Publications of Lyakovichi Shtetl Website:
Teachings of the Rabbis of Lyakhovichi
by Deborah G. Glassman copyright 2005,
This page is part of our Biography section. Click on the "Biographies" button in the left-hand column to read other articles in this section.
The Rabbis of Lyakhovichi came from every strand of Jewish tradition – Traditional (mitnagid), Hasid, Musar, Maskil – and as we search, we will find that each left teachings that influenced others positively. But there is a bias in the records. When a preponderance of records exists from one source over another, it affects our perspective. There are more Jewish records on pre-nineteenth century Rabbis than on pre-nineteenth century artisans, so our genealogies show the one and not the other. In the case of the rabbis of Lyakhovichi, the Hasidim have done a better job of preserving the teachings of their leaders and of making them relevant to twenty-first century students, by publishing them on the internet. So as we begin our survey, they will be represented, possibly out of proportion to their actual historical role. This, like most reports on this site, is a work in progress – please send us additions, direct us to new sources, and let us know about more materials relevant to scholars from our town.
Many of these quotes were taken from internet articles that were commenting on the Torah Portion of the week or on a holiday, or a concept in leading a holy life. If the only information taken from the article was the original quote of one of the Lyakhovichi rabbis, then no attribution is given. If other material from the article is quoted, sources are given. Comments and insights with no context are rarely illuminating to the speaker’s whole thought processes and philosophies. If you find that you wish to study them further, don’t stop with these quotes, which are merely arranged in the order that the Rabbis appear in our article “Rebbes, Rabbonim, and Crown Rabbis” elsewhere on the Lyakhovichi home page.
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi quote by Moshe of Kobrin
Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin related: My teacher, Rabbi Mordecai of Lekhovitz, taught me how to pray. He instructed me as follows: "He who utters the word "Elohainu " [Lord] and in doing so then prepares to say "Melech ha-olam” [King of the universe] has not prayed. At the moment he says "Elohainu" he must think only of "Elohainu". So that even if his soul should leave him at that moment, and he was not able to say "Melech ha-olam" it would have been the most heartfelt "Elohainu" he had ever said. This is the essence of prayer."
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi quote by Abraham Weinberg of Slonim
“A teaching of Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitz, a pupil of Rebbe Aharon of Karlin”
The virtue of humility has a strong relationship to the land of
Israel. BaMidbar [Numbers] says: 'The land is very very good.' Understand this according to another verse 'You should be very very humble.' The land of Israel has the quality that it brings one to the midah of 'very very' [both humbleness and goodness] – from the Toras Avos “teachings of the Rebbes of Lechovitz, Kobrin and Slonim”.
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi; Noah of Lyakhovichi ; and the Baal Shem Tov stories passed on by Abraham Weinberg of Slonim
I heard from the Tzaddik Rebbe Noach [of Lyakhovichi]may his merit protect us, that the Baal Shem Tov said to his students, “After all that I have achieved in understanding the heavenly secrets of the Torah, and the sources of the mitzvos, and after all the enjoyment that I have attained from this, I put aside all of these levels of knowledge and I strengthen myself with simple faith in HaShem. ‘Ich bin a nar un ich gleib’ [ I am a fool and I believe.]
Rebbe Noach ended by saying that the Baal Shem Tov saw the source of all things, and even so he put it all aside to grasp the fundamental principle of 'simple faith in G-d.'
My teacher Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitz said that the Baal Shem Tov further explained, 'even though it says '"The simple man believes in all things" (Mishleh 14.15), it also says that "HaShem watches over the simple ones."
From the book “Yesod HaAvodah” by Abraham Weinberg
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi – This is a quote of Mordechai’s that appears frequently. Some people translate Chavruta as “friend.” This webmaster chooses the more classic understanding of “study partner.”
A chavruta [partner in the study of sacred texts] is like a stone: A stone in itself has no value. But when you start rubbing one stone on another, sparks fly.
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi
The hero of this story is the great Mitnagid scholar Rabbi Haim of Volozhin (1749-1821) Mordechai of Lyakhovichi is peripheral to the point of the speaker that great Torah learning is a gift to all Jews.
In Yeshiva Volozhin, some of the boys used to go to the tischen held by the Admor R' Mordechai of Lechovitz, a widely revered hasidic leader, a journey of many hours. R' Haim was not pleased with this and forbade the students to leave the yeshiva for this purpose.
One time, the Rosh Yeshiva had to go away for Shabbos. The students seized the opportunity to leave, as well, and go to Lechovitz to the Admor. Hashem ordained it that on their way home, who should alight in their very coach but R' Haim, himself, also homebound. They quavered at the sight, but he merely smiled at them and asked them genially what they had seen in Lechovitz.
