יום שני כ"ב באייר תשפ"ב 23/05/2022
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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בראי היום

  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

Captain of the Ship

The Life and Times of Rabbi Menachem Zemba hy’d, Author of the Sefer ‘Totzaot Chaim’ and Martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

B. Wolff 13/04/2009 10:00
A sea of blood and tears drenched the soil of Europe in the dark years of World War II, dragging into its depths everything in its path. In a flash of fury those murky waters gushed forth, threatening to wash away all remnants of Judaism as it once was.

But the heart of man wants to live. The soul yearns to hold strong despite all, and in order to live in a world gone insane demands tremendous reserves of strength.

In the Warsaw ghetto, as in many other places in those fearful days, the levels of evil surpassed all imagination. The cursed Nazis abused every Jew they happened across; they craved Jewish blood more than anything else and wanted to cleanse the city of any trace of the Jews. But the Jewish soul wants to live.

Life – but not in the physical sense of the word. No person could be considered physically alive in the blood soaked world such as it was then. To truly live means to absorb enough spirituality that it will wash away and purify the physical.
In the Warsaw ghetto how they lived! There they truly lived - deep inside the ghetto walls, in the depths of an ocean of cruelty and evil. Those righteous Jews sailed through the stormy seas on unchartered vessels, where they lived a true life - pure life that generates true happiness.

There were great leaders who navigated these ‘ships of life’ – holy Rabbis, who had the strength to guide the vessels amid the treacherous waves; to answer Halachic questions of ‘forbidden’ or ‘permitted’ in issues of life and death.
One such great leader was the Tzaddik Rabbi Menachem Zemba hy’d.

Rabbi Menachem was born in Elul 5643/1883 to his father Rabbi Eliezer Zemba, in Warsaw, capital of Poland. Rabbi Eliezer, father of Rabbi Menachem, was of the elite Chassidim of Gur. Rabbi Avraham Zemba, grandfather of Rabbi Menachem, merited learning under Rabbi Mendele the ‘Saraf’ of Kotzk. When Rabbi Menachem was ten years old, his father passed away and he was raised by his grandfather RAvraham, where he absorbed much of his greatness of spirit, fear of heaven and the traditions of Kotzk. Rabbi Menachem would often travel with his grandfather to the Rebbe of Gur - the ‘Sfas Emes’, and became an ardent Chassid.

Rabbi Menachem Zemba was a great Masmid. He was a brilliant genius and an outstanding Torah scholar - he could swallow entire sections of Gemara and know them almost by heart. In his youth he was known as the ‘Iluy of Praga’ (the suburbs of Warsaw where he lived at the time) – not just by his peers, but also and mainly by the Torah giants of the city, who would converse with him in learning and were astounded at his unusual brilliance. The leaders of the generations, such as the Ostrovitzer Rebbe and the Sochotchover Rebbe, valued his broad and deep knowledge, no less his noble character.

At the age of twenty he was taken as a son-in-law by Rabbi Chaim Yeshayahu Tzerbaum, a man of considerable wealth, who considered it a privilege to support a holy Torah scholar of such stature. Rabbi Menachem was able to continue to immerse himself in his learning of Torah and Chassidus, without any financial worries.

Rabbi Menachem’s fame as ‘The Iluy of Praga’ spread far and wide, and his home – his father-in-law's house, became a magnet for all the lamdanim of Warsaw and many other places in Poland, who came to converse in learning with the budding young Torah scholar. He was also a frequent correspondent with many great leaders of the generation in matters of Gemara and Halacha; they valued and accepted his opinions. All this did not give him the slightest feelings of superiority; on the contrary, Rabbi Menachem dealt with everyone with incredible humility and reverence, and he subjugated himself entirely before his teacher the ‘Imrei Emes’ of Gur.

After his father-in-law passed away in the year 5680/1920, Rabbi Menachem was forced to take on the reins of his iron works business. This didn’t detract from his studies and extensive letter writing; in fact the opposite is true. In 5695/1935 he became a Rav in Warsaw, and his was the address for any and every Jew in need of answers and advice.

Four years passed until the advent of World War II, and Poland was vanquished by Germany. The Jews of the city were concentrated into ghettos and the hellish Nazi persecution began. Rabbi Menachem, with his delicate and frail constitution, suffered greatly under the hands of the Nazis who vented much of their anger against the leaders and prominent members of the community. It is difficult to describe the horrors they endured, physically and mentally, yet they bore it with immense fortitude.

There were those who tried to obtain exit visas for the Rabbis of the city, to free them from their hell on earth, but the holy leaders decided unanimously not to forsake their community in those perilous times. These were not ordinary times, but the holy Rabbis saw themselves as ‘captains of the ship’ – a captain doesn’t abandon ship to save himself as the ship is about to sink. He stands facing the danger, and casts his fate together with the rest of the crew.

Rabbi Menachem, together with the other Rabbis of Warsaw, assumed his position at the helm of the ship and as such did not look to save himself – rather, he bound his fate together with those of his people and together they continued to live their lives sanctifying G-d’s Holy Name, until the very last moment.

That moment finally arrived. It was the month of Nissan 5703/1943, the last days of the Warsaw Ghetto. The cursed Nazis were occupied with the final liquidation of the ghetto, systematically setting each house ablaze.

Shabbos, Chol HaMoed Pesach, 19th Nissan. The house of Rabbi Menachem Zemba was burning with a strange fire, a physical fire that indiscriminately consumed the good and bad. Rabbi Menachem tried to escape to the adjacent house, but on the way he was caught by the Angel of Death in the form of an accursed Nazi, and a single gun-shot ended his life.
For the duration of Shabbos, the body of Rabbi Menachem Zemba lay on the soil of the Ghetto, earth that could not absorb his holy blood. On Motza’ei Shabbos a few brave Jews ventured out to bring his body to a proper Jewish burial.

The cursed soil of Poland did not merit containing the body of Rabbi Menachem for very long. In the year 5718/1958 his body was brought to Eretz Yisrael, and in a funeral attended by thousands, the holy Tzaddik Rabbi Menachem Zemba zt’l was finally brought to his eternal rest.