Weekly Story: The Historic Visit (part 1)

While the biography of the Rebbe Rashab is going through the final stages of being edited, I began doing research into the life of the Frierdiker Rebbe. The following is a detailed account of his historic visit to Eretz Yisroel, which took place 91 years ago. Being that he was there during the first two weeks of Av, I thought that as we are now in Av, it is an appropriate time to post it. 

Most of the material here is based on the sefer, Masa HaRebbi B’Eretz HaKodesh (The Frierdiker Rebbe’s journey in Eretz Yisroel), by Rabbi Dovid Rottenberg.

At this time I would also like to express my appreciation to the readers who contributed to the charidy campfund campaign.

I am also pleased to inform the readers that bezras Hashem the biography of the Rebbe Rashab should be available for Chof Cheshvan, as 435 pages of the 630 pages have had their final edit. If you would like to partner in this endeavor through your sponsorship or hakdasha and help it become a reality, please contact me at avtzonbooks@gmail.com Thank you


Although many of the Rebbeim had expressed a wish to visit or move to Eretz Yisroel,[1] the Frierdiker Rebbe is the only one that actually did so.[2]

Shortly after the Rebbe was allowed to leave Russia in 5688 (1927), he said he plans on going to Eretz Yisroel. He explained, “While I was in Russia I always had the ability of davening at the ohelim of the Rebbeim as well as by the ohelim of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid, as well as by other tzaddikim. However, now I cannot daven by those tzaddikim, so I have to go to Eretz Yisroel, eretz hakodesh, to daven there.”[3]

However, going to Eretz Yisroel required visas and other official documents, so he was in contact with rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel and Egypt to help him secure them. On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5689 (1829), he received all the documents, and everyone heard that the Rebbe was going to visit Eretz Yisroel. When the hanhala in Toras Emes received a letter informing them of his upcoming trip, they posted posters and notices in newspapers encouraging all Jews to come and greet the Rebbe during his two week visit.

He actualized this trip almost two years later when he left Riga, Latvia, early Tuesday morning, the 22nd of Tammuz, and was accompanied by his son-in-law, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary (Rashag). His Rebbetzin, and daughter (Shaina) together with some ten chassidim, accompanied him until the Latvian border with Lithuania. They then continued on the journey and arrived in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday morning.

There he was greeted by his son in law, the RaMaSh (as our Rebbe was then known) and daughter Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, and being that they would be continuing their journey by train that night, they went to a hotel for the day, where the Rebbe met with some individuals.[4] That night the RaMaSh and a few individuals accompanied him on the train for the next few days of the trip.

Thursday morning there was a stopover in Prague, and the Rebbe then davened Shacharis, and they arrived in Vienna at one in the afternoon. Once again they rented a hotel suite for the night and on Friday morning they began traveling to the Italian port city of Triste, boarding a boat in the afternoon. The boat arrived at the port of Brindisi, Italy on Sunday morning. Motzei Shabbos the Rebbe spoke at length with the RaMaSh.[5]

Sunday, the 27th of Tammuz, the Rebbe and the Rashag boarded the Hollywood (a boat) and arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, Tuesday, the 29th of Tammuz, four in the afternoon. He was greeted by the chief Rabbi, Rav Daniel Goan who was taken by the authorities on a small boat to board the ship and welcome the Rebbe before it docks. In addition to the Jews of Alexandria who were by the dock to greet him, Reb Shlomo Yehudah Leib Eliezarov and his brother in law Reb Menachem Mendel Noah, came from Eretz Yisroel to accompany him on the way to Eretz Yisroel.[6]

That evening leading members of the Egyptian Jewish community visited the Rebbe in the hotel suite. Wednesday morning, Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, after davening Shacharis in the large shul, the Rebbe paid a visit to the Jewish Parliamentarian, Mr. Dovid Fijhato and thanked him for his assistance in obtaining the necessary transit visa’s. From there the Rebbe went to visit the Rov in the communal offices. The Rov and community leaders greeted him and then took him to various shuls and institutions.

Their discussion about the education of the community and other topics continued until the Rebbe boarded the train at three in the afternoon. They arrived at the border city of Qantara on the Suez at 10:30 in the evening and then the train continued on its way to Lod in Eretz Yisroel. Special arrangements were made beforehand, that allowed the Rebbe to bypass the customs search.

