January 14, 2014
Avremele Rainitz in #911, Stories

Every year, on 19 Shevat, the descendants of the Shpoler Zeide (1724-1811) get together for a Melaveh Malka to mark the day of his amazing salvation. * We present stories and references in Chabad literature to R’ Aryeh Leib zt”l, known as the Shpoler Zeide. We also present the story of his miraculous rescue and how the Rebbe related to this Melaveh Malka seuda.


The Shpoler Zeide would refer to himself with all sorts of derogatory names like beheima (animal). He was once in Liozna during the nesius of the Alter Rebbe and he stayed in the attic above the shul. The Alter Rebbe once went up to see him and while he was on the stairs, the Shpoler Zeide said the verse, “Who will go up on the mountain of Hashem etc.” When the Alter Rebbe got upstairs, the Shpoler Zeide said, “you are going to an old beheima,” and he began denigrating himself.

My father [the Rebbe Maharash] told me that since his neshama was from b’n, he referred to himself as a beheima. Generally, the souls of b’n need to nullify themselves.

(Toras Sholom)


The Shpoler Zeide was a man of intense fervor, far more than any of his colleagues – the Maggid’s other disciples.

When he visited the Alter Rebbe in Liadi in 5569 or 5570 (1809 or 1810) he related that when he was a child of three he saw the Baal Shem Tov. “He placed his holy hand on my heart and ever since I have felt warm.”

(HaYom Yom 14 Teves)


Somewhere else it is told that when the Shpoler Zeide was about three or five, he went to see the Baal Shem Tov when he was in Shpole. The Baal Shem Tov blessed him and after blessing him, he placed his holy hand on the child’s head and heart. Ever since, said the Shpoler Zeide, I felt my mind open to Torah study and a yearning of the heart for serving the Creator and Ahavas Yisroel. 

When he was at the Maggid of Mezritch he sensed about himself that he was on a high level, but he tried to conceal it so nobody would notice.

One time, he walked to the Maggid and encountered a Jewish wagon driver carrying a load and the wagon got stuck in the mud. The wagon driver asked him to help pull the wagon out of the muck. The Shpoler Zeide responded that he could not lift something that heavy. The wagon driver said to him: You can, you just don’t want to. So the Shpoler Zeide placed his hand on the wagon and immediately the wagon emerged from the mud.

The Shpoler Zeide was sensitive to what the wagon driver had said, “You can, you just don’t want to,” and felt it was a hint from Above that he ought to reveal himself as a tzaddik. 

Upon arriving in Mezritch, the Maggid called for him and said to him in the presence of the holy disciples, “The Baal Shem Tov told me that you can extricate a wagon with a burden. You can, and you ought to be a Rebbe.” And he ordained and blessed him.

(Igros Kodesh, Admur Rayatz vol. 9 p. 98)


In Seifer HaSichos 5704, the Rebbe Rayatz says: There is a custom on Simchas Torah and Acharon shel Pesach to sing the Shpoler Zeide’s niggun “Hup Cossack.” It should be sung now.

In the sicha of Acharon shel Pesach 5730, the Rebbe MH”M explained the connection between the Shpoler Zeide and Pesach in three ways:

Ahavas Yisroel was extremely strong within him and it was in accordance with the teachings of Chassidus, as is known the story that the Baal Shem Tov once placed his hand on his heart and ever since, his heart was warm, as is known the many details about his Ahavas Yisroel … And Ahavas Yisroel has a connection to Pesach … the love [of Hashem for the Jews] at the exodus from Egypt as it says about that time, “For Yisroel is a youth and I love him.”

The Shpoler Zeide was occupied primarily with pidyon shvuyim and that is the inyan of Pesach since that is the time the Jews left Egypt. Of the three holidays, Pesach is called “time of our freedom” (the idea of cheirus is pidyon shvuyim).

By R’ Leib Sarah’s, the Shpoler Zeide, we find a third thing which also has a connection to Pesach, the idea of miracles and wonders. With him we find miracles on a level beyond comparison to the miracles of other Rebbes.

