A Living Kesser Torah in Stree
The Story of the Rav of Lissa, Author of the Sefarim Chavas Daas and Nesivos HaMishpat
The source of the following story is the diary entitled “Nesivos Refael,” written by Rabbi Refael Wilf from Lemberg. He was a relative of Rabbi Eliezer Hauptman, who is featured in the story.
An Esteemed Guest Arrives in Town
Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum and his family arrived in the Galician town of Stree [Stryi, Ukraine] exhausted from their arduous journey.
Who was he, where was he coming from and why had he come here? R’ Yaakov was no ordinary person — he was a gadol hador in his time. Indeed, to this day, he is better known as the Chavas Daas or the Nesivos, the names of his two best-known sefarim, on Yoreh Dei’ah and Choshen Mishpat, respectively.
“Berel, have you heard who came to town?”
“Yes, R’ Yaakov of Lissa! Why did he leave Lissa [Leszno, Poland]? Everybody knew he had a fine job there as the rav and that he was paid well.”
“Berel, let me tell you what happened. R’ Yaakov’s city, Lissa, was once within Polish borders; it is not far from the popular town of Posen [Poznan]. But 47 years ago, in the year 1793, Poland was split into three. One part went to Russia – this is known as Russian Poland. One part, including the area where our city of Stree is located, went to Austria – this is known as Galicia. And the third part, where the cities of Lissa and Posen are, went over to Prussia.
As rav of Lissa, R’ Yaakov received a generous salary from his kehillah, and his life was very peaceful. The problem was that his life was too calm and peaceful.”
“He’s had too much calm and peace? What kind of problem is that?” Berel asked with a rueful laugh, “I wish I had such problems…”
“Be patient and I’ll explain. R’ Yaakov decided that Lissa was not the place for him anymore, and having heard of several other opportunities, he gave up his position and decided to come back to Galicia. He knew that nowhere else would he get the salary he was receiving in Lissa, but it would be worth it nonetheless.
He began making preparations to leave Lissa with his family. But when the wealthy people of the community saw that he seriously intended to leave, they came running, and asked, ‘Rebbe, why are you leaving us? Are we not paying you enough? If so, we’ll give you more…’
‘Fellow brothers, you are asking a good question. But, you see, this is the first question that you’ve asked me since I became rav here. It seems you don’t have any other questions and are managing fine without a rav, so, farewell!’ Berel, now do you understand why it was too calm for him in Lissa?!”
“Yes, R’ Yaakov was ready to give up his comfortable life, just to live in a place where there are ehrliche Yidden, and he knew he would find this here, in Stree. But I don’t know whether anyone has offered him a rabbinical position.
Sent Out of Kalush
“Berel, haven’t you heard what happened to R’ Yaakov in Kalish?”
“Do you mean Kalish [Kalisz], where the Magen Avraham lived? But that’s in Russian Poland, not far from Lissa, and I thought you said that he came to Galicia.”
“No, no, Berel, I mean Kalush, the town which is not far from here.”
“What happened there? Wait, wasn’t R’ Yaakov the rav there 20 years ago?”
“Yes! nBut like our town now, there is no rav there and he thought of going back to Kalush. Alas, they showed him the door.”
“Just like that? What went on there?”
“The townspeople wanted him as the rav, but the rosh hakahal wanted to put a family member in that position, so he ran to the authorities. What exactly went on there, I don’t know, but I do know that the authorities came to him and sent him away from Kalush.”
“The rosh hakahal will have to pay the price for such chutzpah.”
“Be that as it may, he is here in our town now.”
“Berel, why don’t we make him rav here in Stree?”
“Not so fast, he just arrived in town, and you are forgetting that our rosh hakahal wants to put his son-in-law in that position!”
“The rosh hakahal? His son-in-law? He is so young. How could he compare to R’ Yaakov?”
“Don’t turn away his son-in-law so quickly, he may be younger than us, but he is a gaon. Have a bit of derech eretz. We don’t need to be ashamed of what we have here already. R’ Yaakov is indeed a gadol hador. That’s why he doesn’t need a position in a town that is as small as Stree. There are plenty of larger communities looking for a rav.”
“Such nonsense! The fact that R’ Yaakov is here in town is a sign from Heaven!”
“It’s too late for me to fight with you about this…Good night!”
A Guest in Stree
R’ Yaakov Lorberbaum arrived in Stree on a Thursday evening. He knocked on the roof of the carriage, signaling to the coachman that he would like to speak with him.
“Yes, Rabbi, where would you like me to go?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps can you ask someone where there is a place to stay in town and go there?”
“Eh…excuse me, reb yid, I have a chashuve rav here in my carriage. Where can I take him? Who is a big machnis ore’ach here in town?”
“A machnis ore’ach? You can stop right here. Across the street lives R’ Eliezer Hauptman. He will happily take you in!”
R’ Yaakov stepped out of the carriage and his baggage was unloaded.
“Ahh, sholem aleichem! Come inside and make yourselves comfortable.” R’ Eliezer gave his guest a very warm welcome, and it wasn’t long before he realized the identity of his renowned guest.
“I assume they have already davened maariv in shul.”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Please be so kind and try to assemble a minyan, so that I can daven maariv b’tzibbur.”
