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The Beit Yisrael of Gur: Mitzvah Mobile

Rabbi Yisrael Alter was born in the village of Gur in Poland on 24 Tishrei 5655 (1895), to his father Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, known as the Imrei Emet. Until the age of 10 Rabbi Yisrael Alter studied with his grandfather, the Sfat Emet. At the age of 15, he married his cousin, Chaya Sarah. During the Holocaust, he escaped to the Land of Israel with his father. His wife and children, however, remained in Poland and were murdered by the Nazis. Following the passing of his father in 5708 (1948), Rabbi Yisrael Alter was appointed to succeed him, and became the fourth Rebbe in the Gur dynasty. In this capacity, he renewed and reconstructed the post-Holocaust Gur chasidic sect. He was among the prominent leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Rabbi Yisrael Alter married Rebbetzin Pearl, but they had no children. He passed away on 2 Adar, 5737 (1977) and was buried in the Gur burial section on the Mount of Olives. His brother, the Lev Simcha, succeeded him. 


The son of the Rebbe of Toldot Aharon related the following story:

Years ago, during the life of my father of blessed and holy memory, I experienced an interesting story. I was walking down the street in Meah She’arim, Jerusalem, on my way to the study hall. A man stopped his car for me and said, “You must be going to the Toldot Aharon study hall. I will drive you there.” This was most unusual to me, for it is a rare occurrence for a person driving down the street to stop and offer a random person a ride. “Why did you stop for me?” I asked him.

“Twelve years ago,” he answered, “I wanted to buy a car and I went to the Beit Yisrael of Gur, of blessed and righteous memory, to ask him if I should go ahead with the purchase, for I was afraid of accidents and the like. ‘Take it upon yourself not to go to sleep at night before you have done a favor for someone with your car,’ the Beit Yisrael advised me. “Twelve years have passed, and thank God, I have never had any damage or injury with my car. I am going home soon and I still hadn’t found someone for whom I could do a favor with my car. Then I saw you…” (Nifla’ot Hatzaddikim, p. 483)

The Beit Yisrael’s advice to protect the car and its owner by employing acts of kindness is literally like ma’aseh merkavah (“the workings of the chariot”). True, we associate “the workings of the chariot” with the Divine chariot in Ezekiel’s prophecy, but the word ma’aseh has an additional, no less important meaning:

“Everything that was created in the Six Days of Creation needs Asiyah (action): Mustard needs sweetening, wheat needs to be ground, even a person needs to be repaired. As is written: ‘That which God created la’asot (to do).’ It is not written ‘barah v’asah’ (created and did), but rather ‘to do.’ To tell you that everything needs repair.”[1]

By the same token, we can say that the merkavah-car needs action and repair. Hence it is ma’aseh mekava – the action of the chariot (car).

From the Beit Yisrael’s advice, we learn that this repair is accomplished by the acts of kindness performed with the car. When the car fulfills its purpose, there is no fear of accidents or mishaps and it is no wonder: All accidents and damages are rooted in the breaking of the vessels of the seven kings of chaos who fell and shattered when they did not fulfill God’s will. When the vehicle is repaired, it becomes part of the world of rectification, where the shattering did not take place.

It is not only the vehicle that is fulfilling its role here. It is also – primarily – the driver. With his good deeds, he becomes a Divine chariot, similar to the Patriarchs, who the sages say were the Divine chariot. True, we are nowhere near the level of the holy Patriarchs. But by performing mitzvot and good deeds, we become “Patriarchs” in our own right. “The offspring of tzaddikim are good deeds.”[2] We receive the power to perform the good deeds from the Patriarchs, themselves, as the sages say, “The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the sons.”[3] This is not merely a passive sign, but rather, a directive and infusion of power that makes it possible for us to follow in their footsteps and elevate the material world – rooted in the fallen world of chaos – to a state of holiness.

Acts of kindness, which the Beit Yisrael instructed the driver to perform, characterize the uniqueness of the Nation of Israel. In the Torah, the Nation of Israel is called the ‘am segulah,’ which literally means a “treasured nation.” Segulah is cognate to the Hebrew vowel segolta, which in Kabbalah corresponds to the sefirah of chesed (loving kindness). It is comprised of two dots on top and another dot below, between the two dots. These three dots allude to the three lines of the world of rectification: Chesed (loving-kindness), din (severity) and compassion. As the segolta corresponds to chesed, the other two lines are also included in the chesed. This is the inner meaning of the guidance of the sages that all of your turns (also while driving?) should be to the right.[4] We have to include all of our turns and proclivities – even those that correspond to severity or compassion – under the control of love and kindness, the right. When we drive down this path, there is no reason to fear accidents or harm.



[1] Breishit Rabah 11:6.

[2] Breishit Rabah 30:6.

[3] Breishit Rabah 48:7.

[4] Zevachim 72b.

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