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The mashpia, RChaim Alter Nissan Shimon Simchovitz, who was known as RAlter Simchovitz, was born to Yitzchok and Chaya Miriam, a family that was descended from the Vilna Gaon. He was born in Pochep in Belarus at the beginning of 5650/1889. His fathers uncle was RYitzchok Elchonon Spektor, renowned posek and leader of Lithuanian Jewry.

Yeshivas Toras Emes in Beit Romano in Chevron

In his youth, he learned in the Chabad yeshiva in Pochep led by R’ Yehoshua Nosson Gnessin (Tzvi Notte). In Cheshvan 5665 he was accepted in Tomchei T’mimim in Lubavitch. Around the year 5668 he was sent to Tomchei T’mimim in Horodyszcze where he learned by R’ Shlomo Zalman Havlin who later became his father-in-law. He was known as one of the ovdim in the yeshiva and he davened at length.

In 5672 he was sent with some other talmidim and the mashpia R’ Havlin to Chevron, where they founded Yeshivas Toras Emes Chevron. The trip was given particular attention by the Rebbe Rashab who went out, leading the way, with the hanhala of the yeshiva and its students, to escort the travelers. At the end of that year, R’ Alter returned to Lubavitch where he stayed until 5677. During these years he served as a chozer for the Rebbe Rashab.

In 5676 he became engaged to Rivka Havlin. After they married he moved to Shchedrin where he was appointed as mashpia in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim there. After the passing of the Rebbe Rashab on 2 Nissan 5680/1920, R’ Alter went to Rostov.

In the summer of 5681, he was sent by the Rebbe Rayatz to serve as mashpia in Tomchei T’mimim in Warsaw. In a letter to his father-in-law, R’ Havlin, the Rebbe Rayatz wrote that he had been asked to send a “man of expertise” there, and therefore he sent his son-in-law. R’ Alter arrived there for Pesach 1921 and many came to the yeshiva to hear his shiurim in Chassidus. On his way there, he had to smuggle across the border into Poland through a thick forest. Due to the bitter cold his foot froze and he was taken to a hospital in Vilna where they had to amputate the sole of his foot.

Because of the crowded living conditions in Warsaw, R’ Alter became sick with tuberculosis. The Rebbe Rayatz told him to go to Eretz Yisroel and settle in Yerushalayim. While in Yerushalayim, his wife died young.

In the 12 years that he served as mashpia and went with the yeshiva in its wanderings between Givat Shaul and the Bucharim neighborhood, he also served as a member of the hanhala and fought so that the hanhala would precisely carry out the Rebbe’s instructions. In 1936 he was appointed by the Rebbe Rayatz as mashpia klali of Yerushalayim and then, after the passing of R’ Havlin, as the menahel ruchni of the yeshiva.

He died young on 7 Nissan 5699, leaving a detailed spiritual will with precise instructions about his funeral and who could carry his body and who could not. He left three children and the Rebbe took a great interest in their welfare.

He had many talmidim in Toras Emes including: R’ Moshe Ashkenazi, R’ Yisroel Tzvi Heber, R’ Moshe Weber, R’ Efraim Wolf, R’ Dovid Chanzin, R’ Avrohom Hersh Cohen, R’ Dovber Ludmir (a distinguished Boyaner Chassid) and R’ Boruch Pariz. Notes, comments and sources that were written by him in the margins of his Tanya were published by Heichal Besht after being edited by R’ Yitzchok Wilhelm. Notes that he wrote on the margins of his Shulchan Aruch HaRav are in the archives of the Chabad library.


“When I went to Toras Emes in its first year, in Chevron, at the end of 5672, I did not see R’ Alter Simchovitz,” said R’ Shimon Glitzenstein. “R’ Alter felt that he had been cut off from the great cedar in Lubavitch, as though he had been distanced, even for a brief time, from the source of life, and after being in Chevron for a relatively short time, he planned on leaving the yeshiva and returning to his source in Lubavitch. However, he left behind an impression. He was known to all as Alter Pocheper. His name was mentioned with awe and they spoke in praise of him, of his good qualities, his outstanding abilities as a maskil and deep thinker in Chassidus, about his straight thinking and quick grasp.”


The night of Yud-Tes Kislev 5673, the Rebbe Rayatz, who was then the acting dean of the yeshiva, arranged a farbrengen in his home for special individuals. At this farbrengen the Rebbe was very happy and he took a lot of mashke and he asked the older bachurim to take mashke too.

