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“He will be the rav of a large city,” predicted the Rebbe Maharash. * Words fall short of describing this great Chassid, who sacrificed body and soul for his people, a Beinoni who davened all day and whose niggunim have become staples of the Chabad repertoire. The only one who was able to console the Rebbe Rashab after the passing of his father, the chavrusa of the Rebbe Rashab, over a period of 30 years he slept only on a bench, a pure and lofty soul. * Beis Moshiach profiles the gaon and Chassid, Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov, Rav of Poltava.

A certificate of kashrus with the signature and stamp of Rabbi Bespalov | His son, Rabbi Shmuel Bespalov, may Hashem avenge his bloodRAV, ASKAN AND FRIEND OF THE REBBE RASHAB

Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov, Rav of Poltava, was a distinguished Lubavitcher rav and a Chassid of the Rebbe Maharash and Rebbe Rashab. A deep friendship developed between him and the Rebbe Rashab.

His name is mentioned in many sichos and letters of the Rebbe Rashab, the Rebbe Rayatz, and the Rebbe MH”M. Stories about him were often mentioned by our Rebbeim.


Rabbi Bespalov was born on 12 Iyar 5615/1855; his father was R’ Nissan. In his youth he lived in Nikapol, Russia. In his youth, he was a chassid of the Rebbe Maharash and was known as a lamdan and an oved. He was one of three Chassidim to whom the Rebbe Maharash gave his handwritten smicha for rabbanus (the other two were R’ Dovid Tzvi Chein and R’ Moshe Rosenblum).

R’ Nissan was a wealthy man and although he was a Lubavitcher Chassid, he was not pleased with the fact that his son was utterly devoted to Torah and avoda. He once went to the Rebbe Maharash and complained, “What will be with my son? Was it decreed about him that he be a batlan (good-for-nothing)?”

The Rebbe replied prophetically, “Don’t worry, with Hashem’s help he will be the rav of a big city and will get a weekly salary of twenty rubles, twenty-five rubles, and even more.”

The Rebbe’s words were fulfilled when R’ Bespalov was accepted as rav, around the year 5646, in Poltava, in the Ukraine. He was given a weekly salary of twenty rubles, a decent amount at that time. Then they raised his salary to twenty-five rubles and later raised it again to thirty rubles.

R’ Bespalov had a brother in Charson who was very rich and G-d fearing. This brother regularly offered him financial support but R’ Bespalov declined. He said, “Do I lack money for my expenses?”


R’ Bespalov led his congregation with a strong hand. He did much to strengthen kashrus in his city and in neighboring towns. He did this work with great devotion despite the opposition. When any issue came up, he would get involved in even the minutest details, and it was all so that the people of his city would not stumble with something even possibly prohibited.

He acquired a reputation as a famous posek. The Rebbe Rashab sent him halachic questions several times in order to hear his opinion.

R’ Bespalov did much for the good of Russian Jewry and was involved in Chabad askanus under the Rebbe Rashab’s direction. Many gatherings took place during those years for the good of the Jewish people, materially and spiritually. R’ Bespalov also led the fight against heretical movements, many of which were founded and flourished in that era.


After his passing, the Rebbe Rashab described the mighty achievements of R’ Bespalov in a letter to the leaders of the community in Poltava:

Remember the work he did for you for over thirty years, complete work, loyal work devoted to the ultimate purpose of the rabbinate among the Jewish people. To analyze and oversee every detail relating to kashrus and tahara of body and soul, and he established great things in this area, and everything big or small, he did not consider his own needs, and literally sacrificed body and soul for this. And throughout all the years that his honor was in your camp you rested assured that you did not transgress even the slightest possibility of a sin, rachmana litzlan.

In a letter, the Rebbe describes the wars R’ Bespalov led so that his people would not stumble in forbidden things:

He endured much suffering from this to the literal depths of his soul, r”l, and he stood like a strong pillar in the face of all the waves that crashed over his head, and only the absolute truth of Torah was a light to guide his feet… and to its light he went and has traveled from us to illuminate his soul in the light of the Life of all Life in Eden, the garden of G-d.

