Shenor Berger, Beis Moshiach
The Alter Rebbe passed away on 24 Teves 5573/1813. His funeral, which began in the village of Piena a long ways off down the road, ended in the town of Haditch. Since then, Haditch became a place of tefilla for Jews in general and Chassidim in particular.
In the period following the passing of the Alter Rebbe, the Mittler Rebbe made sure to erect an ohel and tziyun on the place where his father was buried. He also appointed a watchman to be responsible for the place. The job of the watchman included receiving pidyonei nefesh (notes with requests) that were sent from near and far and to bring them to the tziyun. The Mittler Rebbe wrote in a letter that on erev Rosh Hashana, six minyanim from various cities came to daven in Haditch and they lit many candles.
Seeming as if he could not tolerate the parting, his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek resided in Haditch near his beloved grandfather. This was temporary, for after the Mittler Rebbe established his headquarters in Lubavitch later that year, the Tzemach Tzedek moved there with his family.
During the time he lived in Haditch, he merited many special revelations from his grandfather. He wrote down all the times his grandfather appeared to him, openly or in a dream, as well as the topics he spoke with him about, inyanei Torah in Nigleh and Chassidus.
DAUGHTER NEAR HER FATHER
A few months after the histalkus, Rebbetzin Fraida, daughter of the Alter Rebbe, who was a sickly woman, felt that her days were numbered. She asked several Chassidim to bury her in Haditch next to her father.
The Rebbetzin passed away about five months after her father, on 16 Sivan. The Chassidim decided to carry out her wishes though they wondered whether the Alter Rebbe wanted his daughter buried next to him.
On their way to the cemetery they came to a crossroads with one road leading to Kremenchug and the other to Haditch. The decided not to direct the horses but to let the horses go as they pleased and then bury her wherever they ended up. The horses continued to Haditch and she was buried near the Alter Rebbe, as she requested.
HISTALKUS ON THE WAY BACK FROM HADITCH
The Mittler Rebbe also went to Haditch many times to prostrate himself at his father’s grave. He actually passed away as he returned home from Haditch.
This visit was in Tishrei 5588/1828 when the Mittler Rebbe arrived in Haditch where he davened several times at his father’s grave. One of the times, he stayed a long time and when he came out, his face was wreathed in smiles. To the astonished Chassidim he said, “I accomplished by my father; I am released from the rabbanus.” The Chassidim thought that he intended on moving to Eretz Yisrael and they immediately asked, “How can you leave us like sheep without a shepherd?” Said the Rebbe, “My son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel will be your faithful shepherd.”
None of them understood this to refer to his own passing. On the way back from Haditch, the Mittler Rebbe passed by Niezhin where he fell sick and passed away shortly thereafter.
After his passing, his oldest son, R’ Nachum, began traveling often to Haditch. The Rebbe Rayatz (sicha leil19 Kislev 5693) related:
“The uncle R’ Nachum … had a set time each year for traveling to Haditch. He tarried there for a long time, about two months or more. For the most part, he stayed in the beis medrash near the tziyun, and he had a room in the house of the watchman where he lived during his stay in Haditch. He went to the actual town only intermittently. This was his routine every year.
“However, when he reached his seventies, he began staying even longer in Haditch. The first times, he would go from Niezhin for Shabbos Mevorchim Elul and stay until after Chanuka. Then he began to move back his trip to go for Shabbos Nachamu and he stayed until before Purim. Then, he began to expand his trip even more and remained until after Purim. In 5624, he was in Lubavitch to visit his brother-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek, and stayed in Lubavitch for a few months. From there, he went directly to Haditch. On this trip, he tarried in Haditch for about three years with short breaks when he would go home to Niezhin …”
After that, R’ Nachum stayed in Haditch for several years in a row, almost regularly. At that time, he would often say, “I am as a guest by my grandfather.”
This practice of his to stay in Haditch and not in the city where he lived with his family was surprising to the Chassidim. One time, the elder Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe and Mittler Rebbe even gathered and dared to question him about this. He revealed his secret. He said, before his wedding they sewed new clothes for him and among the clothing was an outer garment made of silk which was expensive. When his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, saw it, he called him over and asked him whether he was willing to have cloth patches sewn on it. R’ Nachum said no.
“If you do it, I will learn with you,” promised the Alter Rebbe, but R’ Nachum said no. “If you do it, I promise that you will be ‘with me in my section’ in Olam Haba.”
In response to his question, the Alter Rebbe said that it wasn’t enough to simply do it; it had to come from a deep, inner place. R’ Nachum remained silent and the conversation ended.
This garment had a long collar made of fine leather. When R’ Nachum went to the Alter Rebbe for a blessing before the chuppa, the Alter Rebbe cut off a piece of leather from the collar and promised him long life for this.
Years later, R’ Nachum realized he needed to make a tikkun for refusing to sew patches on his new garment. This is why he stayed in Haditch near his grandfather for long periods of time.
