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TOTAL DEDICATION TO THE CHINUCH OF HIS CHILDREN

The life of the Chassid RChaim Bentzion Raskin ah was devoted to the pure chinuch of his children to Torah, yiras Shamayim and Chassidus, despite the strong winds of haskala and communism that blew outside his home. Sometimes, he cried about it and sometimes he proudly raised the banner for the battle for the pure chinuch of Jewish children. * Today, hundreds of his descendants are on the path he so desired, with many of them serving as shluchim and working for the pure and kosher chinuch of thousands of children.

There were Chassidim who were moser nefesh for the observance of Shabbos and some for protecting their beards. Some did all they could to circumcise Jewish children or to make Jewish weddings. But the Chassid RChaim Bentzion Raskin ah was moser nefesh primarily for one thing: chinuch in the ways of Torah and Chassidus. He employed any means necessary in order to provide a kosher chinuch for his children and other children in the area where he lived. There were times he shed tears like water in prayer and importuning, and sometimes he rose up and proudly raised the banner for the battle against the foreign winds.

FROM KOPUST TO CHABAD

RChaim Bentzion Raskin was born on 15 Sivan 5624/1864 in Dubrovna in Belarus (White Russia) to a Chassidishe family that went back to the Alter Rebbe (see sidebar). At a young age he left home and went to his grandfather RShimon Krimer who lived in Gizotsk near Moscow, where he learned assiduously. He constantly received letters of encouragement from his parents, Yehuda Leib and Tzivia, who urged him to study Torah.

When he was nineteen, on Shavuos 5643, he was orphaned of his father. Three months later, on 15 Elul, he married Dvonya, the daughter of Yaakov Yosef and Sima Chasha Shavlov, who lived in Rudnia near Lubavitch.

Tragically, only two years later, his mother also passed away and he found solace in the family he established.

Rudnia, despite being near Lubavitch, was populated by Kopust Chassidim. The passing of the Rebbe Maharash in 5643 without any of his sons officially succeeding him, as well as RChaim Benzions settling in Rudnia, are what contributed toward RChaim Bentzion accepting the authority of the Admur of Kopust, RShlomo Shneur Zalman, a grandson of the Tzemach Tzedek.

Seventeen years passed and the Admur of Kopust passed away. RChaim Bentzion began visiting the Rebbe Rashab in Lubavitch. He later told his grandson, RLeibel Raskin ah, one of the shluchim to Morocco:

With the passing of the Rebbe of Kopust in 5660, he went to the Rebbe Rashab for Shabbos who was then staying in a summer lodge outside the town. Until his final day, he never forgot and he would repeat this to his children, the three things he saw. They won over his heart so that he became mekushar to the Rebbe Rashab: The way he washed his hands for the Shabbos meal, the niggun dveikus that he heard from the Rebbe, and the way the Rebbe said the maamer Chassidus which he heard for the first time.

From then on, he did nothing, big or small, without consulting with the Rebbe Rashab and afterward, his son and successor, the Rebbe Rayatz.

TO ESCAPE AND HIDE ON AN ISOLATED ISLAND

All his life, RChaim Bentzion was devoted to the chinuch of his children in the spirit of Chassidus. He was moser nefesh for this and this was clearly his lifes goal. The Rebbe Rayatz himself mentioned this in one of his sichos as an example and model, “There is a Jew that lives near Moscow. Every day he gets up at four to learn Torah, and before that he says Thillim and sheds tears like water. And what does he cry about? He asks mercy from Hashem that his children and grandchildren go on the right path.”

The Rebbe Rayatz did not refer to RChaim Bentzion by name but to all those present his intent was clear. His younger son, RYaakov Yosef Raskin, relates that he heard this from some Chassidim who were present during this sicha.

Years earlier, RChaim Bentzion moved from Rudnia to Gizotsk which is near Moscow. Many were surprised, for why would this Chassid suddenly decide to uproot his family after living for more than ten years in Rudnia which was a Chassidic town, especially when he had lived there peacefully and had done business to support his family and had set times to learn Nigleh and Chassidus?

