A Humble and Fierce Lamed-Vavnik

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The Yahrzeit of Rabbi Leib Sarah’s (R. Aryeh Leib of Yaltushkov, son of Sarah) (1730-1791) is commemorated on the 4th of Adar (II). The following meise / hasidic tale appeared in Sefer HaHasidut, Meah Tzadikim, Raphael, Yitzchak, 1961, Tel Aviv. (Freely translated by Gabbai Seth Fishman.)

His Passing

During our Rabbi’s old age, it happened that the government began enforcement of new decrees pertaining to Jews, the intent of which was an eventual elimination of the observance of Jewish law, (Hush! Don’t say it!), and to erase the presence of the holy Torah from the minds of young Hebrew School students.

In response, our holy Rabbi mustered up his strength and prepared to battle to reverse the damage done by the decrees and, he frequently traveled in kefitzat haderech, (a shrinking of the distance for super-fast transit), to the capital city of Vienna where he went head-to-head with the powerful ones of the realm, (and even with the Kaiser himself), to rescue as much as he possibly could.

But our Rabbi sensed that these were of the trials and tribulations that are on the level of Ikveta d’meshicha / birth pangs of a Messianic age and, he saw that he, by himself, could not prevail in taking on things of this scale.

So he also met with the great ones of the Tzaddikim of his day and, he said to them that some of them must make it a priority for themselves to take on the trials as he had done, so that, together, they can help mitigate these tribulations.

The holy Rabbi Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov (ztz’l) was one of those who consented to this and, for many years before Reb Moshe’s death he suffered greatly and would not back down from it and, it seemed his staying alive was through a miracle, but despite this, he approached them with joy and, he took them on out of love.

Another who consented to endure sufferings for the good of the cause was the holy Rebbe, the Rav, Reb Zusha of Hanipoli z’tz’l and he was also, for some years before his passing, oppressed with afflictions which he received with love as an expiation for the Jews.

When the orders of the Kaiser Joseph II were made known, i.e., the orders to open shkoles (Batei Sefer / schools) and force Jewish youth to interrupt their Torah studies and only attend the shkoles, to, in effect, be raised there with no trace of Torah without entrainment to a Jewish practice (fear of heaven), our Rabbi came, time and time again, to Vienna and, when he saw no one was in sight, he entered the Kaiser’s courtyard.

The courtiers and the guards who protected the Kaiser didn’t see him and, he came to the Kaiser’s chambers. He found the Kaiser there, sitting on his throne and around him, ministers of the kingdom.

The Kaiser saw an old Jew standing in front of him and he was astounded by the sight of his eyes. With suppressed anger he asked the ministers:

“Who gave permission to this old pauper to enter within?”

The ministers were astonished by the Kaiser’s words, their eyes scoured every corner of the room but they didn’t see anyone.

The Kaiser pointed with his finger at our Rabbi, but not a one of the ministers saw him.

Suddenly, the Kaiser began to shout in a loud voice, for the old man struck him with blows of cruelty. The Kaiser ordered his ministers to call the army to put our Rabbi in chains and throw him into prison. The ministers stood by, feeling frightened and agitated. They thought in their hearts the Kaiser had left his senses.


In the beginning of the year 5550 (1789) our Rabbi came to the holy Rav Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, (may his merit protect us), on Yom Kippur.

When Yom Kippur was departing, the holy Rabbi of Koretz shut himself in a room with our holy Rabbi and they stayed there briefly.

Afterwards, the Rabbi of Koretz opened the door and accompanied our Rabbi, his eyes filled with tears, and he said to our Rabbi:

“What should I do, if it is your desire to be first?”

The people who overheard these words didn’t know how to interpret it and the matter eluded them.


In that same year of cold desolation, as the Kaiser Joseph II was passing through Yaltushkov, and there, on his carriage, broke the four axles of the wheels which were made of iron, the Kaiser concluded that it wasn’t a coincidence, and he said:

“I know that Leib did this thing to me! I will go and I will visit him in his house.

“It’s true that I am old and, soon, my time will come to die, but, when it’s my time, just like me, he, too, will not live.”

The Kaiser went and asked in the town where the residence of Reb Leib Sarah’s was and they showed him.

As he entered, he didn’t find our Rabbi in his house.

He turned to the servants of the house, (who, as it turns out, didn’t know who he was), and he said to them:

“Whenever he comes, they should tell him that it’s impossible for me to endure more horrible suffering at all.

