Thursday, October 18, 2018 (continued): Israel Ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name), deemed the founder of Chasidic Judaism, died on May 22, 1760. The day he died, Naftali Zvi Horowitz, also known as Rabbi Naftali Tzvi of Ropczyce, was born in Leshnev, in eastern Galicia. He was to leave a lasting impression on Chasidism in Galicia, extending even to Beth’s family. “All the rabbis (and: Chasidic Rebbes) of the Leimans in Mielic and surrounding towns were descendants of R. Naftali Ropshitzer.”¹
Tarnów—> Pilzno—>Dąbie—> Dobrynin—> Rzochów—> Mielec—> Ropczyce—> Rzeszów—>Łańcut
The cemetery is on our left. Wojtek parks the car. Beth and I walk the short distance to the cemetery’s entrance. Wojtek is on his phone. Soon a man joins us; he has the key to the gate. We enter and walk only a short distance before coming to a small building housing the grave of Asher Yeshaya Rubin, the son-in-law of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi. He succeeded his father-in-law as the Ropshitzer Rebbe.
The man opens the room for us. There are no lights inside. No one pays for the electricity he tells us. Many kvitelach, notes requesting the Rebbe’s assistance, lie scattered about the gravestone. There are some books of the Psalms and a copy of Rabbi Asher Yeshaya Rubin’s book Or Yeshai. When Beth finishes taking pictures, she and I recite Psalm 145 together. We leave the building and hand the man a donation on our way to the car. It is beginning to get dark. We leave Ropczyce and head to Rzeszów.
We drive into the center of Rzeszów where we find two synagogues. Both of them have been renovated and repurposed; today, neither functions as a synagogue. They sit back to back with only a parking lot between them. The Stara (Old) Synagogue, dates from the beginning of the 17th century. Today it is the home of the city archives.
The other synagogue, the Duza (Large) Synagogue was built in 1686 and now houses an art gallery.
We drive the short distance to the town of Łańcut. Initially, we had wanted to see the synagogue there. However, it is late, and the caretaker does not live in Łańcut. Wojtek assures us that the man will come if we would like him to open the building for us. Beth would like to see the synagogue. I decline Wojtek’s offer, however, feeling that it would be an inconvenience for the man to have to come so late in the day and to come just for us.
There are two Jewish cemeteries in Łańcut. We are quite near the older one. Wojtek finds it quickly, and parks on the street at the base of some stairs and makes a call to the caretaker to come open the gate. She comes quickly. All of us walk up the stairs. At the top of them are two small buildings, one to our left and another on our right. The one on the right is for Rabbi Naftali Tzvi of Ropczyce. The room is lit inside.
Beth and I go in. We see many notes that have been left at the Rebbe’s grave. Beth takes several pictures and then joins me in reciting Tehillim.
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi of Ropczyce was a fascinating person, noted for both his wisdom and his wit. He once remarked, “I would rather sit next to a wise man in purgatory than next to a fool in paradise.”²
Elie Wiesel records a story about the Rebbe that reveals his compassion as well as his sense of humor. One Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Passover, a Shabbat on which it is customary for the rabbi to give a sermon, the Rebbe decided to speak to his congregation about tzedakah, charity. Passover can be an expensive holiday, which makes it a particularly difficult holiday for the poor to celebrate. Ropczyce had an abundance of poor, tired, overworked Jews. But, of course, there were also a few Jews in the town who were wealthy. The Rebbe poured his soul into his sermon with the hope, of course, of influencing the rich to be generous to those in need.
Back home, after services, he fell into a chair, exhausted. His wife asked him how it went. Were there many people? Yes, many; the place was packed. Did so-and-so attend? Yes. And such-and-such? Also. Did you speak? Yes. Were you good? Yes, I believe so. Did you succeed in convincing them? With a smile, Rebbe Naphtali answered: “I only half succeeded, and that isn’t bad.” And as his wife seemed puzzled, he explained: “I convinced the poor to receive–but not the rich to give.”³
When we come outside, the woman directs us to the other building. It contains the grave of Rebbe Elazar Spira of Łańcut, the son of the founder of the Dynów Chasidic dynasty. Inside, are the ubiquitous kvitelach, and in the dim light of the room, Beth takes some photos. We recite psalms.
Outside, it’s dark. There are three people now, the caretaker, Wojtek, and another man. Beth and I thank the woman, and as we leave Beth hands her a small donation.
On our way back to Kraków, we pull over at a rest stop. As we get out of the car, we notice a smell as if something is burning. Wojtek takes a deep breath and says, smiling, “Ah, the smell of winter.” Burning coal. Back in the car, we continue to Krakow. Beth is in the front seat with Wojtek. They have an enjoyable conversation, questions on both sides, punctuated with laughter.
Once, before Beth and I were married, we were both invited to Shabbes dinner at a mutual friend’s home. When it was time to wash our hands for the meal, I found myself standing behind Beth. I noticed that she poured water over each of her hands three times. I had not seen this before. I had learned to pour the water over my hands only two times when washing for a meal. Later, I asked my host about this difference in hand washing. He said, “Oh, there must be Chasidim somewhere in her background.”
Boy, was he right!
¹Email from Rabbi Shnayer Leiman, November 11, 2018.
²Harry M. Rabinowicz, Hasidism: The Movement and Its Masters (Jason Aronson Inc.: Northvale, New Jersey, 1988), p. 136.
³Elie Wiesel, Somewhere a Master (Simon and Schuster, Touchstone Edition: New York, 1993), p. 165.
Photo of the Kever of Naftali Zvi of Ropshitz, Łańcut, Poland © 2018 Beth Ben-Avraham.