It seems RChaim Bentzion sensed the first signs of liberalism wafting in the Chassidic town. This spirit of freedom was blowing in countries all over Europe and many young Jews were casting off the yoke of Torah and mitzvos.

One of the signs that this atmosphere had arrived in Rudnia was the founding of a school in the spirit of haskala. The Chassidim strongly opposed it. RChaim Bentzion felt he could not remain quiet and together with the Chassid RBoruch Sholom Cohen, they went to war against the new school. They did not rest until they had thrown out the new benches from the school, benches that in those days symbolized the new style that the maskilim wanted to bring into the school.

Over the years, four children had been born to him in Rudnia. He knew that despite the fierce battle, the walls had been breached and from then on, it would be hard to educate his children in this place in the spirit of Torah and Chassidus. Since chinuch of his children was everything to him, he decided to leave Rudnia and to return to distant Gizotsk, a goyishe town where he had learned in his youth. He knew that because there werent any Jews there, his children would not be under the harmful influence of the haskala spirit.

In later years, when he told his children about this period, he would say, “If I had been able, I would have taken you and escaped and hidden on an isolated island, far from civilization, until you grew up.”

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE A MELAMED?

In Gizotsk he had to deal with new problems in the chinuch of his four children (three boys and a girl). The oldest son, Yehuda Leib, was fifteen years old and his father considered him of marriageable age since he wanted to marry off his children as early as possible in order to keep them in a Jewish-Chassidic framework. Shlomo, who was two years younger, found a suitable friend with whom to learn Gemara. But Yitzchok, who was seven, needed a melamed and a yeshiva which were not available in Gizotsk. He was sent to his Aunt Nechamas house (she was Bentzions sister) who lived in Liozna.

A description of Yitzchoks trip is written by his younger brother, Yaakov Yosef:

“ … Gizotsk is a town of gentiles and there was no place for chinuch there, so my father sent my brother Yitzchok, he being a little boy, to Liozna where my fathers sister lived, Nechama Prusmushkin. The little boys trip entailed actual mesirus nefesh.

The train going from Moscow to Warsaw passed through Gizotsk and also had a stop at the Krasnaya station and from there you rode a wagon to Liozna. My father deposited his son in the charge of the conductor so he would let him off at the Krasnaya station and he sent a telegram to his sister that she should go and meet his son, and gave her the day and time.

That is called mesirus nefesh for chinuch, to send a little boy away from home without considering his homesickness, the main thing being to raise him to Torah and yiras Shamayim. In this kind of chinuch and guidance we see and sense the great success that my father merited to see Yiddishe-Chassidishe nachas from this son and all his descendants.”

Some time later, the Rebbe Rayatzwho was serving as the menahel of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Lubavitchtold him that a division had opened that was suitable for his son Yitzchok. Then he transferred his son to Lubavitch where he learned until he married in 5676.

In 5661, RChaim Benzions youngest child, Yaakov Yosef, was born. When he became of school age, his father gathered some children and decided to start a yeshiva to his liking. In Gizotsk there were two melamdim. One was RAsher Chaim, a yerei Shamayim but he pronounced the letters in the Polish way; the other was a Litvak who knew dikduk (Hebrew grammar) and was an excellent teacher, but his yiras Shamayim was less than the other one. When RChaim Bentzion asked the Rebbe Rashab who to pick, the Rebbe told him to take the Polish melamed because yiras Shamayim is the deciding factor when picking a melamed for children.

LEARNING AT HOME UNTIL MARRIAGE

Once he became the Rebbe Rashabs Chassid, RChaim Bentzion went to him every year for Rosh HaShana. He would return home for Yom Kippur. He did this even in those years when his financial situation was poor, in which case he would borrow money and go to the Rebbe.

For Rosh HaShana 5670, he took his nine year old son, Yaakov Yosef, for the first time. The child never forgot the first time he saw the Rebbe. This was also the first time the young boy saw his older brother, Yehuda Leib (he lived in Warsaw and would visit Lubavitch together with his wealthy father-in-law, RYoizik Horowitz).

