by Chassidic masters & leaders
Historic letter by the saintly spiritual leaders of the chaburah of chassidim who journeyed to Eretz Yisrael at the behest of the Maggid and settled in the city of Teveria.
The members of this exalted chaburah, renowned as the Chevraya Kadishta, were all illustrious tzaddikim and chassidim, close talmidim of the Admorim Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rabbi Avraham Hakohein of Kalisk. Some were known to possess ruach hakodesh.
The present letter is written entirely by Rabbi Shaul Harker, one of the leaders of the Chevraya Kadishta (see below). It is dated Shvat 1811, precisely one year to the passing of the Admor Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk (d. Shvat, 1810). In this letter, the members of the Chevraya dispatch an urgent appeal to their fellow chassidim in Lithuania and Reisin with their request to continue sending their support to the poverty-stricken residents of the Yishuv of Eretz Yisrael as they did during Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk’s lifetime.
The letter was dispatched by messenger, and heeding the request of the Chevraya Kadishta, the chassid Rabbi Yitzchak ben Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Katz set out upon the harrowing journey from Teveria to Volhynia to raise funds for the Yishuv.
Aliyah of Chassidim to Teveria under the direction of the Admor Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk
In 1777, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, a talmid of the Maggid of Mezritch, led a large group of Jewish settlers to Eretz Yisrael and settled in the holy city of Tzfas. Four years later, in 1781, he relocated to Teveria where he stood at the forefront of the Chassidic community until his passing in 1788. The Admor Rabbi Avraham Hakohein of Kalisk, also a talmid of the Maggid, then assumed spiritual leadership of the congregation until his own passing in 1810.
The lives of the pioneer settlers were fraught with difficulties and challenges. They suffered daily hunger , poverty and illness, and were frequently forced to pay astronomical sums of money to their Turkish oppressors.
To enable the survival and perpetuation of the Yishuv, the Admorim Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and his colleague Rabbi Avraham Hakohein of Kalisk instituted the concept of Maamados, which charged their fellow chassidim who had remained behind in Lithuania and Reisin to send steady support to the fledgling community in Teveria.
In the present letter, the leaders of the Chassidic community in Teveria appeal to their friends and colleagues, leaders of Chassidic communities in Lithuania and Reisin, to continue sending the life-saving funds, just as they did during the lifetime of their spiritual leader the Admor of Kalisk.
The following is an excerpt from the text of the letter: “…The Ark of Hashem, our living spirit, our holy master and teacher, the one and only, Avraham… Avraham is worthy to safeguard the entire world with his merits… And regarding the Maamad of the Admor zy”a [Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk], it should be consistent and steady just as it was during his lifetime, for the following emerged from his holy mouth prior to his passing, asking this of you that it should be for the purpose of repaying our debts. This was truly his life’s spirit, and surely a tzaddik rules and says, and each one shall fulfill our requests… Truly, it pains us deeply that the yoke of debt is heavy upon us, and our lives are not lives due to the oppressors… And it will be very pleasant to the tzaddik… and he shall advocate for you in the heavens… praying for you before Hashem at this time of desire in the sacred places, and especially when we pray at the tomb of our holy gaon Admor Hakohein Hagadol zy”a…”
This letter is signed by the holy leaders of the Chevraya Kadishta, each one of whom was a great Torah luminary, a tzaddik, and genius in the Revealed and Hidden Torah and in Chassidus:
Rabbi Moshe Halevi: (d. 1813) The eldest of the Chevraya Kadishta and greatest among them, Rabbi Moshe Halevi was one of the talmidim of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, and his autograph appears in many letters written to his fellow chassidim following the passing of Rabbi Avraham Hakohein of Kalisk.
Rabbi Yoel ben Rabbi Moshe of Samlein was one of the prime disciples of Rabbi Avraham Hakohein of Kalisk. After Rav Avraham’s passing, his fellow members wanted to appoint him as leader of the Chevraya. In 1789, he set out as a Rabbinical emissary to Europe, and the Baal Hatanya provided him with a warm recommendation letter which described him as “a genuine servant of Hashem with a pure soul, clean and righteous”.
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh ben Rabbi Avraham Segal [Harker] was one of the great disciples of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk. Great Chassidic masters extolled Rabbi Tzvi Hersh’s noble character and attested that he possessed ruach hakodesh. Following the passing of Rabbi Avraham Hakohein of Kalisk, the Admor Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz assigned him to lead the congregation of chassidim from Reisin in Teveria, alongside Rabbi Meir Bichover.
