Monsey, NY – Isru Chag Succos marked the fifteenth yahrtzeit of the Ribnitzer Rebbe zt’l, R’ Chaim Zanvil (ben Mosha) Abramowitz and thousands are expected to visit the Rebbe’s kever today at the Vizhnitzer Cemetery in Spring Valley, New York. Known in his lifetime as a great tzadik and a miracle worker, thousands of people worldwide had flocked to the Rebbe in his lifetime for blessings.
The Rebbe’s genuineness was of a uniqueness that was unmatched. Once a friend of mine, who was close to the Rebbe asked him if he should change his nusach from nusach ashkenaz to nusach sefard. The Ribnitzer pushed him off. My friend persisted, “But Rebbe, I want to daven the same nusach that the Rebbe does!” The Rebbe responded, “I daven from a nusach?!?” He klapped on his chest and said, “I daven from here. I don’t know about any nusach..”
The Rebbe’s Tzidkus was unparalled as well. While in Russia under the communists the Rebbe wanted to make sure that the Jewish women would eat food that was properly shechted. He gave them a unique offer. If they would bring their chickens to him to shecht he would take off the feathers for them and clean their chickens too. This was unprecedented. He did so out of a deep and profound love of Klal Yisroel.
All were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt of the efficacy of the Rebbe’s tefilos when they witnessed and experienced miracles in all aspects of life from health problem to resolutions of financial issues. Since his passing fifteen years ago, his graveside has become one of the most visited gravesites in New York with literally thousands of people coming to pray and pour out their hearts, davening for Heavenly mercy in the merit of this Holy Tzadik. There are endless stories of those whose prayers have been answered and many people can attest to the remarkable developments that they witnessed after davening at the Rebbe’s tzion. It seems that at any time of day or night, there are always people praying at the Rebbe’s kever.
Rabbi Dovid Sitnik, the menahel of Yeshiva Siach Yitzchok in Far Rockaway once asked the Rebbe of the significance of the words, “Bereishis Barah.” He answered, “The first thing is that a person has to be healthy.” Rav Sitnik asked, “What does being healthy mean?” The Rebbe answered, “What does it mean? To have Hashem send you moichin – Chochma and Bina.” Rav Sitnik persisted, “How does a person become healthy?” The Rebbe’s answered personified his very essence, “By doing for other people, by doing for other people.”
The Rebbe was born in Botsani, Romania, but the actual year of the Rebbe’s birth remains in question. Some list the Rebbe’s year of birth as 1902, but others, including singer Mordechai Ben David, who was a close follower of the Rebbe and his gabbai, maintain that the Rebbe was born in 1893, making him 102 at the time of his petira.
Orphaned at the tender age of three, the Rebbe was raised by Reb Avraham Matisyahu of Shtefaesht, who was known as a great miracle worker and was a grandson of the famous R’ Yisroel of Rushin, zt’l. The Ribnitzer spent much of his life living in Russia under Communist rule. There, under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, he practiced Yiddishkeit to its fullest. He served Klal Yisroel as a mohel, shochet and chazzan for many years. The Rebbe was jailed, interrogated and even placed in front of a firing squad for his actions. However, somehow, someway, he always managed to miraculously escape and continued living as a Torah Jew in the USSR.
The Ribnitzer was extremely meticulous in maintaining his spiritual purity by immersing in a mikvah a minimum of twice a day, and often more than that. Back in Russia, where the only option for a mikvah was the frozen river water near his home, the Rebbe would cut a hole through the thick ice and immerse himself in the frozen water to fulfill his minhag and obtain that lofty level of purity and holiness.
It is said that when the Rebbe lived in Russia, he would arrive home from tevila with his entire body encased in ice. A long time companion who once accompanied the Rebbe to the river recalls that on one particular occasion it was so cold that the water froze over the Rebbe’s head as he toveled himself in the frigid waters. Terrified, his companion tried cracking the ice and after a long time, the Rebbe emerged calmly from the water. Asked how he managed to get through the ice, the Rebbe simply replied, “I davened.”
The Rebbe was known in Russia as a “Gutte Yid”, someone whose brachos always seemed to come true and whose tefilos were always answered. Even the non-Jews in Russia had great respect for the Ribnitzer. It is said that evenmembers of the KGB were known to have brought their wives and children to the Rebbe to receive his blessings. Stories of the Ribnitzer’s miracles in Russia abound including the time that the Rebbe’s tefilos brought Eliyahu HaNavi dressed as a Nazi General, ordering a group of Nazi soldiers to leave the Rebbe’s town. Another time at a Bris, a child was bleeding uncontrollably. The Rebbe miraculously stopped the bleeding with his tallis.
The Rebbe is known to have fasted every day that is halachically permitted to do so from the 1930’s on. He was the last of the great Rebbes to remain in Russian up until the early 1970’s. It was then that he emigrated to Eretz Yisroel where he spent one year living in Yerushalayim. From there the Ribnitzer Rebbe moved to America, living first in Boro Park, then in Los Angeles and Seagate, finally settling in Monsey.
While the Rebbe, who always avoided any type of fanfare, hoped to be able to maintain a low profile in America, his reputation preceded him. People came from far and wide to seek his guidance and his brachos. Despite the numerous hours spent with those who came for advice and more, the Ribnitzer spent endless hours immersed in learning and in his Tikun Chatzos, with sackcloth and ashes.
This special Tefila of his was known to last from six to seven hours each night, if not longer. The Rebbe cried so much during Tikun Chatzos that by the time he was finished, the ashes mingled with his tears and he would be sitting in mud. The Ribnitzer Rebbe often spent his entire day immersed in tefila and, more times than can be listed, had to remove his tefillin late on Friday afternoon because Shabbos was coming.
He often did not recite Havdala until close to dawn on Sunday morning. There were those who said of the Ribnitzer that he was on such a high level that he was simply not of this generation. It was almost as if he was one of the talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov, zt’l.
While the Ribnitzer was not blessed with any children of his own, the hundreds of “Chaim Zanvil”s who carry his name today are incontrovertible proof of the tremendous impact he had upon Klal Yisroel. All those who knew the Ribnitzer Rebbe felt as if they were his own children. Thousands make an effort to remember the Rebbe on his yahrtzeit, both at his kever and at a special Seudah held in his honor, generally the first communal event held after the Yomim Noraim.
Hundreds are expected at a special yahrtzeit seudah in the Rebbe’s honor at the Atrium in Monsey tonight where many are expected to tell the stories of the great yeshuos they experienced through the Ribnitzer Rebbe.
May the zechus of this great tzaddik and his legacy of purity and righteousness continue to inspire us to rise to greater heights in Avodas Hashem, in learning Torah, and in being Gomel Chesed for others – each and every day of our lives. Amain!
According to Gruntig.net below video is of The Ribnitzer Rebbe, at a Wedding of the Hershkowitz Family in 1974 in NY. It was one of the first Weddings the Rebbe was Mesader Kedushen when he Arrived to America; The family was close with him in Russia.