R’ Chaim Meir was the watchman at the ohel in Haditch. He told his friend, the Chassid R’ Mordechai Yoel Duchman that the source of all the practices instituted at the ohel came at the initiative of the Mittler Rebbe.
It once happened that the watchman received an urgent pidyon nefesh. He immediately ran to the ohel and in his haste he forgot to knock at the door of the ohel before entering. As a result, he felt himself being thrown from the place with an inexplicable force and he found himself lying in the courtyard. As he lay there, he dreamed that the tzadekes Fraida, daughter of the Alter Rebbe, said to him, “Chaim Meir, you didn’t knock at the door! Those birds you see? They are souls that come here but since the Chassidim don’t hold of dreams, you will receive a sign [when awake].”
The moment he woke up, a bee flew by and buzzed in his ear and he remained deaf in that ear for the rest of his life.
He was replaced as watchman by his son-in-law, R’ Zalman Ber Klimovitzky. R’ Zalman Duchman noted that “I often sent him two or three rubles for him and for the olive oil for lighting, on behalf of my grandfather (the aforementioned R’ Mordechai Yoel).”
PRESERVING THE OHEL
Throughout the years, the holy tziyun was preserved and the place was treated with respect by the watchmen and the Chassidim who visited the tziyun.
At the end of 5652/1892, the Rebbe Rashab took care of fixing the mikva near the ohel. In 5667/1907, they built a large, spacious ohel with another room next to it for a shul, as it is impossible to pray in the place of tziyun itself. The construction was done thanks to a donation from the Chassidic magnate, R’ Avrohom Yosef Sirkin.
At that time, special enactments were made in reference to the ohel: that the ner tamid (eternal flame) there would be constantly lit and the mikva near the ohel would be heated during Elul, the Yomim Noraim and on the day of the hilula.
Unfortunately, these enactments did not last. As the Rebbe Rayatz relates, when he went to prostrate himself at the tziyun for the hilula on 24 Teves 5672/1912, he saw how few people came to the ohel; the ner tamid was not lit and the mikva was not heated. The Rebbe Rayatz immediately reported this to his father.
In the period that followed, the Rebbe Rashab wrote several letters to his son about the need for proper care of the mikva as well as regular supervision to maintain the proper dignity and decorum inside and outside the ohel. The Rebbe mentioned there the need to see to it that the ner tamid is always lit and with pure olive oil, and that there should be a shamash there at all times when people gather, and also a regular minyan to daven there at least on Shabbos and Yom Tov. He also added that just as the need to establish a watch for the Mikdash was done out of respect and not security concerns, similarly in this case there should optimally be a regular watch, “but at least it should not be left forsaken.”
From this we see that the Rebbe Rashab wanted a perpetual watchman to supervise the place and run all matters of the sanctity of the holy tziyun. He also wanted a minyan for davening to take place there at least on Shabbos and that there be a ner tamid of olive oil.
At that time, a rich Chassid who lived in Haditch, by the name of Rappaport, wanted to fix the mikva and build a building nearby for Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim. He had already gotten to the point where he took R’ Menachem Mendel Gurary (Rashag’s father) into his confidence regarding the matter. The Rebbe Rashab wanted the people of Haditch to participate in this construction.
Likewise, there was a suggestion to establish a sort of kollel zikeinim for retirees, whose very presence would serve as an honorary “watch” over the ohel, but the Rebbe Rashab rejected the idea. He wanted a yeshiva to be located in the shul next to the ohel with a special mashgiach.
The Rebbe Rashab wrote lengthy letters about the options for establishing a watch system at the ohel and even agreed that the Rebbe Rayatz would travel to a meeting that would take place in Haditch on the matter.
It is not clear what resulted from all these plans but what we do know is that one year later, for 24 Teves 5673, the Rebbe Rayatz saw to it that three Chassidim would travel special for the yartzeit and this pleased the Rebbe Rashab greatly. For the following year, the Rebbe Rashab contributed five rubles for the expenses of those traveling to Haditch.
THE LEGENDARY SHAMASH R’ YOSEF GANSBURG
We mentioned earlier about the shamashim who preserved the sanctity of the ohel. One of the shamashim who ran the place faithfully was R’ Yosef Gansburg. In those days, Haditch and Gansburg were almost synonymous.
Every Chassid who wanted to prostrate at the tziyun of the Alter Rebbe, knew the address of R’ Yosef Gansburg who, together with his father R’ Menachem Mendel Hillel, devotedly hosted the Chassidim who came to pray there.
The Gansburg family was a large, distinguished, Lubavitcher family that lived in Haditch for many years. R’ Yosef considered his job as holy work and he would call the place, “der heilige ort” (the holy place). With this service, he carried out the wishes of the Rebbe Rashab to take care of the holy place on a regular basis. R’ Yosef visited several times a week and made sure the place was clean and repairs were made as needed.
