“Don’t Go to Kivrei Tzaddikim” – The Story of the First Pidyon Nefesh the Rebbe Accepted




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    “Don’t Go to Kivrei Tzaddikim” – The Story of the First Pidyon Nefesh the Rebbe Accepted

    From Beis Moshiach Magazine: How the Belzer Rebbe’s advice to his Lubavitcher host in Yerushalayim prompted the Rebbe to accept the first Pidyon Nefesh after Yud Shevat 5710 As heard from his grandson Rabbi Nachman Yosef Twersky • Full Article

    By Beis Moshiach Magazine

    How the Belzer Rebbe’s advice to his Lubavitcher host in Yerushalayim prompted the Rebbe to accept the first Pidyon Nefesh after Yud Shevat 5710. As heard from his grandson Rabbi Nachman Yosef Twersky


    The following story is one that I heard from my father-in-law, R’ Moshe Ashkenazi, about the Tzaddik, R’ Aharon of Belz. He was the one who was the indirect cause for the Rebbe to take the first pidyon nefesh.

    Parenthetically, the Rebbe was in Berlin at the beginning of the 1930’s. In 1931, the Belzer Rebbe went to Berlin to see a famous eye doctor. Many Jewish residents of the city gathered to greet the Belzer Rebbe. The Rebbe (who was known as Ramash before he became Rebbe) had a good friend, a Gerrer Chassid by the name of Yitzchok Meir. The Rebbe suggested that they go together to greet the Belzer Rebbe. There was one condition, that R’ Yitzchok Meir not tell the Belzer Rebbe who the Rebbe is.

    They both went and approached the Belzer Rebbe in the middle of the large crowd. The Belzer Rebbe’s practice was not to give his hand in greeting but to wrap it in a towel. There were very few people for whom he removed the towel and gave his hand. When it was Ramash’s turn he took off the towel and gave him his hand and asked, “Who are you?” The Rebbe did not say.

    Beis Moshiach

    R’ Yitzchok Meir had promised not to reveal the Rebbe’s identity, i.e. that he wouldn’t introduce him to the Belzer Rebbe as the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s son-in-law, but if the Belzer Rebbe himself was asking, he could definitely say. R’ Yitzchok Meir said he was the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s (Rayatz) son-in-law. The Belzer Rebbe said he sensed it because Ramash had a warm hand.


    R’ Yitzchok Isaac Herzog visited America in 5709. He was the chief rabbi of Israel and was known for his great stature. He wanted to spend Shabbos with the Rebbe Rayatz. He was of Chassidic stock, from Belz and Ruzhin, and was possessed of Chassidic warmth. He helped the Rebbe Rayatz in various ways and even helped save the Belzer Rebbe by obtaining certain documents from the English government in order to bring him to Eretz Yisrael.

    When he wanted to spend Shabbos with the Rebbe Rayatz, the Rebbe said he could stay with his son-in-law, and “When you will be with him, it will be as though you are staying with me.”

    One of the things R’ Herzog said about that Shabbos was that the Rebbe said that in the world there are many gedolim but the greatest gedolim were his shver, i.e. the Rebbe Rayatz and R’ Aharon of Belz.

    That was only parenthetical.


    The Belzer Rebbe arrived in Eretz Yisrael in 5704 after living under Nazi rule and being sought after by them. After much suffering and wandering, and experiencing miracles and wonders, he was able to escape and arrive in the Holy Land. They bought him a home in Tel Aviv where he wanted to live, but until the apartment was ready he went to Yerushalayim. There he did not find a suitable place to stay, as large families lived in two room apartments. Then he heard that there was a Chabad couple who lived in a four-room apartment, a rarity in those days.

