Avrohom Rainitz, Beis Moshiach
Every Thursday night, in recent years, I received a weekly digital booklet via email called Leben mit Moshiach with inspiring selections on inyanei Moshiach, in Lashon Kodesh and English. I wondered who was the talented editor who regularly found appropriate segments every week. When I asked Rabbi Zushe Silberstein, the one who produced it, he said the editor preferred to remain anonymous.
Last Thursday, the secret came out when along with the weekly booklet there was the following dedication: L’ilui nishmas the editor, for over twenty years, Rabbi Sholom Jacobson, a’h.
When I went to console the family, I met R’ Silverstein there and he told me about the extraordinary devotion of R’ Jacobson in editing the booklet:
“R’ Sholom would work for hours until he found the most suitable and inspiring selections. He would often devote an entire night to this. Even when he married off his children, he did this. He once sat up until dawn, the night after a wedding, to prepare the booklet!
“In recent years, despite his illness, he continued editing. Even in the last weeks of his life, when he was in the ICU, he took a laptop and edited the last booklets from his bed.”
This was R’ Sholom Jacobson, an incredible baki in the Rebbe’s sichos, devoted to the Rebbe’s inyanim with all his heart and soul, who lived and enlivened others with inyanei Moshiach and Geula, and all this was low-key, in an unassuming way.
THE “BLOOD PACT” WITH THE REBBE RAYATZ
Rabbi Jacobson was born in the Poking DP camp on 7 Adar 5707/1947. His parents were Rabbi Simon and Mrs. Fraida Yakobashvili. His father learned in Tomchei Tmimim and was chosen by the Rebbe Rayatz to be one of the ten individuals present for the “making of the covenant,” in which the Rebbe Rayatz swore along with nine tmimim to devote their lives to maintain Torah and Judaism “until the last drop of blood.”
His father was arrested by the KGB for his work in spreading Yiddishkeit and after being tortured was sent to a labor camp in Siberia. He miraculously escaped the labor camp and fled with his family to Georgia. In 5707, after several groups of Anash managed to cross the border with forged Polish passports, the Yakobashvili family joined one of the groups and in the process changed the family name to Jacobson.
A few months after leaving Russia, while they were in Poking, their third son (after R’ Gershon Ber and R’ Betzalel), Sholom, was born. Rebbetzin Chana lived in the barrack opposite them. She would come now and then to help the new mother and held and calmed the baby. Later on, when R’ Sholom came to Crown Heights, Rebbetzin Chana told him this.
Although they had left the Soviet Union, his father did not relax. Faithful to his oath to work on behalf of Jews in Russia, even at the cost of their lives, R’ Simon returned to the lion’s den for a brief time to circumcise Jewish babies! It was when he met with a Jewish chaplain in the US Army who said that as part of a certain joint effort between Russia and the United States, he had obtained an entry visa to Russia and met there with some Jews who wanted to circumcise their sons and had no mohel.
Despite the enormous danger for someone who had fled Siberia and had smuggled over the border, R’ Simon did not hesitate. Upon disguising himself in an American army uniform, he went with an American officer and circumcised the children. He entered and left in peace.
During the following years, he continued to travel among Jewish refugees throughout Europe and tried to help with all their Jewish needs. In a letter that the Rebbe sent on 9 Shevat 5711, he wrote to Rabbi Binyamin Gorodetzky about the work of R’ Simon “in Europe, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, etc.” and said, “It seems from the information in my possession that in all the places he went to, he made an impact in matters of actual practice.” From the letter it appears that there was even a consideration to send him on shlichus to Chile.
THE REBBE LOOKED OUT FOR A YOUNG ORPHAN
In 5712, R’ Simon took his family to Toronto where he was to be appointed as rav of the community but his illness and afflictions got the better of him and he passed away on 2 Tammuz 5713. Half a year earlier he had attended the Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen with the Rebbe. During that visit, he had two lengthy private audiences with the Rebbe during which the Rebbe wanted to know about his travels in Europe in detail.
Less than two years later, on 22 Kislev 5715, Mrs. Jacobson passed away and young R’ Sholom was a double orphan. The Rebbe sent letters to Anash in Toronto, urging them to take care of the three orphans, especially R’ Sholom who was a little boy.
