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Artemy Bobylev
Artemy Bobylev

123 Slaughter Me Street

WWI By Mosheh FalkWith the end of the period of my childhood, I became more moderate and serious. I tried to work and also began to read a lot. Daily I read the two newspaper dailies Haynt and Moment. The Beilis trial interested me a lot. I read Bialik's City of Slaughter a lot. I already learned to sing ha-Tikvah by heart. There was a big picture of Herzl hanging on the wall. On another wall was a messianic theme: “At the end of days, the wolf and sheep shall live together...” Suddenly, there appeared on the streets announcements calling for a general draft for war. The population was bitter and sad. There was not a house in which the crying of women and children was not heard. They were being separated from the men in the family. We grew up suddenly and began to sense a new situation. Twice a day I ran to the post office and impatiently expected mail. I would soon have my Bar Mitzvah. My sister sewed a bag for phylacteries for me and my sister Blumah brought me a beautiful pair of phylacteries. However, the celebration was modest. Our house was full of refugees from Brisk and we also slept in the attic. We shared all with the refugees. Chickens and ducks disappeared from the city. We offered everything we had to the unfortunate. I myself offered the pair of phylacteries to a refugee and lost them. I was sad to have also given away the bag for the phylacteries into which so much love had been put into its making.Month followed month. The Germans conquered Warsaw and also Brisk fell to them. My father buried in the ground all his work tools and also the property and equipment we had at home. The city was full of Cossacks and a Cossack was commandant in the city. We sat locked up at home. The fear was great and we already heard shots in town. We went to live in the fields behind the city. The soldiers plundered all they found. They even took the boots from the feet of the men. Towards evening the smoke went up from the town they set on fire. My father ran to save the Torah scrolls from the study halls. When he came home at evening, he was full of soot and dropped from exhaustion. We revived him and he went back. He found the entire town burnt. However, he put the Torah scrolls in a house that survived.We went to our burnt house. My father found the hiding place of our valuables. My mother was in tears and clasped her hands in despair. Acquaintances came and advised us to enter for the time being one of the gentile houses. The inhabitants had fled. However, mother refused to live in the house of a gentile. Finally, our in-law Shelomoh the painter[Page 124]came and took us to live with him. We left my childhood house and went to live in our in-law's house. Itke, Shelomoh's daughter, went to live with her three children in her parent's house. We got two of her rooms. We immediately began to think of establishing a study hall in the temporary building meant to be a hospital. The building was completed by the time of the High Holidays.After the High Holidays, the youth was taken to perform forced labor. They took me and my friend Yisroel-Mendl, the son of Yaakov Hayyim, the ritual slaughterer. The next day the two of us were sick with typhus. My dear friend died of the disease. As to myself, my mother did not close her eyes or leave my bed for eight days and prayed to G-d to take her in my place. I got well and she got sick and died. Her good eyes accompany me always.In the Gates of Torah By A. Ben-Ezra, R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memoryWe assume that the Hasidic Rebbe and the regular orthodox Rabbi are two different types and they cannot be mixed up together in one person. This is because the Hasidic Rebbe is a miracle worker and leader to the ignorant masses. The regular orthodox rabbi is a professor of law, a scholar among scholars. One kingdom does not touch another in this regard. However, there is historical evidence for a mixture of these religious types in one person. There were some great people, who had mixed in them the qualities of the Hasidic Rebbe, a person of feeling, sharing in the troubles of the masses, and the qualities of the regular orthodox Rabbi, with great retentive and analytic powers, coming to a sharp point in the law. Some people could handle both of these in themselves.Still before Baal Shem Tov (ca. 1700-1760), the founder of the modern Hasidic movement, we had personalities like Judah b. Samuel he-Hasid (d. 1217), of the medieval Haside Ashkenaz, Judah Loew ten Bezalel (ca. 1525-1609), of Prague and other religious personalities, who combined in themselves the qualities of the Hasidic Rebbe and the regular orthodox Rabbi. Even after the spread of modern Hassidism, there appeared some rabbis of mixed type, such as R. Seckel Wormser of Mikhelshtat (1768-1847), R. Elijah Guttmacher of Graidits (1796-1874), and people like them.A rabbi of mixed type was R. Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory. He united in his person the vast and analytical knowledge of the Talmud and a caring personality, drawing to himself thousands of people, Jews and gentiles. They came just to see him and to receive his blessing.R. Pinchas Michael was born to his father Yitshak Eizik and to his mother Breinah Heniah in 1808 in the city of Sharshev (Grodno province). R. Eizik was the grandson of the great Rabbi Yehoshua of Pinsk, a descendant of R. Eleazar ben Samuel Schmelke of Amsterdam (1665-1741), author of Maaseh Rokeah and on his mother's side of Meir ben Isaac Eisenstadt (1670-1744), author of Panim meirot .R. Pinchas was an only child. However, he did not act like an only child. Only children are usually pampered and not scholarly. This was not the type of the youth Pinchas Michael. He was devoted from childhood to worship and study. His parent's ideal was not a secular one of accumulating wealth and possessions. Rather, it was a spiritual one, of attaining knowledge of Torah and wisdom. Pinchas Michael worshipped and studied all the time and eagerly acquired rabbinic knowledge. Of the rabbis who influenced him, we know the name of only one, R. Asher ha-Kohen (1797-1866), the author of Birkat Rosh. R. Pinchas Michael tried to be modest like his mentor. He learned from R. Asher to make due with little. Accordingly, he did not seek a rabbinical appointment until about the age of fifty, as did his mentor, R. Asher.He even imitated his mentor in his own literary output. Just like his mentor composed a commentary on the Tractate Nazir, so did he. Certainly, Pinchas[Page 125]Michael's composition is not as full of casuistry as that of his mentor. As his mentor, he was extremely diligent and went without sleep. He did this to such an extent that his father asked to sleep one hour in the afternoon to fulfill the commandment “Honor thy father...” It was from his father R. Yitshak Eizik that he inherited the great love of the Jewish people and devotion to matters of charity. As was the custom in those days, his parents married him off at an early age. He took as a wife Moshkah daughter of the wealthy R. Yehiel Mikhl of Pasval, who was a great grandchild of R. Jehiel ban Solomon Hellprin (ca. 1660-1746), author of Seder ha-dorot. His wife kept a store and maintained the household so her husband was free to just study.Already in the days of his youth, R. Pinchas Michael was known to be familiar with the Talmud and its commentaries. Then, he began a correspondence with rabbinical luminaries about the Early and Later Commentaries to the Talmud. He established himself as a critical analyst of the text. He began to write down his commentaries to Talmud, Rashi, Tosafot, Isaac ban Jacob Alfasi, Asher ben Jghiel, and Nissim ban Reuben Gerondi, until it became a thick book. However, he was humble and made no big deal of this. He would even listen to the youth studying in the study hall and accept their opinions. When he did not understand Rashi, Asher ben Jehiel, Me1r ban Jacob SchIff or Israel ban Gedaliah Lipschutz, author of the commentary to the Mishnah Tiferet Yisrael, he would not be assumed to say: “I do not have the merit to understand” or “They were so profound that I did not understand them”, and the like. However, when he would understand a disagreement between Asher ban Jehiel and Meir ben a gloss and not his words at all”.In places where it is clear to R. Pinchas Michael that Samuel Eliezer ben Judah ha-Levi Edels was not correct, he does not even accept him and writes: “His explanation is confused” and “His answer is contrived”. Mainly, he accepted Rashi's opinion but not always.It was not only in Jewish law that R. Pinchas Michael held forth but also Sharshev, R. Pinchas Michael's birthplace, was known for its rabbis and great scholars. R. David, author of Homot Yerushalayim on Shulhan erukh, Orah hayyim, held the rabbinical post there. It is said about this rabbi that according to astronomical calculations he wanted to have the new moon each month be celebrated for three days instead of one or two and wanted to have the scroll of Esther read on Purim for an additional day on the day of the holiday known as Shushan Purim. R. Pinchasben Azriel, ha- Levi, of Amsterdam, the author of Nahalat Azriel also had a rabbinical post there. Likewise, R. Eizk hakohen, author of Shaare Yitshak also held a post there.R. Asher ha-Kohen, 1797-1866, pupil of R. Hayyim ben Isaac Volozhiner, 1749-1821, also held a rabbinical post there. R. Asher was the author of Birkat Rosh on the tractate of Berakhot and commentary on the explanations of Rashi and Tosafot and Birkat Rosh on the tractate of Nazir and commentary on Maimonides' legal decisions.In the beginning, R. Asher ha-Kohen did not want to earn his living as a rabbi. He was a merchant until the age of fifty in Sharshev. During leisure hours, he would sit and study. Torah. Finally, he accepted the request of the town's wealthy people to