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SURREPTITIOUS SCRIVENER 

His appointed role as the Rebbes eyes and ears in Yerushalayim and the regular reports he sent covering every detail of what was going on among Chabad Chassidim in the holy city was a closely guarded secret for many decades. * His recollections in an exclusive interview with Beis Moshiach along with information culled from a number of archives following his passing, offer us a brief fascinating glimpse into the life of the mashpia, RPinchos Leibush Hertzl ah.  

Tzom Gedalya of this year, 5775. Battei Ungarin in Yerushalayim. The mashpia, RPinchas Leibush Hertzl put on Rabbeinu Tam tfillin. He would soon be going out to Mincha. Then he suddenly had a heart attack and collapsed. Thus ended the noble life of a modest Chassid and an outstanding talmid chacham, one who pursued tzdaka and chesed.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE GREAT CHASSIDIM

R’ Pinchas Leibush was born on 19 Tishrei 5683/1922. His parents were R’ Naftali Tzvi and Yocheved Chana. His mother was from an old-time Yerushalmi family and she had deep Chabad roots.

Since his father was Hungarian, Pinchas Leibush was not raised with Chassidus. The young boy, who was discovered to be gifted, was sent to learn in Yeshivas Dushinsky, led by the gaon R’ Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis. In yeshiva he soon became known as a genius.

His uncle was the mashpia R’ Moshe Weber, and the young boy was very much in touch with his uncle whose Chassidic influence was profound. At the age of 16, he transferred to learn in the Lubavitcher Yeshivas Toras Emes which was in Battei Milner at the time, near where he lived. There too he assiduously studied Nigleh and Chassidus and quickly took his place among the outstanding bachurim in the yeshiva. His yiras Shamayim and feeling of hiskashrus to our Rebbeim he absorbed from the mashpiim and the heads of the yeshiva, R’ Moshe Leib Shapiro and the mashpia R’ Moshe Yehuda Reichman.

About 150 bachurim learned there in those days, before World War II, along with about fifty young married men. They learned mainly with study partners, and a few times a week shiurim were given by the roshei yeshiva and the mashpiim. The talmidim learned diligently despite the difficult physical circumstances. The learning went on even through the Depression years and the war years when there was a serious shortage of basic foodstuffs.

His close friends in yeshiva were R’ Moshe Ashkenazi (later rav of the Chabad community in Tel Aviv), R’ Yisroel Tzvi Heber (later mashpia in Tel Aviv and Kfar Chabad), and R’ Efraim Wolf (later menahel of yeshivos Tomchei T’mimim).

Even back then, he spent time in the presence of great Chassidim who lived in Yerushalayim including R’ Avrohom Chaim Noeh, the mashpia R’ Alter Simchovitz, R’ Shmaryahu Sasonkin, and his uncle R’ Moshe Weber.

Young Leibush’s shidduch took place with a blessing from the Rebbe Rayatz as he described it to me:

“My father-in-law, R’ Nachum Chanun, was looking for a shidduch and he had a number of suggestions including myself. He asked the Rebbe Rayatz and received a bracha: ‘May Hashem send you a proper shidduch.’ A few days went by and the shidduch worked out. I informed the Rebbe Rayatz and received a telegram in English with his consent and blessing for the shidduch.”

A BOTTLE OF MASHKE FROM THE REBBE FOR THE MUSRARA NEIGHBORHOOD

R’ Hertzl was, in essence, a man of Torah, and he learned and taught Torah to various groups on various topics. In the shul in the Musrara (Heb. Morasha) neighborhood of Yerushalayim, he gave a shiur for about fifty years that was well attended. The Rebbe had what to say about this shiur. R’ Hertzl recounted:

“In Tishrei 5727/1966, I passed by the Rebbe during the distribution of kos shel bracha. After the Rebbe poured some wine for me from his cup, he also held out a bottle of mashke and said loudly, ‘This bottle should be distributed to the members of the shiur in Musrara.’

“Next to me stood R’ Zushe Wilmyaowsky, known as the Partisan. He did not understand what the Rebbe said. He turned to me in surprise and asked, ‘What did the Rebbe say? What does Musrara mean?’

“I explained to him that the Rebbe meant the shiur I give in the neighborhood. R’ Zushe was very excited, for out of all the thousands of people who passed by, the Rebbe remembered who gave a shiur in one of the neighborhoods of Yerushalayim and had even given a bottle of mashke while announcing the name of the neighborhood. R’ Zushe said, ‘I will come and visit there.’ 

“Indeed, not long afterward and with no prior warning, as was R’ Zushe’s way, he appeared in the middle of a shiur. He walked around here and there, all enthused and he muttered to himself, ‘Musrara, Musrara.’ After joining the shiur he said to me, ‘I enjoyed it very much and will write about it to the Rebbe.’