During the seuda, R’ Shilem Kuratin was inebriated, and he said to the Rebbe, “Since this is a Chassidishe gathering, we need to say Chassidus!” He asked the Rebbe to say Chassidus. The Rebbe said, “Nu, of course. Say Chassidus.” R’ Shilem said he could not. The Rebbe turned to Alter Simchovitz and said, “Nu, Alter, review the Shabbos maamer.” R’ Alter who also wanted to hear a maamer from the Rebbe said he did not remember the maamer. “Nu, say a different maamer,” said the Rebbe. R’ Alter said, “I forgot everything.”

“Everything? All of it?” wondered the Rebbe.

R’ Alter, who was also inebriated, said, “I remember one thing. The Rebbe once said, ‘Alter, take some mashke …’”

The Rebbe Rayatz looked annoyed. “You should know Alter, that when my father speaks with Jews, he speaks nefesh to nefesh, ruach to ruach, neshama to neshama, chaya to chaya, yechida to yechida.”


R’ Eliezer Karasik described an unforgettable farbrengen with the bachurim who returned from Chevron:

“I recall, it was in 5675 (when the four bachurim returned from Chevron-Lubavitch) and they got together to farbreng with the head mashpia of Tomchei T’mimim, Rashag (R’ Shmuel Gronem Esterman) on 9 Kislev in a hostel on Petersburg Street, which is a small side street in Lubavitch. Why was it called Petersburg? I don’t know. But I think that since the city Petersburg is surrounded by rivers and this street in Lubavitch was full of water and mud, perhaps this is why it was called Petersburg.

“The way it worked was that all the talmidim would just sit and take in the words of the mashpia and sometimes they posed a question or comment, but never more than that because they were too busy absorbing. And when the mashpia went home, the group would disperse.

“But this time that I refer to, present were also the bachurim who returned from Chevron. After two years of learning there, they had returned to Lubavitch. After hours of sitting together with Rashag, he was tired and left. We stayed with those who returned from Chevron: R’ Alter Pocheper (R’ Alter Simchovitz), R’ Yechezkel Feigin, R’ Hilka Paritcher, and Nacheh Lapicher (my brother, Menachem Bentzion Karasik).

“At this farbrengen, even though Rashag had left, the group did not disband and the ones who remained [to lead the farbrengen] were only those guests who returned from Chevron. This was unusual for the talmidim, for nearly all of them were totally nullified to the point of being as nothing before him [the mashpia, Rashag] and certainly not to be mashpia themselves. However, this time they did not disperse, perhaps because of the sentiment that those who came from Chevron were on a higher level and closer to the truth. The atmosphere warmed up and everyone wanted to connect with them and bask in their light. Or maybe it was because those who came from Chevron felt that there were still some things they were lacking and they wanted to correct them and when nobody else is available etc. In any case, they were the ones who remained to continue the farbrengen.

“This farbrengen continued for several days without stop. The main mashpia was R’ Alter Pocheper along with R’ Hillel Paritcher and R’ Yechezkel Feigin. Obviously, they switched off. When one was tired and went to sleep, the other was awake and so on. And the talmidim/audience would also trade places.

“Nearly all the people at the farbrengen sat in this sort of smelting pot, and anybody who was at all receptive was moved from his regular [spiritual] place or [spiritual] state in a forward direction. Until today, I can’t forget that farbrengen. The crying from cheshbon ha’nefesh that each one made, the regret over the past and the commitment to adhere to this designated path was an exercise in group study and they spoke like to a close friend with purity of heart.”


R’ Alter enjoyed the full trust shown to him by the Rebbeim who always spoke highly of him. On one occasion, when they wanted to employ R’ Alter as a cashier in a well-known business in Russia, the Rebbe Rashab commented, “It is not Alter’s role to count money, but to count pages in Likkutei Torah.”

Once, at a festive Yud-Tes Kislev meal, the Rebbe Rashab stressed, “Alter is mine.” One of the bachurim asked, and I’m not yours? The Rebbe said, “Yes, correct, you are also mine, however Alter is mine …”

In a letter written by R’ Yechezkel Feigin, Hy”d, he said to R’ Alter, “The Rebbe enumerated the qualities with which you are gifted and I cannot reveal them to you, because ultimately you are also a human being.”

While still a bachur in Tomchei T’mimim, in 5673, when the Rebbe Rayatz traveled to the health springs and he did not want to miss the maamarim said by his father, he asked one of the chozrim, R’ Eliyahu Simpson, to write him the content of the maamer every week. He added, “And you and my friend, R’ Alter, should do this.”

When the Rebbe Rayatz farbrenged in Yeshivas Toras Emes, he said to the bachurim, “In truth it would be proper to farbreng in detail, but probably the mashpia and menahel, R’ Alter, farbrengs with you often so the fundamental principles are known.”