We can possibly say that this is the connection of the Shpoler Zeide to Pesach, especially when the miracles about him were connected with “the heart of kings and ministers.” And the story of the Alter Rebbe is also known, that the Shpoler Zeide told him, “Who will go up the mountain of Hashem,” and the story about the Book of Beinonim and the Book of Tzaddikim (see further).


In that same sicha, the Rebbe explains why “Hup Cossack” was selected over the other niggunim of the Shpoler Zeide:

Among his niggunim there is the niggun gaaguim (yearning) “Kol BaYaar Anochi Shomei’a.” But this dance tune was picked, one associated with Cossacks. Among soldiers, the obedience of the Cossacks was very strong and they went in a manner of mesirus nefesh to the point of reckless abandon. That is the way it was in the time of the Shpoler Zeide and in later years, as is known to whoever was there.

This is also connected with what it says in the Hemshech Basi L’Gani, that it is specifically the troops that are involved in the actual battle who are connected to the inyan of mesirus nefesh. The treasures are given to the commanders but the idea is for those resources to reach the actual troops, which is connected with the attribute of netzach and mesirus nefesh.

This will be done with simcha and gladness of heart and out of expansiveness and when there will be victory in war they will proclaim “Hup Cossack” and soon go out dancing to greet Moshiach.

(Sicha Acharon shel Pesach 5730, unedited)

On another occasion, in response to a question from Rashag about what connection is there between the niggun and these Yomim Tovim, the Rebbe said: The niggun is one of simcha and victory, the point of these holidays.

(At the meal of Leil Acharon shel Pesach 5727)


The Shpoler Zeide had a talent for Ahavas Yisroel.

(Seifer HaSichos summer 5700 p. 86)


Regarding the Alter Rebbe’s relationship with the Shpoler Zeide, the Rebbe said on the last night of Pesach 5727 during the meal: The Alter Rebbe greatly cherished him.


They once brought the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur to the Holy Zeide [of Shpole] for him to give his approbation since there were many who challenged the Siddur from the camp of the Gr”a and other opponents to Chassidus.

The Holy Zeide said: This holy Siddur does not need an approbation and nor does the holy author want to print an approbation in the Siddur.

He said a reason for this in a humorous vein: The way of the world is to print approbations to books at the beginning of the book. Seemingly, it is not proper to put pages of approbations on top of the book itself because that is “mundane over the holy” and according to the din, we do not place a book of lesser holiness on top of a book of greater holiness. All the more so within one book where it would seemingly be a more severe matter.

We must say that the reason it is done is because the author himself writes an introduction at the beginning of the book, and it does not necessarily contain divrei Torah in it but only background information and the author’s justification. The reason that the introduction is printed at the beginning of the book is because with other works there is the element of “the shell before the fruit,” and this is why it is also permissible to have approbations printed at the beginning of the book and resting on the rest of the book.

But with this holy Siddur one can see that the holy R’ Shneur Zalman is different than other authors and he immediately arranged at the beginning, “Modeh Ani etc.,” brachos, and thanks to Hashem, and then he writes his introduction which is all Chassidus, and there is nothing at the beginning of the book that we can say is “the shell before the fruit.” So, how can someone dare to write his approbation in this holy Siddur, since as we said there is a halachic question as to whether it is permissible to print an approbation at the beginning of the Siddur. As to whether to print an approbation at the end of the Siddur, that is not the way of the world, so better to print the Siddur without any approbation because, in any case, the furor will quiet down on its own over time, as this Siddur has already been approved in Heaven.

When he finished saying this, the Holy Zeide leafed through the Siddur and looked in a few places. Before putting it down, he said regarding the Alter Rebbe’s nusach: I will follow his instructions in everything… 

(Tiferes Maharil, also cited in Shaar Ha’kollel)


The Alter Rebbe once visited Shpole. Regarding this visit it is told:

The Holy Zeide entered the large beis midrash in town and told his disciples to thoroughly clean up the place. The talmidim wondered about this for it was neither Erev Shabbos nor Erev Yom Tov, but they did as they were told.

