy and rotten, and were totally useless. Obviously the test hadn't been done properly. The Yid who had invested all his money in the deal became a pauper overnight. Feelings of shame and guilt overcame the Yid on having disobeyed the Rebbe's words and for a long time he didn't show his face in Chortkov.

When he finally plucked up courage to see the Rebbe he begged his forgiveness, and at the same time he asked the Rebbe how he had known that the trees were wormy, surely it must have been either ruach hakodesh or a mofes! "It was neither," the Rebbe told him, "I didn't know that the trees were wormy. It was just that when I heard how you were speaking about this deal - with such an air of confidence as if it was impossible for you to lose money on it - I thought to myself, such a deal which has already made you forget totally about Hashem, that He is the One Who decides who will be rich or poor, such a deal can't be a good thing, and therefore I told you not to go ahead with it." Now that the Yid had learned his lesson, the Rebbe blessed him that he should regain his money and indeed not long afterwards he regained his lost wealth.

The Rebbe was once learning the posuk (verse) in the Torah where it is written that Moshe Rabbeinu was the most humble person alive, more than any other person on the face of the earth, when he suddenly burst into tears. "You see what's written," the Rebbe told those around him, "Moshe Rabbeinu was the most humble person on the earth. Now how is it possible that Moshe Rabbeinu who spoke to Hashem 'face to face' and wrought so many miracles could possibly be so humble as to think that he was the lowest and the most insignificant of all the Yidden?

"The answer is that Moshe thought to himself, it is not surprising that I serve Hashem properly for I was on Har Sinai for forty days and nights where I saw things that no one else has seen and heard things thatno one else has heard, and therefore I am not tempted any more by ordinary mundane matters. But a simple Yid who doesn't understand much and his yetzer hora is constantly trying to win him over, and even so he doesn't give in and carries on keeping the Torah and mitzvos, such an avodah is much more precious to Hashem than that of mine."

Similarly the Rebbe was also convinced that he was just a simple ordinary Yid. The fact that he lived in a palatial villa surrounded by thousands of chassidim made absolutely no impact on him. He remained convinced of his insignificance as if he was no different than anyone else, simply regarding himself as another downtrodden Jew.

Although the Rebbe would never daven (pray) in front of the Amud (reader's stand) as a chazan, (prayer leader) on a few select occasions he would lead the tefillos and act as the shaliach tzibbur. On these occasions thousands of chassidim would converge on Chortkov to hear for themselves the Rebbe's davening. One of these rare occasions was during Selichos (penetential prayers said the week before Rosh HaShanah) when the Rebbe would recite aloud the paragraph 'Aneynu' at the end of the Selichos. One year, amongst the large crowd who had assembled to hear the Rebbe were two of his nephews, Reb Shlomo and Reb Nuchum Ber of Sadiger. Surprised by their sudden arrival the Rebbe asked them why they had come, to which they told him that they came to hear him say the 'Aneynu's.

"I only daven to Hashem, and not for people to listen to," the Rebbe told them, and that year he refused to daven in front of the Amud. Until he had been told explicitly that people had journeyed to listen to his davening, it hadn't even occurred to him that all the thousands assembled had also come specially to hear his tefillos!

When the famed poseik (decisor), Reb Meir Arik, was in Chortkov for the first time, he was upset by the beautiful gardens surrounding the Rebbe's house. Most of the Rebbes of the time lived in dire poverty and the Rebbe's luxurious surroundings were not Reb Meir had expected. Noticing his concern the Rebbe asked him what was troubling him, to which Reb Meir answered him that he wasn't used to the idea of a Rebbe being surrounded with beautiful gardens and flowers. "What gardens? What flowers?" the Rebbe asked him. "I don't know what you mean!" Reb Meir later related that when he heard how the Rebbe could honestly say that he didn't know of the gardens' existence even though he walked through them a few times a day, that's what made him into a fervent and zealous Chortkover chossid.

The Rebbe secluded himself totally from everything around him. Even at his own grandchildren's weddings when thousands would converge on Chortkov to participate in the joyous event and celebrations the Rebbe remained closed in his room quite unaware of the goings-on. Only when the chosson and kalla (groom and bride) were already on their way down to the chuppa, did he finally take off his tefillin and don his Shabbos clothes. As soon as the chuppa was over he would return straight to his room to carry on with his avodas Hashem.

The Rebbe once commented that he has managed to achieve three madreigos: Never to move a limb except when it is l'shem Shomayim, (for the sake of Heaven alone) to truly love every Yid (Jew), and the ability to feel the pains and sufferings of every Yid who gave him once money, irrespective of where the Yid was situated.

