Rabbi Shalom Rokeach of Belz

The first Belzer Chassidic rebbe.

Born: Brody, 1779
Died: Belz, Labov, Ukraine, 1855

Popularly known as the Belzer Rebbe.

Rabbi Shalom could trace his ancestry to the great gaon, Rabbi Eliezer of Amsterdam, author of Ma'aseh Rokeach. Orphaned at a young age, he was brought up by his uncle, Rabbi Yissachar Ber, the Rabbi of Skol, under whose tutelage he studied Talmud and Halachah with great intensity. The fire of his Chasidut was nurtured by his mentors, the Chozeh of Lublin,  Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, the Maggid of Koznitz, and Rabbi Uri of Strelisk.

After his marriage he devoted 1000 days and nights to the uninterrupted study of both the revealed and kabalistic Torah, emerging as a recognized scholar of eminent stature. Young students and accomplished scholars flocked to him in even larger numbers, to see and to learn; foremost among these was the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody. In Belz, Rabbi Shalom blazed a new trail: the fusion of excellence in Torah scholarship with the burning mystical zeal of Chasidism. Since the beginnings of the movement the mitnagdim had accused chasidim of devoting too much time to joyous celebrations in fellowship with their rebbes, at the expense of Torah study, which is the bedrock of Judaism. By stressing the overriding importance of in-depth Torah study, the Belzer Rebbe removed the stigma of superficiality that had plagued Chasidism.

He did not commit any of his discourses to writing. They were recorded from the memories of his followers, who collected and published them; Rabbi Shalom of Belza Al HaTorah (Hebrew).

Rabbi Shalom of Belz, also called Sar Shalom, erected a magnificent yeshivah and study hall in Belz that became the spiritual center for tens of thousands of Belzer chasidim in Galicia. He was succeeded by his illustrious son, Rabbi Yehoshua. In the 1940's, the Nazi persecutions all but wiped out the splendor that was Belz. After the Holocaust, the disconsolate scattered remnants of Belzer Chasidut - under the leadership of the surviving scion of the Belz dynasty, the young Rabbi Yisachar Dov - miraculously restored the former grandeur of Belz. Today the glorious new Belzer yeshivah building graces the Jerusalem skyline, and Belzer centers of learning can be found in every major city in America, Israel and Europe, teeming with thousands of eager young students and mature scholars. Indeed, with the help of the Almighty, Belz has risen from despair and is now carrying on the traditions of Torah and Chassidut of the first Belzer Rebbe, the Sar Shalom.

Reading the Purim Megillah 

Once when Rabbi Shalom, before gaining prominence, visited the Chozeh of Lublin on Purim the Chozeh honored him by asking him to read the Megillah of Ester for the entire congregation. After Rabbi Shalom finished the reading, the Chozeh remarked, "I have heard this story many times, but I never, in my life, heard this story the way this avrech told it tonight." 

Building The Beit Knesset 

While the big synagogue in Belz was being built, Rabbi Shalom was constantly seen browsing through a certain book of Kabbalah. One day the book disappeared, and construction was halted until the book was found again. On another occasion the construction was halted when Rabbi Shalom announced that he needed two rare books in order to allow the construction to continue. Fortunately, it just so happened that there was a book dealer in town who had these books, and when the requested books were handed to Rabbi Shalom, the construction was allowed to continue. Years later his son and successor Rabbi Yehoshua remarked that he had looked through those books and never saw any connection between the books and the building of a synagogue.

 Chazan in the Days of Awe 

Rabbi Yehoshua, son and successor of Rabbi Shalom, said the following about the timing of his father's departure: "It is known in the Poskim that the shliach tzibur [cantor] during Yamim Norayim [Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur] requires preparation and abstinence three days in advance; therefore, my father was requested by the heavenly yeshivah three days before Rosh HaShanah in order to serve as the chazan." 

For a profile of all the Belzer rebbes, please check: Admorei Belza (Hebrew).

May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Shalom Rokeach of Belza protect us all, Amen.

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