R’ Eliezer quickly sent his assistant to fulfill the rav’s request. They gathered a minyan for maariv and davened.
After that R’ Eliezer’s wife prepared a delicious, hot meal for the guest. Although he had already eaten, R’ Eliezer sat together with R’ Yaakov and had dinner again with his guest to make him feel comfortable.
R’ Yaakov said some divrei Torah at the meal and R’ Eliezer was really inspired. R’ Eliezer felt privileged to have R’ Yaakov sleep as a guest in his house.
“Where is the Rebbe going tomorrow?” asked R’ Eliezer respectfully, “It is Friday. May I please ask that the Rebbe stay in my home over Shabbos?”
“Thank you, Eliezer, that would be so kind of you. With the help of Hashem, we will stay here over Shabbos.”
R’ Eliezer began planning for the Shabbos stay, arranging private minyanim for R’ Yaakov so that he could stay indoors and rest from his long journey.
R’ Eliezer heard from the Lissaer rav about all the troubles he had experienced and how he had come to leave his position in Lissa. He felt really bad for the rav who was now traveling from town to town in search of a position.
That night, R’ Eliezer could not sleep. While he tossed and turned in bed, he heard sounds that told him the Lissaer rav was also not sleeping! R’ Eliezer arose and went to listen in, near the guest room. Lo and behold, R’ Yaakov was sitting and learning, despite having just traveled for so many weeks, on a journey of 800 kilometers (500 miles)!
Peering through the open door, R’ Eliezer stood transfixed by the scene of R’ Yaakov Lorberbaum learning his way into the early morning hours.
Guards at the Door
The following day R’ Eliezer went to the Lissaer rav and begged him:
“Please Rebbe, end your travels here. The rav can stay with us — I’ll prepare my house for davening, and the rav and his family can stay here comfortably until Hashem sends him paranasa.”
The Lissaer rav thanked R’ Eliezer for his kind concern and began getting ready for Shabbos.
R’ Eliezer thought to himself, “What’s going on here, is terrible. The rosh hakahal’s son-in-law is truly a wonderful man, but the rosh hakahal is a rich man. Why does his son-in-law need this position? Certainly not for the money. It can only be that his father-in-law needs it for the prestige. But why should the Lissaer rav suffer because of that? He has not a penny to his name and wanders from town to town; And if the rosh hakahal dares to involve the authorities, the Lissaer rav will end up in the same situation as in Kalush.”
The word spread that R’ Yaakov of Lissa had arrived in Stree and its inhabitants realized that a real gem, a gadol hador, had arrived in their own town. Everyone wanted to greet the great rav, and that Friday afternoon, they all stopped what they were doing and went to the rav to give him shalom aleichem.
R’ Eliezer was really stunned to see what was happening. “Who knows what this will lead to?” he wondered, “Will it work out well for R’ Yaakov or chalila for the worse?”
The rosh hakahal soon grasped what was going on. Through his biased eyes, the situation looked like bad news for his plans. Without thinking twice, he went to the Mayor’s Office to see what they could arrange.
“Excuse me, sir!”
“Yes, I will be with you right away. You said you have something important that we must address. What’s your problem?”
“Somebody arrived here in town and is causing a big fight in the community. We have to be rid of him, the sooner the better.”
“Okay, if you say so. Have you filled out the necessary form?”
“Yes, here it is, ready for your signature.”
“ Let me read this over. Hmm….yes……yes…. ‘with this we order Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lissa to leave Stree within the coming hour, and if he does not, he will be arrested.’ Is he such a criminal, this man, Mr. Lorberbaum?”
“Would I do all this if that were not the case?”
“Hmm, yes, I understand. Here you go.”
The document was put in the care of two officers who were sent straight to R’ Eliezer’s home to deliver it to his chashuve guest.
When R’ Yaakov read it, a pained expression came over his face.
“Rebbe! What’s in the letter?”
“Here you go, Eliezer, read it yourself. I have to leave before Shabbos, and if not, I will be arrested!”
“Leave the town? Arrested? That’s unthinkable! The Rebbe is staying here! We will sort this all out immediately.”
“Berel have you heard what’s going on?”
“Sure, I know everything.”
“Berel, the rosh hakahal went overboard this time. To expel the Lissaer rav before Shabbos?! It’s outrageous!”
“You are a hundred percent right, but don’t worry. A group of chashuve yidden went up to the mayor and he is analyzing the situation.”
“Oh, thank you for telling me, now I can breathe.”
“Yes, R’ Eliezer put up a guarantee of two thousand rheinisch as a surety that R’ Yaakov should go only after Shabbos.”
R’ Yaakov of Lissa is Appointed Rav in Stree
The Lissaer rav stayed in Stree over Shabbos. All the townspeople came to hear his divrei Torah, and by the end of Shabbos, the town’s entire Jewish citizenry had decided to sign a document appointing R’ Yaakov as the rav of Stree.
R’ Yaakov stayed in Stree, serving as the Rav and continuing to write sefarim. He lived in R’ Eliezer’s house until his death. The minyan that R’ Eliezer arranged continued even after R’ Yaakov’s death and was known as ‘the minyan of R’ Yankele Lisser.’ His headstone had “Keser Torah” engraved on it, together with the names of his many sefarim, listed with pride.