“At one of the private audiences, the Rebbe asked me what shiurim I give and what I teach. I enumerated all the shiurim. The Rebbe said: Also try and teach halachos every day because whoever learns halachos every day is assured a place in Olam Haba. Furthermore, the participants in the shiur in Musrara work during the day and don’t have time to open a Jewish book, so it is very important to teach them halachos that pertain to daily life.”

One year, R’ Pinchas Leibush traveled to New York where he raised money for an important cause:

“From morning to night I was busy traveling among offices and businesses. When I arrived at my host at night, I had no strength to open a seifer. I found it hard to make peace with the fact that one day after another passed and I did not have time to learn. I had a private audience with the Rebbe and told him what was on my mind. The Rebbe told me to learn l’girsa (i.e. on a simple level). I told the Rebbe that due to my running around all day, I arrived home with a headache and it was hard for me learn l’girsa too. If so, said the Rebbe, learn b’iyun (in depth), as it says, ‘If your head hurts, learn Torah.’ The Rebbe quoted the known question on this: it says we cancel Torah study for the reading of the Megilla, but reading the Megilla is also Torah study, isn’t it? The answer is that since the reading the Megilla is not in depth, it is not considered as proper Torah study. Therefore, concluded the Rebbe, if your head hurts, you need to learn Torah in depth.”

R’ Hertzl considered the Rebbe’s instruction to him about learning Chitas as actual ruach ha’kodesh. Over the years, he was very particular about learning Chitas, but at a certain period, due to time pressure, he sometimes did not learn it. At that time he received a letter from the Rebbe which said: “I hope that even though you don’t mention it, in addition to all your learning you also observe the three known shiurim in Chumash, T’hillim, and Tanya. Don’t consider this matter lightly, especially when it was instituted as a practice by the Rebbe, my father-in-law.”

“I, who knew the reason for this response, could not get over this open ruach ha’kodesh of the Rebbe.”

R’ Hertzl received many letters from the Rebbe, and in his eyes every word and every letter was a holy command for him. “Surely you participated in (and will participate in greater measure in) Mivtza T’fillin. May Hashem grant you success.”

This brief line is what got him to participate in Mivtza T’fillin at the Kosel. Every Wednesday, for decades, he would stand at the t’fillin stand at the entrance to the Kosel plaza and help people put on t’fillin and also urge them to strengthen their observance of Torah and mitzvos.

In recent decades, since the passing of the mashpia R’ Yehoshua Lipkin, R’ Pinchas Leibush was appointed mashpia of the Chabad shul in Mea Sh’arim. He intensified the giving of shiurim and drashos as well as reviewing the Rebbe’s sichos.

THE REBBE’S SICHOS ARE MY LIFE

R’ Hertzl’s lifestyle was simple and modest. In his tiny home in Battei Ungarin are all the printed s’farim of the Rebbe which he studied day and night as his family attests. One time, in a conversation I had with him in his home, he said, “The Rebbe’s sichos are my life.”

On every occasion that he was asked to speak, he always reviewed a sicha of the Rebbe, even to audiences far from the ways of Chabad such as members of Toldos Aharon and those from North Africa. The regular Shabbos farbrengen that took place in the Chabad shul in Mea Sh’arim also began with a sicha of the Rebbe. Every Friday night, he gave a shiur in the D’var Malchus to the people of the shul and after the Shabbos meal he gave another shiur that began at nine and ended at midnight. This latter shiur was attended by Chassidic young men who avidly listened to every word this Chassidic mashpia uttered.

He attributed the strength and ability to disseminate Chassidus everywhere to the Rebbe’s horaa to him, “to increase more and more in spreading Chassidus.”

Inyanei Moshiach and Geula were a top priority for him. Many still remember how, at a gathering that took place in Nissan 5754, he read a p’sak din in the name of Chabad rabbanim that the Rebbe is Moshiach.

ONE OF THE “SCRIBES OF THE KING”

R’ Hertzl often sat at the typewriter in his small apartment and wrote in detail everything that was going on among Chabad Chassidim in Yerushalayim. When he completed his report, which he considered holy work, he sent it off to the Rebbe. He sometimes received answers. Because of this work that he did, his uncle, R’ Moshe Weber would call him, “mi’sofrei ha’melech (one of the king’s scribes).”