Amongst the many gedolim who travelled to Chortkov was the famed gaon and tzaddik, Reb Yechiel Meir, the Rebbe of Ostrovza. Reb Yechiel Meir would tell over the following story which he had himself experienced. Normally every time Reb Yechiel Meir arrived in Chortkov he was straight away ushered into the Rebbe's room without any delay. On one occasion Reb Yechiel Meir arrived in Chortkov and the gabbai straight away informed the Rebbe of his presence. This time, however, the Rebbe sent back a message to Reb Yechiel Meir that he should wait. Whilst he was waiting Reb Yechiel Meir thought to himself, "No doubt I have sinned in some way and therefore the Rebbe doesn't want to see me before I have done teshuva," and with that he started to ponder to himself what it must have felt like to receive malkus - thirty nine lashes as was dealt out in the times of the Beis Hamikdash to those who had committed serious aveiros.(transgressions)

Whilst he was in the middle of his thoughts the door suddenly opened and Reb Yechiel Meir was ushered into the Rebbe's room. After an introductory 'Sholom Aleichem' the Rebbe said to him, "It is written in the Torah that a person who commits certain serious aveiros is to be given forty lashes, yet in practice Chazal instruct us to give only thirty nine lashes. Why did Chazal deduct one of the lashes which had to be given? The reason is that a person must always realize that he can never do enough to fulfill his obligation to his Creator. If a person who committed an aveira would be given forty lashes he might think to himself that he is now totally innocent of any crime, for he has already received his due punishment. Chazal had pity on such a person who would transgress an aveira and was still capable of thinking that he is a tzaddik. Therefore they commanded to only give thirty nine lashes, so that a person should realize that he still has to carry on doing teshuva, he can never do enough teshuva to atone for his sins."

Chassidim would say that the Rebbe was blessed not just with an ordinary ru'ach hakodesh, he possessed a 'super' ru'ach hakodesh. A Yid once came crying to the Rebbe, every one of his children had died in their infancy and he begged the Rebbe to promise him healthy children. The Rebbe told him that when his next child would be born he should give the baby a name which is mentioned in the haftora (prophetic portion) of the week in which the child was born. Sometime later the man's wife gave birth to a baby girl. The man looked in the haftora of that particular week - parshas Nosso - but couldn't find any mention of a woman's name. The haftora which speaks about Shimshon does, however, mention Shimshon's mother even though it doesn't refer to her by name, the gemora in Baba Basra informs us that her name was Sallfonis. At first the man couldn't understand why the Rebbe had chosen especially this name for his daughter, but he soon found out the reason. One of the classic commentators on the gemora, the Maharshal, writes in his notes on that piece of the gemora that the name Sallfonis prevents the evil eye from harming a person who has that name. Needless to say the girl lived to a ripe old age.

Another extraordinary example of the Rebbe's ru'ach hakodesh is the following story which was related by Reb Shlomo Zalman Horowitz zt"l, the Rov of Potik. A young man returned home one day to find that his wife had disappeared. They had been unhappily married for some time, so he realized that she must have run away. All his efforts to locate her were in vain, and after a time he decided to obtain a heter me'ah rabbonim (an authorization signed by 100 Rabbis) so that he could remarry.

When he had already obtained ninety six signatures he decided to go and ask the Rebbe for a brocho that he should soon find a suitable shidduch (match). When he told the Rebbe his story, the Rebbe said to him, "I advise you to go to Reb Leib the Dayan (Rabbinical judge) of Toyest to obtain his signature." The man was surprised at the Rebbe's words, for although the Dayan of Toyest was a respected talmid chochom, the Rebbe, however, had absolutely no connection with him. When the young man arrived in Toyest and told the Dayan that the Rebbe had sent him to him, he was equally surprised. After the young man told the Dayan his name, he exclaimed, "When were you in Chortkov?"

"Yesterday afternoon at twelve o' clock I spoke to the Rebbe and that's when he told me to come here," the young man replied. The Dayan could hardly believe his ears, just yesterday at twelve o' clock midday the postman had delivered a letter from a woman in America. In the letter the woman wrote that she ran away from her husband to America, and now she regrets tanguish she has caused him and therefore she would like the Dayan to seek out her husband and let him know that she is ready to accept a get. The woman who had written the letter was none other than this man's wife!

