The following is excerpted from a 1994 article in the Yated Ne'eman
Newspaper (Jerusalem) by Y. Weiss, and an article by E. Steinmetz (Jerusalem):
The Rebbes of
Mezbuz, Zlotschov, and Zvhil
R' Boruch of Mezbuz - "The Rebbe"
They were the disciples and descendants of the Baal Shem Tov, the rebbes who
carried on his legacy. They were all referred to as Reb Pinchos (of Koritz), Reb
Nachman (of Braslav), Reb Bunim (of P'sichah), and so on.
But everyone knew that when one said "The Rebbe" it meant -- The
Rebbe, Reb Boruch of Mezbuz.
This was not simply because he was the grandson of the holy Baal Shem Tov,
but because he was different from the other disciples and descendants of the
founder of the Chassidic movement and philosophy. He was unique.
Carrying both the blessing and the burden of being the first Rebbe, the very
first einikl, "descendant" of the Baal Shem Tov of Mezbuz, he
was called "Boruch," blessed, because of the story of his birth.
One Simchas Torah the Baal Shem Tov and his Chevra Kadisha (holy companions)
were dancing ecstatically in a circle generating a glow of light about them. In
the course of this jubilation one of the Chevra lost a shoe which flew off his
foot, and he could not continue to join in the celebration.
His great distress and sorrow at losing the joy of participating was clearly
visible on his face.
Standing at the side and watching was the righteous Udel, daughter of the
Baal Shem Tov. She searched and found the shoe but made the man promise that
just as she was returning his joy to him, he should guarantee that she would be
blessed with the joy of giving birth to a son that year.
He promised, and so it was. Thus was "Boruch," blessing, born and
named. R' Yisroel of Ruzhin would later comment that the initials of the first
words of the Torah, Bereshis Boro Elokim (In the beginning G-d created),
stand for Boruch Ben Udel (Boruch the son of Udel).
The legacy left him by his holy grandfather was both a privilege and a heavy
responsibility, for everyone would point to him: "there is The Rebbe, the
grandson of the Baal Shem Tov." As such Reb Boruch was a man of both great
joyousness and great solemnity.
He became a magnet for his grandfather's students and disciples, a
representative of the tzadikim of the generation. He disagreed strongly
with R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi (author of the Tanya and founder of the Lubavitch/Chabad
movement), whom he felt strayed too far from his grandfather's teachings.
The stories of their ongoing debate are legendary, with one such encounter
ending with R' Shneur Zalman, who was a disciple, but not a descendant, of the
Baal Shem Tov, telling Reb Boruch "you are the grandson of the Baal Shem
Tov of Mezbuz in gashmius (materially), but I am his grandson in ruchnius
Yet Reb Boruch welcomed him and his grandfather's other disciples, students
and family into his ancestral home, the Baal Shem Tov's home, including the
Maggid of Tschernobl, R' Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, and the Chozeh of Lublin.
The story is told that one time R' Shlomo of Karlin came to visit Reb Boruch.
When word of R' Shlomo's arrival in town spread he was escorted to Reb Boruch's
home with great honor and fanfare. Upon his arrival there the chassidim standing
outside Reb Boruch's home immediately parted to allow the meeting of these two
great tzaddikim to take place.
R' Shlomo opened the door to the house, walked in, and then immediately
backed up outside and closed the door quickly. He did this again, and then
several times more, as the local residents looked on in amazement at this
Seeing their curiosity R' Shlomo explained: "I am afraid to enter. I am
afraid of the presence of The Rebbe, Reb Boruch. I see him standing there, and
the holy Baal Shem Tov himself stands at his side."
R' Yitzchok of Drovitch
Even before the spreading of chassidus by the students of the Baal Shem Tov,
a group known as the Chassidim of Provence had become well known in Europe.
This group consisted of great scholars in Toras hanigleh and Toras
hanistar (the revealed and the hidden Torah), who abstained from worldly
vanities and lived the sparing lives of exalted men of world Jewry.
Among them was the saintly R' Yitzchok of Drovitch, called Reb Yitzchok
"Hamochiach" (the rebuker) and known as one who aroused thousands of
Jews to repent and to strengthen themselves.
He served as a Dayan (Rabbinical Court Judge) in Brodt, and headed the
famous group of ten lomdim (learned scholars) in the synagogue of R'
Yozfa in Ostra. He died on the seventh of Nisan 5510 (1750), leaving behind his
illustrious son, R' Yechiel Michel, The Maggid of Zlotschov.