Testimony such as this from the Rebbe Rashab was definitely a rarity and testifies to R’ Bespalov’s lofty character and holy service.


The mashpia, R’ Mendel Futerfas, related:

“The Rebbe Maharash had some Chassidim on the level of the Beinoni of Tanya. One of them was considered in the category of baal t’shuva, this was R’ Bespalov. Chassidim said about him (and about the Chassid, R’ Dovid Tzvi Chein) that they were in the category of ‘Beinoni who davens all day long.’

“At a farbrengen of the Rebbe Rayatz, one of the Chassidim asked, ‘What is the difference between R’ Yaakov Mordechai and R’ Dovid Tzvi?’ The Rebbe said, ‘By R’ Dovid Tzvi, the avoda was like this – and the Rebbe moved his thumbs down, while by R’ Yaakov Mordechai the avoda was like this – and he moved his thumbs upward.’

“The ovdim immediately understood what the Rebbe meant: Both were equal in the greatness of their avodas ha’t’filla, and both spent a long time on their davening, but R’ Yaakov Mordechai’s preparations took five hours and his davening also took about five hours. He would get up at midnight and continue his preparations for davening until five in the morning. Then he began davening and continued until ten o’clock. That is, he managed to finish davening Shacharis in its proper time.

“R’ Dovid Tzvi, on the other hand, would get up and start his preparations for davening at five o’clock, do this until ten, and then start davening. He did not manage to finish davening in the proper time.”

The second night of Chol HaMoed Pesach 1947, the Rebbe Rayatz explained the difference between the avodas Hashem of R’ Bespalov and R’ Zalman Zlatapolsky:

“R’ Yaakov Mordechai received everything in his heart and from the heart it went to the brain, while R’ Zalman received everything in the brain and from the brain it went to the heart.”


R’ Bespalov’s avodas Hashem was in a way of mara sh’chora (melancholy). The Rebbe Rashab encouraged him to leave this type of avoda and start serving Hashem with joy.

The Rebbe wrote to him about this in 5648: “Keep your distance from melancholy and sadness to the nth degree. Davening and Torah study ought to be specifically with joy. This is what man is all about, to exhaust himself in serving Hashem with alacrity that comes from joy and an open heart. Then he can be victorious over the animal soul etc. Learn well in the Book of Beinonim from chapter 25 till chapter 36.”

The Rebbe Rashab wrote another letter to him about this, three years later. The letter is very long and explains the advantage of simcha and how to fight the evil inclination without sadness and the importance of distancing oneself from such feelings.

Although he served Hashem with mara sh’chora, he was considered a baal menagen. The Rebbe Rayatz said that R’ Bespalov’s niggunim were sung before the Rebbe Maharash. One of his niggunim, a well-known one, is called, “Niggun HaRav M’Poltava.”


At a farbrengen on 18 Elul 5657, during the sheva brachos for the Rebbe Rayatz, R’ Bespalov said that he once had yechidus with the Rebbe Maharash and he asked him about certain things in the maamer that the Rebbe said on Shabbos about the level of Adam Kadmon (“primordial man,” the initial abstract structural manifestation of G-dliness post-tzimtzum). The Rebbe told him to learn the maamer, “LaM’natzeiach al HaShminis” which is printed in Likkutei Torah, and to ask his son, the future Rebbe Rashab, to give him an explanation that was not yet printed on this maamer.

Then the Rebbe said, “A tangible manifestation of the supernal structure of Adam Kadmon is the Baal Shem Tov, who was both a human being and had elevation of the soul (in the higher spheres) simultaneously.”

R’ Yaakov Mordechai saw that it was an auspicious time and he asked, “What about the Alter Rebbe?”

The Rebbe Maharash said, “The Alter Rebbe was, at his root source, from the aspect of daas hane’elam (pre-tzimtzum consciousness) but that is only at his root, while in his revealed level he was mocha stima’ah (the “hidden mind” of Kesser). Through his mesirus nefesh was revealed an order of avoda from below-upward. And he was a Rebbe, and when there is a Rebbe, there are Chassidim.”

