My Grandfather …

By Gerszon Gora

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

From my early childhood, my soul was bound with his soul. An internal love was kindled inside of me, and drew me to him. I felt that I had some sort of natural affinity to him. My entire self was devoted to him, as a child is devoted to his caregivers and those who embrace him.

He bore my thoughts and my dreams. I wove the visions of my childhood around him.

From him, I drew my youth; true youth, pure and sublime, filled with lofty, holy dreams.

The splendor of his face and the flame of his eyes sustained my thirsty, yearning soul.

I remember when I was still a young child and was interested in stories and tales, that would bestow sublime spiritual content to a child and envelop his soul with pleasant dreams – he would always take me upon his knees, caress me with soft, loving caresses, as he told me stories of Rebbes, Tzadikim, and sages. I thirstily swallowed up every word and expression that came from his mouth, his heart and his soul.

Then, I would feel as if all of the chambers of my heart had opened, and wide vistas were exposed to me. He ignited my soul and bestowed refinement and softness upon me.

Thus were the sublime paths of Judaism implanted into my soul. With his stories of the lives of Tzadikim, he crystallized concepts of spiritual life into my frail brain.

Desire and longing, pining and impatience – this is how his soul expressed itself towards the Land of Israel. All the days of his life were filled with longing and pining for the Land of Israel. This was the axis around which revolved all the events of his life.

“The Land of Israel” – this was the only word that filled his entire soul. He sprinkled upon it the dew of hope and comfort, of revival and redemption.

His soul went out towards the Land of Israel; to see it with his own eyes and to breathe its air, the air of souls, with his own nose.

He always nurtured the longing to see the Land of Israel. From his early childhood, this hope strengthened his spirit. He thought about this day and night, when he went to sleep and got up, when he was awake and during his dreams.

Sometimes, when he was immersed in his studies, he would stop for a brief moment, approach me and say: “Yes, yes, go, go quickly, with the help of the Blessed G-d…”

“To where?”, I asked.

“To the Land of Israel”.

“But when?”

“Speedily, speedily. We will soon all merit to see the face of the Messiah, for he is already about to come.”

His emotions overflowed as he said these words, until his entire body was trembling and shaking.

Any time that mention of the “Land of Israel” came upon his lips, his eyes would fill with tears. These were tears of happiness, full of hope and comfort. Tears that almost satisfied his spiritual thirst and burning love. Tears of longing, of pining…

He was a straightforward man who sat in the tents of study. The wide world was strange to him. The sound of the turning of the wheel of life in the world did not reach his ears. He was a straightforward person. He never had a moment of emptiness, of vanity. I always saw him poring over a book, whether it was a Gemara, Midrash, or Zohar. He was always immersed in his studies. He would finish the entire Talmud yearly. If he felt that he would not be able to finish on time, he would remain awake for entire nights catching up.

Even during his final days, as his strength waned and his power dwindled, he attempted with all his might to continue his study sessions as previously, without missing even a small amount. He studies his lessons as previously, with great diligence.

Even as he lay seriously ill on his sickbed, he always held a volume of Talmud in his wrinkled, sinewed hand, and his mouth never desisted from study. He studied with a pleasant melody, even though every word that he uttered sapped some of his remaining blood and vigor.

“On the contrary”, he would suddenly say, “When I am learning, I feel as if waves of vitality and joy wash over me, causing me to forget my weakness and pain. And during a time that I am not able to study Torah, I see myself as if sitting in a narrow, choking prison cell, without air to breathe.”

The study of Torah was literally his breath of air.

He sat in tents.

He drew waters as clear as crystals from the wells of Hassidism. When he spoke about the Rebbe of Kock of holy blessed memory, an agonizing sigh would issue from the depths of his heart, along with the hushed painful words: “Indeed, I did not merit… I did not merit…”

With a voice suffused with grief and longing, he told me the story, how during his youth he made preparations, along with a group of Hassidim, to go to Kock (in those days, they would go there for the festivals), and to his great sorrow, he was too late to join the journey, and in that year the Rebbe of Kock of blessed memory died.

“I did not merit to see him alive”, he would always tell me. He was sorry about this for his entire life, and his soul was not settled.

He rectified this omission with regards to the author of the Chidushei Harim of blessed memory, and the author of the Sfat Emet of blessed memory. Throughout the days of their life – from the time that Hassidim began to travel to the Rabbi Rim of blessed memory, until the time of the death of the Sfat Emet of blessed memory – he would travel there times a year to them, without even missing once. There were no obstacles to him to prevent him from travelling to the Rebbe.

The journeys to the Rebbe for the festivals were to him the essence of his life. Those days were the happiest and best of all the days of the year for him; those days when he was able to bring to fruition his connection and cleaving to the Rebbe. During those days, he expressed his true Hassidic essence.

It is worthwhile to mention an interesting fact, which demonstrates to use the extent of his dedication to his journeys to the Rebbe.

On one occasion prior to a festival, when my grandmother was giving birth, everyone requested of him not to travel to the Rebbe. In order to ensure that he would not travel, they hid his boots on the night before the journey. The next day, he rose early. When he saw that his boots had disappeared, he did not hesitate at all, but put on my grandmother's shoes and thus traveled to the Rebbe.

From the waters of this well, the pure well of Hassidism, he gave drink to his children and grandchildren. He always attempted to instill in the hearts of the young and old ones the Hassidic idea, and the full extent of the Hassidic essence. He attempted to instill in the hearts of his young grandchildren an Orthodox education, which would appeal to their youthful vigor, in order that it would remain forever in their hearts. He saw all of this in Hassidism.

He immersed himself in the waters of Hassidism for his entire life…

On his final day, Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) Tammuz that occurred on the holy Sabbath, he arose early as was his custom, and he studied his lesson in Talmud for two or three hours. Then he went to the synagogue to worship, and, arriving there before the time of prayer, he took a book of Midrash and studied the weekly Torah portion. He did not know at all at that moment that his minutes were numbered, and that very shortly, his pure soul would ascend on High. He only knew that every moment that he lived, he was able to collect and acquire many treasures for the eternal world, where all of the pure souls bask in the splendor of the Divine Presence. Indeed, this idea was always before his eyes, and I never saw him sitting idle, without engaging in spiritual endeavors, even for a brief moment.

When the prayer leader started “Hodu”, he closed the Midrash, wrapped himself in his Tallis, and began to recite the prayers. However, a moment after wrapping himself in his Tallis, a groan broke forth from his heart, a hushed groan, the groan of the soul as it separates itself from the body. His soul ascended Heavenward on the holy Sabbath, as he was wrapped in his Tallis.