At the end of 5680, the yeshiva moved from Kremenchug to Rostov. The menahel was the Rebbe’s son-in-law, Rashag (R’ Shmaryahu Gurary) and his assistant was R’ Yitzchok Goldin. Starvation was rampant and the menahalim’s concern was finding bread for the students. The mashgichim and roshei yeshiva were bachurim since it wasn’t possible to pay a salary to a married man with which he could support a family. R’ Alter was already married and R’ Goldin asked the Rebbe to take him as mashpia. He said that if there will be a Tomchei T’mimim, then Hashem would help with the expenses. The mashpia of Chassidus is the “internal man” of Tomchei T’mimim. Without him, what advantage did the yeshiva have? But Rashag maintained that it was impossible to take on such an expense at such a time.

R’ Yitzchok Goldin, who was in charge of raising money, told Rashag with a smile, “You don’t know from financial hardship (as he grew up in a wealthy family), so you won’t know from this hardship either.” The Rebbe smiled and said, “I agree with Yitzchok. Take Alter and Hashem will grant you success.” R’ Goldin did not delay but ran to the marketplace where R’ Alter worked selling cereal. (R’ Leibel Cohen and R’ Shmaryahu Sasonkin said that in Rostov they saw him standing with a samovar selling tea so he could make some money. Apparently, he did not disdain any work as long as he could support his wife and daughters.)

“Seeing R’ Alter in such a state could make your heart melt. He was my mashgiach and mashpia in Shchedrin, a wise man with a good heart and in the parlance of Tomchei T’mimim, an oveid and maskil. Every personal matter of every bachur in Tomchei T’mimim was a soul matter to him. And here was R’ Alter standing in the marketplace.” This is what R’ Yitzchok Goldin wrote in his memoirs.

When R’ Alter heard that the Rebbe Rayatz agreed to the idea and when R’ Yitzchok promised to pay his salary, which meant bread for his children, he turned over the bowl of cereal and happily went to the yeshiva. When he entered the zal and stood in the place designated for the mashgiach, there was great joy in the zal.


Shavuos 5691/1921 is when the oifruf (aliya l’Torah) of the Rebbe Rayatz’s son-in-law, Rashag, took place. After the davening there was a kiddush in the home of the chassan’s father, R’ Menachem Mendel Gurary, and the Rebbe farbrenged there.

During the farbrengen the Rebbe strongly demanded avoda, avoda in general and avodas ha’t’filla in particular. The Chassid, R’ Tzvi Gurary asked: The Rebbe demands avoda at a time like this? When Alter sweeps the streets, the Rebbe demands avoda? (R’ Alter had to work at various demeaning jobs at that time to support his family.)

The Rebbe said: R’ Akiva and his colleagues were so great, men of enormous mesirus nefesh compared to us. If we, of this generation of small minds and small hearts, had to be in their generation among those great men, “We would also manage somehow to push through.” If Hashem brought R’ Akiva and his colleagues down to this world now, they would “manage.” But Hashem did not do so and brought us with small minds and heads and small hearts down to this world now, which is an indication that we have the abilities. Hashem does not come with unreasonable demands of His creatures.


R’ Alter was considered one of the pillars of the hanhala of the yeshiva Toras Emes, already in his first years there. By 5688, about a year after he went to serve as mashpia in the yeshiva, the Rebbe Rayatz put him in charge of running the yeshiva for a period of time after his father-in-law R’ Havlin and R’ Moshe Dov (Berel) Rivkin went to the US to fundraise for the yeshiva.

Every step he made in running the yeshiva revolved around this question: What would give the Rebbe nachas. The Rebbe guided and encouraged him the entire time in how and what to do so as to overcome the hurdles. His father-in-law in America also wrote to the hanhala of the yeshiva asking that they listen to his son-in-law.

At the end of 5688, R’ Alter went to Riga to be with the Rebbe Rayatz for Tishrei 5689. “An honored guest came to the Rebbe for the Days of Awe, R’ Alter Simchovitz,” wrote R’ Yechezkel Feigin in a letter to his friend, R’ Yisroel Jacobson. While he was in Riga, it was pretty much decided that he would remain in Warsaw where he would continue to run Tomchei T’mimim as before. On 14 Kislev, he attended the wedding of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka and there he was told by the Rebbe Rayatz to give out mashke, in his name, to all the talmidim of the yeshiva. The night before too, during the chassan’s meal, he was the one who said who would enter the yeshiva hall and who would not.

