April 19, 2024
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The ‘Sifsei Tzaddik’: Rabbi Pinchas Menachem (Elazar) Justman, zt”l

Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Justman, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1848 to his father, Rabbi Binyamin Eliezer Justman, and mother, Tzina Pessel Justman (née Alter) — daughter of the Chiddushei Harim, the first Gerrer Rebbe.

His mother died when Pinchas Menachem was very young.

Orphaned of his mother, he grew up in the home of his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, (known as the Chiddushei Harim) and his wife, together with his cousin, also an orphan — and later, his brother-in-law — Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the Sfas Emes.

Rabbi Pinchas Menachem grew up on his grandfather’s lap and heard words of Torah from him.

Already at the age of seven, young Pinchas Menachem was outstanding in his learning.

When he was about nine years old, his grandfather took him to visit the Kotzker Rebbe; an event which left a lifelong impression on him.

In 1864, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem married his first cousin, Hendel Leah, who was the daughter of his uncle, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter — the son of the Chiddushei Harim — becoming the brother-in-law of the Sfas Emes.

After the Chiddushei Harim passed away in 1866, the chassidim traveled to the Rebbe — Harav Henoch of Aleksander — and Rabbi Pinchas Menachem traveled to him as well.

When the Rebbe, Rav Henoch, was niftar after just four years, and the leadership was passed on to Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the Sfas Emes, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Justman moved to Gora Kalwaria (Ger).

He was both a masmid and an outstanding lamdan, and his greatness in Torah was renowned. He was always seen reviewing mishnayos to himself, not wasting a second.

Aside from the sefer “Sifsei Tzaddik” on the Torah, he also wrote a large work on Shas and a commentary on Tehillim which were not published before the Holocaust, and were lost during the war.

To his family and friends, he was known as “Reb Mendele of Ger.”

He was one of the only chasidim who understood the deep shmuessen (lectures) of the Sfas Emes, and thus after every tisch, many congregated around him to hear him repeat the rebbe’s words.

Therefore, it’s not a surprise that in 1905, when his brother-in-law, the Sefas Emes (the second Gerrer Rebbe) died; some of the chasidim sought to bestow the mantle of leadership upon him.

But because he was a very humble person, he didn’t feel he deserved to be called “the rebbe,” leading his own court.

So in 1905, he moved out of Gora Kalwaria to the city of Pilica (Piltz). That didn’t stop the Gerrer chassidim from following him there, too.

One day, a talmid chacham came and told him that he should let others bask in the light of Torah and yiras Shamayim. Only then, he agreed and became their rebbe.

Some say that this was Eliyahu Hanavi.

He became the first Piltzer Rebbe and began to be known by the title of his main work, the “Sifsei Tzadik,” which was a commentary on Torah.

The “Sifsei Tzaddik” (Lips of the Tzaddik) was published only after his death by his son, Rabbi Chanoch Gad Justman and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Alter of Pabianice, the son of the Sfas Emes.

However, he remained faithful and subject to the leadership of the new Gerrer Rebbe — the Imrei Emes — and all communal matters were managed jointly by the two.

Pilica Chasidism consolidated quickly and encompassed many thousands. From towns all over Poland, they thronged to it — in order to become infused with Rabbi Pinchas Menachem’s Torah and Chasidism.

The tzaddik, himself, was of a sensitive character and in his book the “Sifsei Tzaddik,” he also attempted to express his musical emotions.

Among the Chasidim who came to Pilica to visit him on Shabbos and holidays were renowned singers and composers — who brought with them the musical atmosphere — as well as a new “crop” of melodies.

The new melody for “Akdumes (Introductions),” a liturgical poem in Aramaic which is recited in public on the holiday of Shavuos — which was a tradition in the Gerrer dynasty — was inaugurated, each year, in both places.

The main singer and composer in Pilica was Reb Mendel Fruman, whose heart burned with true passion and dedication to music. He directed the singing at the Rebbe’s court together with his two sons/helpers.

