What does one say-a last vestige of the Chassidim of yore?

The Amshinover Rebbe is a controversial figure. Amshinov descended from the famed R’Yitzchak Vurka ז’ל who was linked to R’ Simcha Bunim of P’Shischa (whose disciples included the Kotzker, Chiddushei HaRim of Ger, Alexander and more) right back to the Magid of Mezritch.

Early complaints against Chassidim in general were about their reported lack of respect for certain aspects of Halacha and strange practices during davening. One of these, but by no means the only one, was their seeming disdain for davening within the mandated halachic time frame: the Zman. Some, such as Rabbi Dr Norman Lamm described this behaviour as “antinomianism”. It was as if there was a “higher imperative” that surpassed the halachic imperative. These complaints fuelled early litvak/misnagdic distaste for Chassidic Rebbes and the Chassidic lifestyle. Many Rebbes were comparatively unlearned. Unlike their misnagdic brethren, Rebbes were often not experts in many facets of Jewish learning, and concentrated on simple drashos, one liners, and seemingly fanciful stories.

These days, the number of Rebbes has by no means subsided. Elements of Chassidism, such as the reverence for an uber Rabbi, have invaded the misnagdic Weltanschauung. Most Rebbes are respected solely by their Chassidim, save for a chosen few whose learning and well-known middos and deeds are universally acknowledged.

Acknowledged by both the Chassidic and Misnagdic/Litvak world, there is an unobtrusive Rebbe in Bayit Vegan,

The Amshinover Rebbe שליט’’א

who is uniformly respected. Many an itinerant Yeshiva student who slept in, knew they could go to the Rebbe’s Beis HaMedrash because they would always catch the Minyan “on time”, even well after the Zman. The Rebbe’s davening and preparation for davening meant that time was an irrelevant imposition in his quest for nearness to Hashem.

Yes, my great-grandfather and name-sake was a simple Amshinover Chosid who lived in Boguszyce, and delivered chalav yisrael and cheese goods from his small farm by horse and buggy to nearby towns and villages.  Yes, I have tried on two occasions to see the Rebbe given that I am somewhat of a pseudo-Polish romantic (others would describe my malady as extreme second generation post holocaust syndrome). I have been unsuccessful (maybe there is a message there). I also felt somewhat “wrong” to seek Yechidus and waste the Rebbe’s time given that I didn’t have a particular problem or issue that I felt I needed to discuss. That’s probably due to the part Brisker in me on my grandmother’s side and the influence of the Rav on my outlook.

Recently, someone emailed me a comment post from a hebrew web site. I thought it might be useful to loosely translate the comment and post it below.

There are some Rebbes, Rabonim and Roshei Yeshivos from this and past generations, about whom many believed and believe that they are Tzadikim and holy. Sometimes this belief comes about because of the (biased) education imparted in the house, other times this belief is purely a political imperative. 

It is only very few, about whom one can sense with one’s own eyes, irrespective of earlier biases, their true righteousness, and pure Avodas Hashem.

The Amshinover Rebbe is the Rebbe about whom one does not need to believe that he is a Tzadik. This can be readily observed every minute and hour of the day, each day, over many years. 

Without minimising the importance of others, I do not think there is anyone in our generation who approaches the Amshinover Rebbe’s stature as a Tzadik, and who serves Hashem in his holy way and through pure Avodas Hashem.

I’m talking about a person who is ascetic in the extreme. He barely eats (he drinks a natural  juice concentrate), sleeps 5-6 hours in a week and lives a life of extreme simplicity. He doesn’t have the trappings of many “grand” Rebbes. He doesn’t have a fancy car at his disposal. He wears basic clothing. On the door of his apartment of three rooms, on the second floor, there is a sign which simply reads “Family Milekowski”. In this apartment of three rooms, twelve children were brought up. He literally runs away from any smell of honour, has no special honoured seat for Davening and at a Tish, he sits on a plain bench. He has no use for extravagant silver utensils or accoutrements.

His love for fellow Jews is unparalleled, spending many hours each day helping people from all around the world. He cares for each Jew irrespective of which group they may belong to. Whoever hasn’t experienced his love, cannot understand what I mean. Even when he talks to fifteen year old children he uses words of respect and speaks in the third person.

 He is the only Rebbe, in my opinion, who has never allowed a word to cross his lips without careful forethought. He doesn’t unload on anyone. This is someone who trembles  with a countenance revealing his genuine fear of Hashem. Each time he even makes the most “mundane” of brachos the trepidation in saying Hashem’s name is palpable . The Rebbe never sits during davening, even if that davening takes him 10 hours.

The Amshinover Rebbe is possessed with unique strength. There are innumerable stories and testimonies from people who will support what I have written above. To give you a feel, I’ll relate one. 

A few years ago, on Rosh Hashana, after two entire days without sleep and being involved with intensive davening that included a 7 hours personal Shmone Esreh, the Rebbe proceeded to wish a “Git Yohr” for four hours as people passed in front of him. After aTish, just before T’kias Shofar, the Rebbe informed his Gabbay that he needed to leave for some sleep. Before he entered his room, the Rebbe requested that the Gabbay wake him in nine minutes. After nine minutes, as the Gabbay entered, the Rebbe immediately jumped up and re-entered the Beis Medrash as if he has enjoyed a complete sleep. The Rebbe had minimised his bodily needs.

In respect of the Rebbe’s knowledge of Torah, he was never “caught out” on any topic: Bavli, Yerushalmi, Shulchan Aruch, Poskim, Kabbala, Chassidus or Sheylos U’Tshuvos (many tried to catch him out, but were unsuccessful). Even to this day, the Rebbe maintains Chevrusos studying all these topics.