A short while later, the Zeide returned to the beis midrash and was not pleased with the job they did. He ordered tools to be brought to scrub and clean the place in every corner so as to lend an air of splendor to the shul.

As the talmidim worked hard cleaning the beis midrash, the Holy Zeide would appear every now and then to check their work. He would point at a corner that still needed work and an area that wasn’t clean enough and had them go over it again so it would shine.

It was only after it had all been thoroughly inspected by the Holy Zeide and he was satisfied that a few of them asked him why they had been asked to clean the beis midrash more carefully than any other time.

He said: Today we will receive the Torah here.

They did not know what this meant but if their Rebbe said it, that was that. 

The Zeide told them to go home to wash up and dress in holiday clothes and he also went home and put on fine clothes that he wore only on special occasions. Then he walked at the head of all his students out of the town and waited a long time, his eyes fixed on the road coming from the east.

Then in the distance something could be seen approaching. The Holy Zeide sighed in relief and the tension and anticipation of the students continued to grow. They soon saw that it was an ordinary wagon; many of this sort passed by now and then. When the wagon reached where the Holy Zeide was standing, the Zeide motioned to the wagon driver to stop and he entered the wagon.

After spending some time in the wagon, he emerged with a regal looking Jew whose face shone. They walked arm in arm toward the town.

Just a hint was needed from the Holy Zeide and the sounds of singing and rejoicing filled the air. When they arrived at the sparkling beis midrash, the Holy Zeide said to open the Aron Kodesh and to say the “Ata Horeisa” verses as is done on Simchas Torah before the hakafos. When they finished reciting the verses, the Holy Zeide began a Simchas Torah niggun with the crowd singing along.

Immediately thereafter, the Holy Zeide took hold of the guest who was known as the Maggid of Liozna at that time and was later famous as the Baal HaTanya and author of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav. He picked him up and said, “He himself is a Torah scroll, holy and pure like a Torah. Today we will make hakafos around the bima with this Torah scroll that we merited having come here to us. He is why we scrubbed our miniature Beis HaMikdash.”

Then the Holy Zeide began to read parts of the hakafos as he lifted the Alter Rebbe and held him the way you hold a Torah scroll on Simchas Torah. He made seven circuits in this way.

Then the Holy Zeide said to his students: “It is not every day that we merit such a thing. Let us rejoice over Hashem giving us this merit.” Then they sat down to a seudas mitzva which lasted a long time.

(Kfar Chabad issue 172, cited from Beis Rebbi)


Some of the tzaddikim gathered for a special meeting in Berditchev to come up with a plan regarding an urgent communal matter. It had to do with annulling an evil decree that hovered over the Jews in Russia. A meal was also served.

Among the participants was the Holy Zeide from Shpole, as one of the Chassidic leaders in the Ukraine. The Baal HaTanya sat at the head of the table along with the Mara D’Asra, author of the K’dushas Levi, the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. The Baal Shem Tov’s son Tzvi was also present but he was involved in his learning. He sat with an open Gemara in front of him and learned nonstop and did not get involved in anything going on around him.

The head of the table was near the door in such a way that the door was behind the table. A strong knocking was heard and the Alter Rebbe got up and said to those present: Open the door because the Shpoler Zeide has arrived.

Indeed, it was the Shpoler Zeide who came in. He did not sit at the table but paced the length of the room where the tzaddikim sat. He seemed completely lost in thought with his mind in the higher spheres.

The Baal HaTanya from Liadi said to him: Shpoler Zeide, begging your pardon, please wash your hands and sit down with us for a meal.

The Shpoler Zeide paid no attention to this request and continued pacing as though he heard nothing. The Alter Rebbe invited him once again to sit down at the table and take part in the meal but, once again, the Shpoler Zeide did not respond or react.

