Kiryas Tosh, Canada – Even from his earliest days, Rabbi Meshulem Feish Lowy, the Tosher Rebbe seemed destined for greatness. The fourth to take the helm of the Tosher dynasty, following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather, the Rebbe was heralded in his youth as someone who would grow up to become a great tzaddik by his grandfather, Rabbi Elimelech Lowy.
Son of the Demetcher Rov ,Rabbi Mordechai Lowy and his rebbetzin Tzirel, the Tosher Rebbe was born in 1921. The Rebbe spent many hours as a child in the home of his zaidy who was the rov in the Hungarian town of NirTosh. He saw firsthand how a Rebbe took care of people, listened to their woes and helped them in their time of need and those lessons, absorbed at an early age, served as the basis for the Rebbe’s future as heir to the title of Grand Rabbi of Tosh.
The Tosher chasidus was devastated by World War II and the few surviving Chasidim appointed the Rebbe to succeed his father who had perished in Auschwitz. The Rebbe remained with his Chasidim in the Hungarian city of Nyiregyhaza for seven years before setting sail for what would hopefully be a less perilous life in the Mille End section of Montreal, already home to several other groups of Chasidim. The Rebbe quickly recognized the need to settle someplace remote where his Chasidim could be far removed from the dangers and temptations of city life, and with the help of a government loan, Kiryas Tosh was established in 1963 by a group of 18 families in the town of Boisbriand, 15 miles north of Montreal.
Kiryas Tosh was built with the intention of being self sufficient, enabling residents to emulate the life they left behind in Europe and be free of outside influences. The fledgling community immediately set about establishing the infrastructure that was crucial to its existence, building a yeshiva, a mikvah, classrooms for both boys and girls, offices, housing for rabbeim, staff members and students, a kitchen and a dining hall. Thinking ahead to the future they hoped to have, the community also built a shul with seating for 1,000 and over the years Kiryas Tosh experienced exponential growth under the Rebbe’s loving guidance.
The Tosher Rebbe was held in the highest esteem by Jews throughout the world from all walks of life. So many would flock to Kiryas Tosh to seek his brachos and his sage words that sociologist Professor William Shaffir who maintains a website devoted to Kiryas Tosh describes the settlement as “a tourist place of holiness.”
In an emotional interview with VIN News, Rabbi Sholom Orgel, long time secretary to the Rebbe, reminisced about his many years with the Rebbe, noting that while the Rebbe himself made do with the bare minimum and never owned a car of his own, he distributed millions of dollars over his lifetime to those in need.
“The Rebbe was close with one of the Reichmann brothers who said that the Rebbe gave tzedaka like a Reichmann,” Rabbi Orgel told VIN News. “He gave out millions. They say that in our generation there was no big baal tzedaka like the Tosher Rebbe.”
The Rebbe ate little and slept less, keeping to a schedule that seems impossible for a mere mortal. His day would start with Tehillim, and the Rebbe would complete the entire sefer over several hours and then move on to learning.
“He didn’t start to daven Shachris until 3 PM because he was preparing for his davening until then,” explained Rabbi Orgel. “He would finish at about 6 o’clock and then he would have a big glass of carrot juice every day.”
The Rebbe would accept visitors throughout the evening, stopping only to daven Maariv and to finally eat his first meal of the day at midnight.
“He would take a 45 minute break to eat breakfast and when he would say Birkas Hamazon, just like the many people who say Tikun Chatzos each night, the Rebbe would always be saying the bracha of U’vnei Yerushalayim exactly at chatzos,” said Rabbi Orgel.
The Rebbe continued taking visitors throughout the night and as the morning broke, he would have some fruit before saying Birchos Hashachar and Kriyas Shema, followed by a short 6 AM nap.
“He was a malach Elokim,” said Rabbi Orgel. “Years ago the Baba Sali said that there is a neshama in this world that is unlike any other and that is the Tosher Rebbe, Meshuleim Feish ben Tzirel. The Baba Sali lived in Eretz Yisroel and the Tosher Rebbe lived in Canada so people would ask the Baba Sali how he knew this since he had never even seen the Rebbe. The Baba Sali would just reply, ‘I saw him in shomayim.’”
The Rebbe stood throughout the entire davening until he reached the age of eighty.
“There was a little shul where he davened every day and the floor was made out of concrete,” said Rabbi Orgel. “There was a little ditch that had been worn by his two feet at the place where he stood and people would come to see it for themselves.”
The Tosher Rebbe was well known for his intense love of every man and he was troubled greatly by any instances of discord or conflict.