R' Yechiel Michel - The Zlotschover Maggid
Known for his saintly lifestyle and ability to inspire, R' Yechiel Michel was
a renowned and scholarly speaker who always began his religious discourse with
the words "I admonish not only you, but myself as well." A talented
and inspired baal menagen (composer or musician) as well, he captured the
heart of all who heard him sing.
He composed a niggun (wordless chant) known as the famous Zlotschover
Niggun after an incident that took place at the deathbed of the Baal Shem Tov.
As the family gathered around him for the final moments of his life in this
world, the Baal Shem Tov asked the Zlotschover Maggid to sing his niggun.
After hearing it the Baal Shem Tov promised that whenever that niggun is
sung here in this world, he would listen and help from the World to Come, and
then he died.
The niggun is chanted to this day at solemn and joyous occasions of
the Zvhiller family, as well as on the High Holydays and at sholosh seudos on
Shabbos afternoon, in commemoration of the time at which the Zlotschover Maggid
was niftar - during sholosh seudos on Shabbos afternoon, the 25th
of Ellul in 1786.
R' Moshe of Zvhil - The First Zvhiller Rebbe
The Zlotschover Maggid, R' Yechiel Michel, had five sons (whom he referred to
as "my chamisha chumshai Torah" (my five Books of the Torah)
who were replete with Torah and chassidus, each of whom became Rebbe in a
They were: R' Yosef of Yampola, R' Mordechai of Kremnitz, R' Yitzchok of
Radvil, R' Binyomin of Zbariz and R' Moshe of Zvhil, the first Zvhiller Rebbe.
A descendant of King David, R' Moshe was the great grandson of R' Menachem
Nochum of Tschernobl (the first Maggid of Tschernobl) and R' Aharon of Karlin.
R' Moshe was the grandson of R' Mordechai of Tschernobl (The Maggid of
Tschernobl) and R' Yitzchok of Drovitch, and the son of R' Yechiel Michel, the
R' Moshe of Zvhil at first refused to serve as an Admor after his father's
death, and opened a store. Although his unique conduct marked him as a tzaddik,
he rebuffed the attempts of all who tried to draw close to him, and, as directed
by his father, cleaved to his saintly Rav of Berditchev.
In the end the Rav of Naski instructed him to preside in Zvhil, which was in
the center of Vohlin. Like his saintly fathers, he spread Torah and kedusha (sanctity)
in the surrounding settlements, and was considered one of the outstanding tzadikim
of his time.
Upon his death in 1831, he was replaced by his son, R' Yechiel Michel of
Zvhil, who also conducted himself humbly and drew people closer to Torah and yiras
shomayim (awe of heaven) in his unique and inimitable way.
He died on the twelfth of Tishrei 5617 (1856), leaving behind a son, the
first R' Mordechai of Zvhil, who became known for his unique conduct.
R' Mordechai of Zvhil
In addition to his lineage from the Baal Shem Tov, Tschernobl, Karlin,
Drovitch and Zlotschov, R' Mordechai, third Zvhiller Rebbe, was a great grandson
of R' Avrohom Ha-Malach (the Angel), son of the renowned Maggid of Mezrich.
R' Mordechai would seclude himself in his private quarters nearly the entire
day, and from there influence and direct the life of the public.
During weekdays he did not venture out of his room, even to his beis
medrash. On the yomim noraim (High Holydays) he prayed in the Great
Synagogue of Zvhil, where the Ashkenaz prayer version was followed. The greatest
chassidic leaders of his time highly esteemed him, especially R' Yisroel of
Ruzhin and the Beis Ahron of Karlin.
He died on erev Succos, 5661 (1900) leaving two sons -- the elder R'
Yechiel Michel, who was succeeded by R' Yaakov Yisroel, and the younger R'
Shlomo, who was succeeded upon his death in 5705 (1945) by R' Gedaliah Moshe.
With the Soviet takeover, R' Yechiel Michel moved to nearby Koritz, where he
died shortly later, and R' Yaakov Yisroel, who succeeded him, left Russia for
R' Yaakov Yisroel of Zvhil - Mezbuz
R' Yaakov Yisroel of Zvhil - Mezbuz
The last Rebbe to reside in Zvhil was Grand Rabbi R' Yaakov Yisroel. Son of
the last Mezbuz Rebbe, R' Mordechai, he was a direct descendant of the Baal Shem
Tov and his grandson, R' Boruch of Mezbuz (the first Rebbe), and the chassidic
dynasties of the Rebbes of Mezbuz , Tschernobl, Karlin, and Apte.
He arrived in Boston in the early 1900's, brought here by numerous of his
Chassidim who had chosen to leave Zvhil and settle in the Boston area.