While a large contingent of chassidim and other Jews gathered in Lod to greet the Rebbe at six in the morning. Many decided to board the train at stations before Lod, so this way they will be able to greet the Rebbe personally, when there aren’t so many people.

The Rebbe wrote that he felt that many of them were reconnecting to the days they were in Lubavitch by his father, the Rebbe Rashab, grandfather the Rebbe Maharash and some even by his great-grandfather the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek. He noted, “I felt the warmth and emotions in the air.”

The British government[7] anticipated a large contingent would come to greet the honored visitor and they added four cars to the train and whoever was able to get a place joined the journey to Yerushlayim for free.

On the way to Yerushalayim an elderly Jew entered the train car that the Rebbe was in with a basket of fruit and he emotionally said.

“When I was a young boy,[8] my father took me to the Rebbe’s grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash and he blessed me that I should be able to greet his grandson in Eretz Yisroel. I am now fulfilling the words of the Rebbe.”[9]

Another chossid who greeted the Rebbe was Reb Avrohom Pariz. When he heard that the Rebbe was planning on coming to Eretz Yisroel, but there is a monetary consideration, he understood that the Rebbe lacked the funds. So when he heard that the Rebbe was definitely coming, he sold the parcel of land he owned and placed all the money in an envelope.

When he met the Rebbe he gave him the envelope.

The Rebbe asked, “What is this?”

Maamid,” he replied.

“The Jews in Eretz Yisroel know about maamid?” The Rebbe inquired.

“Rebbe, maamid,” he said once again avoiding the question and the Rebbe accepted it.

That money allowed the Rebbe to travel properly and rent a hotel room instead of being hosted in individuals homes, without being concerned about monetary problems the fifteen days he was in Eretz Yisroel.

The train arrived outside Yerushalayim around nine Thursday morning. Before debarking/getting off the train, the Rebbe asked one of the rabbonim, “When is one obligated to rip their clothing in mourning over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash”? After a lengthy discussion they concluded that it is when one is inside the old city. However, the Rebbe writes that he rendered his garments at 9:30 that morning and recited the brocha of Boruch Dayan HaEmes, prior to getting off the train.

Coming off the train, the Rebbe was greeted by the leading rabbonim of Yerushalayim and around five thousand people, from all backgrounds including some non-observant Jews. They all came to see, greet and receive a brocha from the tzaddik who stood up to the communist regime and is continuing helping the Jews of Russia.

Although a chossid offered his huge house for the Rebbe to use, the Rebbe chose to stay in a hotel. Shortly after arriving in the hotel Amdursky, he was informed that Jews are standing in the courtyard of hotel, and he went out to greet and bless them.

It is noted that originally the Rebbe said he will greet and bless everyone from a balcony or rooftop. However, the people wanted to meet the Rebbe one on one and someone mentioned, “Rebbe these Jews said tehillim for you when you were in prison. They davened that you be spared. They rejoiced and thanked Hashem when you were freed.”

Hearing this, the Rebbe greeted hundreds and sometimes thousands of Jews individually every day he was in Eretz Yisroel. This was an expression of his tremendous appreciation for their tefillos, even though it took away a few hours of each day.

At 11 in the morning he was visited by the Rov of Yerushalayim, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the dayan, Rav Yitzchok Frankel with other dignitaries.

At five in the afternoon, he went to the Kosel. The area was crowded with thousands of Jews and it took some time to make his way to the Kosel.  At six o’clock, when he came close, he rendered his outer garment. The chazzan for mincha was the chossid Reb Yosef Shmotkin.

During Shemoneh esreh, which is said quietly, the only sound that was heard was the whimpering/ cry emanating from the Rebbe. Shivers went through the people. After mincha, everyone was spellbound as they heard the Rebbe say some Tehillim with deveikus in his special tune.

He then asked if the custom is to kiss the stones. Hearing an affirmative answer he picked up his eyes which were full of tears and expressed the pleading he was doing, scanned the entire wall, and then bent over; to kiss it. It was heard by all there.

Describing it himself the Rebbe wrote, “In those moments at the kosel, I forgot everything, I was one tefach higher, I tasted moments of life.”[10]

On his way back to the hotel, he went to visit Rav Sonnenfeld, who came out to greet him.

On Friday, the third of Av, the Rebbe went to visit the Chief Rabbi Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Hacohen Kook. Rav Kook said, although according to Halachah, I am not obligated to say the brocha of Shehechiyanu, since we never met before, but I have a strong desire to do so.