At this point in the story, R’ Bespalov began to cry so hard that the people sitting there became concerned. They begged him not to cry but that didn’t help, until the Chassid, R’ Leib Hoffman said to him, “It is a triple simcha now, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the day he was revealed to the world, and the simcha of the Rebbe’s son’s wedding. Rav of Poltava, what is this crying for? You need to do t’shuva!”

R’ Leib Hoffman said this and began to sing. R’ Leib was a wonderful baal menagen and everyone sitting there helped him out. Some of the distinguished Chassidim danced and were followed by everyone else, but R’ Bespalov still sat there with his head in his hands, and he cried. They poured mashke to say l’chaim and R’ Bespalov stopped crying and said in a tearful voice, “The Rebbe told me that when there is a Rebbe, there are Chassidim, but he meant Chassidim who accomplish and work. When a Chassid isn’t a Chassid, he causes the Rebbe to not be a Rebbe (ois Rebbe). The Alter Rebbe was a Rebbe and he made Chassidim, and the Chassidim, being Chassidim, and men of deeds in avodas ha’t’filla, strengthened the Rebbe.”

On another occasion, R’ Yaakov Mordechai said, “A Chassid is someone who is devoted to the Rebbe.”


There was a wonderful friendship between the Rebbe Rashab and R’ Bespalov. In their youth, they learned Chassidus together, and over the years they had a regular correspondence.

One time, R’ Bespalov was sitting with the Rebbe Rashab after being friends for thirty years, and he burst into tears and said to the Rebbe, “For the last thirty years you rose higher and higher and I went down, down.”

After many years, the Rebbe MH”M related this and explained it, “It would seem from the story that the Rebbe Rashab accepted what he said, i.e., he agreed to what R’ Bespalov said, since that was the reality.

“Think about it – R’ Bespalov was on a high level … an oved, and his avoda was with merirus (due to mara sh’chora) and yet, relative to the elevations of the Rebbe Rashab, not only weren’t all the aspects of R’ Bespalov in the category of a lofty quality, on the contrary, they were considered in the category of lowly.”

The Rebbe Rayatz told Rabbi Yisroel Jacobson about the Rebbe Rashab’s reaction to something similar:

“When I [RYJ] had yechidus by the Rebbe Rayatz, he told me: My father [the Rebbe Rashab] told the Chassid, R’ Yaakov Mordechai of Poltava: Listen du-you (the Rebbe usually spoke to him with the respectful third person – ir, but this time he used du), you say that I am like a bird that flies upward to the top of a tree, while you are a calf that stands under the tree. We are brethren and just as a Chassid cannot forget his deficiencies, by the same token, he is not to forget his good qualities, and he needs to preserve them and not wish for their negation.”


At the Purim farbrengen of 5663, the Rebbe Rashab related the following in the presence of R’ Bespalov:

“One time, I went to my father [the Rebbe Maharash] for yechidus in which we spoke about three levels of truth: 1) edge of truth (“s’fas emes), 2) truth (“emes”), and 3) absolute truth (“emes l’amito”). I managed to understand the first two levels after much toil, but much effort and toil did not help me understand the third level. This bothered me very much and I decided to see my father and even prepared my questions.

“In the evening, the Chassid, R’ Yaakov Mordechai, came to me. I saw that he was very overwrought. He told me that he had yechidus that day with my father and said he does not want to be involved in learning and in avoda because he doesn’t understand. My father told him: Why do you demand of me? Demand of yourself! And when you will demand of yourself, you will begin to understand.

“When I heard my father’s answer, that when a person demands of himself, he begins to understand, I was encouraged to continue toiling on the meaning of ‘absolute truth.’ After much exertion, Hashem gave me a wonderful present and I understood the matter.”


Nine years later, at the Purim 5672 farbrengen, the Rebbe Rashab reminded him of the above-mentioned story and added:

“This answer of my father was helpful in all periods in dealing with the deepest inyanim. Till today, thank G-d, there was no inyan in the teachings of Chassidus that was not possible to reach its ultimate understanding, although there were times that it was necessary to toil greatly.”