The headstones of many of these pioneers are found in the two Zvhiller
cemeteries, the first at Baker Street in the West Roxbury section of Boston, and
the second, where the family cemetery and the Rebbe's Ohel (Tomb) is
found, in Everett, just north of Boston.
For a number of years the Rebbe commuted between his Chassidim in Boston and
his wife and children and remaining Chassidim in Zvhil (near Kiev), where he
still served as Chief Rabbi of the Ukraine.
When a pogrom in Zvhil targeted the Rebbe's compound and killed the Rebbetzin
along with many of the Jews of the area, the remaining Chassidim brought the
Rebbe's family to Boston.
The late Zvhil - Mezbuz Rebbe was responsible for much of the present
structure of the rabbinical organization in Boston. He was credited with
inspiring all segments of Boston's Jewish Community to form a central Synagogue
Council, Kashruth authority, and Beis Din, run under the auspices of the
Orthodox rabbinate with the support of the entire Jewish community.
Educated by many of the leading sages of that era, including the author of
the Oruch Hashulchan, he was an ilui (child prodigy) and known as
an astute scholar and rabbinic decisor, as well as a man of vision and
The leading Chassidic Rebbes and talmudic scholars of his time, from Russia,
Europe, and the United States visited him first in Mezbuz, then in Zvhil, and
later in Boston, to seek his advice and rulings. There were often police and
official vehicles in front of his home on Woodrow Avenue (in the Dorchester
section of Boston), as many of the leadership of Boston's Orthodox,
Conservative, and Reform synagogues, as well as Senators and Congressmen, the
Mayor, Governor, and Cardinal of Boston, would visit his home, looking to him
for advice and spiritual leadership.
People today still talk of the crowds of people who would wait outside all
day and night to spend a precious moment with the Rebbe, who would not sleep
until he had spoken with each one.
When he ventured out he could not escape the throngs who accompanied him. On
Rosh Hashonoh each year police would close main thoroughfares as the Rebbe and
his entourage walked to Franklin Park in Roxbury to observe Tashlich.
A founder of the Agudas HoAdmorim (Union of Chassidic Rebbes), he was
also instrumental in rescuing many Jews from the Russian pogroms and from the
He felt very deeply the pain and suffering of his people, and would often
write and telephone to his colleagues around the world to enlist their help in
an effort to alleviate the suffering of klal yisroel.
He would stand with his Gabbai on the docks in Boston Harbor as the ships
arrived and bring refugees home with him, sometimes at the last minute on Friday
afternoon before Shabbos.
If food ran short he would instruct his Rebbetzin to "put more water in
the soup, we have more guests." If he ran out of beds he would take the
doors in his home off their hinges and place each door on two chairs to
improvise a makeshift bed.
R' Shlomke of Zvhil
R' Shlomke of Zvhil
While R' Yaakov Yisroel left Russia for Boston, R' Shlomo fled Russia for
When he arrived in Israel, R' Shlomke, as he was known, walked through
Jerusalem's alleys like one of the people, and no one knew the true identity of
the Admor to whom thousands had flocked in his native land. Such a situation
could have continued for many years, if not for the visitor from the Rebbe's
hometown who entered the beis medrash and was startled to find the Admor
who was so revered in Europe standing in the doorway.
He revealed the Rebbe's identity to the stunned worshipers, who then spread
the amazing news through Jerusalem.
From that day on, the dictum, "one who flees honor will be pursued by
honor" was fulfilled through him, and many began to stream to his home, and
seek his advice as in days gone by.
Whenever it was necessary to stress a certain trait or aspect of yiras
shomayim in order to instruct others, R' Shlomo would attribute it to
"an unknown person whom he happened to know." One time, for example,
he said that the joy a certain Jew derived from laying tefillin surpassed that
which a wicked man derives when he is fulfilling the greatest physical desire
On another instance, he related that hashgocho protis prevailed in his
father's sukkah because during the entire holiday, rain never fell.
However, all recalled that this miracle had occurred in R' Shlomo's sukkah,
and thus surmised the identity of the "unknown Jew" to whom he always
One time, when it became known that he was providing wine, meat and challahs
to needy families for Shabbos, he attempted to claim that a certain Jew was
covering the costs.
R' Shlomke of Zvhil was famed for his remarkable chesed (lovingkindness).
He particularly concentrated on rescuing youths from missionaries, and
inculcating the importance of the laws of family purity to the masses. Despite
the fact that he was so active, he still found time to answer deep and
complicated halachic questions.
He died on the 26th of Iyar 5705 (1945) leaving behind two sons.
R' Gedaliah Moshe of Zvhil, was known for his great scholarship and for his
all-consuming love of the Jewish people which he inherited from his fathers.
Like them, he excelled in his devotion to the public.
