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The Belzer Rebbe’s Chandelier Soldier

Aharon Rubin

When the Rebbe, Reb Aharon of Belz, called out, during World War II, “Moishele, do something!” Moshe Schlifstein did it. And when the tomb of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lyzhensk needed repairing after the war, he was there again. There are many more such stories hidden behind the unassuming visage of Rav Tzvi Moshe Schlifstein, whose family can trace their lineage back to Reb Elimelech and the Bnei Yissaschar. For the first, time he has agreed to publicly reveal a few of them.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

belzer rebbes soldierAt the entrance to Rav Tzvi Moshe Schlifstein’s home in Har Canaan, Tzfas, hangs an aged, yellowed sign. The sign, like the house behind it, has seen better days. It announces simply that this is the “Schlifstein home,” where guest rooms are available to visitors wishing to imbibe the atmosphere of the city of the mekubalim. The house is picturesque, like something out of a storybook, and many legends have attached themselves to this home that has hosted numerous illustrious and mysterious individuals over the years. Among them was the great mekubal Rav Yosef Waltuch ztz”l. The Toldos Aharon Rebbe ztz”l was a guest, as well, and he affixed a mezuzah to the door of one of the house’s rooms.

But the man who lives here, a Jew with a radiant face and a youthful spirit despite his advanced age, is also fascinating. And when Reb Moshe speaks of bygone days, it is as if the events occurred only recently; his memory is clear. The advanced age and the clear memory are both part of the family legacy, a legacy that stretches back to one of his illustrious ancestors: Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lyzhensk.

Reb Moshe Schlifstein was born in 1919 in the city of Lancut, Poland, where his father, Reb Dov Berel z”l, had a sawmill. It was thanks to his being a resident of Lancut that Reb Moshe entered the lore of Belz Chassidus, despite the fact that his family were not chassidim of the Belzer Rebbe. The surprising event took place during the early days of the Second World War. 

“It was Friday afternoon,” Reb Moshe relates, “on the 17th of Elul, 5699, when the Nazi army invadedPoland. We knew that war had broken out, but no one knew what the results would be and how long it would continue.

“My father had a small radio in his office. As could be expected, he was glued to the radio waves in order to pick up any information about what was happening on the battlefield. In one broadcast, the strident voice of Hitler himself, yemach shemo, broke into the broadcast. He announced his rabid hatred on the radio, declaring that the Jews were ‘responsible for everything’ and that he would allow ‘only a single Jew to survive, as a museum piece.’

“That was enough for my father. He understood that the Germans or the Poles were likely to capture the strong youths first and use them for whatever purposes they wanted. ‘Son, run away from here,’ he ordered me. ‘There is no alternative. The rest of the family will remain here until the picture becomes clearer.’ ”


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