The Klausenberger Rebbe’s Faith
The 9th of Tammuz is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yekusiel Yehuda (ben Tzvi Hirsch) Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe (1905-1994). Known as the Sheva-Chaim of Sanz, he was a great-grandson of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz. He spent most of World War II in concentration camps. During his last 15 years of life, he founded Kollelei Shas in Eretz Yisrael and America . These Kollelei Shas were intended for premier avreichim who were already known for their sharp intellect and hasmada. The goal of the kollel was that in the course of three years, the members had to complete the entire Shas. Every member had to obligate himself to be tested on 75 blatt Gemara with Tosafos each month and know them by heart! Then, in 1983, at his house in Kiryat Sanz, Netanya, he laid the cornerstone for what would ultimately become Mifal HaShas, where avreichim would learn 30 blatt of Gemara with Tosafos with a built-in review program and be tested monthly on the material learned. In addition to his tremendous efforts on behalf of Torah learning, the Rebbe also used his experiences from the war to stimulate him in another area. Having survived the horror of witnessing the murder of his wife and their 11 children, Reb Yekusiel vowed to dedicate his life to welfare and good health of all Jewish children. He founded Laniado Hospital in Netanya in 1975 after 15 years of fund-raising. His vision of a proper Jewish hospital was confirmed in 1990, as it was one of the only hospitals in Israel to have every employee working during the 127-day doctors’ strike. After his petira, his eldest surviving son, Rav Zvi Elimelech Halberstam, became the new Sanz Rebbe in Israel , as well as President of the Hospital.
Rabbi Halberstram lost his wife, all his eleven children and over 250 members of his family to the Nazis but miraculously he was not killed. In fact he not only survived the camps, throughout the ocean of torture, disease and death he against all odds, remained a beacon of light and optimism for all those around him.
One of those who he inspired was a Jew named Rabbi Aba Halperin. He too survived the holocaust and lived to tell the world how he personally saw the Rebbe save thousands of Jews from certain death.
He and the Rebbe were two of a work force of 3,000 Jews that the Germans took from the death camp Birkinauin 1944 to clean the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. The work was backbreaking, almost non-stop and they were guarded closely lest they try to rest. Escape was out of the question.
Then, early one blisteringly hot summer morning, the Germans told all the workers to line up in rows of three and begin marching; they had to move fast.
The Russians were closing in on Warsaw and the Germans didn’t want to leave behind any evidence for them.
The heat was unbearable, the Jews could barely stand no less walk but it made no difference to the Germans. Making progress and marching in line were their only interests. They had enough ammo and cold cruelty to kill everyone. Dogs and Nazis were barking everywhere.
Anyone that stepped out of line, even one step, was immediately shot. It was especially awful when they passed a river or a brook. The thirst was so intense that the sight of water simply drove some people crazy and, unable to hold themselvesback, instinctively made a move toward the water and were instantly riddled with bullets before everyone.
The Rebbe ordered all those around him to pass the word to all the Jews that no one was to step out of line for any reason and promised that there would be water.
But when the second morning of marching arrived and water didn’t arrive, the complaints, moaning and thirst became unbearable. Everyone felt it was better to die quickly from a gunshot then slowly and painfully from thirst. It was simply impossible to not to break ranks.
The Rebbe said to pass the word that if everyone stays in line he promises that in the evening he personally will provide water for each and every Jew.
Near sunset the Nazis told everyone to lie down in the road to sleep. It was impossible to march at night because it would be too easy for people to escape in the darkness, but there was no water.
The people that the Rebbe told to spread the word came to him and demanded the miracle. “Where is the water?! People are dying! You said that we would have water!!’
The Rebbe answered, “Each of you has a spoon, right? (the Germans gave each Jew a crude spoon to eat the ‘soup’ when apportioned). “Tell each person to take his spoon and dig in the ground where he is and they will find water.”
The road was totally dry surrounded by open fields and therwas no trace of water as far as the eye could see. It was totally impossible that there would be water in this wasteland.
But each person lay on their sides, took out their spoons and lifelessly scraped the dirt where they were, and lo and behold, a miracle!! Each one found water! Everyone’s spoons filled with water! They were saved!
Years later in Israel when the Rebbe spoke at the grand opening of the Kloisenburg Synagogue in Tel Aviv he told this story and then pointed to Rabbi Aba Halperin and added to the crowd, “And if you don’t believe me you can ask Rabbi Aba – he was there.” (Shaa Tova weekly magazine #309).