Although his children did not need a melamed anymore, RChaim Bentzion spoke to RMeir Gurkow and hired him to be a melamed in distant Gizotsk for one year for the other Jewish children. The following year they hired RMeir Zivitz as a melamed.

Although his children learned in pure and Chassidic environments he was still concerned, and in Tammuz 5671 he wrote a pidyon nefesh to the Rebbe Rashab in which he asked regarding his sons learning in yeshivos:

Please arouse great mercy and kindness on behalf of my son Yitzchok ben Dvonya and my son the young and wise Yaakov Yosef ben Dvonya who are now learning in Lubavitch, that Hashem fortify their health for His Torah and His service and open their hearts and illuminate their eyes to learn and gain insight in whatever they learn of His Torah. And may they be bound up and with a whole heart to His service.”

As he did every year, RChaim Bentzion arrived for Rosh HaShana 5677. This time, he stayed for Yom Kippur and for the first days of Sukkos.

It was World War I and nobody knew what the morrow would bring. RRefael Kahn wrote about this period in Lubavitch VChayaleha: “The period of war was a time of crisis in yeshiva even in the big institution that was Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim. Income diminished and there was a commotion over being drafted. The administrative work of the steering committee was conducted with determination but with the last ounces of strength. Many of the talmidim had to leave for various reasons.”

Among the Tmimim who had to leave was Yaakov Yosef Raskin. His father was worried and for this reason they both had yechidus. The Rebbe advised him to take the boy home to Gizotsk and arranged a program of learning for him for the year. The boy stayed home to learn until he married.

THEY TRAVELED TO THE MEETING TO SEE THE REBBE

The Communist Revolution, which began in 5677, brought many sorrows upon the Jews of the Soviet Union. In the summer of that year a large conference of rabbanim took place in Moscow, which was attended by Gdolei Yisroel from all over Russia and from various factions. The Rebbe Rashab and Rebbe Rayatz also attended, as did RLevi Yitzchok Schneersohn, the Rebbes father, and the Chafetz Chaim. Since the distance from Gizotsk to Moscow was not great, RChaim Bentzion and his son Yaakov Yosef went to where the meeting was held in order to see the Rebbe. They remained in Moscow throughout the days of the conference for the purpose of seeing the Rebbe as much as possible. At the convention, RChaim Bentzion saw the Chafetz Chaim with whom he had corresponded a few years earlier regarding mikvaos (see sidebar).

For Rosh HaShana 5678, RChaim Bentzion went to Slavyansk which is near Charkov where the Rebbe Rashab was staying. From this visit to the Rebbe he brought a new niggun, Niggun Slavyansk or as it is now known, the Niggun from Rostov or the Niggun Hachana.

INSTRUCTIONS IN LETTERS AND PRIVATE AUDIENCES

Upon the passing of the Rebbe Rashab in 1920, RChaim Bentzion accepted the leadership of his son, the Rebbe Rayatz, and was mekushar to him. During the seven years from when the Rebbe accepted the Chabad leadership until he left Russia, RChaim Bentzion went to the Rebbe Rayatz a number of times and had yechidus. He also wrote to the Rebbe often and received responses.

After the Rebbe Rayatz left Russia and lived in Latvia and Poland, RChaim Bentzion continued to write to him regularly despite the danger involved.

From the private audiences and many letters that he received from the Rebbe Rayatz, very little remains and the little that was revealed to us provides a window into that which remains unknown.

When he was about sixty, the Rebbe told him in yechidus to review all the Mishnayos in Kodshim by heart and the following year he told him to learn the Order of Taharos.

In one of the Rebbes letters to him in 5683, he wrote to him about the importance of thinking about the conduct of his household, quoting his father: Just as it is an obligation for a person to put on tfillin daily, so too he must set aside a time each day to think about the conduct of his household and the household of his children.