I could go on and on about the Rebbe’s greatness, but it would be unnecessary if one takes the above into their hearts with seriousness. Nobody seriously questions the Rebbe because he is a giant of giants who serves Hashem constantly, and surely won’t err in Halacha.

I will finish with one story, which admittedly I heard second-hand. That being said, “well known things don’t require proof”. 

R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל, loved and respected the Rebbe. Once, R’ ShlomoZalman was asked how it was possible that the Rebbe seemingly didn’t follow Halacha (on account of the Rebbe davening after the Zman). R’ Shlomo Zalman answered: 

“The Mishna in Pirkei Avos says that one Mitzvah causes another Mitzvah and an Aveirah causes another Aveirah. There are two ways of understanding this double meaning. When a man does a good deed, but isn’t sure whether what he did was indeed a good deed, look and see if the Yetzer Hora stirs the man or whether the Yetzer Hora is sidelined and leaves him alone. The obvious way to answer this is to look at the next action, after the Mitzvah. If the next action is good, then this is proof that the first action was also good. 

When the Amshinover Rebbe does something which isn’t easily understood, we don’t know if he is doing Mitzvos or Aveyros ח’ו. Have a look at what his next actions are. They are Mitzvos … “

It’s important to note that the Rebbe studied for several years in Yeshivas Brisk. He grew up in an authentic “Litvak” home (his father was the Gaon R’ Chaim Milekovski). In all aspects of his life the Rebbe is a Machmir and punctilious, even more than the Briskers and the Chazon Ishnikes. This extends to all aspects of Kashrus, Pesach Chumros, Succos, Daled Minim, giving honour and respect to another human being, avoiding Machlokes, not speaking Lashon Hara etc. Do you know another Rebbe who has not had a single Machlokes with anyone?

The Rebbe is always on the go, rushing around with his eyes perched downwards. Everything the Rebbe does is with great care and Zrizus.

One more last story will serve to elucidate how much we don’t really know about him or appreciate his greatness. 

A few years ago, on the Hillula of a previous Rebbe, his great-grandfather R’ Shimon Sholem ז’ל (Rabbi Shimon Sholem was a major driving force behind the exodus of thousands of young men in Mir, Kletzk, Radin, Novhardok, and other yeshivas via Japan to Shanghai at the outbreak of World War II and was also widely respected by the Rayatz of Chabad) on the 19th of Av,

R’ Shimon Sholem of Amshinov (and Otwock) 

the Rebbe went to R’ Shimon Sholem’s grave site in the old city of T’verya. On the way, he davens Shachris at the Kever of R’ Meir Ba’al HaNes. In that year, the Rebbe arrived very early at the Kever of R’ Meir Ba’al HaNes, and the Chassidim were sure that the Rebbe would manage to daven by the Zman. The Chassidim were astonished. The Rebbe paced around the Beis Medrash at the Kever of R’ Meir Ba’al HaNes deep in thought, occasionally glancing at the ticking clock. The Rebbe continued to pace back and forth, sweating profusely in the Tiberian heat. In the end, the Rebbe paced deep in thought for a full six hours, preparing himself for the eventual T’filla. What was the Rebbe thinking about? What was he waiting for? Everyone watched in astonishment. We will never know.

“The purpose of knowing, is that we will never know”

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

9 thoughts on “What does one say-a last vestige of the Chassidim of yore?”

  1. Very Interesting. I too have heard very great things about the Amshinover Rebbe, he seems like a true giant. However I must say what you write in the beginning (cited in the next paragraph) of your article doesn’t add anything to your explanation of the Amshinover
    “Many Rebbes were comparatively unlearned. Unlike their misnagdic brethren, Rebbes were often not experts in many facets of Jewish learning, and concentrated on simple drashos, one liners, and seemingly fanciful stories”
    Is this from Dr. Lamm? What is the basis that a “Rebbe” from the times of Magid where “comparatively unlearned”.
    p.s. I posted did link on an earlier post and I didn’t see any reply. http://www.teshura.com/teshurapdf/Krinsky-Schmukler%20-%20Elul%2015%205770.pdf page 20


    1. Hi Mendy,
      The reason why I mentioned that many Rebbes were comparatively unlearned was to note that the Amshinover, despite his Dveykus to T’filla and Avoda, surprisingly is also known as a Rebbe who is very learned. He has Chevrusos learning Gmorah Rashi Tosfos as well as Chassidus.

      It’s not from Rabbi Lamm. It’s me. Rabbi Lamm used the word antinomianism.

      I saw your link, but I didn’t know what to say. On the one hand, you see the Lubavitcher Rebbe saying he felt extremely close to the Rav, closer than what others may imagine (and who knows how much of that was either due to their personal shared experiences or whether this is due to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s later stated view that the coming together of the Gaon’s family and the Alter Rebbe’s family was a portend for Mashiach. On the other hand, the other letter read to me like he felt that the Rav easily bent in either direction and was influenceable (something I don’t agree with, and which I think is perhaps an incorrect understanding of the Rav)


    2. Forgot to mention, certainly the Rebbes of old were learned (many of them were of course Misnagdim before that :-), but surely you and I both know that Rebbes today, and there are seemingly gazzillions of them popping up, are not known for their Geonus in learning. Yes, there are exceptions, there are always exceptions.


  2. I enjoyed reading this, Dr Baldwin.

    When I was in Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, from my balcony, I would often see the Amshinover walking in street dressed in Shabbos clothes… on Tuesday.

    He was very well respected even in such a down-the-line litvishe yeshive.


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