Apropos of this, the Rebbe Rashab began telling about the time when he and R’ Bespalov would learn Chassidus together, reviewing maamarim of the Rebbe Maharash, writing hanachos, and speaking for hours about matters of avoda and haskala.

At this point, R’ Bespalov burst into tears. The Rebbe Rayatz described this crying as “Chassidishe crying, in which it was felt the expression used in Chassidus ‘he will become embittered and cry from the bitterness of his soul,’ a cry of soul bitterness, a cry that remains engraved in the heart for all eternity.”

It was with great difficulty that they were able to calm R’ Bespalov down. After he recovered, a real Chassidishe farbrengen began, in the course of which the Rebbe Rashab explained that the intellect of Toras HaChassidus is a G-dly intellect and is an intellect that can be accessed, and the main avoda needs to be in transforming a person into a “recipient.”

The Rebbe Rayatz said that when they began singing, R’ Bespalov – who was stern by nature – made a dismissive motion with his hand and said, “No, not a chazan’ishe niggun, a Chassidishe niggun!” The Rebbe Rashab said, “Do you remember what my father once said about that?” R’ Bespalov said, “No, I don’t remember.”

The Rebbe Rashab said that once, at a farbrengen, his father said that there are three types of niggunim, a niggun of chazanus, a niggun of t’filla, and a Chassidishe niggun…

The Rebbe paused a bit, thought, and said, “We need to skip a bit in the story. The difference between a niggun for davening and a Chassidishe niggun is that a niggun for davening grows out of the kavana/intent, while a Chassidishe niggun creates the kavana, the arousal of the heart.”

When R’ Bespalov heard this, he cried and said, “How could I have forgotten these words of the Rebbe, the Rebbe Maharash, which inspired me then to go in for a special yechidus.”


With the passing of the Rebbe Maharash, his son, the Rebbe Rashab, was heartbroken, and the one who consoled him was R’ Bespalov.

The Rebbe Rashab told his son, later to be the Rebbe Rayatz, that what R’ Bespalov said found its way into his heart because they were straight and honest and not lofty words.

The Rebbe Rayatz wrote about this in a special letter to R’ Shmuel Bespalov, Hy”d, the son of R’ Yaakov Mordechai. In the letter, the Rebbe tells the son that his father told him that a truly beloved friend is able to stand a person on his feet and save him from descending to the abyss. Then the Rebbe listed his friends with their important good qualities and then he said that the one person from whom he was able to derive consolation after the passing of his father, to the extent that a person can be consoled after such a tragedy, was only his childhood friend, his beloved R’ Bespalov. He was the first to extend a consoling hand, a helping hand, a hand of friendship and that of a faithful beloved friend…

The Rebbe Rayatz goes on in the letter to describe their special friendship in lyrical poetic terms, and afterward, he writes that whatever he heard from his father, he now found [the letter was written about a year after the passing of the Rebbe Rashab] in letters that his father wrote to R’ Bespalov, which epitomize the loving and intimate sharing between the two of them.


In a sicha of Leil Shmini Atzeres 5697, the Rebbe Rayatz said that his father had set times when he went to the Ohel of the Rebbeim in Lubavitch, and aside from that, there were another three categories of things for which he went to the Ohel: 1) There were matters that are not known, 2) For friends like R’ Yaakov Mordechai of Poltava. There are the letters that my father sent which say, “I received your letter and was at the holy Ohel and relayed what you said,” and once he writes, “I relayed your matters.” 3) He would go to ask about matters pertaining to teachings of Chassidus.

In the Rebbe Rashab’s letters that are printed in the Igros Kodesh, there are a number of times where it says that the Rebbe read R’ Bespalov’s pidyon nefesh at the Ohel. In one letter, the Rebbe writes to him that he reworded the pidyon nefesh for him, explaining that when writing a pidyon nefesh to be read at the graves of tzaddikim one should not write out all of the faults of his soul, but rather to just ask that they be rectified according to his understanding and true desire. “That is why I could not read his pidyon nefesh, but when he gave me permission to fix it, I wrote and requested the correction of those matters.”