    Who owned this home? A Lubavitcher by the name of Shneur Zalman Ashkenazi and his wife Kaila, the parents of R’ Meir Ashkenazi, the rav of Shanghai and the grandparents of my father-in-law, R’ Moshe Ashkenazi. When SZ Ashkenazi decided to go to Eretz Yisrael, his son Yehoshua, who was well-to-do, went to Yerushalayim to look for an apartment for his parents. He saw two room apartments with shared bathrooms and decided it wasn’t respectable enough for his parents. He then bought two apartments and connected them.

    Two weeks had gone by and the Belzer Rebbe did not find a comfortable place for himself in Yerushalayim. When he heard about R’ Zalman’s apartment, some Chassidim of the Rebbe asked R’ Zalman whether the Rebbe could stay with him. R’ Zalman asked how many rooms the Rebbe needed and they said he needed three rooms, one for davening, one as a bedroom, and one in which to receive people.

    R’ Zalman and his wife agreed and during that period they used just one room. They hosted the Rebbe for seven weeks with R’ Zalman subsidizing the costs including food for the gabbaim.

    Throughout this time, R’ Zalman continued with his daily schedule as a Chabad Chassid. He did not get involved in what was going on in the other three rooms. This suited the Belzer Rebbe who did not like when people watched him; he was very pleased with the arrangement.

    On 11 Nissan 5704/1944, the Belzer Rebbe’s home in Tel Aviv was ready and he left R’ Zalman’s home. He told R’ Zalman that it was very hard for him to leave because he smelled the scent of Yiras Shamayim in R’ Zalman’s house.

    R’ Zalman told him about his son, the rav of Shanghai, with whom he had been out of contact for several years. R’ Zalman wondered whether he was alive. Would he see him again? He asked the Belzer Rebbe for a bracha for his son. The Belzer Rebbe replied: When your son arrives in Eretz Yisrael, I want him to come to me. This response answered all his questions.

    In 5710, a short time before Yud Shevat, R’ Meir Ashkenazi came to Eretz Yisrael from Shanghai. They told him that the Belzer Rebbe wants to see him. His son, my father-in-law Moshe Ashkenazi, lived in Tel Aviv and he went with him. He did not enter with a kvittel as a Chassid to his Rebbe but went because the Belzer Rebbe asked to see him.

    The Belzer Rebbe asked him, “Perhaps you need a bracha for something?”

    R’ Ashkenazi said yes, he had a problem with one eye as a result of a stroke. The Belzer Rebbe gave him three instructions to stop the condition from worsening: 1) not to go to the graves of Tzaddikim, 2) not to eat dairy foods, and 3) not to listen to music.


    The Rebbe Rayatz passed away on Yud Shevat. During the years that R’ Meir was in Eretz Yisrael, he was in close touch with the Rebbe. It was a very personal relationship to the point that the Rebbe Rayatz took care of a shidduch for one of his children. As soon as the sad news arrived, he told the elder Chassidim that there is a Rebbe! He publicized this to all and a short time later he went to 770.

    It was close to the shloshim, whether before or after, I don’t know. He went to the Rebbe like a Chassid, with a pidyon nefesh. The Rebbe, who refused to engage in any conduct that befitted a Rebbe told him to go to the Ohel with his pidyon.

    R’ Meir said, “I am not going to the Ohel! I can’t go to the Ohel.”

    The Rebbe asked him why not, and R’ Meir told him what happened when he visited the Belzer Rebbe, and the three things he told him to refrain from doing, including not to visit the graves of Tzaddikim.

    The Rebbe said to him, “If the Belzer Rebbe told you not to go, you really can’t go.” Then the Rebbe said, “but he is not your Rebbe and why didn’t you ask him for a source for this instruction of his?”

    Then the Rebbe put on his jacket and accepted the pidyon nefesh from R’ Meir Ashkenazi. Afterward, there were another few from whom the Rebbe accepted a pidyon.

    So that is how events unfolded that led to the accepting of the first pidyon nefesh, because of the Belzer Rebbe, already way back on 11 Nissan 5704, when he asked to see R’ Meir upon his arriving in Eretz Yisrael.

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    Beis Moshiach


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