After discussing various communal and halacha issues, the Rebbe said, I would like to discuss something in private, and everyone understood that they are to leave. Interesting to note that during that conversation Rav Kook advised the Rebbe that when he goes to America he should met with Justice Louis Brandeis.[11]

On Friday he had another lengthy discussion with Rav Kook about how he can help the Jews in Russia. Although it was late erev Shabbos, the Rebbe then went to visit the Rishon L’Tzion Rav Yaakov Meir.

Shabbos the Rebbe davened in room of his suite that was adjacent to the large ballroom. He received maftir, benched Hagomel and returned to his room. Shabbos afternoon there was an overflow of Jews who came to hear him speak, and on the rooftop of the hotel he said the maamar of Tzion B’mishpat tipude.., for two hours.

While, it was said in the way of Chassidus Chabad, he explained it so that everyone was able to understand the concepts. Reb Aharon Roth (of the Shomrei Emunim) came with a group of his chassidim, and other non-Chabad or even non-chassidic Jews also came.

On motzei Shabbos Reb Aharon Roth spoke with the Rebbe for a while and then Rav Kook paid a visit to the Rebbe and he related a mofes of the Rebbe’s father. The Rebbe replied “The greatest mofes of my father, are the Tmimim!”

Sunday, the 5th of Av

The Rebbe stated that he would like to daven at the ohel of the Arizal in Tzfas, as today is his yahrzeit. However, before leaving Yerushalayim he first visited the Rishon  L’tzion in his house.[12]

He then visited his relatives Reb Yisroel Asher and his wife Sara Liba,[13] as well as the tzaddik Reb Nochum Twersky of Rachamivska.[14] Leaving Reb Nochum’s house, the Rebbe wouldn’t turn around with his back facing Reb Nochum, but he walked backwards until he entered the car. In the car was Reb Alter Simchovitz and the Reb said to him, “There is a Jew in Yerushalayim, like Reb Nochum and people don’t go to him; that is an avlah!”

He then returned to the hotel and at noon, they set out to Tzfas. At around two the caravan arrived in Shechem, and a wheel needed to be repaired. During that time the Rebbe ate some mezones that he brought along. They then continued to Afulah, where the Rebbe met the Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv, Rav Shlomo Ahanson. In that meeting which lasted thirty-five minutes, they formulated a plan how the Rabbonim of Eretz Yisroel can help the Jews of Russia.

At five they arrived in Teveria, and a phone call was made to Tzfas informing them for the first time that the Rebbe was on his way and he should be there in around an half hour. Notwithstanding the short notice, the chief Rabbi, Rav Avrorom Leib Zilberman together with the other rabbonim of Tzfas and its communal leaders gathered in a hotel and arranged a kabbalas ponim for the Rebbe.

However, being that the Rebbe wanted to daven at the ohel of the Ari on his yahrzheit, the Kabbalas ponim was cut short and they began to daven mincha. He arrived at the ohel at 6:15, and was greeted by around a hundred members of the community.

The Rebbe said a tefilla from his siddur and then lifted his eyes to the heavens and stood there motionless.  The only thing that the assembled heard was a deep inner cry, which caused them all to break out in a loud cry.

He then read the pidyoinis that he had prepared and circled the ohels of the Ari, the Rama”k[15] and Reb Shlomo Alkabetz.[16] He then went to the ohel/kever of the Beis Yosef[17] and stood there for a while and afterwards he entered the cave alone where Reb Moshe Alshich[18] is interred.

The Rebbe wrote in his diary, “By the Alshich I was all by myself and I spoke (not read) and I cried a lot.”

When he exited the cave it was already nightfall. Notwithstanding that he had a full day, he climbed to the top of the mountain, which at some points is quite steep. In middle of the way he sat down for a while and said to those accompanying him, “On one’s first visit to these holy places, one becomes very passionate (misragshim meod) and the physical world disappears from sight.”

On the way out he was greeted by the Sephardic rabbonim and communal leaders, at the entrance to the cemetery. In their discussion the Rebbe expressed his happiness that they arrange communal study groups in learning Torah.

They returned to the hotel at eight-thirty and was greeted by around five hundred people. The Rebbe entered his room and received the head/mayor of the city, Mr. Silberman, the directors of the yeshivos Chasam Sofer and Radvaz, Dr. Pinchos Wail of Hadassah hospital and some additional twenty people.