The Rebbe Rayatz related:

In 5671, when R’ Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov was a guest for a few weeks at the summer resort, he would honor me a few times a week by visiting and drinking tea on the bench in the shade of the trees. On one visit, I reminded him about what appears in my notes of the farbrengen that took place in the home of R’ Zalman Aharon [the Rebbe Rashab’s brother and the Rebbe Rayatz’s uncle] during the week of my bar mitzva, when there was an argument between a few of the great Chassidim in defining what Chassidus is.

The people there, most of them, agreed that the opinion of the Chassid, R’ Gershon Dov [of Pahar] about what Chassidus is, was more correct than the opinion of his adversaries. They all agreed that Chassidus is G-dly philosophy, but the question was what advantage is there in the teachings of Chassidus? What did Chassidus innovate beyond the teachings of Kabbala and the teachings of chakira and philosophy?

It was in this that R’ Gershon Dov expressed his opinion, that Kabbala calls every s’fira and partzuf by name, philosophy innovated the concept of comprehension through the process of elimination (knowledge of G-d by what He is not), “If I would know Him, I would be Him,” and Chassidus innovated the abstract concept of “I know Him, I am Him.”

R’ Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov explained R’ Gershon Dov’s view at length and said: Such an outstanding brilliant mind with such depth, for whom six hours of delving into a haskala maamer of Chassidus is to him like the blink of an eye, and who spent decades toiling, crowned with blessings from the Rebbeim, he had both those things, “I know Him” and “I am Him,” and both in a way of gadlus ha’mochin.

We were still talking and behold the emanated light appeared, my father, who sat with us and asked us what we were involved in. R’ Yaakov Mordechai said that in light of his conversation with me today about the advantage of service of the heart, to daven not only with heart and tears but with heart and Chassidus, I reminded him of that conversation during the farbrengen, the week of my bar mitzva, in Raza’s residence, when they discussed the question of what did Chassidus add to Kabbala and the philosophical approach to G-dliness .

R’ Yaakov Mordechai repeated his opinion, that R’ Gershon Dov’s view about Chassidus was solely for people on high levels of brilliance in haskala and avoda like him, but not for ordinary people like us, he said, referring to himself.

My father said, “It is not so. Every one of Anash who delves into learning Chassidus and davening … feels the ‘I am Him’ that flows from the ‘I know Him’ in his soul.’”



In Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Lubavitch, it was customary to bring the great Chabad rabbanim and famous lamdanim every year to visit. Among them were Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Chein, Rav of Chernigov; Rabbi Tzvi Tumarkin, Rabbi Dov Zev Kazavnikov, Rav of Yekaterinoslav; and Rabbi Bespalov.

These rabbanim and lamdanim would test the talmidim, mark down how they did, and assign them what was suitable for them to learn in the upcoming period. When they came to the test the following year, they would see how much each talmid progressed in his learning. Something similar was done for the study of Chassidus and conduct in the ways of Chassidus.

Rabbi Shaul Dovber Zislin, who learned in Lubavitch, told of an amazing assessment made about one of the T’mimim:

“One time, Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov came to test the talmidim in yeshiva. He tested many talmidim but did not test my friend, B’Yisroel Noach HaGadol (Blinitzky). I was very curious about this and I dared to ask him why he hadn’t tested Yisroel Noach, one of the outstanding T’mimim.

“Rabbi Bespalov told me, ‘He has a neshama of Atzilus, so I am afraid to test him.’”


Health problems cast dark clouds over R’ Bespalov’s activities. From letters of the Rebbe Rashab we see that the Rebbe and R’ Bespalov would report to one another about their medical conditions and treatments from various doctors. R’ Bespalov received numerous blessings and advice regarding his health from the Rebbe.

R’ Bespalov passed away on 30 Tishrei 5676 at the age of 60. They say that before his passing, he said, “I slept only on a bench over a period of thirty years, but putting t’fillin on one time is more precious to me than sleeping on a bench for thirty years.”

