Harav Yaakov Galinsky, zt”l

A partial view of the crowd at the levayah.
A partial view of the crowd at the levayah.

Rosh Yeshivah and renowned maggid

Thousands of people attended the levayah of Harav Yaakov Galinsky, zt”l, a Rosh Yeshivah and marbitz Torah for decades, a renowned maggid and a carryover from a previous generation. He passed away on Thursday at the age of 94. Harav Galinsky was a Gadol in Torah and yiras Shamayim, a scion of Yeshivas Novardok in Bialystok, and one of the last maggidim remaining in our generation. For many years, he inspired his listeners to improve their avodas Hashem; his drashos were a true example of “words that come from the heart enter the heart.”

Early Years

Reb Yaakov was born in 5681/1921 in Krinek, Poland to his father Reb Avraham Tzvi, z”l. He learned in Yeshivas Novardok in Bialystok, following the shittah of the Alter of Novardok, and his rebbi, Harav Avraham Yaffen, zt”l, the son-in-law and successor of the Alter.

Harav Yaakov would speak about the experience of being a Novardoker bachur. A bachur who came to the yeshivah spent months and even years in the yeshivah without visiting home. The bachurim knew that they had to bid farewell to parents and hometown, not knowing if and when they would see either again. “The ruach of the yeshivah to serve Hashem with enthusiasm captured my heart,” Reb Yanke’le, as he was widely known, related to Hamodia several years ago. “Tefillos and learning were enthusiastic and fervent, and the bachurim strived for shleimus.”

Reb Yanke’le described the atmosphere in the yeshivah: Some bachurim in Bialystok invested more time and effort in iyun haTorah, while others focused on learning mussar. When they learned Gemara, the lights burned in the beis medrash all night long. They learned by the light of kerosene lamps or wax candles. There were only a few shelves with sefarim in the yeshivah, not like in today’s world that every house has a whole library. Anyone seeking to look into a Rashba or Ritva had to stand in line. Bachurim would stand in line and argue over the various opinions in the Rishonim until it came their turn to peruse the sefer they wanted, Reb Yankel’e recalled.

Arranging meals in the yeshivah was a job given to the older bachurim. They had to seek out baalei batim who would contribute “essen teg,” days on which they would provide food for the bachurim. As the yeshivah grew, this arrangement became increasingly difficult to maintain. Later, when the yeshivah’s financial situation improved somewhat, a large kitchen was kashered for the yeshivah, and the “teg” system ceased. However, the materialistic aspect of the yeshivah was still very meager.

Chessed of Hashem in Siberia

Reb Yanke’le learned in yeshivah until 5639/1939. When the war broke out, he fled, with several other bachurim, and the Russians captured them and exiled them to Siberia, where they experienced extremely harsh conditions.

Reb Yanke’le did not have where to sleep. Harav Leibel Stitzberg, z”l, of Ostrova, a Gerrer chassid, took Yidden who did not have a roof over their heads into his hovel in Sibera. One of them was Yanke’le Galinsky, who, having no other place, slept on the windowsill in the hut, which was wide enough to be able to sleep in —but just barely.

At one point, Reb Yanke’le was thrown into the Russian prison, in a special cell where those sentenced to death were kept. While all those destined for death spent the time crying and wailing, or alternatively, in deep depression, he sat and learned Torah, murmuring whatever he remembered by heart, or recited Tehillim. He also tried to carry on as though things were normal, without paying attention to his dire situation.

Harav Galinsky was once asked where he had the emotional wherewithal to withstand all this. “Because I had on what and Who to rely on. Because I am a Yid. Those who are sentenced to death don’t think about food and drink,” he explained. “They are all deeply depressed. But I, for some reason, was able to remember that I was hungry, and I asked the guards to bring me some food … I ate and drank and even managed to fall asleep. … There were moments that I learned Torah, as though there was no decree hanging over my head. …”

“During those hours, as a yeshivah bachur, I knew that sobbing and losing my senses would not help me. That’s why I decided to behave “the way Hashem would want me to.” I davened and tried my best to live like a Yid has to live. A Jew always has his bitachon, and the words of Chazal, “Even if a sharp sword rests on a person’s neck, he should not despair of mercy.’ (Brachos 11). I hoped and davened to Hashem. The other nations of the world don’t have that option. They have nothing. Fortunate is our lot…” he replied.

From Siberia, Reb Yanke’le traveled to Zambul, Kazahkstan, in Eastern Russia. There, at great personal risk, he established a cheder and mikveh, together with Harav Shlomo Tzvi Greenbaum, zt”l, a Gerrer chassid from Neustadt, Poland, and the Sadovna Rav. Reb Yanke’le served as a melamed in the cheder.

Building His Own Home

After the war, Reb Yanke’le married the daughter of Harav Chaim Binyamin Halevi Brod, z”l, a well-known Lubavitcher Chassid, in Germany. She devotedly helped all his efforts to spread Torah. Their home was one of Torah and yiras Shamayim.

After their marriage, the Galinskys spent some time in the displaced persons’ camps in Germany until they were able to come to Eretz Yisrael in 5709/1949. They settled in Bnei Brak.

Rosh Yeshivas Chadera

Reb Yanke’le worked tirelessly to found Yeshivas Chadera, and devoted his life to it, traveling worldwide to solicit funds for the yeshivah. Following the method of Novardok, he would always demand that his talmidim toil in Torah while seeking to extract the truth from within themselves.

Reb Yanke’le was blessed with the gift of oratory. He used it to guide Yidden in avodas Hashem, yiras Hashem and good middos.

Whether in Eretz Yisrael or around the world, Reb Yanke’le became known as an outstanding maggid. Gedolei Yisrael appreciated him not only for his Torah, but for his ability to lift up the downtrodden, offering chizuk and support to survivors who came to Eretz Yisrael. His sayings have become basic components of drashos in the last half century.

Reb Yanke’le once came to the Ponevezher Rav, Harav Yosef Kahaneman, zt”l, and the Rav asked him, “Someone dreamed that he entered a large forest and lions, bears, tigers, snakes and scorpions fell upon him. What can be said to help this Yid?” Reb Yanke’le looked at the Ponovezher Rav in surprise, wondering what he was trying to say. The Rav continued, “I’ll tell you. We can do one thing: we can wake him up so the dream goes away.” Reb Yanke’le still did not know what the Rav wanted, but he explained himself quickly: “So, too, with your drashos. There is no need to tell people mussar, rather, just to wake them up from their dreams, and when they wake up, they will improve of their own accord. Everyone knows his own drawbacks and how to lift himself up from the depths. All that is necessary is to wake the listeners from their sleep.”

Reb Yanke’le was known for his ahavas Yisrael and chessed. He would expend great efforts to rejoice before a chassan and kallah, especially for children of the survivors. He did not think of his own dignity as he performed for guests at simchos, as long as he brought them joy. His words were like life-giving elixir on the wounded souls of the Holocaust survivors, filling their reserves with the refreshing words of hope and life.

Several years ago, his sefarim, Vehigadeta and Lehaggid, were published, containing his Torah, drashos, parables and stories tied into the Chumashim and the Moadim.

He recently fell ill and was hospitalized in Maayanei Hayeshuah Hospital in Bnei Brak. He passed away on Thursday morning.

The levayah departed from the Lederman shul in Bnei Brak on Thursday evening to the Ponevezh Cemetery.

He leaves, ybl”c, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, following in his path. Two sons predeceased him.

Yehi zichro baruch.


Hamodia thanks Rabbi Tuvia Freund for providing some of the material for this article.