This Day in History – 13 Shevat/January 14

13 Shevat

In 5550/1790, the French National Assembly granted full and equal citizenship to the Portuguese and Avignonese Jews.

Yahrtzeiten

5568/1808, Harav Yaakov Shimon of Zaslov, zt”l

5680/1920, Harav Binyamin Eisenstadt, zt”l, Rav of Utyein, mechaber of Mas’as Binyamin

5697/1937, Harav Avigdor Pollack of Spinke-Sighet, zt”l

5739/1979, Harav Raphael Baruch Sorotzkin, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivas Telshe


 

5570/1810

Harav Mordechai of Lechovitz, zt”l

Harav Mordechai was born in Nesvizh, Belarus, in 5502/1742. His father, Rav Noach, named him Mordechai after the family patriarch, Harav Mordechai Yaffe, the Baal Halevushim.

When his son was still a child, Rav Noach took him to Harav Aharon of Karlin, who had come to visit their city. Rav Noach asked Reb Aharon to bless his son that he merit hasmadah b’Torah. Reb Aharon held the boy close and then told the father that from then on he would learn with much hasmadah. Later, when Reb Mordechai related this episode, he would add that Reb Aharon taught him at that time how to make baalei teshuvah.

At a very young age Mordechai lost his father, and the residents of the town hired a private melamed for him. But Mordechai refused to learn with him; rather, he spent hours on end in the nearby forest, communing with Hashem. Yet even though he was never seen learning, at the age of 12 he delivered a pilpul in the main shul of Vilna that astounded all his listeners.

When he became a famous Rebbe, Reb Mordechai davened that this episode be forgotten; in consequence, although he was fluent in Bavli, Yerushalmi, Midrashim, Poskim, Rishonim, Acharonim and sifrei Kabbalah, he was considered by many of his detractors to be an am ha’aretz.

Reb Mordechai was a close talmid of Harav Shlomo of Karlin, zya. Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin attested that Reb Mordechai was the greatest of the chassidim of Reb Shlomo.

When Reb Shlomo was murdered al Kiddush Hashem on 22 Tammuz 5552/1792, Reb Mordechai was crowned by the thousands of chassidim as the new Rebbe.

Reb Mordechai is considered the founder of Chassidus in Lithuania, much as the Baal Shem Tov was the founder of general Chassidus. He attracted many outstanding talmidei chachamim known for their yiras Shamayim.

One of his main avodos was to instill emunah in the hearts of Klal Yisrael.

He was a mohel mumcheh, with a special inyan in this mitzvah. His talmid Rav Moshe of Kobrin called him the malach habris.

Reb Mordechai was close with many of the generation’s leading Rebbes, among them the Rebbe Reb Baruch of Mezhibuzh, Harav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and Harav Yisrael of Ruzhin.

Harav Avraham of Kalisk put Reb Mordechai in charge of the tzedakah for the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael.

Reb Mordechai donated to this tzedakah every morning before davening, and called upon his chassidim to do the same. When he sent the money to Reb Avraham in Eretz Yisrael, he would list all those who had contributed — except himself.

The style of tefillah in his court was that of Karlin, full of enthusiasm and dveikus.

In 5570/1720 his grandson Reb Shlomo Chaim (the son of his son Harav Aharon, later the Koidenover Rebbe) was to be married in Stolin, home of the mechutan Rav Asher of Stolin. Reb Mordechai did not want to travel to the wedding. The chassidim set up a beis din, which ruled that the Rebbe had to go. Reb Mordechai went with a heavy heart, saying “Ales is farfallen — all is lost.”

On the wedding day, Friday, 13 Shevat, Reb Mordechai felt that his end was near. He took his tzitzis in one hand, his beard in the other, and began singing “Keil chai chelkeinu…” (from the brachos at a bris) over and over until he was niftar. He was 68, and had been Rebbe for 18 years.

It is related that when his close confidant, Rav Avraham of Kalisk, was niftar on 4 Shevat, just days earlier, in Teveria, Reb Mordechai had cried out, “The western light has been extinguished!” A few days later, Reb Mordechai received a letter from Reb Avraham, sent out earlier, in which he wrote, “Tomorrow you will be with me in the same realm.” And so it was — just a few days later, Reb Mordechai was also niftar. Reb Moshe Kobriner used to say: 4 Shevat is the yahrtzeit of Reb Avraham Kalisker; 13 Shevat is the yahrtzeit of Reb Mordechai Lechovitcher; and the days in between are like Chol Hamoed.

Reb Mordechai was succeeded by his son Rav Noach.

His other son, Rav Aharon, had been niftar during his father’s lifetime, in 5566/1706.

Some of his divrei Torah are printed in Ohr Yesharim, a compilation of the divrei Torah of the Lechovitcher Rebbes.

Zechuso yagen aleinu.


 

January 14

In 1784, the United States ratified a peace treaty with England, formally ending the American War of Independence.

In 1809, England and Spain formed an alliance against Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1942, forces under U.S. General Douglas MacArthur resisted Japanese attacks on Bataan in the Philippines in World War II.

In 1962, at least 36 Algerians and Europeans were killed in disorder and terrorist attacks in Algeria’s major cities.

In 1992, Israel opened peace talks with Jordan and resumed bargaining with the Palestinians.

In 1998, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to rebuke Iraq for not giving arms inspectors full access.

In 2002, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee released a letter by an executive of Enron Corp. to Kenneth Lay, the energy company’s chairman and chief executive officer, pointing out improprieties in the now-bankrupt Enron’s accounting practices.