The tzaddik from Berditchev said to the Alter Rebbe in surprise: Mechutan, don’t you know that the Holy Zeide fasts from Shabbos to Shabbos?

The Alter Rebbe continued to ask the Shpoler Zeide, a third time, to wash his hands. This time, the Holy Zeide acceded and washed and sat down with them at the meal.

At the end of the meal, the Alter Rebbe opened the meeting by describing the terrible decree. He said they must raise a large sum of money in order to get the government to abolish the decree. “All the men must give the silver head trim from their tallis and kittel and from this we will amass a large sum of money.” In conclusion, he said a tax should be placed on every Jew of a quarter of a ruble (a large sum in those days) for this purpose.

There was a knock at the door. The Alter Rebbe said, “Surely the emissaries of the tzaddik, R’ Boruch of Mezhibuzh, have come.” The door was opened and in walked the emissaries of the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, R’ Boruch of Mezhibuzh. After hearing the Alter Rebbe’s idea, they said: “Our master sent us to say that in the time of Mordechai and Esther, when there was a calamity for our people, the sages did not say to give money to abolish the decree. Rather, they used other means. Therefore, this suggestion is out of place and we oppose giving a bribe.”

When the Alter Rebbe heard this, he said, “Listen to this, R’ Boruch [who was an outspoken critic of his] says that I am the Mordechai of this generation!”

To the emissaries he said, “Tell your distinguished master that t’shuva includes three components: fasting, prayer, and money. They fasted in the time of Nineveh, they prayed in the time of Mordechai and Esther, and money is left for our generation.” 

(Migdal Oz and R’ Zevin’s Treasury of Chassidic Tales, on Torah p. 546)


The Holy Zeide of Shpole, the elder of his generation, lived for two years after R’ Levi Yitzchok. R’ Levi Yitzchok passed away after Sukkos 5570, on 25 Tishrei (1740–1809). News of his passing shook the world. Grief and mourning were heard all over the world.

Among those who went to console the family of the tzaddik was R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi. He remained in Berditchev until after Pesach of that year.

The Holy Zeide also came to Berditchev. A grandson of R’ Levi Yitzchok told the Alter Rebbe that the Holy Zeide of Shpole had arrived. He immediately asked the grandson to go to the inn where the Holy Zeide was staying and tell him that the Alter Rebbe planned on visiting him.

The grandson went to the inn and stood among the people thronging the door of his room with their kvitlech in their hands.

When the Holy Zeide noticed him, he asked him in surprise: Did you also come to give me a pidyon?

The grandson explained the purpose of his coming. When the Holy Zeide heard the message he got up and announced as an oath that he would not allow the Alter Rebbe to come to him, for he would go to the Alter Rebbe.

The grandson returned to the Alter Rebbe and found him ready to leave for the inn where the Holy Zeide was staying. Even when he heard the Zeide’s reaction he did not change his plan, saying that he was not exempt from going to see the Holy Zeide even after the latter’s oath. While arguing with the grandson, the Holy Zeide appeared and entered the house where the Alter Rebbe was staying. The two tzaddikim spent a long time secluded together, speaking about various matters. 

After a long time, they came out of the room and were about to part when R’ Levi Yitzchok’s grandson said to them, “Since Hashem sent me two important guests such as you, I am not willing to pass up the opportunity. I invite you to eat together in my home.”

“If you provide the food, we will eat,” said the Holy Zeide, and the two tzaddikim became the guests of the family of the tzaddik of Berditchev.

The Holy Zeide set aside his honor and every time someone knocked at the door, he got up with alacrity and opened the door.

(Migdal Oz)


Regarding what you write about the tzaddik from Shpole when he was at the Alter Rebbe, I have written a story from the Rebbe, my father-in-law, about him, that he said to the Alter Rebbe: You began writing a Book of Tzaddikim and the world cannot bear it. Accusations were aroused up Above and they declared it should be burned and I will ascend in the same flame to heaven. And so it was that as it burned, the tzaddik the Shpoler Zeide passed away.

