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Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Skvera: The Tzaddik who Dared to Make Promises

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel was born in 5585 (1825) to Rabbi Yitzchak (Itzikel) of Skver (Skvyra, Ukraine), who was the son of Rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl. Rebbe Avraham married the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Ashkenazi and their children were Rabbi Yosef Meir of Machnovka, Rabbi Moshe Dan of Skver, Rabbi Yaakov of Skver-Linitz, Rebbetzin Devorah and Rebbetzin Malkah. After his first wife passed away, Rebbe Avraham married the daughter of Rabbi Yosef Zilberfarb of Vorna. Their children were Rebbetzin Shifra and Rabbi Yehuda Leib of Kazatin. Even while his father was still alive, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel gained fame as a miracle worker and would promise salvation to people to whom his father did not want to promise salvation. Sometimes, his father would even send difficult cases to him. When his father passed away on the 17th of Nissan 5645 (1885), Rebbe Avraham was appointed to succeed him, along with his brothers, Rabbi Yisrael, and Rabbi Dudel. Rebbe Avraham passed away a year and a half later, on the 3rd of Kislev 5647 (1887). He was buried next to his father in Skver.                  

The holy Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Skver was lofty in his holiness and righteousness. He would immerse often in the mikvah, even a number of times a day. He was known for his burning love for others and was immersed in acts of charity and loving kindness, attending to the basic needs of the poor and down-and-out. Rabbi Yitzchak of Bohush (Buhuși, Romania) related the following:        

There was a Jew who was about to be drafted into the Russian army. He came to Rebbe Itzikel of Skver (Rebbe Avraham’s father) and related that he could bribe his way out of the induction with 300 rubles, but he didn’t want to give such a large sum of money to the Russian clerk. Instead, he offered the 300 rubles to Rebbe Itzikel in exchange for a blessing for an exemption. Rebbe Itzikel refused the offer. The young man then related his proposal to Rebbe Itzikel’s son, Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel. Rebbe Avraham immediately agreed to go forward with the deal and promised him that he would not be drafted.

There was a custom in Rebbe Itzikel’s home that every evening, all his holy sons would meet with him. Rebbe Avraham did not come often to this meeting, preferring instead to continue with his Torah study and service of God. But on that evening, Rebbe Avraham also came to his father. When he entered, the holy brothers were whispering to each other about the promise that Rebbe Avraham had given the young man. When their father heard the story, he turned to Rebbe Avraham. “How could you take the money?” he asked.

“Because this young man will have to spend this money in any event,” Rebbe Avraham explained, “and because I need this sum to sustain the hidden tzaddikim, I believe that in the merit of the charity that he gave, God will help him.”

When he heard his son’s words, Rebbe Itzikel rose and kissed him on his head, saying, “I still have not reached this lofty level of faith!”

Another story: A man was about to set out for Vienna to consult with expert doctors there. Before he left for the big city, he came to Rebbe Itzikel of Skver to receive his blessing. He then went to Rebbe Avraham, to ask for his blessing, as well. “How much do you think the trip and the treatments will cost you?” asked Rebbe Avraham when he heard the purpose of his journey. The man calculated his estimated expenses. Rebbe Avraham, who needed money for a poor bride who had turned to him for help, replied, “Why should you spend your money on doctors? Give me the entire sum for the poor bride, and you will be healed!”

Rebbe Avraham’s chasidim related that besides when he would be studying Torah or praying, his voice would not be heard. Rebbe Abraham preferred to remain silent. Some associated this with another story:

A couple had not yet been blessed with children. The husband had approached Rebbe Itzikel on numerous occasions to request his blessing, but Rebbe Itzikel would put him off. The husband finally met Rebbe Avraham, and being aware of his great holiness, poured out his heart to him and begged him to promise him a child. After much supplication, Rebbe Avraham agreed, and promised him that he would have a child. Sure enough, a year later a son was born to the couple. After the husband had left, Rebbe Itzikel asked his son what had transpired, and he related that he had promised him that he would be blessed with a child. His father sternly replied, “It is best to speak less.” Since then, his chasidim said, Rebbe Avraham remained silent most of the time.

Rebbe Avraham’s leadership was unique and unusual. Before him and after him, the other tzaddikim of his dynasty did not dare to make those types of promises. What is the root of the differences in the leadership of the tzaddikim? It is not dependent only on the intellectual considerations weighed by the tzaddik, but rather, on his soul root.

A tzaddik whose soul root is in the intellect, or the emotions does not promise salvation. But a tzaddik who soul root in the behavioral powers of netzach (victory) hod (thanksgiving) and yesod (foundation), which are the powers of action, can and should promise salvation. The attribute of netzach, with is the power of initiative, is particularly suited for promising a good outcome. The hod nullifies bad decrees, while the yesod that follows is the attribute of fulfillment, which sustains and manifests the promises that were given. In the body, netzach and hod parallel the kidneys, about which it is written, “Who put wisdom in the kidneys?”[1] The word used in this verse for kidneys is batuchot, which also shares a root with “confidence” (bitachon) and with “promise” (havtachah). To make promises of salvation, the tzaddik has to be complete in his attribute of confidence in God (in both passive confidence, the inner dimension of hod, and active confidence, the inner dimension of netzach). For his promise to be actualized, he also must be complete in the purity and holiness of the attribute of yesod.

Sensitivity to Divine Providence, which brings Rebbe Avraham the money he needs for his charities, is also part of netzach and hod. It is in these sefirot that God conducts the ‘coincidences’ of life. A tzaddik like Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel is sensitive to the opportunity for a good deal that will bring joy to both God and man.


[1] Job 38:36.

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