This Day in History

14 Shevat

Yahrtzeiten

5516/1756, Harav Yaakov Yehoshua Pollack, the Pnei Yehoshua, zt”l

5731/1971, Harav Dovid Shapiro of Yerushalayim, zt”l, mechaber of Bnei Tziyon

15 Shevat

5691/1931, the first Siyum HaShas of the Daf HaYomi cycle was celebrated.


 

5654/1894

Harav Yechiel, zt”l, the Alter Rebbe of Aleksander

The Aleksander Rebbe was born in 5588/1828. His father was Harav Shraga Feivel of Gritza, who was one of the prominent talmidim of the Chozeh of Lublin; of the Rebbe Reb Bunim of Peshischa, and later of Harav Yitzchak of Vorka, zichronam livrachah. In his youth, Reb Shraga Feivel was a close talmid of Harav Yaakov of Lisa, the Nesivos Hamishpat, and he actually helped his Rebbe write his sefarim. He served as Rav in a number of towns, among them Sheps, Gembin, Gritza and Makov.

Yechiel was the only remaining son of his father; all his siblings died young. His father took him to his Rebbe, Reb Yitzchak of Vorka, for a brachah that he should remain alive. The Rebbe told him, “If you will give me the child, I will make of him a kli chemdah (precious object).” He became a ben bayis (a household member) of the Rebbe, and survived.

Reb Yechiel was totally devoted to the service of Hashem. In his young childhood, he once came home from cheder very disappointed. Upon inquiry, he revealed that he had learned that day that the Plishtim had captured the Aron. The child suddenly broke into sobs and did not calm down until he was taught, in the next perek, that the Aron was returned to the Yidden.

Harav Yechiel’s superior intellect became apparent in early childhood. He engaged in intense learning, and davened with great passion. Attesting to his gadlus was the fact that he was chosen as Rav in the town of Tortchin at the mere age of 17!

On Acharon shel Pesach 5608/1848, his Rebbe and mentor, Harav Yitzchak of Vorka, was niftar. The chassidim began traveling to Reb Yechiel’s father, Reb Shraga Feivel, but he was niftar half a year later on Shemini Atzeres of 5609/1848. Reb Yechiel was filled with grief, for he had lost his Rebbe and his father in such a short period.

Reb Yechiel succeeded his father in his Rabbanus in Gritza. Later, he became Rav in Piltz, and afterward he moved to Aleksander, a shtetl in close proximity to Lodz, Poland.

The Vorka Rebbe’s two sons became Rebbes: Harav Yaakov Dovid of Amshinov and Harav Menachem Mendel of Vorka. Reb Yechiel became a devout chassid of Reb Menachem Mendel. When Reb Menachem Mendel was niftar, the chassidim crowned Harav Dov Berish of Biala as Rebbe. After his passing in 5636/1906, the chassidim began traveling to Reb Yechiel.

Initially, Reb Yechiel refused to accept chassidim, but at the insistence of Harav Yehoshua Trunk of Kutna (the Yeshuos Malko) and Harav Chaim Elazar Waks of Pietrikov (the Nefesh Chayah), two prominent Rabbanim of Poland, he reluctantly agreed to accept chassidim.

Eventually, with the phenomenal growth of the chassidus, the chassidim purchased the beis medrash that had been emptied upon the petirah of Harav Chanoch Henoch of Aleksander.

Although Reb Yechiel by then had a very sizable flock, he vehemently refused honor and conducted himself in an extremely humble fashion. He refused to keep any money that the chassidim brought to him, dispensing those monies as tzedakah, and lived from the meager stipend that he received as Rav of the city. In a letter he writes about himself: “Woe is to him about whom the world is mistaken…” His humility is especially apparent in his tzavaah, in which he requests not to be called a Rebbe, and that his chassidim not bring kvitlach to his kever.

His extraordinary avodas hatefillah indirectly obligated his chassidim to reach ever-higher levels in davening. He would often cry and daven in a heartbreaking tone. One of the central themes of the Chassidus was ahavas Yisrael, a continuation of the unique Vorka derech.

Once, on Seder night, as chatzos swiftly approached and the festive meal had to end in time to meet the proper zman for eating the afikoman, the Rebbe quickly downed an extremely hot plate of soup. When Reb Yechiel noticed the chassidim’s amazement, he commented, “Why are you shocked that I risked burning my throat for the Eibershter’s sake?”

His son Yisrael Yitzchak succeeded him as Rebbe, and afterward his son Harav Shmuel succeeded his brother. Reb Yechiel also had a third son, Harav Betzalel Yair.

Zechuso yagein aleinu.


 

Jan. 25

In 1890, reporter Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane) of the New York World completed a round-the-world journey in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes.

In 1915, Alexander Graham Bell inaugurated U.S. transcontinental telephone service between New York and San Francisco.

In 1981, the 52 Americans held hostage by Iran for 444 days arrived in the United States.

In 2004, Opportunity rover landed on the surface of Mars.

In 2011, the first wave of the Egyptian revolution began in Egypt, with a series of street demonstrations, marches, rallies, acts of civil disobedience, riots, labor strikes and violent clashes in Cairo and Alexandria, and throughout other cities in Egypt.

Ten years ago: A group of people left London, England, for Baghdad, Iraq, to serve as human shields to prevent the U.S.-led coalition troops from bombing certain locations.