Chazal tell us that a tzaddik decrees and Hashem fulfills. The Sthfaneshter Rebbe, Reb Menachem Nuchem zt'l, would say, "When my holy brother from Chortkov takes his tehillim in his hand, Hashem says to him: Dovid Moshe, My son, the whole world is yours, do with it as you please. Now, if I was in his position, I would already know what to do, he however is such a faithful and trustworthy servant that he returns it to Hashem just as he received it."

An example of the Rebbe's faithfulness can be seen after the petirah of his eldest son Reb Nuchum Mordechai. Not long after Reb Nuchum Mordechai's petirah the Rebbe's second and last child, Reb Yisroel, also fell ill with the same illness that had claimed his brother. Reb Yisroel's condition was critical and the doctors had already given up hope on him. The Rebbe went to visit his sick son and to see how he was keeping. As Reb Dovid Moshe left the room, he was overheard muttering to himself, "If this is Your wish Hashem, that he should also join his brother - I won't say anything...".

Although the Rebbe was very exacting on himself, when it came to others his kindness was legendary. He never refused any request made to him, it was unheard of that he should lose his temper or even show the slightest sign of anger. Each person was warmly greeted and granted his gentle heartfelt brochos. "I decided as a child of seven, not to annoy any creature," he used to say. When he was asked, "What would you do if a goy were to molest a Yid and you were asked for help?" he replied: "I would pray to Hashem for the Yid to be saved and not for the punishment of the goy."

Once, the Rebbe was in a terrible state, for days he had been pacing up and down in his room deep in worry. Seeing the Rebbe's nervous state, his gabbai (attendant) asked him to rest a little bit. The Rebbe answered him, "It is easy for you to ask me to rest! But how can I rest when my whole being is in a torment of indecision over the future of a Yid who needs my help, but I am unable to help him, how can I possibly rest!"

To what lengths the Rebbe went to help his fellow Yidden can be seen from the following incident, which occurred in the Rebbe's last years. Every night, after the Rebbe had finished seeing his chassidim, he would remain closed in his room for a long period of time. Curious to know what the Rebbe did during this time, one of the Rebbe's close chassidim, Reb Dovid Zeideman, climbed up a tree from where he was able to peek into the Rebbe's room. The Rebbe was busy reviewing all the kvitlach (petitions) that he had received that day. Hundreds of pieces of paper were piled up in front of him and the Rebbe was meticulously going through them all. Whilst Reb Dovid was watching, the Rebbe came across a kvitel that he was unable to read. The Rebbe held the piece of paper this way and that way as he tried to read the messy writing, but without much success. The Rebbe got up from his place and, walking over to the center of the room, he held the kvitel up to the lamp, in an attempt to decipher the kvitel, but to no avail, the writing remained as illegible as beforehand. Finally in desperation, the Rebbe climbed up on a chair and, holding the kvitel right next to the lamp, he succeeded to read the messy writing.

From among all of the Ruzhiner's children, the Rebbe was zoche to live the longest, outliving all his brothers by more than twenty years. During these years the Chortkover chassidus grew by leaps and bounds. Many of his brothers' chassidim, preferring to remain by the sole remainder of the Ruzhiner's sons, came to Chortkov, rather than going to the son of their previous Rebbe. The Rebbe became universally recognized as the 'tzaddik hador,' (Tzaddik of the generation) tens of thousands came from all over to spend a Shabbos with the Rebbe and to taste for themselves the kedusha which permeated the air in Chortkov.

Amongst the masses stood out the many gedolim who also flocked to Chortkov to bask in the Rebbe's holiness. From Hungary came the Minchas Elazar of Munkatch and his father the Darkei Teshuva, the Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel zt"l and his brother the Atzei Chaim. From Poland came the Rebbes of Ostrovza, Amshinov and Radomsk and from Lithuania came the Rebbes of Slonim and Karlin. Galicia was also well represented with the famed Rebbes, the Chakal Yitzchok from Spinka, Reb Shlomke of Zvehil and Reb Yisroel of Modzitz to name but a few. Side by side next to the Rebbes sat the greatest poskim of the era, the Maharsham, Reb Meir Arik, Reb Shlomo of Felestein (author of Ginzei Chaim), Reb Shmuel Bornstein, author of the classic Minchas Shabbos, Reb Meshulam Rot of Chernovitz and Reb Meshulam Katz of Tarnov.

When the famed gaon (genius) and poseik Reb Avrohom Yaakov Horowitz (author of the classic sefer Tzur Yaakov) would arrive in Chortkov on one of his regular visits, he would get off his carriage at the town gates, and from there until the Rebbe's house he would continue on foot as a sign of respect to the Rebbe. Such was the kovod (honor) and the esteem in which the Rebbe was held by the gedolim of his time.