His daughter Shifra, who told about this work, did not know who assigned him this job, but she knew that he carried it out devotedly:
“The word ‘ohel’ was always in the air in our house. My father had a particular term for it, ‘der heilige ort’ and you could hear him use this term nearly every day: ‘I need to go,’ ‘I am going tomorrow to the holy place.’ He would often closet himself in his room and write pidyonos. Then we all knew that we could not disturb him. It was mainly after we received the mail. Jews from all over the Soviet Union would send us letters and in many, panim were enclosed that they wrote with a request that my father bring them to the ohel and read them at the tziyun.
“There were also those who wrote about their problems with parnassa, health, children or other matters. For example, there were many requests for mercy for a father or husband who was arrested by the secret police with a request that my father write a pidyon for them and then read it at the ohel. At the ohel, there was a special box in which panim were placed after being read.
“My father considered writing and reading the panim as holy work. Before writing, he put on his suit and gartel and his face would take on a very serious demeanor. At this time, or during his preparations for going to the ohel, we knew that we couldn’t disturb him with household matters or our questions. At these times, my father seemed to disengage from all matters of the world and was completely immersed in holiness. Sometimes, Chassidim would come to Haditch, mainly to pray on the Yomim Noraim at the ohel or for the Alter Rebbe’s hilula. Of course, on those days, the house was full of life.
“Some preferred making secret visits, like those Chassidim whom the police were looking for, who wanted to pour out their hearts at the ohel. They were our guests for a day or two and after visiting the ohel, they disappeared as quietly as they came. Their visits, from when they came until they disappeared, were shrouded in silence and mystery.
“The experience that I remember the clearest from the Yomim Noraim is connected with the Chassidim who would come for Rosh Hashana, when they went to tashlich at the river near the ohel. The walk there was a unique experience, with a sort of joy and lightness, as though there was no police and no arrests and it was already possible to sing loudly and rejoice openly.”
THE ALTER REBBE COMPLETES A MINYAN
R’ Yosef’s brother, R’ Yaakov Gansburg, repeated an extraordinary story from his brother:
R’ Itche Masmid once went to Haditch for 24 Teves, for the purpose of serving as chazan at the ohel on the Alter Rebbe’s hilula. It was bitter cold and there was snow in abundance and since the ohel was at a distance from the town, there wasn’t a minyan that day; only nine people.
The ohel was divided in half with a door between the two sections. In the front section was a shul in which people davened mainly on the Yomim Noraim. In the back was the tziyun. When R’ Itche saw time passing and no chance of a tenth showing up, he opened the door that separated between the two sections and called out toward the tziyun, “Chazal say that tzaddikim are greater in death than in their lifetimes, so we include our holy Rebbe as a tenth for the minyan.” And he immediately stepped up to the amud, said the kaddish d’rabbanan before Hodu, davened the entire davening as the shliach tzibbur and said Borchu and Kedusha and all the kaddeishim.
After the Rebbe Rayatz left the Soviet Union in 1928, R’ Yosef would send him pictures of the holy tziyun.
THE END OF JEWISH LIFE IN HADITCH
In Teves 5702/1942, the Jewish and Chassidic community in Haditch was wiped out when the Nazis took them all out to be killed. The Chabad Chassidim who also lived in Haditch perished except for Shifra Gansburg who was twenty. She managed to escape at the last moment. She told about the horrific things that were engraved in her soul:
“My father was shot to death by the Nazis right after the latter entered Haditch. Then the Nazis captured my maternal grandfather, R’ Tzvi Hirsh Gurevitz, along with with other Jews and told them they would be taken to labor camps. They did not return home. One day, Nazi soldiers entered our house, grabbed my grandfather, R’ Menachem Mendel Hillel, who lived with us, and cut off part of his beard. My grandfather pleaded and wept but nothing helped. They enjoyed his suffering and mocked him. I saw this with my own eyes. Then they took out all the holy books from the house and burned them before us. It was a terrifying sight. After burning the sefarim they murdered my grandfather, may Hashem avenge his blood.
“In January 1942, the Nazis announced on loudspeakers that all Jews must gather in a certain place and had to bring their personal documents since they were going to be moved to another city. I felt that this was the end. I knew they wanted to kill us. I decided to run away with my sister but she was afraid and preferred to go with the family. I remained alone and fled to the forests surrounding the town. For two years, I wandered from place to place, from village to village. I suffered from starvation, disease and terror until the Red Army liberated the area I was in.
“At the end of the war, I returned to Haditch and saw I was listed as one of the dead.”
Over the years, the Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbe MH”M kept apprised of the situation at the ohels of our Rebbeim throughout the Soviet Union as well as the ohel in Haditch.
When communism collapsed, a new matzeiva was erected at the ohel by R’ Dovid Nachshon and R’ Avi Taub. Since then, the place continues to grow and develop to serve the needs of the many who come to daven at the ohel. There is a guest house there, a large beis medrash and everything needed to welcome thousands of Jews who come every year to the tziyun of the Alter Rebbe.
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