In Shvat 5689, following requests of his family, it was decided that he would return to serve as mashpia in Toras Emes in Yerushalayim. That year, he met with the Rebbe again when the Rebbe visited Eretz Yisroel and went to Yeshivas Toras Emes. When the Rebbe went with the bachurim to the Mt. of Olives, R’ Alter made sure that each bus would have a bottle of mashke. On the trip to Chevron, the Rebbe told R’ Alter to be one of those who took pidyonos nefesh from the masses of people who came to see the Rebbe.

R’ Shimon Glitzenstein described an authentic Chassidic mashpia in Yerushalayim in those days:

“R’ Alter was gifted with an exceedingly powerful ability to impart of his spirit onto others. His fiery speech, his quick movements, his penetrating gaze. This image of a Lubavitcher mashpia stunned me a bit when I first met him; a personality that inspired admiration. He was modest and always tried to remain in the shadows. His praying was seemingly without enthusiasm or none that was apparent, but those who knew him knew that in his heart burned a holy flame and all his movements were for the sake of heaven.

“R’ Alter accepted the running of Toras Emes in Yerushalayim and before very long, one could see the strong impression made upon the students by their teacher and menahel. He opened a door for them into the world of G-dly teachings and developed their hearts to understand, to listen and to be devoted with all their might to learning Chassidus and going in the ways of these teachings. We can justifiably say that R’ Alter gave life to dry bones. He instilled in the precious children of Zion the fresh infusion of the teachings of Chabad. He is to be credited for the popularity of Chabad learning in the Holy Land.”

The Rebbe sent many instructions through him that pertained to Chabad activity in Eretz Yisroel. For example, when the Rebbe wanted to obtain immigration certificates for some students in Tomchei T’mimim, the Rebbe told R’ Alter to be the one in touch with the Chief Rabbi, R’ Herzog. When the Rebbe wanted to start a global Chevra T’hillim whose headquarters would be in Eretz Yisroel, he told R’ Alter to find someone to run the chevra. R’ Alter was also involved in the running of Kollel Chabad during the years when the Rebbe wanted to replace the old administration, and more.

The Rebbe treated him in a very special manner. When R’ D. M. Rabinowitz wrote to the Rebbe that doctors advised him to move to Yerushalayim, the Rebbe told him “to be of assistance to my good friend, one of the outstanding talmidei ha’T’mimim, R’ Alter Simchovitz, regarding matters of the yeshiva, material and spiritual.” Toward the end of his life, the Rebbe wrote, “I enjoyed hearing that the situation of Yeshivas Toras Emes has improved spiritually as a result of the work and agitation of my good friend R’ Alter Simchovitz. May Hashem strengthen him and fortify him and make great and powerful the Torah and avoda in the ways of Chassidus.”


Upon the passing of R’ Havlin, a vacuum was left in the hanhala of the yeshiva. The Rebbe appointed R’ Havlin’s son-in-law, R’ Alter Simchovitz, as the menahel ruchni of the yeshiva and he also was to have a say regarding the material needs of the yeshiva. The appointment came together with a letter of consolation that was sent to the widow of R’ Havlin and his children.

R’ Alter, who until then was utterly devoted to the yeshiva, continued to work devotedly for its sake. Despite all the mighty obstacles in his way, he did all he could for the continuation of the yeshiva both materially and in improving the spiritual-Chassidic state of the talmidim. R’ Alter was like a father to the students and his Chassidic influence caused a major change in many students who had come to taste of the wellsprings of Chassidus. Thanks to him, many of them became Chassidim.

R’ Alter was the dominant Chassidic personality in Toras Emes at that time. When the Rebbe told R’ Eliezer Karasik to start a yeshiva in Tel Aviv, he sent the letter to R’ Alter so he would advise him how to start the yeshiva and overcome the material and spiritual difficulties.

The Rebbe Rayatz wrote a letter at the beginning of the winter of 5698 to R’ Boruch Pariz when he went to learn in Toras Emes which shows R’ Alter’s place in the yeshiva:

“My great friend and representative, R’ Alter, menahel of Yeshivas Toras Emes, informs me that you have entered Yeshivas Toras Emes… and surely you will devote yourself to the guidance of the above to fulfill all of his instructions to the fullest.”

Indeed, the relationship between R’ Boruch and the mashpia, R’ Alter, was very special. After about half a year, when R’ Boruch went home to Petach Tikva for the intersession break, R’ Alter wrote him a letter with encouragement to act as a talmid of a Chabad yeshiva:

“ … The difference should be apparent between you and your previous friends who you have encountered back home, who have not yet merited to taste from the Tree of Life and the study of Chassidus. If no difference is apparent between you and your friends, you should contemplate that fact itself, for a great light like this [the teachings of Chassidus mentioned at the beginning of the letter] did not make an impression on you … I only ask whether you fulfilled the command of the Rebbe in every detail, without any rationalizations. Simply to do what he said in reviewing Chassidus, speaking with the tinokos shel beis rabban (schoolchildren), yeshiva youth, or those that are suited for it to explain that the light of Torah is the true life of the soul.”

