Zvhil - Mezbuz Beis Medrash  זוועהיל - מעזבוז בית מדרש
Congregation Bnai Jacob Bnai Jacob Synagogue
מבצר התורה והחסידות שיסודו והנהגתו ע"י אדמו"רי בית זוועהיל  מעזבוז זי"ע ונושא את שמם הקדוש
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Zvhil - Mezbuz
Rebbes of Zvhil-Mezbuz
Services and Prayer
From The Rebbe

The following is excerpted from a 1994 article in the Yated Ne'eman Newspaper (Jerusalem) by Y. Weiss, and an article by E. Steinmetz (Jerusalem):

The Rebbes of
Mezbuz, Zlotschov, and Zvhil

R' Boruch of Mezbuz - "The Rebbe"

They were the disciples and descendants of the Baal Shem Tov, the rebbes who carried on his legacy. They were all referred to as Reb Pinchos (of Koritz), Reb Nachman (of Braslav), Reb Bunim (of P'sichah), and so on.

But everyone knew that when one said "The Rebbe" it meant -- The Rebbe, Reb Boruch of Mezbuz.

This was not simply because he was the grandson of the holy Baal Shem Tov, but because he was different from the other disciples and descendants of the founder of the Chassidic movement and philosophy. He was unique.

Carrying both the blessing and the burden of being the first Rebbe, the very first einikl, "descendant" of the Baal Shem Tov of Mezbuz, he was called "Boruch," blessed, because of the story of his birth.

One Simchas Torah the Baal Shem Tov and his Chevra Kadisha (holy companions) were dancing ecstatically in a circle generating a glow of light about them. In the course of this jubilation one of the Chevra lost a shoe which flew off his foot, and he could not continue to join in the celebration.

His great distress and sorrow at losing the joy of participating was clearly visible on his face.

Standing at the side and watching was the righteous Udel, daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. She searched and found the shoe but made the man promise that just as she was returning his joy to him, he should guarantee that she would be blessed with the joy of giving birth to a son that year.

He promised, and so it was. Thus was "Boruch," blessing, born and named. R' Yisroel of Ruzhin would later comment that the initials of the first words of the Torah, Bereshis Boro Elokim (In the beginning G-d created), stand for Boruch Ben Udel (Boruch the son of Udel).

The legacy left him by his holy grandfather was both a privilege and a heavy responsibility, for everyone would point to him: "there is The Rebbe, the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov." As such Reb Boruch was a man of both great joyousness and great solemnity.

He became a magnet for his grandfather's students and disciples, a representative of the tzadikim of the generation. He disagreed strongly with R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi (author of the Tanya and founder of the Lubavitch/Chabad movement), whom he felt strayed too far from his grandfather's teachings.

The stories of their ongoing debate are legendary, with one such encounter ending with R' Shneur Zalman, who was a disciple, but not a descendant, of the Baal Shem Tov, telling Reb Boruch "you are the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov of Mezbuz in gashmius (materially), but I am his grandson in ruchnius (spiritually).

Yet Reb Boruch welcomed him and his grandfather's other disciples, students and family into his ancestral home, the Baal Shem Tov's home, including the Maggid of Tschernobl, R' Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, and the Chozeh of Lublin.

The story is told that one time R' Shlomo of Karlin came to visit Reb Boruch. When word of R' Shlomo's arrival in town spread he was escorted to Reb Boruch's home with great honor and fanfare. Upon his arrival there the chassidim standing outside Reb Boruch's home immediately parted to allow the meeting of these two great tzaddikim to take place.

R' Shlomo opened the door to the house, walked in, and then immediately backed up outside and closed the door quickly. He did this again, and then several times more, as the local residents looked on in amazement at this strange behavior.

Seeing their curiosity R' Shlomo explained: "I am afraid to enter. I am afraid of the presence of The Rebbe, Reb Boruch. I see him standing there, and the holy Baal Shem Tov himself stands at his side."

R' Yitzchok of Drovitch

Even before the spreading of chassidus by the students of the Baal Shem Tov, a group known as the Chassidim of Provence had become well known in Europe.

This group consisted of great scholars in Toras hanigleh and Toras hanistar (the revealed and the hidden Torah), who abstained from worldly vanities and lived the sparing lives of exalted men of world Jewry.

Among them was the saintly R' Yitzchok of Drovitch, called Reb Yitzchok "Hamochiach" (the rebuker) and known as one who aroused thousands of Jews to repent and to strengthen themselves.

He served as a Dayan (Rabbinical Court Judge) in Brodt, and headed the famous group of ten lomdim (learned scholars) in the synagogue of R' Yozfa in Ostra. He died on the seventh of Nisan 5510 (1750), leaving behind his illustrious son, R' Yechiel Michel, The Maggid of Zlotschov.