On 8 Nissan 5683/1923, he received a five page letter from the Rebbe, which began with tremendous blessings and also included specific responses regarding a number of his sons. Most of the letter consisted of a deep explanation on the topic of mans avoda in the way of Chassidus, as well as family matters.

From the Rebbes answer it seems that RChaim Bentzion wrote to the Rebbe about each of his children. Indeed, in another letter from 5694, RChaim Bentzion wrote to the Rebbe about his concern for his grandchildren and their proper chinuch as well as his sorrow over the difficulties and the mesirus nefesh this entailed during those harsh times of religious persecution by the government.

It is fascinating to read the letter that RChaim Bentzion wrote in Shvat 1934 (part of it in code due to persecution): To my father shlita [i.e. the Rebbe Rayatz, for his own father had died fifty years earlier]. He went on to inform the Rebbe that he had married off his granddaughter, the daughter of RShlomo to a G-d fearing bachur. He wrote that it was not possible to hire a melamed and there werent good friends. “We decided to take the boy [one of the children of his son Shlomo] to Stary-Russia and there, my mechutan RElozor is an effective teacher [referring to RChaim Elozor Garelik who was a melamed. His daughter Mussia married RShimon Katzenelenbogen, RChaim Benzions grandson] as well as fellows that hearken and listen to him. May Hashem have mercy and may he succeed there in his learning for this is great mesirus nefesh on his father Shlomos part. And may Hashem help my daughter Sarah [the legendary Mumma Sarah Katzenelenbogen] to support and raise him there among the rest of her children and those of Tomchei Tmimim who are in her house, that she be strengthened and healed and this should be for her an eternal joy. Signed: He who hopes for Heavenly mercies in the material and spiritual, CBZR.”

SPECIAL REGARD FROM THE REBBE RAYATZ

The Rebbe Rayatz displayed a special regard towards RChaim Bentzion for being moser nefesh his whole life for the pure chinuch of his children and grandchildren. This can be discerned in a number of letters.

The first was written in 5684 when the Rebbe wanted to reassure him about his son. It was when RChaim Benzions son RYehuda Leib was living in Warsaw. Due to difficulties in corresponding abroad, the Rebbe realized that the father had not heard about his sons welfare in a long time. In order to reassure him, he sent RChaim Bentzion his sons letter to inform the Rebbe about the shidduch. The Rebbe concluded with an unusual bracha: May Hashem bless my friend with good material parnasa which is ample and with spiritual parnasa for himself to succeed in learning by heart, that the letters be well absorbed in his mind and woven into his heart to cleave to them. And may they illuminate his soul that he understand and gain insight in the learning that he does from inside the texts, and all of them together arouse his heart in avoda of the heart which is tfilla, that it affect the three garments of thought, speech and action. And may you see much nachas from your children and grandchildren that they be G-d fearing and whole and involved in Torah.

TRAINING THE GRANDCHILDREN IN YIRAS SHAMAYIM

RChaim Bentzion did not satisfy himself with providing a good chinuch for his children but was also involved in the chinuch of his grandchildren and descendants to go in the ways of Torah and Chassidus, despite the great difficulties that stood in his way. His son Yaakov Yosef wrote in his diary:

In the winter of 5693 I had the privilege of my father coming to my house (in Leningrad) to visit me and the children. Our youngest, Leib, was three months old and was playing in his crib. My father went over to play with him and at that moment the baby was not wearing a yarmulke. My father angrily asked why the baby was lying there with his head uncovered. He was so upset that he turned to leave the house immediately and did not want to stay with us! It was only with difficulty that we managed to appease him and he remained for another while. It is a credit to my father that he raised his children and grandchildren with love together with great firmness and he did not concede on anything that opposed the Shulchan Aruch in any way, nor any seemingly small custom regarding chinuch of children. He shed many tears when he said Thillim early in the morning that his children go on the right path and Boruch Hashem he merited that all his descendants are mekusharim to Beis Chayeinu.”