This activity was shrouded in mystery for many years. R’ Leibush did not volunteer any details about this holy work. He did not even tell his family and friends how he came to be assigned this sensitive task. Only thirteen years ago was he willing to reveal the secret. At the request of one of his grandsons, I went to the mashpia’s house where I was taken behind the scenes. R’ Hertzl agreed on a one time basis to tell me what he had kept to himself for decades. It was before Yud Shvat when I arrived at his home on the second floor of one of the long buildings of Battei Ungarin near the Mea Sh’arim neighborhood. R’ Leibush welcomed me warmly and spoke to me as to a friend, even though I was a young man, the age of his grandchildren. Here is a summary of what he said:

“For nearly forty years I would write long letters to the Rebbe in which I described in detail what was going on among Chabad Chassidim in Yerushalayim. I did this because of the Rebbe’s repeated requests that I do so.

“It all began in the early years of the Rebbe’s nesius when I received a response from the Rebbe asking me to write about the activities of Chabad Chassidim in Yerushalayim. From then on, I would write every month about Yeshivas Toras Emes, about farbrengens, and about mivtzaim that were taking place at that time.

“Writing to the Rebbe about other people’s activities is a big responsibility and each time I would be agitated anew. Especially since I was in kollel in Yeshivas Toras Emes at the time, and the Rebbe asked me to write to him about the talmidim, the learning and the tests. I had to write about the rosh yeshiva and my fellow talmidim and obviously this was no simple matter. To me, a day of writing like this was like Yom Kippur.

“I don’t know why the Rebbe chose me to write him these reports. I did not publicize this z’chus since I knew that the Rebbe was not interested in everyone knowing about it. My uncle, R’ Weber, who know about these letters, once said to me, ‘I envy you for being mi’sofrei ha’melech.’

“It is hard for me to describe how I felt during the hours that I wrote. Each word was written with great thought, how to describe to the Rebbe precisely what this or that Chassid said during a farbrengen, how many participants there were, etc. For about forty years I wrote reports to the Rebbe, until Chaf-Zayin Adar 5752 when I thought that I could not bother the Rebbe with letters. In recent times [this was said in 5762] I met with the Rebbe’s secretary, R’ Leibel Groner. He, who knew how many times the Rebbe told me to write, said that he thought I should continue writing as I did all the years.” 

Also, when he had yechidus, he was asked to tell about what was happening in Yerushalayim. As he related:

“I had yechidus and before me walked out a certain Admur from Yerushalayim. The Rebbe began questioning me about the size of the Chassidus of this Admur, how many talmidim he had in yeshiva, and more. In another yechidus, the Rebbe asked me about a certain book that was published in Yerushalayim and after I stated my opinion, the Rebbe said he was not pleased with the book.”

ANSWERS AND ENCOURAGEMENT

The following are some answers that R’ Hertzl received in which the Rebbe strongly encouraged him to send detailed descriptions of farbrengens, mivtzaim, shiurim and more. In a letter from 20 Shvat 5713, the Rebbe writes:

“Surely in accordance with my request of all students of Toras Emes, you and your friends of like mind were among those tested and I would like to know which questions were asked both in Nigleh and Chassidus. Thank you for this information, and may Hashem grant you success.”

After each Tishrei, he had to write to the Rebbe without delay. This is what the Rebbe wrote him on 3 Cheshvan 5717, “It is surprising that, as of now, I have had no reports from Anash in the holy city of Yerushalayim regarding utilizing the days of Tishrei in general and the times of our rejoicing in particular for strengthening Judaism and its dissemination. Especially the inner point of spreading the wellsprings outward, and I hope that I will receive news of these days in detail and may they also be joyous news, ascending in holiness in all respects.”

In another letter the Rebbe wrote, “After a long break, I received your letter of 21 Tammuz in which you write highlights of the activities of Anash and Tzeirei Agudas Chabad during the weeks that passed since the previous letter.”

He received many letters from the Rebbe with responses to his reports along with brachos about personal matters. There were instances in which he merited to be the one through whom the Rebbe conveyed various instructions, such as in the letter of 24 Cheshvan 5718:

“Surely they are preparing a fitting and detailed program as necessary to utilize the days of Kislev that are approaching us for the good, and in this too the spreading of the wellsprings outward is the inner point, for Yud-Tes Kislev is the Rosh HaShana for learning Chassidus and the ways of Chassidim. Obviously, it is your obligation and privilege to convey this to all those who are suited for this inner work of spreading the wellsprings.”

GENTLE EXPIRY

As mentioned earlier, R’ Leibush Hertzl passed on suddenly at the age of 92 the day after Rosh HaShana/Shabbos. On Rosh HaShana he still davened for the amud and even reviewed Chassidus at the Chabad shul in Mea Sh’arim, where he served as mashpia for many years. 

His funeral took place Motzaei Tzom Gedalya. His is survived by hundreds of biological descendants and thousands of spiritual descendants of all backgrounds. He merited seeing sons and daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren all going in the ways of Torah and Chassidus.

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