When the rebbe moved to Częstochowa, and opened his beis medrash where he lived on 23 Warszawska Street, Reb Mendel would come there for the High Holidays and would lead the prayer services, animating the prayers with his sweet melodies and pleasant voice.

On 23 Tammuz, 5672 (8 July, 1912) he added the name “Elazar” to his name “Pinchas Menachem,” when he was very ill. That helped and, eventually, he recovered from his illness.

In 1915, he moved from Pilica to Wieruszów and four years later — in spring of 1919 — he moved his chassidic court to Częstochowa (Chenstochov), where he lived for almost two years — until his passing in November, 1920.

He made his will five times — each time adding something new. His will is filled with Torah and the fear of God, and served as a guide for his household and followers.

The Sifsei Tzaddik passed away on Shabbos, parshas Vayishlach, on the 10th of Kislev 5681, (November 21, 1920) in Czestochowa, Poland. His funeral was held on Monday, because of a disagreement between the community of Pilz and the community of Częstochowa regarding the burial place.

Eventually, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Częstochowa, next to his son, Yitzchak Meir, who died a year earlier. Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral.

With his first wife, Rebbetzin Hendel Leah (Alter), they had six daughters and three sons. Rabbi Chanoch Gad Justman (the youngest son and most famous), married Devora Matill Halperin. He was a Gerrer chasid, a community rabbi, Chasidic rebbe, rosh yeshiva and a member of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel in Poland and the World Agudas Yisroel.

After the death of his father, he was crowned “Rebbe of Pilica,” at the request of his cousin, the Rebbe of Ger — Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter — and settled in Częstochowa. Rabbi Chanoch Gad Justman served as rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Sifsei Tzaddik in Częstochowa. A few dozen pupils from Częstochowa, and the neighboring towns, studied Talmud and halacha there. In 1942, he was deported to the Treblinka death camp, where he perished.

There is no Piltzer Rebbe today, nor Piltzer chasidim, although there are many grandchildren — most of which are Gerrer chasidim.

Rabbi Avrum Mordche, who was the son of Rabbi Chanoch Rotblat and Faiga Justman — daughter of the Sifsei Tzadik — lived in Jerusalem. He remembered the Sifsei Tzadik. The Gerrer Rebbe wanted him to become the Piltzer Rebbe, but he refused.

The Pnei Menachem, the sixth Rebbe of Ger, was named “Pinchas Menachem” by his father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter — after his beloved uncle, the Sifsei Tzaddik.

In his sefer, “Pnei Menachem,” he mentions that his brother — the Lev Simcha — told him that since he is named after the Sifsei Tzaddik, he has to answer the kashye (question) of the Sifsei Tzaddik.

The Pnei Menachem also once said, “I’m not like my brothers. I’m not like my father either. I have only one ability: the ability of tefillah. Look, I am named after the Rebbe of Piltz, and it was known that all his tefillos were answered.”

This story was shared with me by the einikel (grandchild) of the Sifsei Tzaddik: “When my grandfather was born in about 1920, his father sent a telegram to his grandfather — the Sifsei Tzaddik — to invite him to the bris and to consult how to name the newborn. The Sifsei Tzaddik did not accept the invitation, but suggested he name the baby after both the Chidushei Harim and the Sfas Emes — adding that the zechus of the two tzadikim will protect him. Amazingly, he was the only one of eight brothers that survived the war!”

May the merit of the tzaddik, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem, protect us all.


Yaakov Wasilewicz was born in Częstochowa, Poland and he studied in Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, 2004-2008 and in Shor Yoshuv in Lawrence, NY, 2008-2017.

He has completed higher education in Psychology and Education at the Touro College in New York. He also studied at the Belz School of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University, training his voice under the direction of the world-famous cantor, Joseph Malovany. Yaakov is a composer and singer of Jewish songs and writes occasionally for various Jewish publications. Yaakov welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at [email protected]

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