(Igros Kodesh vol. 9)


In the sicha of Acharon shel Pesach 5730, the Rebbe spoke about the Shpoler Zeide and referred to him several times as R’ Leib Sarah’s. Later on, in a sicha of Parshas Acharei, the Rebbe explained that the Shpoler Zeide and R’ Leib Sarah’s were the same person. This is what the Rebbe said about R’ Leib Sarah’s:

His entire existence was a miracle. There is a book called Raz – HaMalach (we do not say the full name since it’s the name of an angel and not a common name) [and it is known that it is a segula to have this book in one’s house] – that was printed before R’ Leib Sarah’s was born. Of course it existed in handwritten form years before that and all agree that these handwritten versions existed hundreds of years before his birth.

We find in this work a prayer for R’ Leib Sarah’s that he should merit pesichas ha’mochin (lit. opening of the intellect). When you look for R’ Leib Sarah’s in Jewish history, we do not find anyone else, and of course they did not write a prayer for someone they did not know. This indicates that it refers to him even though it was written many years earlier.

We find something similar in Megillas Taanis where it says they established a fast day on the 9th of Teves for a decree that took place hundreds of years later; but there you can argue, and some in fact explain, that this was because of something that took place in the time of Ezra.

In this case however, one cannot argue since you cannot say that it refers to someone not known and there is nobody else known by this name except for him.

Those who do not believe in miracles and knowledge of the future, have no explanation for this – how a prayer for R’ Leib Sarah’s is in a book written hundreds of years earlier (and this prayer was accepted and he was granted pesichas ha’mochin). “Miracles of miracles happened to him,” and not just miracles that were not famous, but things that you could point at and could say: Take this book, leaf through it and see that it says black on white on such and such a page, and you can go to any library and see it in this book.


As mentioned before, in the sicha of Parshas Acharei 5730, the Rebbe referred to the fact that he had said the Shpoler Zeide and R’ Leib Sarah’s are the same person:

Since we are already speaking about a matter of uncertainty, now is the time to explain another matter that was spoken about on Acharon shel Pesach, about the Shpoler Zeide and R’ Leib Sarah’s being the same person. The question arose, how is it possible to say they were the same person?

It seems obvious to say that they are one and the same since we don’t know much about either one of them. What we know about each of them is that all the things that happened to them, happened at the same time, both were talmidim of the Maggid, both had a connection to the Baal Shem Tov, both had the same name, the miracles that happened to one happened to the other, and both were hidden. So it makes sense to say that they were the same person.

As to what is asked, that in the book Raz – HaMalach, it says his mother’s name was Sarah and by the Shpoler Zeide it was another name, that is no proof since even by R’ Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, who was famous, there is a question as to what his mother’s name really was. In Kav Naki it says he saw a pidyon of R’ Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev where it said his mother’s name is different than what is written everywhere, which is why he says that the other places are wrong. 

He might be right, but in any case, we see that even regarding R’ Levi Yitzchok there is a question about his mother’s name. So too with the Shpoler Zeide and R’ Leib Sarah’s, proof cannot be brought from the mother’s name. Maybe she had a name added to her name or she had three names or a name was changed, etc.

So I said they are the same person. Until we find out for sure that they were two separate people, the explanation as to why his niggun was chosen to be sung on Acharon shel Pesach, as discussed on Acharon shel Pesach, still stands. Otherwise, we will look for another explanation – if it is even necessary – since it is definitely possible that the significance of a niggun is not due to the composer but rather the content of the niggun, and as the Rebbe, my father-in-law, explained the content of the niggun a number of times, it is possible that it is sung because of the content which anyone musically inclined can explain.

… But until someone comes and says that he saw two graves and two gravestones in two different places and two separate yahrtzaits, and different names for the mother, and he is reliable, until then – we can say that they were the same person and peace on Israel.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
See website for complete article licensing information.