They eagerly began to describe their deep impressions of their visit and cited several examples of amazing ruach hakodesh they had witnessed on the part of the Rebbe. The Rosh Yeshiva listened and then said, "And for that you had to leave the yeshiva and travel all that distance? I can also show you similar examples of prophetic insight."
Their eyes opened wide in amazement and they were `all ears' as their rosh yeshiva began a vivid, detailed description, "Indeed, at this very moment, I can tell you exactly what is going on in my home. My rebbetzin is spanking one of our children for having sat in my seat and transgressed the commandment to honor one’s father. "
The students took note of the exact time this was said, intending to verify it. Upon reaching Volozhin, they quickly went to the home of the rosh yeshiva and learned, to their astonishment, that what they had heard was perfectly true. He had not omitted or changed a single detail.
When they returned to yeshiva, R' Haim called in the students for a serious talk, in order to explain to them that such supernatural vision stemmed from the prodigious power inherent in Torah. When a person studies Torah purely for its sake, he went on to emphasize, he gains a great many things, including the power to dominate nature and be above it.
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi – on fighting one’s evil inclination
“You should always seek to purify yourself in the mikvah, especially when necessary, for the mikvah purifies the mind”.(Zichron L’Rishonim, p.32)
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi – on role of the Tzaddik
The tzaddik cannot say any words of the teaching unless he first links his soul to the soul of his dead teacher or to that of his teacher’s teacher. Only then is link joined to link, and the teachings flow from Moses to Joshua, from Joshua to the elders, and so on to the zaddik’s own teacher, and from his teacher to him.
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi –
If only hedonists knew about the great pleasures that good deeds bring, they would dedicate themselves to the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvot.
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi –
All worrying is forbidden, except to worry that one is worried
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi –
He was always careful to take a nap Erev Shabbos, for this is also component of the honor of Shabbos, to receive Shabbos with a clear mind and fully alert.
Source Or ha-Ner, p.11, #1
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi –
A Hasid who followed Mordechai of Lechovitz was in the, business of dealing in lumber. He complained to the Rebbe that he had bought a huge forest for lumbering and that the price of wood had dropped, causing him a significant loss. Rabbi Mordechai said, "The Talmud says that when a person is in distress, this causes the Shechinah [the Holy presence] to also be in distress. If you are in pain because of your financial loss, this causes G-d to suffer with you. Now, is it worthwhile to cause G-d to suffer because of a few pieces of wood?"
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi – From Toras Avos of Rabbi Abraham Weinberg of Slonim
Save me from my brother from Esau, for I fear him, lest he come and strike me down, mother and children." [Bereshit 32:12] Why was Jacob afraid of Esau? The rebbes of Lechovitz and Slonim explained as follows: Whenever a person is tested in the physical world, it is a sign that his soul is under attack in the spiritual world above. Thus, when Jacob saw Esau's strength, he knew that a great spiritual challenge faced him. He said, "I fear him, lest he come and strike me down, mother (a reference to man's power of thought, which is the mother of action) and children (a reference to deeds)." In other
words, Jacob prayed that the yetzer hara [evil inclination] symbolized by Esau, not contaminate the Jews' thoughts and deeds.
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi quoted by Abraham Parshan
[this is from an article on the belief in the Moshiach/ Messiah], the saying of Reb Mordechai of Lechovich zt" l, based on what King David says (Psalms 116:9), "He'emanti Ki Adabahyer" [I believe because I have spoken] that speaking brings about the belief.
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi
Insights into the PARSHAS BO Ch. 11, v. 7: "Ulchole bnei Yisroel lo yecheratz kelev l'shono" - And for all the children of Yisrael there shall be no "charitzus," wily cunning, saying one thing while feeling another. Rather, "k'leiv l'shono" just as he feels in his heart so shall he speak. (Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz in Chasidim M'saprim, Rabbi Meir of Premishlan)
Noah of Lyakhovichi Source: The Jewish Moral Virtues by Eugene Borowitz and Frances Weinman Schwartz. 1999/5759.. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. “When Rabbi Noah succeeded his father Rabbi Mordechai as Rav of Lechovitz, his followers soon noted that he did many things quite differently. When they asked him about this, he responded: "I do exactly as my father did. He did not imitate and I do not imitate."
Noah of Lyakhovichi -
"Tzedek tzedek tirdof" - Pursue justice with justice. Do not attempt to bring about justice with devious means. The end does not justify the means.