accept a rabbinical post there. However, he did not remain long. This is because in 1852 (the Hebrew year 613) he was appointed rabbi of Tiktin (Grodno province) at the request of the town's leaders.When R. Asher ha-Kohen became rabbi of Tiktin, the leaders of the Sharshev community sought a rabbi capable of carrying on the intellectual position of the post in their community. Finally, they chose R. Pinchas Michael to replace R. Asher ha-Kohen. They saw in him the same scholarly type as his mentor, erudite in Talmud, modest and capable.R. Pinchas Michael was just as modest in his rabbinical post as he had been as a private person. He was friendly to the masses. He listened to what[Page 126]they said, participated in their sorrow, and helped them. He especially treated children with respect and addressed them as “You” (second person plural). Despite his popular behavior, R. Pinchas Michael was known as a scholar, who was asked for answers by famous rabbis.On the other hand, the common people turned to him for advice in their daily lives. His house was open to every poor person. Thus, he was rabbi in Sharshev for eight years until 1864 (624). This year has a new designation in the life of R. Pinchas Michael, because in this year he left his birthplace, Sharshev, in which he grew up and took root and came to the town of Antopolyah (Antopol in Russian), in the Kobrin district, in the province of Grodno.Antopol was famous not only among the Jews in the Antopol region. Rather, it was also famous outside of the boundaries of this province. It is a true fact that this town, which was almost forgotten to the Russian government was known to the Jews for its famous rabbis knowledgeable in Jewish law and mysticism. The saintly mystic R. Moshes Tsevi was rabbi here for forty-four years from 1818 to 1862 (578-622).R. Mosheh Tsevi was known not only for his knowledge of law and his knowledge in Jewish mysticism. He was also known for his good disposition, his good feeling to the public and individuals. People would come to him with both spiritual and worldly matters; this person in material matters, this one about earning a living, and this one about physical or mental health.After R. Mosheh Tsevi's death, R. Hayyim Zalman Bresloi, a descendent of the great rabbi Yosef David of Mir, was rabbi. Apparently, a quarrel broke out and he had to leave Antopol after two years and settle in Mir. The rabbinical position in Antopol was waiting for its true inheritor. A number of rabbis, learned and educators, were candidates for the rabbinical post in this small town. However, not a one of them satisfied the desire of its Jewish inhabitants. This was because the rabbi, who would inherit the rabbinical position would have to be a continuation of the rabbinical tradition in Antopol and satisfy all groups of people with his fatherly attitude towards all his congregants.It wasn't easy to satisfy the Jews of Antopol, who numbered more than one thousand inhabitants. This is because all of them were learned in Judaism. Some were scholars who gave lessons in Gemara, like R. Yekutiel the blacksmith, and others like him.The heads of the community found only one rabbi fit for the post. This was R. Pinchas Michael, full of Talmudic knowledge and love for his fellow beings. The town's leaders overlooked his speech deficiency, the fact that he stuttered. They knew that it was not a physical defect. Rather, it was the result of quick thought and rapid mental grasp. They looked at his simple nature, both in his way of teaching and his life style, his good nature, and his immense knowledge of Talmud and commentaries. These qualities made him the appropriate heir to the rabbinical post of Antopol.Before he accepted the post, he told the town's leaders that he did not want a salary. Rather, he would have an income from his wife's sale of yeast. On the first day of the month of Heshvan, 1864 (624), R. Pinchas Michael came to town. The entire city was happy to receive its new rabbi. Finally, Antopol received a rabbinical authority that merited the two crowns – learning and good reputation. Everyone wanted to hear his first sermon. It would certainly be studious with references to earlier and later commentators on the Talmud, as was the manner of contemporary scholars.However, R. Pinchas did not deliver a sermon like this. The people did not hear law from him. Rather, they heard lore and ethics. In order to fulfill his responsibility, he discussed a matter of law at the end. This is also God's manner. He did not address the children of Israel when they came the first day to Mt. Sinai. They were tired from the journey. So, it is with the commandments that God gave to them.