“I am dying soon. However he, too, will not live longer!”

And he returned to his carriage, (for which he had, in the meantime, ordered repairs. And he went back to his capital Vienna.

As evening approached, our Rabbi came home and, when his foot had barely touched on the threshold of the house he called out:

“Oy, impurity recently entered into my house.”

When they told him about the incident of the German person who had been at his residence and, when they relayed his words to him, he immediately rent his garments and began to cry a heart-rending cry.


On the following Saturday night (motzei Shabbat), as some of his close relations gathered at his house as was their habit, they heard that our holy Rabbi was speaking to himself saying:

“Master of the worlds! Why did this lot fall specifically on Yaltushkov and not on Berditchev or Kishinev?

“However, Master of worlds, if it was thus decreed from heaven regarding my future, behold, I declare my acceptance of it all with love!”

When they entered into his room, he informed them that:

He has arrived at his time to depart from the world.

And he instructed them that:

He should be buried without all great fanfare. The funeral should be simple.


On the fourth day of the month of Adar II in the year 5551 (1791), he suddenly started to talk about the greatness and holiness of our master Baal “Magen Avraham” (Avraham Gombiner) who wrote about things permitted or forbidden in Jewish law.

“For R’ Avraham’s work has amazed me all the days of my life. At every time when I and the holy Rav of Shepetkova (z’tz’l) had seen one another, we used to speak about R’ Avraham and we concluded that he was a true talmud chocham.”

And in the same vein, now, too, these were his last words:

“Reb Abbele Kalisher is a true Kabbalist, a true Tzaddik!”

And with this phrase, his soul came to rest and it ascended to its eternal repose.


In that same year, on the tenth day of the month of Elul, on the sixth day of the week, the holy Sabbath’s eve, the Parashat of “going out”, (ki tetze), the holy Rabbi Reb Pinchas of Koretz (z’tz’l) also ascended to his eternal repose. And then, they understood the context of what had taken place on Yom Kippur, i.e., that our holy Rabbi wanted to be first to go.


After our Rabbi’s passing, his townspeople carried out his instructions:

They arranged a simple funeral and, they dug a grave for him and set a stone by it, upon which was carved only the day of his passing.

And after a few years, a structure was built around the grave, a small thatched booth of wood which was covered by a roof of straw and, from time to time, Jews would come inside and prostrate themselves on his grave, pouring out their concerns there.

One time a certain rich man came from Nikolyov, a Reb Shlomo Yishayahu, and, he turned over a sum of five hundred silver rubles for a monument of stone over the grave of the Tzaddik.

The members of the community were concerned lest the memorial not be in accord with the Tzaddik‘s wishes that it be basic and simple, i.e., that they would now have erected a nice structure over his grave.

So they traveled to the holy Rabbi of Apta, may his merits shield us, to ask his opinion how to handle it.

The holy rabbi of Apt approved the raising of a stone structure, on condition that they not remove the old structure; rather, that the new one should surround the old.

They started the construction.

To dedicate the first new stone, the holy rabbi Reb Mordechai of Tchernobyl, may his merits shield us, came and said that our Rabbi had done his part in sustaining the needs of his generation for its Lamed-Vav (thirty-six) secret saints.

They erected the walls and, they needed to make the roof.

The builders saw that it was impossible to pull the new roof on without removing the old roof of straw.

One worker climbed up to remove the straw but, he fell from the roof and died.

They thought that perhaps it had just been an accident. So another worker climbed up. But, he too, fell and was killed.

They understood that the matter wasn’t as simple as it seemed. Rather, this was due to the power of the instruction of our holy Rabbi for a simple memorial.

In those days in Yaltushkov, one of the grandsons of our Rabbi lived there, a person who feared heaven, and his name was Reb Yoskeh (Joey).

Reb Yoskeh said to the Jews in the town, that he himself would climb up onto the roof and remove the straw, (for he was confident that his grandfather wouldn’t do anything to harm his grandson). Reb Yoskeh climbed up, however, he, too, fell from the roof, (although he was not injured).

It was just not possible to complete the structure.

They traveled again to the holy Rabbi of Apta (ztz’l) to consult with him on how to proceed. The holy Rabbi of Apta, may his merits shield us, said:

“Let him rest. Don’t build more. Apparently Reb Leib despises being honored after his passing as though he were hated in his lifetime.”

(Strength of a Lion, pages 28-29)

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