After maariv, the Rebbe entered the large hall at 9:30 and blessed all those who were there and then sat down to write until 11. Knowing that he was leaving early the following morning, he gave some money to be given to the Torah centers of the community.

Monday the 6th of Av

At 4:15 in the morning the Rebbe (and his entourage) left Tzfas to go to Meron, in order to daven by the ohel of the Rashbi.[19] There he lit candles for each member of his family, one for all anash and one for the Tmimim. They then davened Shacharis and the Rebbe was honored with opening the Aron and was called up to the third Aliya.

At 7:30 in the morning the Rebbe arrived in Teveria, and went directly to the ohel of Reb Meir Baal Haness. After davening there he went to the ohel of Reb Menachem Mendel Horodoker. On the way there he was greeted by the Jews of Teveria and through the open window of the car shook hands with all and gave them some money to buy mashke and to bless him with success when they say L’chaim.

In addition he also davened by the ohel of the Rambam, Reb Akiva, Reb Yochonon Zakai, The Shaloh,[20] and Reb Avrohom of Kalisk.

After davening he then davened at the ohel of Reb Eliezer ben the Rashbi, said some Tehillim and walked around it. He then entered the cave to daven alone by the ohel of Reb Yitzchok Nafcha.[21]

He then acquiesced to the requests of the communal leaders to visit the yeshiva Bar Yochai and the moshav zekanim (IS THAT A YESHIVA OR OLD AGE). He then went to the rooftop of the Yeshiva and was able to see the cave where Reb Yochanon HaSandler is interred as well as the tree that is next to the interment of Beis Shammai.

At ten they arrived in Afulah and there was a break in traveling for around a half hour. Somehow word spread and around a hundred Jews from many surrounding kibbutzim came to greet the Rebbe and receive his brocha.

At 3:30 they were back in Yerushalayim, and began accepting some people for a yechidus. He then davened mincha, ate a meal/lunch and from six until eleven, accepted additional people for a yechidus.

Tuesday, the 7th of Av

In the morning the Rebbe sent the Rashag to ask Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld to sign his name to a telegram plea to the Joint on behalf of Russian Jewry. Another messenger was sent To the Rishon L’Tzion and he also agreed to add his name to the telegram. The telegram was sent out at ten in the morning and then the Rebbe accepted people including the Rebbe of Drubitsch, Reb Avrohom Yaakov Shapiro[22] and Dr. Moshe Wallach the director of Shaarei Tzion hospital.

At 10:30 he went to visit the offices of Colel Chabad. In 5682 (1922), the directors of the Colel requested that the Rebbe becomes its president. At that time the Rebbe gave certain conditions. Then with the oppression of the communist, his arrest and freedom, he wasn’t able to focus n the colel. He ws greeted by Reb Shlomo Yehudah Leib Eliezerov, one of the directors. He was there for a half hour reviewing the paperwork and receiving answers to his questions.

The following Monday he wrote to them that he is accepting the presidium and blessed them to continue working in accordance to the guidance that his ancestors the Rebbeiim gave. In another letter to the chassidim, he encouraged them to continue the custom of chassidim since the Alter Rebbe’s time of supporting Colel Chabad.

On his way out, he was greeted by a large group of Jews and he shook hands with those who gave their hand in Sholom Aleicheim.[23]

This weeks post is l’zechus the complete and immediate refuah to my sister Chaya Rivkah bas Cheyena, together with all cholei Yisroel.

Next week I will bezres Hashem post the second (and final) part on this historic visit. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

[1] We are aware of the Baal Shem Tov’s desire to meet Rabbi Chaim ben Itar, the Ohr Hachaim, and he boarded a boat in Turkey to go to Eretz Yisroel but he didn’t make it there and returned to Turkey for Pesach and then came home.

The Alter Rebbe and his three brothers joined Reb Menachem Mendel Horodoker when he together with a large group of chassidim were moving to Eretz Yisroel, but at the Russian border, Reb Menachem Mendel stopped his journey for a week, until the Alter Rebbe agreed to remain in Russia.

The Tzemach Tzedek sent Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel and his uncle, Reb Moshe’s family to live in Eretz Yisroel.

The Rebbe Maharash said he would have taken thousands of chassidim with him to Eretz Yisroel, if not for the Bilu movement. And the Rebbe Rashab expressed a desire to move there, but his Rebbetzin convince him to remain in Russia.

[2] In fact he was considering of making a second trip in — , but didn’t do so only because of lack of funds.

