Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Torah Treasures of the Second Belzer Rebbe, Rav Yehoshua Rokeach zt”l

Marking His 120th Yahrtzeit, 23 Shevat 5774 Rav Sholom Rokeach zt”l, the Sar Sholom, a talmid of the Chozeh of Lublin, became the first rebbe of Belz, Galicia, around 1817. In the year 1855, he was succeeded by his youngest son, Rav Yehoshua (1825-1894), who expanded Belz chassidus into the largest chassidic court in Galicia. Rav Yehoshua, together with Rav Shimon Sofer of Cracow and the Sadigurer Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Yaakov, founded the Machzikei Hadaas, an organization promoting the Torah world's interests, fighting off inroads made by the maskilim.

Rav Yehoshua was a great Torah scholar who inspired his chassidim to scale great heights in their avodas Hashem. Below are presented several of Rav Yehoshua’s original Torah thoughts which will enable you to gain a glimmer of his greatness in Torah and yiras Shomayim.


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In Parshas Beshalach (15:9), the posuk states with regard to Pharoah, “Omar oyeiv erdof asig achalek sholol,” “The enemy declared, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the plunder.’”


How was Pharaoh so certain that he would overtake Klal Yisroel and divide the plunder?


Answers Rav Yehoshua, Pharoah knew that Klal Yisroel would be redeemed in the merit of three distinct items: they did not change their names, their language, and their clothing (see Medrash Raba, Vayikra 32:5 and Medrash Lekach Tov, Shemos 6:6). Pharoah sought to distance Klal Yisroel from their loyalty to Hashem. Once Klal Yisroel would be distanced, he would then be able to defeat them.


Pharoah’s evil plans are revealed to us in the above posuk. Pharoah declared, “I will pursue, I will overtake.” How will I succeed in my evil plot? “Achalek sholol.” The letters of sholol, shin, lamed and lamed, are the first letters of the three merits through which Klal Yisroel would be saved: shem, not changing their names; lashon, not changing their language; and levush, not changing their clothing. Pharoah was saying, “I will divide and separate the Jews from these three meritorious ideals. Surely, once I break down these barriers, I will succeed in defeating them.”


However, Klal Yisroel remained steadfast in retaining their names, language and clothing, and thus displayed their allegiance to Hashem. Ultimately, Pharoah and the Egyptians suffered a humiliating defeat in the Yam Suf.


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In Parshas Shmini, during the inauguration of the Mishkan, Moshe instructed Aharon, his sons, and Bnei Yisroel to bring the appropriate korbonos on the mizbayach. The Torah then states (9:5), “Vayomer Moshe zeh hadovor asher tzivah Hashem ta’asu,” “Moshe said, ‘This is the thing that Hashem has commanded you to do.’”


What is this statement telling us that we didn’t know previously?


Rav Yehoshua explains that it is natural for a person to feel close to Hashem Yisborach during tefillah and while one learns Torah. However, a typical person must also provide sustenance for his family. When Hashem helps this person succeed in worldly matters, and the individual feels a genuine longing for Hashem, this individual’s responsibility is to request of Hashem that he remain on an exalted level of closeness to Hashem.


This is the point that Moshe is stressing to Klal Yisroel. “This is the thing Hashem has commanded you to do;” just as you achieved an exalted status today, through bringing korbonos, you are responsible to constantly retain this high level. Rav Yehoshua is subtly giving us a message that we should treasure the moments when we feel close to Hashem, and we should attempt for this love of the Borei Olam to be everlasting.


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Upon describing the particulars of the Yom Kippur service of the Kohen Godol, the Torah (Vayikra 16:24, Rashi) states that the Kohen Godol would immerse himself into the mikvah every time he would change from the linen garments into the gold garments and vice versa.


It is understood that tevilah, immersion in a mikvah, is appropriate when donning the golden garments, as these were put on prior to performing the avodah, the service, in the Heichal. However, the donning of the linen garments took place after performing the avodah in the Heichal, prior to performing the avodah in the Chatzer. Why was tevilah necessary here as well?


Rav Yehoshua shares with us a lesson based on a posuk in Mishlei (5:6), “Orach chaim pen tifaleis na’u magloseha lo teida,” “You think you will choose a clear path? The path wanders astray, you cannot know.”