Somewhere else it says that R’ Yaakov Mordechai said that he erred in his approach to his self-imposed affliction of not sleeping in a bed because putting t’fillin on one time is more precious than 30 years of refraining from sleeping in a bed. Chassidim said about this: In order to feel the preciousness of putting on t’fillin to the extent that R’ Bespalov felt, you first need to sleep on a bench for 30 years!

After his passing, the Rebbe Rashab wrote a very stirring letter describing how broken he was over the loss of his dear friend, while proclaiming that Hashem is righteous in all His ways and a heartfelt supplication for divine mercies for all of the Jewish people.


This is a page from a diary entry of the Rebbe from around 5707/1947 in his own handwriting, in which he recorded stories that the Rebbe Rayatz told, that he heard from Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov.

First, there is a paragraph quoting the Rebbe Rayatz, about how the Rebbe Maharash played with his grandson, later to be the Rebbe Rayatz:

“He motioned with his finger to indicate that I shouldn’t laugh. I stretched out my little hands to hug him, as it were. My grandfather put his cheek up against my face and I closed my eyes when I felt the ticklish hairs of his beard.”

Then there is a story about the Rebbe Rashab wanting to kiss his son:

“R’ Yaakov Mordechai also related to me: When I [Rebbe Rayatz] was two, he [RYM] learned together with my father. My father got up, covered me and rocked my cradle and wanted to give me a kiss. He – R’ Yaakov Mordechai – told my father ‘There is no need for it; there is no need to cause him to have a wild personality.”

During the shiva for the Rebbe Rayatz, the Rebbe told a variation on that story. A small part of the story was written and the Rebbe added all the details in his own hand:

“When my father-in-law, the Rebbe, was a little boy (in 5644), his father lived in a two-room apartment. One room was a bedroom and in the other room, his father would sit with R’ Yaakov Mordechai Bespalov and learn. The Rebbe’s cradle was also in this room. The Rebbe was a beautiful child and his face glowed.

“Once, in the middle of learning late at night, R’ Yaakov Mordechai looked at the child asleep and began to say to the Rebbe that his appearance indicated purity of thought, etc.

“As they spoke, the Rebbe had a great desire to kiss his son but then the idea came to him that in the Beis HaMikdash they would bring gold and silver in addition to korbanos, for bedek ha’bayis (the upkeep of the Mikdash) and so he decided to ‘exchange’ the kiss for Chassidus and he wrote the maamer, ‘Ma Rabu Maasecha.’

“In 5652, he gave what he wrote to his son and said: This is a Chassidishe kiss and later I will tell you the details. In 5656, the Rebbe [Rashab] told the Rebbe [Rayatz] the whole story.”


R’ Bespalov’s three sons learned in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Lubavitch and their father raised them in the ways of Torah and Chassidus. It is said that he had an ongoing shiur in Chassidus with two of his sons, R’ Shmuel and R’ Shneur Zalman, for two hours a day.

From the Rebbe Rayatz’s diary we see that when the Rebbe’s family stayed in the resort area of Balivka in 5658, the Rebbe to be Rayatz, who was an 18 year old bachur, had a steady shiur in Chassidus with Shmuel and Shneur who were also at the resort area with their families. The shiur was from five to seven in the morning every day.

R’ Shmuel Bespalov married Rebbetzin Sheina Rivka, the daughter of R’ Dovid Moshe Barbash, the son-in-law of the Admur, R’ Shmaryahu Noach of Bobruisk. After the passing of his father, R’ Yaakov Mordechai, Rav of Poltava, he succeeded him for some time. Then he moved to Charkov and from there to Bobruisk where he served as rav until he was murdered by the Nazis, may Hashem avenge his blood.

R’ Shneur Zalman was the son-in-law of R’ Chaim Yeshaya Schneersohn of Ramen. He lived in Charson where he was one of the directors of the local Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim. Then he immigrated to the United States where he continued with Chabad activities. After his passing, he was buried near the Frierdike Rebbe’s Ohel.

R’ Dovber Nissan Bespalov lived in Charson, and was one of the directors of Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim there. He immigrated to Warsaw and perished in the holocaust, may Hashem avenge his blood.

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