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Born to Lead

Yerucham Landesman

Walking through Kiryat Belz in Yerushalayim today and seeing thousands of Belzer chassidim streaming through its streets, one cannot imagine the bereavement that once struck this community. Shattered by the loss of its two great leaders in a span of seven years, the eyes of all Belzer chassidim focused on a nine-year-old boy, waiting for the day when he would become their leader. How does a young man assume the leadership of a dying Chassidus at the age of 18 and transform into an empire of Torah, chesed

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Motzaei Shabbos, Parshas Chukas, 8 Tamuz 5726/1966. Rechov Ahavas Shalom, Kiryat Vizhnitz, Bnei Brak.

Five chassidishe Yidden who had just arrived from Tel Aviv stood outside a building, conversing in excited whispers. They entered the apartment building, ascending the stairs slowly and respectfully. If the pounding in their hearts could have been amplified and broadcast throughout the neighborhood, the entire Kiryat Vizhnitz would have trembled.

These men were close associates of the holy Reb Aharon of Belz ztz”l, whose ninth yahrtzeit was one month away. They knocked on the door of Reb Aharon’s nephew, who had recently married the granddaughter of the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz ztz”l.

The fresh yungerman opened the door of the modest apartment himself. “Many hearts are filled with anticipation and expectation, focused on you,” they began as they settled around the dining room table. “Perhaps the time has come for you to accept the mantle of leadership — to occupy the place of your forefathers as the leader of the Belzer Chassidus, to rebuild and to lead us into the era of Mashiach.”

For a moment, the Rebbe was unable to respond. Finally, he said humbly, “This is a matter that must be brought to the gedolei hador.”

The five chassidim wasted no time. They longed to see the young Rebbe presiding over a tisch on the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe, Reb Aharon, a month later, and the very next day, they dispatched a special messenger to the Klausenberger Rebbe ztz”l, the Shefa Chaim of Sanz. The Shefa Chaim immediately ruled that the distinguished yungerman be appointed as the new Rebbe. Four of the most distinguished Belzer chassidim, including the noted gabbai Reb Shalom Foigel, then traveled to Haifa, where the Beis Yisrael of Gur was vacationing, to seek his opinion. The Beis Yisrael responded that if twenty Jews requested it, the yungerman should accept the appointment immediately.

Of course, far more than twenty Jews were behind the request. . . .

On Wednesday of that very week, in a modest ceremony in Kiryat Vizhnitz, that young yungerman acquiesced to accept the mantle of leadership upon his shoulders. For years, hundreds of chassidim, young and old, had been watching him closely, and now their hopes would finally come to fruition. Communication was slower in those days, and the news only reached the Belzer Yeshiva in Jerusalem the next day, on Thursday. The spontaneous outbursts of joy and the fervent dancing of the bochurim that erupted are still fresh in the participants’ memories.

Nearly two generations have passed since that joyous celebration. At first the chassidus doubled and then tripled in size, and over time it has overshadowed the former glory it had before the war.

We can’t possibly do justice to the full scope of events that transformed Belz into what it is today from the day the Chassidus was left bereft with the passing of Reb Aharon of Belz on the 21 Av 5717/1957. Nevertheless, we will attempt to sketch an outline of those years, to shine a spotlight on this distinguished Chassidus and the illustrious leader at its helm.

 

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