There are some particular mitzvos that arouse passion more than others. Similarly, there are certain times when people are more perceptive than others. As a result, the Mishna in Avos (2:1) directs us, “Hevei zahir b’mitzvah kalah k’vichamurah,” “Be as scrupulous in performing a minor mitzvah as a major one.”


We cannot know the reward one earns for a specific mitzvah. Therefore, the Kohen Gadol must undergo tevilah even when changing into the linen garments. Perhaps the avodah performed when wearing the linen garments will propel him to spiritual heights he could never have reached otherwise.


The lesson we learn is that one should adequately prepare oneself prior to performing any mitzvah, as every mitzvah has great value, limited only by the value that we attribute to the mitzvah.


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Moshe Rabbeinu requested that Hashem vanquish Korach and his entourage by having the earth swallow them up alive. However, the Gemora Pesachim (75a) urges beis din, when sentencing someone deserving of death, “Borur lo misah yofeh,” “Select for him a good death.” The death that Moshe chose for Korah was certainly not a good death; why did Moshe want to punish Korach with such a gruesome death?


The Yalkut (Korach 752) relates that Korach claimed that Moshe was not a prophet, Aharon was not a Kohen Godol, and the Torah did not come from Hashem Yisborach. When Moshe heard this, he went to Hashem and declared that he can be a mevater, a charitable individual, concerning his own honor and Aharon’s honor. However, concerning the honor and dignity of Hashem and His Torah, he cannot be mevater, and therefore he sought to punish Korach for this despicable behavior.


However, Moshe, in his great compassion, did not want to allow Korach to die without giving him the opportunity to do teshuva. Moshe therefore chose this prolonged death, in order to allow Korach ample time to repent to Hashem.


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The Medrash Raba, on the posuk (Devarim 3:23) “Vo’eschanan el Hashem bo’eis hahee leimor,” says in the name of Abba Shaul that this is a sign that if someone prays with proper concentration he is assured that Hashem Yisborach will hear his tefilos, as it says (Tehilim 10:17) “Tachin lebam takshiv oznecha,” “Guide their hearts, let Your ear be attentive.”


There are several difficulties with this Medrash. The posuk describes our desire for meriting concentration in our prayer, and our request that Hashem accept our prayers. However, where does Abba Shaul see that we are assured that our tefilos will be accepted? Furthermore, in Parshas Vo’eschanan, Moshe’s prayers to enter Eretz Yisroel were not accepted by Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Why, then, is this considered a sign that if one davens properly, his tefilos will be answered?


Explains Rav Yehoshua, when a person comes to daven, in the optimal situation he is soaring towards Hashem. Often, however, one is for whatever reason unable to properly daven, yet Hashem has the ability to change this.


Therefore, just as we daven to Hashem for all our needs, we must daven to Hashem that we merit to daven properly; we must engage Hashem in our tefillah. Moshe, in Parshas Vo’eschanan, beseeches Hashem that he be zoche to be able to sing Hashem’s praises. This request was granted, as Moshe declares, “Atah hachilosah l’haros es avdechah,” “You have begun to show your servant your greatness.”


Rav Yehoshua continues to explain this concept. The Gemara Brochos (30b) relates how the Chasidim Harishonim would wait one hour and then daven, in order to have proper kavonah during their tefilos. What were they doing during this hour of preparatory time? They were praying for proper concentration and kavonah during their upcoming tefillah.


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The Torah (Ki Savo 26:17) proclaims, “Es Hashem he’emarta hayom…v’Hashem he’emirchah hayom,” “You (Klal Yisroel) have distinguished Hashem today to be a G-d for you… And Hashem has distinguished you today to be for Him a treasured people.” Rashi declares that we have no identifiable source for the word “emor,” distinguish, in the entire Torah.


Why is there no other source for this word in the entire Torah?


Rav Yehoshua responds in a most insightful way. Our love and respect towards Hashem is in a manner that cannot be described in any quantifiable manner. In return, Hashem extolls us and recognizes us as well in indescribable terms.


The Torah, to help us appreciate this indescribable relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisroel, employs an expression with a meaning also beyond our grasp, without an identifiable source.


May our learning of these Torah treasures of Rav Yehoshua of Belz be a zechus for the Rebbe and for all of Klal Yisroel.


R’ Menachem Pollak, aka R’ Mendy Pollak, learns and teaches Torah on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.




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