His older brother, R’ Gershon Ber, who was already a 22-year-old bachur, took his younger brother under his wing and asked the Rebbe whether to bring him to New York. The Rebbe responded in a letter dated 4 Teves 5715 saying, “In general, it is proper; as far as the details, it would be worthwhile consulting with relatives and their wives since we are speaking of an eight-year-old boy who needs more supervision than someone older.”
In a letter of 1 Adar 5715, the Rebbe wrote to R’ Gershon Ber in connection with his brother’s birthday, “It would be good for him to give with his own hands coins for tzedaka on his birthday before shacharis and mincha (or on the day he receives the letter if it is received after the birthday). And learn the ninth chapter of Tehillim with him with the commentary of Metzudas Tziyon and Dovid. May Hashem grant him success to find suitable arrangements for his brother very soon.”
At the time, there was a Lubavitcher couple in New York who did not have children who offered to adopt the orphan as their son. Although they were well-to-do people and R’ Sholom could have grown up in their home with no worries for the future, the Rebbe guided them to look for a family with boys his age.
R’ Yaakov and Mrs. Toiba Lipsker, who were blessed with nine children, heard about the young orphan who came to Crown Heights and offered to raise him along with their other children.
“We have nine children so now we’ll have a tenth child,” said Mrs. Lipsker and she raised him as her own child.
A PRESENT FROM REBBETZIN CHANA AND KIRUVIM FROM THE REBBE
Upon his arrival in Crown Heights, young Sholom would daven in the Rebbe’s minyan. Chassidim say that when he said the Kaddish Yasom, the Rebbe would look at him with a special look.
During the Seudas Moshiach on Acharon shel Pesach, the Rebbe called him over and gave him a piece of matza. Since it was after sunset, the Rebbe asked him whether he had washed yet. Sholom said he did not know he needed to wash and the Rebbe said: After you wash, eat this.
When he had yechidus, the Rebbe asked him what he was learning and when he said he was learning about Pharaoh’s dreams, the Rebbe asked how it was possible that the thin cows ate the fat cows and this was not apparent on them? Sholom said, “It was a dream …” The Rebbe laughed and gave him a silver dollar.
A day or two before his bar mitzva, he had yechidus and the Rebbe gave him the sefer Derech Mitzvosecha and said it was a present from his mother, Rebbetzin Chana. The Rebbe asked him whether he had prepared something in Nigleh for the bar mitzva. When he said no, the Rebbe asked him why and he said that his brother prepared him for the bar mitzva and he did not say he needed to prepare something in Nigleh. The Rebbe asked the older brother to prepare something with him in Nigleh despite the short time remaining until the bar mitzva. It was important to the Rebbe that he prepare something in Nigleh.
REFLECTING THE LOVE
In the face of all the kiruvim that he received from the Rebbe, R’ Sholom devoted himself to the Rebbe’s inyanim. His son, R’ Levi Yitzchok, put it this way, “To my father, there was only one thing in his world – Rebbe. Even when he ate and slept it was in order to have the strength to be involved in the Rebbe’s inyanim.”
Two examples, the first from his youth when he was in a car accident and received a nice sum from insurance. Although he was an orphan who should have been concerned about his own financial future, he took the entire sum and gave it to the Rebbe! His friends tried to convince him to keep the money and give the Rebbe a tenth or a fifth but not for a moment did he think otherwise.
This was so special that even the Rebbe had the secretaries check with R’ Sholom to make sure that he gave the entire sum wholeheartedly. Only after he said that this is what he wanted did the Rebbe accept the money and thank him for it in a letter, adding in his own handwriting, “I hereby certify the receipt of his letter-note and the donation of his pure heart which should stand for him in all that he needs.”
The second was after he married, when his oldest child was born on 20 Av. Being orphaned, everyone was sure he would name the baby for his father but he named his oldest son Levi Yitzchok for the Rebbe’s father (whose yahrtzeit is 20 Av) since “honor for one’s rebbi takes precedence.” His second son was named Simon for his father.
After he married, R’ Sholom was completely devoted to the Rebbe’s work and was not that concerned about material matters. His older brother was perturbed by this and wanted to help R’ Sholom be more “organized” in life. Once, when in yechidus, R’ Gershon Ber said to the Rebbe that it bothered him that his brother did not care at all about material things. The Rebbe said: I actually have pleasure from him…
While a bachur, he received an invitation to attend the Rebbe’s seder which, in those days, took place in the Rebbe Rayatz’s apartment. He did not want such “preferential treatment” and held a seder with the bachurim, making sure to be in the dining room when the Rebbe came to bless the bachurim on seder night. At the same time, immediately after the Rebbe left, he quickly finished his seder and went up to the second floor to be present at the Rebbe’s seder while the Rebbe was still making the rounds of the mosdos.