R' Yechiel Michel - The Zlotschover Maggid

Known for his saintly lifestyle and ability to inspire, R' Yechiel Michel was a renowned and scholarly speaker who always began his religious discourse with the words "I admonish not only you, but myself as well." A talented and inspired baal menagen (composer or musician) as well, he captured the heart of all who heard him sing.

He composed a niggun (wordless chant) known as the famous Zlotschover Niggun after an incident that took place at the deathbed of the Baal Shem Tov.

As the family gathered around him for the final moments of his life in this world, the Baal Shem Tov asked the Zlotschover Maggid to sing his niggun. After hearing it the Baal Shem Tov promised that whenever that niggun is sung here in this world, he would listen and help from the World to Come, and then he died.

The niggun is chanted to this day at solemn and joyous occasions of the Zvhiller family, as well as on the High Holydays and at sholosh seudos on Shabbos afternoon, in commemoration of the time at which the Zlotschover Maggid was niftar - during sholosh seudos on Shabbos afternoon, the 25th of Ellul in 1786.

R' Moshe of Zvhil - The First Zvhiller Rebbe

The Zlotschover Maggid, R' Yechiel Michel, had five sons (whom he referred to as "my chamisha chumshai Torah" (my five Books of the Torah) who were replete with Torah and chassidus, each of whom became Rebbe in a different place.

They were: R' Yosef of Yampola, R' Mordechai of Kremnitz, R' Yitzchok of Radvil, R' Binyomin of Zbariz and R' Moshe of Zvhil, the first Zvhiller Rebbe.

A descendant of King David, R' Moshe was the great grandson of R' Menachem Nochum of Tschernobl (the first Maggid of Tschernobl) and R' Aharon of Karlin.

R' Moshe was the grandson of R' Mordechai of Tschernobl (The Maggid of Tschernobl) and R' Yitzchok of Drovitch, and the son of R' Yechiel Michel, the Zlotschover Maggid.

R' Moshe of Zvhil at first refused to serve as an Admor after his father's death, and opened a store. Although his unique conduct marked him as a tzaddik, he rebuffed the attempts of all who tried to draw close to him, and, as directed by his father, cleaved to his saintly Rav of Berditchev.

In the end the Rav of Naski instructed him to preside in Zvhil, which was in the center of Vohlin. Like his saintly fathers, he spread Torah and kedusha (sanctity) in the surrounding settlements, and was considered one of the outstanding tzadikim of his time.

Upon his death in 1831, he was replaced by his son, R' Yechiel Michel of Zvhil, who also conducted himself humbly and drew people closer to Torah and yiras shomayim (awe of heaven) in his unique and inimitable way.

He died on the twelfth of Tishrei 5617 (1856), leaving behind a son, the first R' Mordechai of Zvhil, who became known for his unique conduct.

R' Mordechai of Zvhil

In addition to his lineage from the Baal Shem Tov, Tschernobl, Karlin, Drovitch and Zlotschov, R' Mordechai, third Zvhiller Rebbe, was a great grandson of R' Avrohom Ha-Malach (the Angel), son of the renowned Maggid of Mezrich.

R' Mordechai would seclude himself in his private quarters nearly the entire day, and from there influence and direct the life of the public.

During weekdays he did not venture out of his room, even to his beis medrash. On the yomim noraim (High Holydays) he prayed in the Great Synagogue of Zvhil, where the Ashkenaz prayer version was followed. The greatest chassidic leaders of his time highly esteemed him, especially R' Yisroel of Ruzhin and the Beis Ahron of Karlin.

He died on erev Succos, 5661 (1900) leaving two sons -- the elder R' Yechiel Michel, who was succeeded by R' Yaakov Yisroel, and the younger R' Shlomo, who was succeeded upon his death in 5705 (1945) by R' Gedaliah Moshe.

With the Soviet takeover, R' Yechiel Michel moved to nearby Koritz, where he died shortly later, and R' Yaakov Yisroel, who succeeded him, left Russia for Boston.

R' Yaakov Yisroel of Zvhil - Mezbuz

R' Yaakov Yisroel of Zvhil - Mezbuz
[R' Yaakov Yisroel of Zvhil-Mezbuz]

The last Rebbe to reside in Zvhil was Grand Rabbi R' Yaakov Yisroel. Son of the last Mezbuz Rebbe, R' Mordechai, he was a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov and his grandson, R' Boruch of Mezbuz (the first Rebbe), and the chassidic dynasties of the Rebbes of Mezbuz , Tschernobl, Karlin, and Apte.

He arrived in Boston in the early 1900's, brought here by numerous of his Chassidim who had chosen to leave Zvhil and settle in the Boston area.