“Anytime anyone came to the Rebbe with a machlokes, it could have been business or shalom bayis or anything else, he would take the case and devote an entire night to the issue,” recalled Rabbi Orgel. “He gave full days and nights to people in order to make peace.”
Despite the fact that the Tosher Rebbe saw thousands of people every day, he had the ability to make each one feel special.
“The Rebbe gave his whole life for klal yisroel, always thinking about others,” said Rabbi Orgel. “Whoever came into his room walked out feeling like a father was taking care of them. Every person who came into the room was like his own child. There were thousands of students in the yeshiva and he was like a father to them all.”
The many visitors who came to the Rebbe often contributed to the Rebbe’s tzedaka fund, sometimes in extremely significant amounts.
“When someone gave him money, the Rebbe paid them back with brachos,” observed Rabbi Orgel.
Despite the very generous sums of money given to him, the Rebbe kept nothing for himself. His oldest son Reb Mordechai z’l found himself facing a serious lack of funds when it came time to marry off his oldest son and one day found himself in the room with the Rebbe when a visitor from Eretz Yisroel began to cry, saying that he had no money to make a wedding for his child. The Rebbe told his guest to come back in two hours, promising him that he would have money for him at that time. Puzzled by his father’s response, Reb Mordechai asked the Rebbe why he was willing to give this man money for his simcha when he wasn’t doing the same for his own grandchild’s wedding.
“You can just go out on the street and say you are the Tosher Rebbe’s son and people will give you money but this man has no one,” the Rebbe responded to his son.
When the man returned at the prescribed time, the Rebbe handed him $30,000 to cover wedding expenses.
“This is just one story,” noted Rabbi Orgel. “But things like this happened with the Rebbe every single night.”
In another instance, a penniless choson traveled from Eretz Yisroel to ask the Tosher Rebbe for help paying his wedding expenses. After two days of unsuccessfully waiting to gain an audience with the Rebbe, the choson managed to catch the Rebbe on his way to shul.
“He told him the story, how he had no furniture, no shtreimel, no malbushim and no way to pay for a wedding,” recalled Rabbi Orgel. “The Rebbe asked the choson for his name and told him to go into certain vendors in New York, where the chasana was to take place, and to say that the Tosher Rebbe had sent him.”
Before departing, the Rebbe handed the choson $200 for “hatzlacha gelt.” Thinking that that was the full extent of the Rebbe’s help, the choson kissed the Rebbe’s hand and walked away, heartbroken.
“When the choson got to New York, he decided to go into the places the Rebbe had suggested,” said Rabbi Orgel. “In each place he was given the best of the best and told that there was no charge. He kept asking who had paid for everything and was told it was matan b’seyser. Finally, one person told him who his benefactor had been. The Tosher Rebbe had paid for everything and when the choson heard that, he began to cry.”
The Rebbe advice went beyond religious matters, often delving in the arena of medicine.
In one instance, a woman went with her neighbor to the Rebbe, telling him how her child had been born with a devastating malady and had been deteriorating badly. She begged the rebbe to give her son a bracha but instead the Tosher Rebbe gave the woman a phone number for a Chinese doctor in Manhattan and told her to make an appointment. The woman pleaded with the Rebbe for a bracha but the Rebbe insisted that she make the appointment. The neighbor attempted to intervene on the woman’s behalf and offered to make a donation in any amount to the Rebbe in exchange for a bracha.
“He said ‘Rebbe, I am asking for a big favor. Please do like the Baal Shem Tov and take this terrible sickness away now,’” recalled Rabbi Orgel.
The Rebbe remained quiet for a moment, and then told the mother to make the appointment with the doctor, assuring her that if she followed his instructions, the child would have a full recovery.
“They got an appointment two weeks later,” said Rabbi Orgel. “When they got there, there was no sign of the sickness at all. It was all gone, exactly as the Rebbe had promised.”
In another incident that took place over four decades ago, a doctor was consoling a 28 year old friend who was having a difficult time in shidduchim and suggested that they travel together to see to the Tosher Rebbe. The single bochur began to cry during their audience with the Rebbe and the doctor asked the Rebbe to please help him find his bashert, promising a check in any amount.
“It was well known that giving the Tosher Rebbe money could bring a yeshua because the Rebbe did big mitzvos with those donations,” said Rabbi Orgel.
The Rebbe told the pair that they had come at an opportune moment, relating that a woman had come the same day and she was crying because she needed a kidney.
“The Rebbe told the doctor to take the bochur and have him donate a kidney to the woman,” related Rabbi Orgel. “The doctor explained that he knew nothing about kidney donation and that the boy had come for help with a shidduch. The Rebbe promised that the boy would be engaged within two months saying, ‘It is not that I am making a promise. It is the mitzvah that is making the promise.’”