That is how he was privileged to be present for many years in a row until 5730, and he had the presence of mind to observe all of the Rebbe’s conduct with great exactitude and wrote it all down. His children say that the seder with him was a review of everything he saw at the Rebbe over the years.
Although the Lipsker family provided him with a warm and loving home, remarkably as though he was one of their own children, they still were not his parents which is why he felt comfortable staying in 770 even at times when the other children would go home. One of the people who came to be menachem avel said that R’ Sholom was like one of the pieces of furniture in 770 but unlike furniture which does not budge, R’ Sholom was very active in every possible area where he could be of assistance in all of the Rebbe’s matters.
By the way, regarding the invitation to the home of the Rebbe, R’ Sholom did not seek to be a mekurav; on the contrary, he was concerned about the fact that someone who was “mekurav” (in terms of having a close personal connection) would find it hard to be a Chassid. Therefore, on a number of occasions when he had the opportunity to enter the inner circle of mekuravim of Beis Rebbi, he did not take the opportunity.
Rebbetzin Chana once invited him to visit her. Consistent with his approach of keeping away from kiruvim, he shied away from that. However, he later regretted this, not because he was afraid he missed out on a kiruv but because he concluded that the Rebbetzin, who was alone, was happy with these visits and so he regretted not bringing her joy.
UTILIZING HIS TALENTS FOR THE REBBE
Since the early sixties, R’ Sholom used his talents to decorate the Rebbe’s platform for the Lag B’Omer parade. He got the Deitsch brothers to donate the nicest and most luxurious velvet and used it to make the exquisite platform familiar to all of us from the pictures taken over the years.
One year, as he put a lot of work into decorating the platform, and since on Lag B’Omer itself the Rebbe would come out and go back in quickly without paying attention to all of the decorations, he left the signs after Lag B’Omer so the Rebbe would enjoy it. After some time, they told him that R’ Chodakov wanted to see him. He went nervously, perhaps he had done something amiss. To his surprise, R’ Chodakov was smiling and he said the sign is very nice and the Rebbe enjoyed it but it was time to take it down.
During the shiva, a picture was publicized in which you see R’ Sholom carving out the letters, “Ohel Yosef Yitzchok” over the entrance to 770. He was the right man in the right place. By divine providence, he had gone into the secretaries’ office and R’ Chaim Boruch Halberstam told him that the Rebbe wanted to add the inscription on the building and said it should be done immediately. The Rebbe even said that he would not go down for the yechidus klalis, which was supposed to take place at that time, until this was arranged. Two bachurim tried to do the delicate work but found it very hard. R’ Sholom got up on the tables set up at the entrance and used his natural artistic talent to do the work in the best possible way.
MEMBER OF THE VAAD L’HAFOTZAS SICHOS
Aside from his tremendous gifts and talents, R’ Sholom was able to encourage and help others develop their talents for the Rebbe’s matters. Already as a bachur he was involved in producing the sichos when he joined the team of chozrim and writers of the sichos, and tried to help with technical matters. He himself also began to write hanachos in 5725 but even before that he helped those who did the actual writing.
When R’ Benzion Shemtov started the Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos, R’ Sholom was there to help him. When years passed and R’ Benzion found it hard to arrange the technical matters himself, he said to R’ Sholom: I’m already getting old, you are young and can do things energetically, so get involved.
That is how he got involved shortly after the Vaad was founded and became a member of the Vaad along with his friend and classmate, R’ Zalman Chanin.
R’ Sholom greatly esteemed R’ Benzion and R’ Benzion cherished him very much and would tell him stories of his life. Once, during the years that the Rebbe did not edit a sicha every week, R’ Sholom went to the mazkirus and they gave him an envelope with edit notes for a new sicha. He left excitedly and R’ Benzion, who always knew how to be at the right place at the right time was just passing 770. When he saw R’ Sholom, he stopped and asked what was new. After R’ Sholom excitedly told him about the new revelation from the Rebbe, R’ Benzion began to cry from joy and then hugged and kissed R’ Sholom in his excitement and fervor.