The Rebbe's influence spread far beyond Europe to the shores of faraway America, where a large number of Chortkover chassidim had settled. Daily, letters arrived in Chortkov asking the Rebbe to send to America shochtim, rabbonim and teachers. Similarly, the Rebbe was often called upon to solve problems which had cropped up in America and awaited his decision. In no small measure, a large portion of the credit due for the beginnings of Orthodox Yiddishkeit in America can be laid on the Rebbe's shoulders.

One example, typical of many, was the city of Galveston Texas. Lacking an ehrlicher shochet (honest kosher slaughterer), they turned in desperation to the Rebbe to help them. The Rebbe called in one of his finest young chassidim, Reb Yaakov Geller, and instructed him to move to Texas. Although Rav Geller was not at all keen to leave Galicia, he could not refuse the Rebbe's request. The Rebbe's gabbai, Reb Hershel Rapport, gave the young scholar a letter in which he wrote: "With the consent of our holy Rebbe shlita, Reb Yaakov Geller is travelling abroad in order to save our fellow brothers from having to eat meat which was slaughtered through unreliable shochtim. Therefore, I was instructed by the holy Rebbe shlita to give him this letter as proof so that when he arrives there, he should be properly cared for so that he should be able to carry out his holy work with a clear mind." Rav Geller was indeed instrumental in strengthening Yiddishkeit in Texas until his petirah in 1930.

All his days the Rebbe longed to go and settle in Eretz Yisroel, a number of times he even prepared himself to go but each time something else cropped up and he had to drop his plans. The Rebbe was once seen walking up and down in his room in great dveikus. Suddenly, he exclaimed: "Master of the Universe, what does it bother You if I will go to Eretz Yisroel? I promise You that I will not speak badly about the land, I won't get upset at anything I will see. I beg of You, please let me go and live there."

Through the Rebbe's efforts, groups of his chassidim moved to Eretz Yisroel where they founded a number of shuls. Two of the shuls - in Yerushalayim and Sefas still function to this very day.

A half a year before his petirah, the Rebbe told his chassidim, "In another six months I am ascending to Eretz Yisroel, I shall close myself in a small room I and I will not allow anybody to disturb me."
From right to left: The Chortkover Rebbe Reb Dovid Moshe accompanied by his gabbai Reb Aharon Dehal zt"l In the background can be seen the Rebbe's shul.
If the Rebbe's lifestyle was saturated with kedusha, all the more so were the final months before his petirah, it was clearly evident that he was preparing himself to to leave this world. His every conversation centered on stories about the petirah of various tz. On his last Erev Yom Kippur he called his only son Reb Yisroel zt"l and told him: "On Yom Kippur the cohen godol (high priest) would enter the holiest place on earth - the Kodesh Hakodoshim. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be inside there, together with the Shechina (divine presence)? Oy, my heart is longing to also enter into the Holy of Holies, to be reunited with the Shechina."

Straight after Yom Kippur the Rebbe fell ill, the chassidim who had realized that their crown was about to be removed from on their heads, implored the very heavens to have mercy on their holy Rebbe, the last one of the Ruzhiner's children. The Rebbe's condition deteriorated from day to day. Normally the Rebbe would have an aliyah to the Torah on the first day of Sukkos. When the gabbai asked the Rebbe if he wants an aliyah this year as well, the Rebbe thought for a moment and said, "An aliyah! Yes, yes, I want an aliyah but not today. On the last days of Sukkos I'll have an aliyah...."

Sunday afternoon Erev Hoshana Rabba the Rebbe called his gabbai Reb Hershel Rapport and asked him, "Hershel, perhaps you can tell me why it has become so dark?"

"I haven't noticed that it has become dark," the gabbai replied. "You haven't noticed! How can that be, a real darkness has descended on us," the Rebbe said a second time.

When the night of Hoshana Rabba arrived, the Rebbe asked for a siddur (prayerbook) and for over an hour he davened with intense kavono (intention, concentration). "It's never too late to pray for the salvation of Yidden," he told those around him. With his last strength he appointed his son his successor, and then, closing his eyes, started to recite the tefilah, 'Nishmas kol chai.' As he finished the tefilla with the words 'L'Dovid borchi nafshsi es Hashem,' (. . .my soul blesses Hashem) his holy neshomo ascended upwards. Zechuso yogein oleinu.

Return to the Nishmas Chayim Home Page