The Yahrzeit of R’ Yehoshua of Belz

Tuesday, the 23rd of Shevat, marks the anniversary of the death of the second Rebbe of Belz, ob’m,  in 1894. Known as the אהל יהושע, the title of the compilation of his discourses, he was the greatest of the leaders of Belzer Hasidim, according to scholars. He is referred to by his devoted followers as Reb Shia’le, the diminutive of his given name Yehoshua. Notably in an era of primogeniture, Reb Shia’le was the youngest of five brothers, yet his father Reb Shalom of Belz, ob’m, chose him as his successor. In turn, Reb Shia’le chose as his successor his second son, Reb Isachar Dov, ob’m.

Realism, practicality and a deep faith marked the approach of Reb Shia’le. A discourse he gave on Megillat Esther, quoted in אהל יהושע, illustrates his philosophy.  When Mordechai learned of the impending doom of the Jewish people, he paraded through Shusan, in sackcloth and ashes “wail[ing] loudly and bitterly.” The text describes Queen Esther’s immediate reaction to his distress. She sent attire for Mordechai to change into and remove his sackcloth. Only then did the queen have  an attendant ask Mordechai what was the cause of his behavior. (Esther 4:1, 4-5)

The Rebbe pointed out the seemingly inverted sequence of Esther’s actions.  Logically, should the queen not have tried to find out, first, the source of Mordechai’s suffering, and second, sent him clothes as part of her attempt to comfort and help him?  Rather, Reb Shia’le explained that Queen Esther taught Jews a lesson that should always guide us through the generations. Except when Halacha dictates, we must not walk around in despair, bewailing our fate. We must keep steadfast in the face of trouble.

The Talmud states, “A person must bless [G-d} on the bad [he endures], just as he must bless [G-d] on  the good.” (Mishna Berachot 9:5) Therefore, whatever happened to Mordechai, Queen Esther insisted that he maintain his dignity as a show of his faith.  Only then, did the queen inquire into the details. So, too, must we never despair, but channel our efforts to dealing with the crisis at hand.

Indeed, the Mishna cites the second  passage of Shema as the basis of this attitude, “And you shall love G-d with all your heart” be you in happy circumstances or the reverse.

May Reb Shai’le’s positive outlook encourage us all in our daily lives.  May his teachings inspire the People of Israel to show courage and fortitude through the vicissitudes of our existence knowing we are under the protection of Heaven.

About the Author
Joshua Z. Rokach is a retired appellate lawyer and a graduate of Yale Law School.
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