Further in the letter he notes that he wants to correspond with the dear talmid, “Simcha Bunim,” referring to Simcha Bunim Heber who also lived in Petach Tikva, and he asked him to show the letter to his friend, for everything he wrote was meant for both of them.

R’ Yisroel Tzvi Heber learned in Yeshivas Torah V’Yira in Yerushalayim at that time. On Purim 5698/1938, he attended R’ Alter’s farbrengen which inspired him to switch to Toras Emes, as he related in his memoirs:

“After we celebrated Purim in Torah V’Yira, I went with some friends to the farbrengen of R’ Alter Simchovitz in Toras Emes. I stood next to my brother Simcha Bunim and R’ Alter immediately recognized me and said to my brother, ‘You need to be mekarev him,’ which made a great impression on me. Then I saw what the difference is between the simcha in Torah V’Yira and the simcha of Chassidim. I was there until late and the farbrengen still was not over. Afterward, they told me that R’ Alter got up and continued to dance for hours more.”

The impression made upon R’ Yisroel Tzvi motivated him to show up, at his own initiative, at the beginning of the next z’man – the beginning of Iyar 5698 – to learn in Toras Emes. He also brought along a friend, R’ Avrohom Hirsh Cohen, who had been learning in Yeshivas Dushinsky. R’ Yisroel Tzvi and his brother convinced him to listen to a Tanya shiur given by the mashpia, R’ Alter. R’ Avrohom Hirsh soon became a Chabad Chassid. These two friends, R’ Yisroel Tzvi Heber and R’ Avrohom Hirsh Cohen became Chabad Chassidim and mekusharim to the Rebbeim and their many descendants follow in the ways of Chassidus.

Another of R’ Alter’s famous talmidim was R’ Dovid Chanzin, who later served as rav of the Chabad community in Petach Tikva and Av Beis Din Rabbanei Chabad in Eretz Yisroel. R’ Chanzin, although coming from a Chassidic home, had not learned in Chassidic yeshivos. R’ Kook had been involved in providing the young genius with a legal certificate allowing him entry to Eretz Yisroel and R’ Chanzin then learned in Merkaz HaRav. After the passing of his father, the young man was drawn to his memories of Chassidic life in his father’s house and he began visiting Toras Emes. He attracted the attention of R’ Alter who learned Derech Mitzvosecha with him. After that he continued learning maamarei Chassidus on his own with R’ Alter’s guidance.

We can see how connected the talmidim were to him from Boruch Pariz who hung a picture of the mashpia in his house and lit a yahrtzait candle for him each year.



R’ Alter’s marriage to the daughter of the mashpia, R’ Shlomo Zalman Havlin took place Erev Shabbos Parshas Truma 5675/1915. Due to lack of time on Friday, no wedding meal was made.

“On Shabbos, after I davened with my friends in the ‘walled house’ (where the talmidim of the ‘shiurim,’ those who were younger, would daven),” related R’ Yehuda Chitrik in his Reshimos D’varim, “I went to the small zal to see the Rebbe Rashab and his son. I arrived when the Rebbe finished the birchos Haftora.

“I walked into the other room where there were those who davened at length and I saw R’ Alter Simchovitz standing in the middle of Nishmas. His father-in-law walked in and said to him, ‘Have mercy! I invited people to a kiddush in honor of the wedding!’ R’ Alter responded tunefully and with d’veikus, ‘mi yidmeh lach u’mi yishveh lach …’



R’ Alter once related:

I once prepared for yechidus and R’ Itche der Masmid also prepared during those same days for yechidus. In the end, I saw that R’ Yitzchok did not go in for yechidus on the designated day. When he was asked about this, he said he decided to wait another day or two and prepare even more.

When I heard this, I decided it was a good idea and I would also wait a day or two before having yechidus. In the end, the waiting helped R’ Itche for in that day or two that he delayed the yechidus he reached an even more elevated state while I – I should have gone in to the Rebbe right away before I got myself into an even worse spiritual state.



R’ Alter was known to be very punctual. R’ Chaim Shaul Brook once said: See the difference between me and R’ Alter. When R’ Alter had to get to yeshiva at nine in the morning, he would step over the threshold just as the bell rang at 9:00. When I had to be in yeshiva at nine in the morning, I would come five minutes before nine.


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