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Rebbe Shlomkeh of Zvhil and Joseph

Rebbe Shlomo Goldman of Zvhil (Zvyahel, Ukraine) was the fourth Rebbe in the Zvhil dynasty, son after son all the way back to Rebbe Yechiel Michel of Zlotshov, the disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Rebbe Shlomkeh (as he was affectionately called by his followers) was born to Rebbe Mordechai Goldman, the third Rebbe in the dynasty. Even while his father was still alive, Rebbe Shlomo conducted himself as a Rebbe and received kvitlach (written requests) from Chassidim. In 5685 (1925), Rebbe Shlomkeh fled the Communist regime to Poland, and from there he made aliyah to the Land of Israel, settling first in the Old City of Jerusalem and later, in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood of Jerusalem. Even though he attempted to conceal his greatness, he became known in Jerusalem as a great tzaddik. Rebbe Shlomkeh passed away on the 26th of Iyar 5705 (1945) and was buried on the Mount of Olives. His son, Rebbe Gedaliah Moshe became the next Rebbe.

In the month of Iyar 1945, a few days before the passing of Rabbi Shlomkeh of Zvhil, while he was hospitalized in Sha’are Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai of Lelov, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing, visited him, accompanied by the pious Rabbi Pinchas Halevi Eisen. As they left Rabbi Shlomkeh’s room, Rebbe Moshe Mordechai turned to his companion and said: “The source of the soul of the Rebbe of Zvhil is from “foundation of foundation” (yesod shebayesod).”

A few days later, the holy Rebbe of Zvhil ascended to the heavenly treasures. It was on Wednesday, the 26th of Iyar, the forty-first day of the Counting of the Omer, the day that corresponds to “the foundation of foundation.”

The special connection of Rebbe Shlomkeh to the foundation of foundation was not only expressed on the day of his passing. Many stories highlight his connection to Joseph the Tzaddik, who was the archetypal soul of the sefirah of foundation, which is why it is customary to ascend to Joseph’s Tomb on this day. (It is worth noting that although many are familiar with this custom today, its origin is from the farbrengens held by Rabbi Ginsburgh, may he live long, years ago, at Joseph’s Tomb). Indeed, the Rebbe of Lelov, who discerned this connection, tells another story about Rebbe Shlomkeh’s connection to Joseph and to the sefirah of foundation:

On various occasions, the Rebbe of Lelov would recount how he was present during the purification of the holy body of Rabbi Shlomkeh before the funeral. During that time, he suddenly sensed a wonderful fragrance of aromatic spices spreading throughout the room, and he was certain that it was their custom to use spices during the purification process. He approached Rabbi Gedaliah Moshe, Rebbe Shlomkeh’s son, and asked about it, and to his surprise, he was told that no spices had been placed there at all! The Rebbe was not satisfied with this answer and turned to the other attendees to ask if they also smelled the fragrance of spices, and indeed, they all responded that they too sensed the wonderful aroma. The Rebbe further narrated that during the purification, Rabbi Shlomkeh appeared more alive than in his living years…

For many years, the Rebbe of Lelov would hold a farbrengen on the 26th of Iyar, in honor of the yahrzeit of the Rebbe of Zvhil, may his memory be a blessing.

Like Joseph the Tzaddik, who was embalmed with spices after his passing, the holy body of the Rebbe of Zvhil also emitted a wonderful fragrance, and appeared truly alive and even more so—as stated in the Zohar: “A righteous person who has passed away is present in all worlds more than in his lifetime.” Indeed, Rabbi Shlomkeh felt a deep connection to Joseph and to his tomb, and he experienced sublime delight from the few moments that he spent there:

Rabbi Eliyahu Roth of blessed memory recounted: Once he traveled with his teacher, the holy Rebbe Shlomkeh, to Meron. The Rebbe instructed him not to pay the Arab driver in advance, and to ask him to drive via Joseph’s tomb in Shechem. The driver, greedy for money, kept pestering Rabbi Eliyahu to receive the fare until he was compelled to give him the money.