The headstones of many of these pioneers are found in the two Zvhiller cemeteries, the first at Baker Street in the West Roxbury section of Boston, and the second, where the family cemetery and the Rebbe's Ohel (Tomb) is found, in Everett, just north of Boston.

For a number of years the Rebbe commuted between his Chassidim in Boston and his wife and children and remaining Chassidim in Zvhil (near Kiev), where he still served as Chief Rabbi of the Ukraine.

When a pogrom in Zvhil targeted the Rebbe's compound and killed the Rebbetzin along with many of the Jews of the area, the remaining Chassidim brought the Rebbe's family to Boston.

The late Zvhil - Mezbuz Rebbe was responsible for much of the present structure of the rabbinical organization in Boston. He was credited with inspiring all segments of Boston's Jewish Community to form a central Synagogue Council, Kashruth authority, and Beis Din, run under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate with the support of the entire Jewish community.

Educated by many of the leading sages of that era, including the author of the Oruch Hashulchan, he was an ilui (child prodigy) and known as an astute scholar and rabbinic decisor, as well as a man of vision and foresight.

The leading Chassidic Rebbes and talmudic scholars of his time, from Russia, Europe, and the United States visited him first in Mezbuz, then in Zvhil, and later in Boston, to seek his advice and rulings. There were often police and official vehicles in front of his home on Woodrow Avenue (in the Dorchester section of Boston), as many of the leadership of Boston's Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues, as well as Senators and Congressmen, the Mayor, Governor, and Cardinal of Boston, would visit his home, looking to him for advice and spiritual leadership.

People today still talk of the crowds of people who would wait outside all day and night to spend a precious moment with the Rebbe, who would not sleep until he had spoken with each one.

When he ventured out he could not escape the throngs who accompanied him. On Rosh Hashonoh each year police would close main thoroughfares as the Rebbe and his entourage walked to Franklin Park in Roxbury to observe Tashlich.

A founder of the Agudas HoAdmorim (Union of Chassidic Rebbes), he was also instrumental in rescuing many Jews from the Russian pogroms and from the Nazi holocaust.

He felt very deeply the pain and suffering of his people, and would often write and telephone to his colleagues around the world to enlist their help in an effort to alleviate the suffering of klal yisroel.

He would stand with his Gabbai on the docks in Boston Harbor as the ships arrived and bring refugees home with him, sometimes at the last minute on Friday afternoon before Shabbos.

If food ran short he would instruct his Rebbetzin to "put more water in the soup, we have more guests." If he ran out of beds he would take the doors in his home off their hinges and place each door on two chairs to improvise a makeshift bed.

R' Shlomke of Zvhil

R' Shlomke of Zvhil
[R' Shlomke of Zvhil]

While R' Yaakov Yisroel left Russia for Boston, R' Shlomo fled Russia for Jerusalem.

When he arrived in Israel, R' Shlomke, as he was known, walked through Jerusalem's alleys like one of the people, and no one knew the true identity of the Admor to whom thousands had flocked in his native land. Such a situation could have continued for many years, if not for the visitor from the Rebbe's hometown who entered the beis medrash and was startled to find the Admor who was so revered in Europe standing in the doorway.

He revealed the Rebbe's identity to the stunned worshipers, who then spread the amazing news through Jerusalem.

From that day on, the dictum, "one who flees honor will be pursued by honor" was fulfilled through him, and many began to stream to his home, and seek his advice as in days gone by.

Whenever it was necessary to stress a certain trait or aspect of yiras shomayim in order to instruct others, R' Shlomo would attribute it to "an unknown person whom he happened to know." One time, for example, he said that the joy a certain Jew derived from laying tefillin surpassed that which a wicked man derives when he is fulfilling the greatest physical desire possible.

On another instance, he related that hashgocho protis prevailed in his father's sukkah because during the entire holiday, rain never fell. However, all recalled that this miracle had occurred in R' Shlomo's sukkah, and thus surmised the identity of the "unknown Jew" to whom he always referred.

One time, when it became known that he was providing wine, meat and challahs to needy families for Shabbos, he attempted to claim that a certain Jew was covering the costs.

R' Shlomke of Zvhil was famed for his remarkable chesed (lovingkindness). He particularly concentrated on rescuing youths from missionaries, and inculcating the importance of the laws of family purity to the masses. Despite the fact that he was so active, he still found time to answer deep and complicated halachic questions.

He died on the 26th of Iyar 5705 (1945) leaving behind two sons.

R' Gedaliah Moshe of Zvhil, was known for his great scholarship and for his all-consuming love of the Jewish people which he inherited from his fathers. Like them, he excelled in his devotion to the public.