The bochur’s kidney turned out to be a perfect match for the woman. Within three days the kidney transplant had been arranged and within six weeks, the bochur became a choson. Using the knowledge gained during this experience, the doctor went on to facilitate hundreds of kidney transplants.
“All of those transplants came about because of the Tosher Rebbe’s mofes,” said Rabbi Orgel.
While the Rebbe was known for his simchas hachaim, he encountered misfortune of his own, burying his wife and two children during his lifetime.
“The Rebbe’s son Reb Mordechai was a big tzaddik who didn’t have children for 18 years,” said Rabbi Orgel. “The Rebbe went to Eretz Yisroel for the first time in order to be mispallel for his son. He went to Reb Shimon Bar Yochai and he stayed there for a week, davening morning and night. After seven days he called in a group of ten men and told them that Reb Shimon Bar Yochai will be giving his son a boy.”
The Rebbe related that it was the Dinover Rebbe, the Bnei Yisoschor, who had intervened in the heavenly realms for his son and he instructed his son to make a big seuda for the Dinover Rebbe every year on his yahrtzeit, the tenth day of Teves. Nine months later, Reb Mordechai welcomed his first son, named Yechezkel, and he made a large seudah in shul every year to remember the neis and to connect his son to the Bnei Yisoschor.
Reb Mordechai made his last yahrtzeit seuda for the Dinover Rebbe when he was 50 years old.
“He prepared the seuda as usual and he was davening shachris. He said ‘Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad’ and then he had a massive heart attack,” said Rabbi Orgel. “He died in shul in his tallis and tefillin.”
Just hours later, as the Rebbe was preparing for the levaya his phone rang and while the gabaim didn’t want to answer it at such a difficult time, the Rebbe insisted that they pick up the phone. The caller turned out to be a Monsey rabbi who was dealing with a difficult shalom bayis case and despite his own grief, the Rebbe spoke to both the husband and the wife. Rabbi Orgel, who was in the room when the call came, described what happened next.
“He said, ‘Kinderlach, I am going to the levaya now. Reb Mordechai was a big tzaddik and this is a tremendous day. I promise you the zechus of the whole day, everything that is happening now, I give that zechus to you, for you to have a good life, good children, good parnassa. Go back together. The shechina is crying when you are apart. Please listen to me and you will have a very good life.’”
The Rebbe came back from the kevura just ten minutes before Shabbos and found his family members crying over their unfathomable loss.
“He stood there like a lion and said, ‘Kinderlach, you must stop now. Shabbos is coming. He is in the biggest place in Gan Eden. There is nothing to cry for. Give kavod to the Shabbos,’” said Rabbi Orgel.
Despite his tremendous personal grief, the Rebbe went into Shabbos with a smile like every other week.
“We never had such a Shabbos in Tosh,” recalled Rabbi Orgel. “Every detail was like every other week and the Rebbe refused to allow anyone to cry on Shabbos. The whole Shabbos was b’simcha and it wasn’t until Motzei Shabbos came that the Rebbe began to cry.”
Rabbi Orgel related that Rabbi Dovid Abuchatzeira had been known to say that just uttering the Rebbe’s name, Meshulam Feish ben Tzirel, could bring about miracles.
“It happens every day because the Rebbe brought down rachamim for klal yisroel,” explained Rabbi Orgel.
Pirkei Avos tells us that the world is built on three pillars and the Tosher Rebbe devoted his life to those essential components that are the foundations of our very existence.
“The Rebbe knew what Torah means. He built a whole city for Torah and his life was about the yeshiva’s Torah,” said Rabbi Orgel. “His life was avoda, davening, and he was literally giving his life to be mispallel for klal yisroel. And the rest of the day? He was helping people and was the biggest in gemilus chasadim. All of the Rebbes today would say that the Tosher Rebbe was the rebbe of all rebbes.”
The Tosher Rebbe, who had been in poor health recently, was niftar this past Tuesday, leaving behind his second wife, his four surviving children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Rebbe was succeeded by his son Rabbi Elimelech Lowy and as days go by stories continue to emerge about his compassion, his generosity, his love of Eretz Yisroel and the never ending wellspring of ahavas yisroel that enabled him to devote his entire life to easing the burdens of Jews from all over the world.
“There are people who are just now sitting and starting to write stories of the Rebbe, stories like they told about the Baal Shem Tov,” said Rabbi Orgel. “In his lifetime the Rebbe would say, ‘Please don’t talk about me,’ so many of the stories weren’t given out until now. People are coming to be menachem aveil and telling beautiful stories that are just unbelievable. He was above, above… 94 years he was in this world and he was working for Hashem and for klal yisroel.”