[3] Igros Kodesh…..

[4] His cousin Reb Ezriel Slonim was on a shlichus from Eretz Yisroel and when he heard that the Rebbe was going to be in Berlin, he took a train from Warsaw to discuss the communal and personal matters with him.

[5] Obviously we are not aware of what was discussed. However, it is believed that one of the points discussed was that the RaMaSh should farbreng for the chassidim in his temporary absence, which he did.

When he was in Eretz Yisroel, he was asked, “Why didn’t the other son-in-law also come?” The Rebbe replied, “My son-in-law feels that it is not an easy matter to leave Eretz Yisroel.”

[6] Their brother-in-law, Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Aryeh Schneersohn, also met him there and his two sons accompanied the Rebbe throughout the trip.

[7] At that time Eretz Yisroel was under the British Mandate.

[8] That was at least forty-six years before this occurrence, as the Rebbe Maharash was nistalek in 5643 (1882).

[9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9][9] This is how it was written in the newspaper Der Tug, by a reporter who was on the train. However, in Sippurei Chassidim, Rabbi Zevin mentions a similar story happened on the train from Alexandria to Eretz Yisroel.

Suddenly the door to the train cabin opened and a man entered with a large basket full of various good /praised fruit, and he was crying from emotion. When he calmed down he said, When I was a young lad we lived in Russia and my grandfather took me to the Rebbe’s grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, for a blessing.

At that time my father also presented to the Rebbe a present of choice fruit as bikkurim.

The Rebbe was then a young boy and was in the Rebbe Maharash’s room. The Rebbe Maharash said to my grandfather, “May it be the will [of Hashem] that this grandson of yours, will bring bikkurim to this grandson of mine.”

Many years have passed, and due to my business I live in mitzrayim. [When I heard that the Rebbe is coming] I remembered the blessing the Rebbe Maharash gave me and I said, This is the moment to fulfill it.  I immediately took the basket of fruit and brought it to the Rebbe. Boruch Hashem the blessing of the Rebbe Maharash was fulfilled in me.”

[10] In a letter to his daughter Shaina.

[11] It is not known what the Rebbe discussed with the justice at that meeting, however, it should be noted that Justice Brandeis played a vital role in the Rebbe’s liberation from Russia two years earlier.

[12] The Rishon L’Tzion discussed the brocha of shechulak mei’chochmuso l’yireiuhv, which is said when one sees a tzaddik, in contrast to the brocha she’nuhsan mei’chochmuso l’busar v’duhm which is said when you greet an intelligent gentile person.

He said, being that a tzaddik’s neshoma is clearly/visibly a chelek from Hashem, therefore it is appropriate to use the word she’chulak and not she’nusan.

[13] Sara Liba’s mother was Perla Devorah, a daughter of Reb Yisroel Noach of Niezhin, the Frierdiker Rebbe’s great uncle.

[14] He was a grandson of Reb Mordechai of Chernobyl, and the Rebbe’s mother was also a granddaughter of his.

[15] Reb Moshe ben Yaakov Cordovero, the author of the sefer on Kabbalah, Pardes Rimonim. When he was twenty he began studying Kabbalah with his brother-in-law Reb Shlomo HaLevi

[16] He is the composer of Lecha Dodi. (the first letters of the stanzas spell out his name Shlomo HaLevi.

[17] Rav Yosef Karo.

[18] It is interesting to note that all five of them lived at the same time and davened in the same shul. The Beis Yosef was the Rav, The Ari was the mekubul, the Alshich was the darshan, the Ramak was the shames and Reb Shlomo was the chazan.

[19] Reb Shimon Bar Yochai. The Rebbe mentioned that when he was there he heard people saying Meron is a happy place. When one comes to Meron they strengthen themselves. Or as others expressed it, Reb Shimon is a joyful Rebbe, he assumes upon himself whatever a Jew may be lacking.

[20] Reb Yeshayu HaLevi Horowitz.

[21] One of the chassidim found later that he wrote, …All the Tmimim who are learning in Russia. The Jewish people feel a lacking in Ruchniyous and gashmiyous.

[22] He was a grandson/descendant of the Ruzhiner.

[23] One of the people that greeted the Rebbe was Shlomo Greenwald. The Rebbe asked him what he wants? He replied, Boruch Hashem I am not lacking anything, I just want a brocha that my children that will be born, be chassidim.  The Rebbe gave him that brocha and it was fulfilled.

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