Rabbi Asher ben Rabbi Eliezer [Ashkenazy] (d. 1819) was a Rabbinical emissary of the Kollel in Teveria. In 1791, Rabbi Asher set out to raise money for both Sephardic and Ashkenazic kollels together with the Chida’s son Rabbi Avraham Azzoulay. He was laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery in Teveria.
Rabbi Refael Meir ben Rabbi Yaakov: Renowned as the Admor Rabbi Meir Bichover, he was a close disciple of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, a close and beloved relative of the Admor Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and one of the leaders of the Chevraya Kadishta in Teveria. When he set out as a Rabbinical emissary from Eretz Yisrael to raise money for the poverty-stricken Yishuv, he visited many of the great Chassidic masters in Europe, among them the Degel Machaneh Efraim, Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz, Baal Hatanya and many others. Following the passing of Rabbi Avraham Hakohein of Kalisk, Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz appointed him alongside Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Harker to lead the congregation of chassidim from Reisin in Teveria.
Rabbi Shaul ben Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Segal, more commonly known as Rabbi Shaul Harker, was one of the leaders of the Chevraya Kadishta and a great kabbalist. As a child, he was privileged to see Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, and as he matured, he gained renown for his unparalleled humility. He traveled several times throughout his life as a Rabbinical emissary to benefit the Yishuv in Teveria, always visiting the great Chassidic masters of Europe during his journeys, among them the Admor Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz, Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz and the Admor of Ruzhin who welcomed him with great love and warmth. The present letter was written by Rabbi Shaul Harker.
Rabbi Dovid ben Rabbi Yehuda Yaakov (d.1837) was known as the Admor Rabbi Dovid Hakatan of Bichov. As a talmid of both Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk, he was appointed as one of the spiritual leaders of the Chassidic congregation in the Old Yishuv. His signature appears on an open letter written to the Ten Tribes together with the Bas Ayin. He perished in the tragic earthquake that decimated the Galilee in 1837.
Rabbi Dovid ben Yisrael [Ashkenazy] was known as Rabbi Dovid Hagadol. As one of the most illustrious of the Chevraya Kadishta during the period of Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk, the latter sent him to meet with the Chida to discuss the greatness of the talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov and Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh.
Rabbi Yitzchak ben Rabbi Gershon: His signature appears on several letters sent by the Chevraya Kadishta of Teveria.
Rabbi Yechiel Michel Shochet: One of the veteran members of the Chevraya Kadishta, Rabbi Yechiel Michel was an exalted and pious tzaddik whose shechitah was trusted implicitly by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk. In a letter abroad dated Nissan 1781,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel lists Rabbi Yechiel Michel’s appointment as official shochet as one of the attributes that glorified and elevated Eretz Yisrael from the time of the settlers’ arrival. He expresses: “My friends shall be informed of the elevation of the Holy Land which was elevated in several things, with one of them being that Moreinu Harav Michel Shochet, from my men, was appointed shochet in this holy city of Teveria.”
Rabbi Yisrael ben Rabbi Yosef: His name and signature appears on several letters dispatched by the member of the Chevraya Kadishta in Teveria.
Rabbi Daniel ben Rabbi Avraham [of Politshuk] was one of the illustrious chassidim in Teveria. Both Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk mention him in their letters with great honor and esteem.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Rabbi Yosef: His name and signature appears on several letters dispatched by the member of the Chevraya Kadishta in Teveria.
Rabbi Menachem Mattisyahu ben Aharon: His name and signature appears on several letters dispatched by the member of the Chevraya Kadishta in Teveria.
For further information about the tzaddikim whose autographs appear on this letter, see Yesud Hamaalah Vol. 1 Ch. “Ha’arayos Shebachaburah”.
Teveria, Shvat, 1811. Folded leaf written on 3 sides. Page Size: 23xq7 cm. Condition: Several words missing on centerfold and miniscule holes in margins, all fully restored. Provenance: Collection of the Weinberg family (Slonim)
The text of this letter was reprinted based on the present letter in Yesud Hamaalah Vol. 2 Letter 104. The above records that that the scribe was Rabbi Shaul Harker, whose signature appears sixth on this letter.
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