Ra’anana Community Kollel
The Rebbe’s Matzos
as told by Rabbi Paysach Krohn
In April of 1945, shortly after the Second World War, the Skulener Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal (1896-1982) was in Czernovitz, Bukovina (formerly Romania, but then governed by Russia). Jews who had survived the labor camps and ghettos of the Ukraine found themselves in Czernovitz, and almost all of them were weary, poverty stricken, and brokenhearted.
Pesach would begin in a few weeks, and the Skulener Rebbe was concerned how anyone would have made matzos for the upcoming sedarim. He asked one of his followers, Reb Fishel Kerpel, to go to a local farm and purchase wheat , in order that it could be milled into flour for matzos.
Painstakingly, Reb Fishel was able to get wheat and a millstone, and the Rebbe’s chassidim began working feverishly to produce as many matzos as possible. Knowing that there were other chassidic Rebbes in Czernovitz, he instructed his students to seek them out and give them each three matzos for their sedarim.
Skulener chassidim dutifully followed their Rebbe’s instructions and soon it became know that he was giving away matzos free of charge to prominent Jews in the area. A week before Pesach, R’ Moshe Hager, son of the Seret-Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Baruch Hager, came to see the Rebbe. “My father sent me,” said Reb Moshe, “He needs matzos for Yom Tov.”
“Why, of course,” replied the Skulener Rebbe, “I would be honored to supply your father with matzos for the seder.”
The Rebbe took out three of the precious matzos and handed them to R’ Moshe.
Reb Moshe thanked the Rebbe profusely, but then added sheepishly, “My father said that he needs six matzos.”
“How can I give you six matzos?” asked the Skulener Rebbe incredulously. “It is so difficult to bake matzah under the present conditions and there are so many people who need them. We simply don’t have enough to give anyone any more than the bare minimum, not to mention six matzos instead of only three!”
“What can I say?” said R’ Moshe. “My father insisted that I not leave the Rebbe’s house until I have received six matzos. It is a matter of kibbud av, honoring my father.”
The Skulener thought for a few moments and then said, “Then we have no choice. We will give you the six matzos, and please wish your father in my name a Chag kosher v’samei’ach.”
R’ Moshe was ecstatic that he was successful in fulfilling his father’s request, and hurried to bring the matzos to his father.
On the morning before Pesach, R’ Moshe came back to the Skulener Rebbe with the extra three matzos in his hands. He presented the matzos to the Rebbe and said, “My father, the Seret-Vizhnitzer Rebbe, said that I should give these matzos back to the Rebbe.”
The Skulener Rebbe was startled. “Now you bring back the matzos? I wanted to give you only three matzos in the first place. Why did your father insist on having six? What is the point of bringing the matzos back now, so near to the onset of the holiday?”
R’ Moshe’s reply was classic.
“My father said that the Skulener Rebbe is so kind and generous that he will probably give out every last matzah and not even have any for himself. Therefore, my father took an extra three matzos so that he should be able to give them back to you right before Yom Tov, so that you will have matzos for your own seder.”
And indeed, those where the matzos that the Skulener Rebbe used at his seder!
In his introduction to his father’s classic work Nefesh Hachaim, R’ Yitzchak of Volozin writes, “My father would continuously rebuke me when he saw that I didn’t get involved in alleviating someone else’s pain. He would constantly remind me that a person was not merely created for his or her own benefit.”
This is a credo that we should attempt to apply to our daily lives. Hashem blessed each of us with different talents and resources and it is our obligation to use these gifts not merely for our own gain and glory, but for the benefit of other as well.
Perhaps it is indicative that the Shemoneh Esrei, in which we beseech Hashem for all of our needs, is worded in the plural; Bring us back . . . Forgive us . . . Heal us . . . Bless us . . . Hear our voice . . . Even in his own time of need, a Jew must still remain sensitive to the needs of others.
While the Skulener Rebbe was thinking of everyone else, the Seret-Vizhnitzer Rebbe was thinking of him. Two great hearts. Two great minds.
Who is like Your nation Israel!
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