[Page 127]First, he gave them easy commandments, like the priest's share of the dough, new meal offering, and afterwards, leave offering, tithes, sabbatical year, and jubilee year, which were harder. “When God gave his commandments, He took a gradual approach, instructing us to act justly and kindly.” Pinchas Michael passed from statements of Jewish lore to Jewish ethics. He repeatedly warned about the observance of easy commandments, such as praying on time and value of study.He expanded on the value of study. Almost all of his first sermon was devoted to this topic. These are his words: Everyone, even if he worked for a living in crafts or trade, has to diligently set aside time for study of Judaism, whether a little or a lot, each according to his ability, or to listen to others in this study, each according to his ability. God will not request a person to study hard things, only what he is able. The point is to do something. And to guard oneself from idle talk, especially in the study or synagogue, learning Judaism is important. The woman should help her husband by also working to earn a living, like Zebulun the merchant provided for his brother Issachar, enabling him to study.The first sermon that R. Pinchas Michael preached in Antopol was the program according to which he acted all his stay in this town. He explained in it the principals of his method in law and manners. This is primarily because he was a teacher of Jewish law. He would repeat these ideas in almost every sermon. Teaching of Jewish law should be done simply, without trying to show off. There was a need to guide the heart in study and not to study externally. Every person should learn according to his nature. “Some people are able to study better before going to sleep. Some are able to study better when they awake, because then their thoughts are quiet and rested.” In addition to the study of Jewish law, there are two more fundamentals: prayer and charity. These are the three principles on which he based his sermons and private conversations. R. Pinchas Michael deviated from the established custom that a Rabbi would only give a sermon twice a year: on the Sabbath before Passover and the Sabbath between the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement. He gave a sermon on every holiday. He would stand before the congregation on the Sabbath between the New Year and Day of Atonement, wrap himself up in his prayer shawl and weep. The congregation would weep after him. This was his “sermon” by which he stirred the people to repent and do good deeds.Most of his sermons were not sharp. Rather, they had work of ethics and admonishments for daily living, like keeping the Sabbath, doing deeds of charity, feeding the poor, and keeping accurate measures for weighing goods. He stood up for these matters and called out for their observance on every occasion. He was firm on studying simply. He studied and taught others by this method. His method was to simply explain the obtuse without being far-fetched and wordy. Rather, he used a logical explanation and set up the text correctly and with brevity. R. Pinchas Michael used this method in his short explanations that were precise to the Tractates of Nazir, Temurah, Meilah and Tamid.His explanations could be described as a little that contains a lot. He knew the secret of reduction in writing. He knew what to put down and. what to omit. He acts this way in his explanation to the Talmudic Tractates of Ternurah, Meilah, and part of Tamid. Like in his introduction to the explanation of Nazir, so he does in his explanation to the other tractates of the Talmud, apologizing and saying: “Behold, I understand how little is my value and my intelligence. It is certain that there are things that I do not understand”.R. Pinchas Michael kept this manuscript with him for many years, certainly because he did not have the money to publish it. He kept it until he got instruction from heaven that he must publish it. Then, he gave it to the publisher. His explanation immediately found a wide audience, because it was so precise.[Page 128]Directly or indirectly, R. Pinchas Michael influenced thousands of Jews, whether they heard him speak morality or wisdom or whether they only heard of his name. During his lifetime he was already a legend, passed from father to son and grandfather to grandchild. Every one talked of the righteous man, who listened to every, one turning and who did not differentiate between Jew and gentile. This is because “a gentile also has to live”. He was a father and patron to every suffering and bitter person that came to him from a distance. Among those coming were Jewish scholars, merchants, craftsmen, women and children. If a tragedy happened at home, they immediately ran to the righteous man. If a Polish squire did not want to renew a lease, they turned to R. Pinchas Michael to seek advice. If someone was dangerously ill, they called for the aid of the righteous man. The righteous man would say: “I don't know, God will bless you”.R. Pinchas Michael became the emissary of those turning to him. He would add these people to his prayers in saying the Shemonah Esrah. He did not act as a typical Hasidic Rebbe. He would not receive gift


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