Noah of Lyakhovichi -
If someone does not bring himself close to an extremely righteous person, it is impossible for him to achieve anything resembling greatness. However, one who attaches himself to a righteous individual can achieve such heights that he can even attain the level of Divine inspiration. Rashi tells us that how did our mother Rebecca inquire of G-d? She went to the Bet Midrash of Shem and Eber and the verse says immediately that "HaShem spoke to her". So by just attaching herself to Shem and Eber she attained the level of prophecy. Although Rashi says that she was informed of this message through a messenger, one might uderstand this statement that she attained this level through a messenger, through the righteous individuals which were Shem and Eber.
Noah of Lyakhovichi -
Even Balaam the Wicked wanted to die a Jew, saying, "May I die the death of the upright". Meaning, he wanted to live as a heathen, but die as a Jew.
Noah of Lyakhovichi -
The theme of Shemini Atzeret may be better understood if we think of it in terms of a BRIDE AND GROOM. During the wedding, they are both decked out in a wardrobe of exquisite, elegant clothes and jewelry. However, when they come together in their private chamber, they remove their garments and jewelry. "It is the same with Shemini Atzeret. During the seven days of Sukkot, the Jewish people offered a profusion of seventy bulls, but on Shemini Atzeret -- the moment they achieve COMPLETE UNIFICATION WITH GOD -- they brought only one bull (Num.29:36)" (The Essence of the Holy Days, p.98-99).
Moshe of Kobrin (also search sources under Moses of Kobrin, Moshe of Kobryn, Moshe Pellier, Moshe Palier etc.)
At the third Sabbath meal, before the blessing over the bread, Moshe of Kobrin said to his students "It is written: 'Man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord does man live'. The life of man is not sustained by the stuff of bread but by the sparks of divine life that are within it. He is here. All exists because of his life-giving life, and when He withdraws from anything, it crumbles away to nothing."
Moshe of Kobrin from "Giants of Jewry" by Aharon Surasky
In the early years of his marriage, the famed Rabbi Yosha-Baer Soloveitchik lived in the home of his Chasidic father-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchak Efron, in Volozhin. One time, his infant son Chaim (who was later to become the renowned Rabbi Chaim Brisker) became critically ill. The doctors were powerless.
The Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin, who always stayed at the Efron home when he visited Volozhin, happened to come to town just then. Despite the crisis in Rav Yitzchak's house, the tzaddik followed the advice of our sages and did not change his lodgings (see Gen. 13:3 and commentary].
Not only did he lodge at the Efrons', but when he heard about the sick child he even requested that the table be set for a meal! Everyone was astonished, but Rabbi Yitzchak, who trusted the tzaddik, did as bidden.
At the meal, the Kobriner said: "We learn in the Talmud, in Baba Basra, that a precious jewel hung from the neck of our patriarch Avraham. Any ill person who gazed at it was immediately cured.
"What was this precious jewel?" he asked. He then went on to answer his own question. "The precious jewel of Avraham was the trait that he exemplified -- kindness to others - as manifested in his boundless hospitality. This is the "jewel" that hung from his neck.
"When Avraham died, the Almighty hung it from the sun, the sphere that shines everywhere in the world. Whenever a Jew practices hospitality, the merit of G-d's beloved Avraham assists in healing the patient through this jewel.
"Therefore, in the merit of our Reb Yitzhak's hospitality at this very moment, his grandson Chaim'le should be cured speedily. Let the child focus his eyes upon the jewel, and he will be healed." And so it happened.
Note by Aaron Surasky Rabbi Moshe Pallier of Kobrin [1784 - 29 Nisan 1858] was a close follower of the Rebbe, R. Mordechai of Lechovitch and afterwards of his son, R. Noach. In 1833 he became the first Rebbe of the Kobrin dynasty, with thousands of chassidim, many of whom subsequently moved to Eretz Yisroel. His teachings are collected in Imros Taharos.
Michael of Bykhov pupil of R. Mordechai of Lyakhovichi
When Reb Mordechai of Lechovitz passed away, his son Reb Noach and his leading disciple Reb Michel debated (in their humility) who should become the next rebbe. Reb Noach said that it should be Reb Michel, for he had known the deceased rebbe at the beginning of the rebbe's career. "Bereishit comes first," said Reb Noach. "No," replied Reb Michel, "in most chumashim the first pages are worn out and tattered, and only Noach remains."
