April 19, 2024
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Remembering Rabbi Zachariah Wallerstein, z”l, on His Shloshim

ותורת חסד על לשונה(משלי לא,כו)

Many people have had a connection to my rebbe, Harav Zechariah Wallerstein, z”l. On the occasion of his shloshim last week, I wanted to express some thoughts about his legacy.

Rabbi Wallerstein always taught about the importance of looking at events that happen to a person and seeing them through the lens of yiras shamayim. Rabbi Wallerstein passed away on rosh chodesh Iyar, the same day that my 10th generation great grandfather passed away, R’ Menachem Mendel m’Vitebsk Zatzal z”l, who is buried in Teveria.

At nine years old, R’ Menachem Mendel was introduced to the Baal Shem Tov by his father, who was a close Chasid of the illustrious leader. He was an exceptionally gifted child destined for greatness. He then studied under the Maggid of Mezritch and was recognized as one of his outstanding students. After the Maggid’s passing, he returned to Vitebsk, settling in a nearby village. He was zoche to have many prominent former talmidim of the maggid as his peers, such as the Baal ha-Tanya and R’ Nachum of Kossov.

These tzadikim became a nucleus from which the Chassidic influence expanded into the regions of Lithuanian White Russia. At that time, Lithuanian Jewry stood under the spiritual leadership of the Vilna Gaon, a stately personage universally revered as the greatest scholar of the past two centuries. He was also a staunch opponent of the Chassidim. As a result, the Jews of Lithuania, many of whom were misnagdim, did not look kindly on the new movement springing up in their midst. They felt threatened by the perceived intruders and resisted the Chassidic expansion with all their might. In 1777, R’ Menachem Mendel, accompanied by the Baal HaTanya, traveled to Vilna with the aim of explaining to the Gaon the principles and procedures of the Chassidish derech and to try and allay his misgivings. The Vilna Gaon did not want to receive them in an audience. Thereafter, R’ Menachem Mendel decided that rather than create machlokes in the town, he would set out to Eretz Yisrael with 300 talmidim and begin his journey to establish a Chassidic influence in Tzfas and then later in Teveria.

This middah mentioned above was also a quality of R’ Wallerstein, as he had people who doubted him, and even at times had situations where he was made fun of, but yet he still persevered. I remember him telling the chaburah that one time he was davening at Rabbi Landau’s shul in Flatbush, where someone was speaking loudly on his cell phone during davening. Rabbi Wallerstein was so perturbed by this lack of kavod shamayim that he went over and asked this person to politely shut the phone off. The person went ballistic on him, calling him names and publicly making fun of him. As in the story of R’ Menachem Mendel M’Vitebsk, R’ Wallerstein was machina, and didn’t say a word in response after the person lambasted him.

One of several sefarim that R’ Walle rstein always quoted was the sefer Kav Hayasher, which was written after the gezairas tach v’tat as a text to provide a balm and nechama to Klal Yisroel after the tragedies that had occurred.. The massacres of 1648-49 came as a deep shock to that generation, and the trauma that resulted undoubtedly these massacres led to the Shabbetai Tzvi false Mashiach movement.Shabbetai Tzvi ultimately gave up on his Yiddishkeit and left the Jewish world in an uproar after his death. The result was a period of great tumlt and an atmosphere of great uncertainty in Klal Yisroel. The author of the Kav Hayashar was R’ Tzvi Hirsh Kaidonver zt’l, buried in Frankfurt, who experienced tremendous loss in his life after losing his two sisters when his house was pillaged in 1655. He decided to write the sefer as a form of encouragement for Klal Yisroel and to to be mechazek the downtrodden nation by putting the terrible tragedies that happened to the yidden of Poland and Lithuania into a healing spiritual perspective and ended with words of consolation, building up his reader’s Emunah and giving encouragement for the future rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash and light of the era of Mashaich.

R’ Wallerstein embodied these same ideals of healing neshamos and gave over deep pearls of emes as a true form of chizuk to all who needed it, the same ideals that the Kav Hayasher stood for.

A second sefer that R’ Wallerstein would quote was the sefer Pele Yoetz, written by R’ Eliezer Papo, buried in Silistra, Bulgaria, The Pele Yoetz felt that Jews should devote themselves to fulfilling Hashem’s commandments, without worrying too much about the problems of this world. It was the world-to-come which has ultimate value; it was that goal to which Klal Yisroel should direct their lives. His attitude was one of acceptance: whatever happened was for the best since it was Hashems’s will. Suffering and adversity were to be received with equanimity as they provided opportunities to demonstrate true faith in Hashem and to do teshuva.

At the kever of the Pele Yoetz there is a fascinating description which describes that during the time R’ Eliezer Papo was alive, he saw b’ruach hakodesh that there would be a mageifah in his city. In exchange for the mageifah to stop, his neshama would go up to shamayim instead. We have a mesorah that before he died, he told his followers he had chosen death in a bargain with Hashem in order to avert a plague that threatened the entire community. The Pele Yoetz urged people in need of a yeshua to visit his kever and that he would plead on their behalf if they did.

In a sense, the aversion to machlokes of R’ Menachem Mendel M’Vitebsk, the words of emes of the Kav Hayasher that appeared as a balm of hopeful consolation, and the self sacrifice of the Pele Yoetz, can also be aligned with R’ Wallerstein. Rebbe always preached these above areas as well. R’ Wallerstein quite regularly spoke of a “struggle muscle” that develops after someone undergoes a difficult situation but yet remains resilient and accepts whatever happens as the hand of Hashem. How similar these above traits are to R’ Wallerstein’s life and message for Klal Yisroel. May the neshamos of all the tzadikim mentioned in this article storm shamayim and act as everlasting advocates for Klal Yisroel ad biyas goel.


Chaim Bruder was a talmid of Rabbi Wallerstein, z”l.

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