R’ Sholom was responsible for the layout which, in those days, had to be done manually. From then on, all the sefarim that were published by the Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos passed through the skilled hands of R’ Sholom.
An exception was the sefer Kesser Shem Tov that the Rebbe told the members of the Vaad to edit when R’ Sholom was in Eretz Yisrael getting married. His wife said that when he heard about the new project that he couldn’t be a part of, it was like Tisha B’Av for him. One could see then, how much he yearned to be an active participant in carrying out the Rebbe’s wishes, with joy and delight.
Parenthetically, prior to his wedding, R’ Sholom heard from the Rebbe that his mission in life is to continue his work with the sichos. This was after he was engaged to Faigl, daughter of R’ Yechezkel Springer of Kfar Chabad. Since he did not want to leave the Rebbe for even a short time, he wanted the wedding to take place in Crown Heights. When he asked the Rebbe about this, the Rebbe told him: Since you will be staying here in any case, make the wedding in Eretz Yisrael, especially when it is accepted practice for the wedding to be where the kalla lives.
His friend, R’ Zalman Chanin, director of the Vaad, went to the wedding in Eretz Yisrael. On the Shabbos before the trip, the Rebbe gave R’ Sholom a bottle of mashke and asked him to forgo his honor as a chassan and give the mashke to Shazar for his birthday. On the day of the wedding, R’ Chanin and R’ Jacobson traveled to Yerushalayim where R’ Sholom met Shazar in the Tzemach Tzedek shul and gave him the mashke from the Rebbe.
After the wedding, R’ Efraim Wolf told R’ Chanin that the Rebbe asked him to arrange sheva brachos on behalf of the Vaad. R’ Wolf arranged it in the yeshiva. Later it became known that R’ Chodakov called R’ Wolf and told him the Rebbe’s instruction and said that R’ Jacobson “is a person who sacrificed his life to disseminate the sichos and all of his aspirations are devoted to this.”
PRINTING THE TANYA
When the campaign to print Tanyas was underway, he was appointed by the Vaad to issue the official number of each printing and was in charge of the worldwide project of printing the Tanya. R’ Jacobson once described what happened:
R’ Chodakov told us, on behalf of the Rebbe, that we are responsible from now on for printing the Tanya around the world, i.e. preparing the printing plates, the frontispieces that contained the name of the place, and numbering the editions. The first instruction was to prepare a uniform corrections page with all existing corrections, at the end of which would be a note that “some of these errors have already been corrected inside the text of the sefer.”
In the first stage, along with preparing the complete list of corrections, I began to research which existing edition was the most perfect, from which we could prepare the matrices for the campaign to print Tanyas around the world. It wasn’t an easy project since many editions had been printed with cracked letters plus many errors.
At the end of the protracted, exacting and exhausting job of research, I found that the most accurate editions of Tanya that exist are the editions that were printed ever since the publication of the edition in the year 5714, which the Rebbe himself worked on.
In relation to the earlier editions, these were literally “well-sifted flour” and the Rebbe was exacting about every single letter (with a few errors corrected in editions even after 5714, as noted in the list of editions). From then on, after the entire matter went on for around a year from the time that we got involved as per the instructions of the Rebbe until the end of 5739(!)–we obviously gave preference to exactitude over appearance, and the print matrices were prepared from one of these editions, despite it not being the clearest and of the highest quality.
MASHPIA AND MECHANECH
Along with his primary work, he was also mashpia in the Ahavas Moshe shul in Crown Heights. For certain periods of time he was mashpia in Oholei Torah and taught in Machon Chana. R’ Jacobson also gave a shiur in the shul known as “770 Lefferts” (Congregation Adas Yisroel-Beis Midrash Eliyahu Nachum [Lefferts Shul]). Sometimes, due to his health, the shiur was given in his house, adjacent to the beis medrash.
In recent years he did not feel well and he passed away on 18 Menachem Av. The next day, a Tanya was printed l’ilui nishmaso.
He is survived by his wife Faigl, his son Rabbi Levi Yitzchok – shliach in Toronto; his daughter Mrs. Frida Schusterman – Indianapolis; his son Rabbi Simon – Punta Gorda, Florida; his daughter Doba Webb; his daughter Mrs. Chana Steinmetz; his sons Rabbi Chaim Moshe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Rabbi Shmuel.
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