When the Soviets rose to power, he was sent to Siberia and after eight years of exile managed, in 5696 (1936), to flee to Eretz Yisroel, where he also concealed his greatness.

After his father's death, he accepted the mantle of leadership against his will. He served as an Admor for only five years, for he died when he was only sixty-one, crushed by the sorrows and travails of his people, and returned his pure soul to its Maker on the twenty-fourth of Cheshvan, 5710 (1950).

The Second R' Mordechai of Zvhil

The Second R' Mordechai of Zvhil
[R' Mordechai of Zvhil II]

R' Gedaliah Moshe's son was R' Mordechai of Zvhil. Despite his greatness, he was modest, humble and unpretentious. He was well known for the sage advice he offered, and for his unique and captivating divrei Torah.

"If a person makes himself like a flower bed on which all trample, and like perfume with which all scent themselves, his Torah endures," thus say our sages in the Talmud (Eruvin 54). R' Mordechai followed the legacy of his great forebears of modesty, self-nullification and altruism.

He concealed and underplayed his greatness to the extent that he permitted all to "trample on him." Many took advantage of this propensity, for they knew that in his room they would be able to inhale the aroma of the perfume which all enjoyed.

And the door was always open -- during the day and during the night, when he was well and when he was ill. He was an unlimited giver, devoting his entire being and world to his fellow, taking nothing for himself.

It was not always easy to fathom what they were searching for in the sacred home of the Rebbe. Some merely sought a morsel of bread to satiate their hunger. Others sought spiritual support which would nourish their tormented and tossed souls.

No one knows what "wonder medicine" the Rebbe infused into their veins in that small room. However, the changes in their expressions after they had left the house were tangible proof that it had been a rescue station which had given them vital and much needed attention, either in the form of first aid or intensive care.

One of the greatest talmidei chachomim of Jerusalem related that he once visited the Rebbe of Zvhil on an important public matter.

The scene that greeted his eyes caused him to stop short before the door to the Rebbe's room.

The Admor was reading Tehillim (Psalms) aloud amidst copious, heart-rending tears. "Surely one of the members of his family is very ill," the visitor thought. "Or perhaps an evil decree has befallen the Nation."

Suddenly, the Admor noticed him and joyfully invited him to enter. When the Admor saw the startled expression of the caller, he comforted him saying: "I am well, and so are the members of my household." The caller pressed the Admor to tell him why he had recited Tehillim so intensely.

The Admor replied that a short while ago, a Jew had told him his personal problems. "I was so touched, that I asked myself: What can I do for this Jew who is in such dire need of Heaven's mercies?"

He was great in Torah, halacha, and chassidus. However, from his lofty peak he descended to the hearts of distraught Jews and listened to their problems and woes. Multitudes, from all groups and sects, flocked to him.

All knew that there they would find an attentive ear, a man who was willing to listen to their tales of woe, one to whom they could relate their sorrows, one who, with his merciful and broad heart, would understand.

He was pained by their suffering and rejoiced in their joy. He uncovered the recesses of their souls, and found inroads to their hearts and solutions to their problems.

One visiting his abode would be surprised to see not only talmidei chachomim (scholars), but also strange outcasts, to whom no one else in the world would bat an eyelash. They stood there with pleading eyes, beating hearts, and taut anticipation, for only there could they fulfill the words, "A care in one's heart, let him speak about it."

He did not exert his power, and sought to underplay his greatness and walk in the sidelines. He refused all the outward trappings of honor, and continued to behave like an ordinary person.

When one of his chassidim brought him a luxurious silk kapote, the Rebbe said: "Why do I need this? Perhaps for washing dishes in the kitchen."

When offered a ride in a taxi, he would refuse, saying: "What is wrong with walking?" When he learned about a bris to which people hesitated to invite him, lest they not be able to honor him properly, he would make a special effort to attend, saying: "At last a simcha without honors."

One time a distraught person visited him and said: "Rebbe, I am hungry." The Rebbe himself hastened to the kitchen, and to the surprise of his family, began to prepare a meal for the caller.

One Lag B'Omer a broken hearted visitor joined the Rebbe's Shabbos table in Meron. When the Rebbe learned that the caller had not eaten, he told him to sit down and asked one of the attendants to bring wine for kiddush. Throughout the meal, the Admor paid particular attention to this uninvited guest, and treated him with much respect.

After the tisch had ended, the Rebbe rose in order to nap a bit. However, the Jew asked him to stay with him. The Rebbe fulfilled his request warmly, taking hold of his hand and staying with him for a long time, his face glowing, yet another example of the chesed he performed with broken and depressed Jews.


Copyright 2007 Zvhil - Mezbuz Beis Medrash