When the Soviets rose to power, he was sent to Siberia and after eight years
of exile managed, in 5696 (1936), to flee to Eretz Yisroel, where he also
concealed his greatness.
After his father's death, he accepted the mantle of leadership against his
will. He served as an Admor for only five years, for he died when he was only
sixty-one, crushed by the sorrows and travails of his people, and returned his
pure soul to its Maker on the twenty-fourth of Cheshvan, 5710 (1950).
The Second R' Mordechai of Zvhil
The Second R' Mordechai of Zvhil
R' Gedaliah Moshe's son was R' Mordechai of Zvhil. Despite his greatness, he
was modest, humble and unpretentious. He was well known for the sage advice he
offered, and for his unique and captivating divrei Torah.
"If a person makes himself like a flower bed on which all trample, and
like perfume with which all scent themselves, his Torah endures," thus say
our sages in the Talmud (Eruvin 54). R' Mordechai followed the legacy of
his great forebears of modesty, self-nullification and altruism.
He concealed and underplayed his greatness to the extent that he permitted
all to "trample on him." Many took advantage of this propensity, for
they knew that in his room they would be able to inhale the aroma of the perfume
which all enjoyed.
And the door was always open -- during the day and during the night, when he
was well and when he was ill. He was an unlimited giver, devoting his entire
being and world to his fellow, taking nothing for himself.
It was not always easy to fathom what they were searching for in the sacred
home of the Rebbe. Some merely sought a morsel of bread to satiate their hunger.
Others sought spiritual support which would nourish their tormented and tossed
No one knows what "wonder medicine" the Rebbe infused into their
veins in that small room. However, the changes in their expressions after they
had left the house were tangible proof that it had been a rescue station which
had given them vital and much needed attention, either in the form of first aid
or intensive care.
One of the greatest talmidei chachomim of Jerusalem related that he
once visited the Rebbe of Zvhil on an important public matter.
The scene that greeted his eyes caused him to stop short before the door to
the Rebbe's room.
The Admor was reading Tehillim (Psalms) aloud amidst copious,
heart-rending tears. "Surely one of the members of his family is very
ill," the visitor thought. "Or perhaps an evil decree has befallen the
Suddenly, the Admor noticed him and joyfully invited him to enter. When the
Admor saw the startled expression of the caller, he comforted him saying:
"I am well, and so are the members of my household." The caller
pressed the Admor to tell him why he had recited Tehillim so intensely.
The Admor replied that a short while ago, a Jew had told him his personal
problems. "I was so touched, that I asked myself: What can I do for this
Jew who is in such dire need of Heaven's mercies?"
He was great in Torah, halacha, and chassidus. However, from his lofty peak
he descended to the hearts of distraught Jews and listened to their problems and
woes. Multitudes, from all groups and sects, flocked to him.
All knew that there they would find an attentive ear, a man who was willing
to listen to their tales of woe, one to whom they could relate their sorrows,
one who, with his merciful and broad heart, would understand.
He was pained by their suffering and rejoiced in their joy. He uncovered the
recesses of their souls, and found inroads to their hearts and solutions to
One visiting his abode would be surprised to see not only talmidei
chachomim (scholars), but also strange outcasts, to whom no one else in the
world would bat an eyelash. They stood there with pleading eyes, beating hearts,
and taut anticipation, for only there could they fulfill the words, "A care
in one's heart, let him speak about it."
He did not exert his power, and sought to underplay his greatness and walk in
the sidelines. He refused all the outward trappings of honor, and continued to
behave like an ordinary person.
When one of his chassidim brought him a luxurious silk kapote, the
Rebbe said: "Why do I need this? Perhaps for washing dishes in the
When offered a ride in a taxi, he would refuse, saying: "What is wrong
with walking?" When he learned about a bris to which people
hesitated to invite him, lest they not be able to honor him properly, he would
make a special effort to attend, saying: "At last a simcha without
One time a distraught person visited him and said: "Rebbe, I am
hungry." The Rebbe himself hastened to the kitchen, and to the surprise of
his family, began to prepare a meal for the caller.
One Lag B'Omer a broken hearted visitor joined the Rebbe's Shabbos
table in Meron. When the Rebbe learned that the caller had not eaten, he told
him to sit down and asked one of the attendants to bring wine for kiddush. Throughout
the meal, the Admor paid particular attention to this uninvited guest, and
treated him with much respect.
After the tisch had ended, the Rebbe rose in order to nap a bit.
However, the Jew asked him to stay with him. The Rebbe fulfilled his request
warmly, taking hold of his hand and staying with him for a long time, his face
glowing, yet another example of the chesed he performed with broken and