HIS PASSING

About two years before he passed away, RChaim Bentzion was sick and suffered from paralysis. When his condition improved somewhat, he was able to write with only with his left hand. He sent his son Yaakov Yosef a postcard in which he wrote a few words whose content is a verse in Yeshaya 38:19: Children, children, “The living, the living, he shall thank You, like me today; a father shall inform his children of Your truth.” (See Rashis commentary.) Your father, Chaim Bentzion

Apparently that was his last letter and his children considered it a will that summed up his life. With these words, he alluded to the commentary of Rashi who explains, “The father informs and directs his sons thoughts to Your truth, to believe in You.” RChaim Bentzion had, in fact, informed his sons and directed their thoughts to pure faith. They, on their part, acknowledged this and were grateful to their father for his devoted chinuch.

A few months after writing this letter, on Purim 1937, his children Yitzchok and Yaakov Yosef went to visit him with their children. There was great joy in the house and Yaakov Yosef wrote about this in his diary:

I went with the children for the Purim Seuda and my brother, the holy rav and Chassid, Yitzchok came with his children to my father. We danced and my father sat because of his paralysis and could not participate in the dancing. Then my brother Yitzchok grasped my father in his arms and lifted him from his chair and stood him up and danced with him. With tears pouring from his eyes, he sang a niggun which he composed on the spot: Tatte, you saved us, Tatte, you saved us. He was referring to the mesirus nefesh our father had for our chinuch and he continued to dance with him and hugged and kissed him with sincere love.”

A year later, Yitzchok was arrested in his home by the secret police. Before they took him from his home, he turned to his wife and daughters who trembled in fear and said firmly, “Remember to go in the ways for which they are arresting me now.” He also worried about his childrens chinuch.

He disappeared and they later found out that he had been taken to be killed a few days after his arrest. May Hashem avenge his death.

On Tuesday, 7 Cheshvan 5699, RChaim Bentzion passed away in Leningrad. He was of clear mind until the final moment. He was buried that day in Leningrad.

He merited seeing Chassidishe children and grandchildren. His descendants today number many hundreds and they are all observant of Torah and mitzvos, faithful Chassidim. Many of them are shluchim and are working to instill a pure chinuch in thousands of children.

 

CHASSIDIC LINEAGE

R’ Chaim Bentzion was born to a deep-rooted Chassidic family.

His great-grandfather, RDovber of Harki, was a Chassid of the Alter Rebbe.

RDovber was born around the year 5535. It is likely that he was named for the Mezritcher Maggid who passed away two years earlier. He lived in Harki in Belarus.

His grandfather RYitzchok was born in Harki in 5559 and passed away in 5641. He saw four of the Rebbeim: the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, and the Rebbe Maharash.

His father RYehuda Leibthe youngest child of RYitzchokwas born in Harki in 5605, and was married to Tzivia, the daughter of Shimon and Chana Krimer from Gizotsk.

After he married, RYehuda Leib lived in Harki and then in Dubrovna. He would daven at length, especially on Shabbos. In 5643 he was appointed as the rav and mashpia in Romanova near Harki. He served for only a few months until his passing on Shavuos 5643 at the age of 38.

 

EISHEL CHAYIL

His wife, Dvonya, was a distinguished woman who was very hospitable. She hosted hundreds of bachurim over the years. If not for her concern, they would have suffered starvation. She gave them food to eat and clothes to wear even though she did not have much to give.

Her son Yaakov Yosef described her:

“She always thought of herself as the lowliest of all creatures on earth and for this reason, she loved to serve and draw everybody close without considering their status, whether great or low. Hundreds of boys were fed by her and it was her great pleasure when she saw someone eating or drinking in her home. She did not consider it any great bother; on the contrary.”

She was sick with diabetes in the winter of 5695 and took to her bed. On Thursday, 16 Adar II she passed away.

 

BATTLE FOR A MIKVA MEHUDAR

Aside from R’ Chaim Benzion’s concern for chinuch, he also maintained Judaism in numerous ways. When necessary, he fought mightily against changes that the residents of Gizotsk wanted to make to the local mikva and in the customs of bris mila. He consulted with the Rebbe Rashab and other rabbanim.

 

 

 

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