An anecdote about Rabbi Yehiel of Moush, a disciple of Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitz: When he was seven years old he was walking to heder [religious primary school] and saw a Jew traveling on his wagon, which was his livelihood. Suddenly the horse fell down and died. The driver began to weep bitterly; how would he make a living for his family? When little Yehiel saw this it touched him deeply and he said, "Master of the world, I won't go to heder until this horse gets up and revives!" And so it was. The horse got up and the wagon driver went on his way. ("Yehi Or" p.210)
Shlomo Haim of Koidanov
Rabbi Avraham Weinberg, the Slonimer Rebbe (1804-11 Cheshvan 1883), was from the second wave of Hasidic activists in Lithuania. Passing on the teachings of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi and Mordechai's mentors Shlomo and Aaron of Karlin, he found that he could make the same inroads into the supposedly resistent Litvaks, as they had done. He was also a main organizer of support for the religious communities in Eretz Israel. His published works were "Chesed L'Avraham", which was a mystical work, and "Be'er Avraham" on the Mechilta. The following was a Torah verse he expounded. "This verse also contains a lesson in Yitzchok's spiritual exploits of that year. Yitzchok toiled in the service of Hashem until he was able to find a hundred ways to become close to Hashem. Then he "became great and went on increasing in greatness until he became exceedingly great" in serving Hashem."
Rabbi Aaron of Koidanov (1839-1897) was the founder of the Koidanover Shul in Lyakhovichi and many other Koidanover shtibels both before and after he became admor of the Koidanovers in 1870. His leadership expanded the reach of a small group of Lithuanian Hasidim throughout Belarus and into the Ukraine and Galicia and in Jerusalem in Eretz Israel. But unfortunately he has been misunderstood in a number of modern writings as small-minded and superstitious because of this story about him casting out a dybbuk that his admiring brother told.
"Not long after my revered father passed on, a girl a Dybbuk had entered was brought before my brother of blessed memory. I can’t describe to you what happened at the first meeting since I was not a witness with my own eyes. But I was told that at that time Aaron took my sainted grandfather’s walking cane that of my grandfather, the Rabbi of Lechovitch [sic-great-grandfather] and threatened the Dybbuk with it. The Dybbuk screamed and cursed. They brought the maid to him a second time and I was in the room. She stood near the door. Though the door was closed, she continually beat against it for she wanted to flee. All the time she screamed in voices, though my brother of blessed memory spoke to her she would not answer. He commanded the man who had brought her to whisper a certain holy sentence into her ear and immediately she began to reply to his questions. He asked the spirit his name and he replied. More he gave his father's name, that he was twenty when he died and that it was five years since his death. Then my brother asked "Why do you not want to repeat the ‘Shema Yisroe’ after me," and he said, "Because my father didn't teach it to me." Though I cannot recall further details of the conversation, we did notice how the Dibbuk began to bark and make all sorts of non-speech noises. And, whenever my brother said to him, “Silence!” in a loud voice, he stopped his noises. My brother then commanded them to take her back to her lodgings and to return her tomorrow. In the beginning my brother wanted to just gather a minyan, but then decided to do this in public, so that all those who would see would learn a lesson.
The next day she did not want to come but she was finally brought to his room. He stood near his desk and held one of the books of the holy Ar"i in which the rule of the exorcism was written. He looked into the book. We did not hear a single word or sound from him . Repeating to her the holy sentence of yesterday again the Dybbuk replied. He further asked, "What did you do before you possessed the maid?" And the dybbuk said , “I just moved about." And Aaron asked “Why?" And he answered “Because they didn't want to receive me in the other world." So my brother asked , "What was your sin?" And he refused to tell. Then my brother asked, "Will you let go of this girl?" And the Dybbuk countered with a question, "Will they receive me in the other world?" And my brother said , "I cannot answer this unless you tell me what your sin was." And he refused to tell. My brother said, "Since you do not wish to tell what your sin was, we will force you to leave her." And he turned to the gathered folk and asked them to repeat word by word with him. And he said in a loud voice with great emotion,
"We are in agreement and in accordance with the Holy One blessed be He and His-presence that you should leave this maid from the little toe between the nail and the flesh and that you hurt no one ."
And they all repeated this word by word. Before he thus adjured, he promised the possessing soul that prayers would be said for him and the people would study Torah on his behalf. When they finishe d the adjuration, the girl sat down on the ground and stretched out her leg, and he, my brother of blessed memor y, commanded that the door be opened and that no one should stand near the door. And as a sign that she was cured, she was able to repeat the holy verses by herself, something she could not do while she was possessed.