Rabbi Shlomkeh sat as was his way, with his eyes closed, deep in thought. As the car approached the vicinity of Shechem, he turned to Rabbi Eliyahu and asked, “Well, is he driving to Joseph?” Rabbi Eliyahu replied that the driver was evading his request and did not want to drive to Joseph's Tomb.

“Did you already pay him?” the Rebbe asked. “Yes,” replied Rabbi Eliyahu, “I had to pay because I was afraid of him.” The Rebbe lifted his head and addressed the Arab driver, even though he did not know Arabic, and with no fear, said to him, “Drive to Joseph’s Tomb!” The driver was startled and nodded his head that he would go.

When they arrived at Joseph’s Tomb, they needed to remove their shoes as was the local custom, and to pay an entrance fee. The Rebbe removed his shoes, paid, and entered. He stayed there for a brief moment and upon exiting, he remarked with emotion, “Ah… one can feel that Joseph the Righteous is truly here.”

Besides righteousness and holiness, which are naturally associated with the sefirah of foundation, it is also especially connected with the trait of integrity (sometimes translated as truthfulness). Foundation’s essence is bonding and connection, and it also serves as an inclusive power that gathers and expresses the other powers of the soul. A connection that has integrity, such as a covenant which requires a rectified faculty of foundation, proves and necessitates the integrity of the emotions and thoughts that flow into it and through it. Accordingly, Rabbi Shlomkeh was known as a man of uncompromising integrity, even in matters that might seem trivial:

Rebbe Shlomkeh was a man of absolute integrity; he did not do things to please others, nor did he allow others to do things to please others. Every day he would take the bus to the Western Wall. One day, while waiting for the bus, he sat down on the sidewalk and waited, and the holy Rabbi Eliyahu Roth who was walking with him, saw the Rebbe sitting down. He too sat down on the sidewalk next to him. “Do you hold by this?” [Are you committed to what you are doing?] Rebbe Shlomkeh asked him. Rabbi Eliyahu immediately stood up. The intent of his question was direct: Are you doing this because I am doing it, or are you also committed to it on your own? Since Rabbi Eliyahu would not have done it on his own, he immediately stood up. In many other instances as well, Rebbe Shlomkeh pinpointed the truth to others.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Shlomkeh was not a man of superficial and external authenticity. If foundation is about integrity, then foundation of foundation is the point of integrity within integrity. And this integrity, like the “absolute truth” in the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, requires a deeper contemplation on the motivations and context of every action:

Every day before the morning prayers, a certain Torah student would drink a cup of coffee and read an ultra-Orthodox newspaper. As his children grew older, he reconsidered whether this was appropriate for their education. Indeed, he himself was not at the level to abstain from reading the newspaper, but for his children—it wasn't suitable for them to see their father reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee before prayer. Instead, he took books known for their moral discussions like Chovot HaLevavot or Messilat Yesharim and studied one of them while drinking his coffee.

This man was troubled that he was doing something he did not fully embrace, and he consulted about this with the holy Rebbe Shlomkeh of Zvhil. The Rebbe answered him: “What you are doing is truly Lishma [performing a deed with no ulterior motive]—you are doing it all for your children’s education!”

Why is the desire for a specific type of education considered more genuine than the desire to read a newspaper?

It appears that integrity does not always mean fully identifying with every action. A person who avoids every action that is slightly less pleasant to him is not truly authentic but rather being held captive by his emotions, by his preconceptions, or by the desires to which he has become accustomed. Often, the act of ignoring these desires, which is prompted in our story by focusing on the education of the children, reflects a deeper and more inner truth: Where do I see it fitting that I should be? What would I like to occupy my thoughts? According to Rabbi Shlomkeh, this is a very genuine motivation—and it is appropriate to direct our actions according to it.

Image of Joseph's Toby by Shuki – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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