Rabbi Aharon of Belz: Striving for Unity

Rabbi Aharon Roke’ach of Belz—the fourth Rebbe of the Belz dynasty, was born in Elul 5640 (1880) in Belz (which was in Galicia, Poland at the time and today is in Ukraine). His father, Rabbi Yissachar Dov, was the third Rebbe in the dynasty and his mother, Batyah Ruchamah, was the granddaughter of Rabbi Aharon of Chernobyl, after whom Rabbi Aharon was named. Growing up, Rabbi Aharon learned Torah from his father and paternal grandfather, Rabbi Yehoshua. Before he was eighteen, he married his cousin, Malkah (who would later be murdered in the Holocaust along with all their children). After his father passed away in 5687 (1927), Rabbi Aharon was appointed to succeed him as the Belzer Rebbe and Chief Rabbi of Belz. Rabbi Aharon was known from a young age for his great holiness, so much so that one of the tzaddikim of the generation said regarding him, “Apparently, the evil inclination has forgotten about him.” Rabbi Aharon was also known for his great love of the Jewish people and for not being willing to hear anything negative about any Jew, regardless of their level of Torah observance. He said that he was born with the trait of compassion. During the Holocaust, he escaped Poland, where the Nazis were pursuing him personally, first reaching Hungary and then the Land of Israel. After living temporarily in Jerusalem, he made Tel Aviv his home. He married twice more but did not have any children. Rabbi Aharon rebuilt the chassidic sect of Belz in the Holy Land. He passed away on Saturday night, 21 Menachem Av and is buried in Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem. 

When the Lubavitcher Rebbe was still a young Torah scholar in Brooklyn, the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Roke’ach, came to Brooklyn for a visit. Jews from near and far came to welcome him and receive his blessing. The Rebbe came as well. As he was not familiar with the Belzer Rebbe’s particular customs, he asked a friend who was familiar with the protocol if he could accompany him. The Rebbe made it clear to his friend and another Chabad chassid who joined them on the way, that they should not reveal the fact that he is the son-in-law of the Rebbe Rayatz—the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

When receiving the public, the Belzer Rebbe would lower his head and wrap his hand in a towel. He would then shake people’s hands through the towel. When the Rebbe’s turn came, the Belzer Rebbe shook his hand through the towel. Suddenly, though, instead of leaving his hand and proceeding to the next person in line, he removed the towel. “Who are you?” he asked the Rebbe. “I am simply a young man who learns Torah,” the Rebbe replied. “No, you cannot hide yourself from me,” Rebbe Aharon responded and added, “You have a hot hand.” According to an eyewitness, the Belzer Rebbe held the Rebbe’s hand for ten minutes. 

On another occasion, in Vienna, the Rebbe visited the Belzer Rebbe with his brother-in-law, who was also the son-in-law of the Rebbe Rayatz. The Belzer Rebbe treated the brother-in-law as he did all people. But when the Rebbe’s turn came, he held his hand as he had done previously, but this time for fifteen minutes!

In their meetings, the two tzaddikim departed from their accepted conduct in order to express their admiration and the respect that they felt for each other. The Rebbe even related that once, he took “shirayim” (leftover food from the tzaddik’s table) from the Belzer Rebbe. In Chabad, it is not customary for the Rebbe to leave shirayim or for chassidim to take them, for that matter, making the Rebbe’s departure from accepted Chabad norms even more surprising. More wondrous yet is the Rebbe’s reaction to the passing of the Belzer Rebbe:

On Shabbat, 20th of Menachem-Av, when the Torah portion of Eikev was read, Rebbe Aharon spoke before his congregation as was his custom. In his address, he said that when a father or Rebbe passes on, his children and students must strengthen themselves to follow in his footsteps. On Saturday night, Rebbe Aharon suddenly became ill and passed away. Although it was Saturday night in Israel, in America, it was still Shabbat. The Lubavitcher Rebbe heard the sad news as soon as Shabbat was over. He immediately asked his secretariat if it was possible to get a flight to Israel in time for the funeral, which was scheduled for Sunday morning, Israel time. But the time difference was too great and the relevant flights to Israel had already taken off…

As is known, the Lubavitcher Rebbe never visited the Land of Israel—not even for a short visit. Many reasons were given for this, both by the Rebbe, himself, and by others. Nevertheless, when he heard that Rebbe Aharon had passed away, he did try to get to the Land of Israel.

The Rebbe’s words following Rebbe Aharon’s passing provide us with a glimpse of how he felt when he heard the sad news:

During the thirty-day mourning period after Rebbe Aharon’s passing, someone asked the Rebbe why he does not speak about atchalta dege’ulah (beginning of the redemption). The Rebbe answered that atchalta dege’ulah will begin when Mashiach comes, and now we are in “doubly double” darkness – and the proof of that is that our great sages are still leaving this world.

The connection that the Rebbe saw between Rebbe Aharon of Belz and the redemption, coupled with the fact that the Rebbe wanted to fly to Israel in his honor are in part due to the fact that in matters pertaining to the Jewish people, they were like-minded: Rebbe Aharon was the primary proponent of the “united front” for all the religious political parties in Israel—one bloc for all the believers in God and His Torah. The unity for which Rebbe Aharon strived is the primary trait that we can learn from him today.

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