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Philadelphia these stories were gathered from online materials without credits but similar stories and others were gathered by Yisroel Greenwald and printed by Artscroll, the Publishing House.During the early 1960's, Reb Mendel used to spend his summer vacation at a cottage next to an egg farm in upstate New York. Every morning around five AM trucks came to pick up deliveries from the farm. Reb Mendel would interrupt his early morning learning to bring coffee and sandwiches to the hungry truckers.
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Philadelphia An elderly Gentile woman named Mary lived on his block. Each morning she walked to a restaurant several blocks away for breakfast. One wintry Sunday morning, there was a snow storm. As this woman was plodding through the snow to the restaurant, Reb Mendel drove by and he called out to her, "Mary, wait! I'll take you!" He gave her a ride to the restaurant. After she finished eating, she was shocked to see Reb Mendel's car still at the curb. He had waited the whole time to take her back home!
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Philadelphia One hot summer day, Reb Mendel was driving with a student on the highway and they got lost. He pulled over to ask some construction workers for directions and the student got out of the car. Angry yells and curses greet them. "Can't you read the signs!" hollered the construction workers, "you can't come here!" Reb Mendel got out and a big, bare-chested worker came towards him speaking in a disrespectful manner. Reb Mendel walked over to him, put his arm over the man's sweaty, grimy shoulder, and said, "You know, you should have respect for me because I'm old enough to be your father. I can understand your getting upset like this - I don't see how you can even work on such a hot day - but let me tell you something that will make you happy even on a hot day like today. Because of your work, people will be able to travel easily for years to come; old people, people with children and people with old broken cars like mine. And they'll be able to do it only because of your work." The worker's face lit up, and he gave Reb Mendel elaborate directions to his destination. Reb Mendel was ever mindful of the Divine proclamation: "Whether Jew or Gentile, man or woman, male servant or female servant, the Holy Spirit rests upon a person according to his deeds."
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Philadelphia
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan drove an old car, sometimes taking trips that spanned many miles. He once traveled through the night and stopped in a small town for Shacharis (morning service). Extremely exhausted from his journey, it took great effort just to concentrate on the prayers. Immediately after the davening he was approached by a member of the congregation. "Excuse me, I noticed that you were sitting while reciting a prayer [during which one traditionally stands]. Aren't you supposed to stand during that prayer?"
Rav Mendel replied. "Are you really worried about me? Why don't you ask me if I have a place to rest or a place to eat breakfast?"
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Philadelphia
After Reb Mendel passed away, someone brought Reb Mendel's car to his regular auto shop for repairs. One of the non-Jewish workers recognized the car and asked, "Where's the Rabbi?" When he heard that Reb Mendel had passed away, he sat down and began to cry. He said: "I know I am a simple mechanic, but the Rabbi treated me like I was a special human being. He used to take an interest in my life and that made me feel like a million dollars. No one in the world made me feel as a good as the Rabbi did."
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Philadelphia Being wasteful can lead us to deny G-d, taught Reb Mendel. "King David once treated clothing with disrespect, and because of this his clothes did not keep him warm in his later years. His clothes were telling him, 'I'm not yours to be scorned.' I've heard it said that our purpose in Creation is to respect and appreciate everything in it. If someone disdains objects, it leads him to look down on people as well. This in turn leads to loshon hara and eventually even to giving false testimony, which is a denial of Hashem Himself...Certainly, then, one should never just take the food Hashem gives us and throw it away."
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Philadelphia "Our children have to know that their parents think learning is important. Whenever I missed a day of school as a young boy, whether I was sick or for any reason at all, my mother fasted that day. 'If you don't learn, I can't eat.'"
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Philadelphia Reb Mendel Kaplan 1913-1985 was a Rebbe at the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia from 1965 for the twenty years until he died. He was a great scholar of Musar and taught a class of select students using the text of his own Rebbe, Rabbi Yeruchum Levovitz who led the Mirrer Yeshiva in Europe and Shanghai. Each day the ethics class would meet before morning prayers and listen to their elderly rabbi discuss deep philosophical issues concerning the nature of man and the profound eternal struggle man faces. One night a heavy snow covered the streets. The boys trudged into the classroom just glad to be inside. But Rav Mendel was sitting at his desk in coat, boots, and gloves. "Don't take off your boots and coats. Today we will have a real ethics class." He closed his book, and pointed to six shovels neatly stacked in the corner of the classroom. Picking one up, he walked outside and began to lead the boys in shoveling a path from the dormitories to the synagogue where the entire school would soon be coming to say their morning prayers.
Please help us find more materials on each scholar who taught or originated in Lyakhovichi!