Living Legacy: The Shiniever Rov, Rebbe Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam, zt”l
The bechor of the holy Sanzer Rov, Rebbe Yechezkel Shraga was the scion of the Shineve branch of the Sanzer dynasty, and the Stropkover chassidus which originated from it. His 113th yohrtzeit is marked this Friday, 6 Teves.
He would be defined by his pursuit of emes and of being medakdek in the smallest halachah.
He was born to his illustrious father in the Galician town of Tarnogród, in the vicinity of Lizhensk, in the year 5575 (1815). His mother was the daughter of the Baruch Ta’am, Rav Baruch Frankel-Tumim. He was named Yechezkel Shraga for maternal great-grandfather. Interestingly, his birth took place in the very same home as that of his father, the Divrei Chaim.
Even as a young child, he was known for his truthfulness, and his father testified to the fact that he would not emit an untruthful word from his lips.
He married the daughter of Rebbe Aryeh Leib Liphshitz, known as the Arye D’bei Ila’I, but the couple settled in the Hungarian town of Uhel, to be near the Rebbetzin’s maternal grandfather, the Yismach Moshe. The Rebbetzin sadly passed away after nine years of marriage, and he remarried.
The Shiniver Rov’s leadership is characterized as one that was extremely practical and down-to-earth—notwithstanding his elevated avodah, and his mastery of Torah and kabbalah. The Torah that was brought together by his talmidim, and comprise the Divrei Yechezkel, are able to guide even Yidden of today, just as they did the countless people that he led and guided 150 years ago. ‘
One story to illustrate this was the time that a group of Yidden from Germany came to see him, and he spent a long time speaking with them in a loving and friendly manner. Following this, he noted that shaving powder had been developed, enabling a Yid to shave without violating halacha. He went to fetch the shaving powder, and indicated to his visitors how this would be done, imploring them to adopt this method. He later turned to a chossid from Tzefas, and lamented, “my holy father guided Yidden how to learn before davening... and I am left to instruct Yidden how to shave before davening...”
He was known to be especially scrupulous in halacha. He would say: the weakest davening with a minyan is still preferable to the finest davening without minyan; the weakest davening in its proper time is still preferable to the finest davening after the proper time... implying that adherence to halacha comes before anything else.
Thousands of chassidim streamed to him during his lifetime, among them great tsaddikim—many of whom considered themselves his talmidim.
In 1869, he went up to Eretz Yisroel, where he resided in Tzfas and Yerushalayim. In the mystical city of Tzfas, he established a shul and mikveh that continue to function to this very day on Rechov Tarpat. He returned to Poland in 1873.
In 1898, he was niftar in Shinive and was interred there. He was succeeded by his son, Reb Moishele of Shinive. Thousands of his descendants are in Jewish communities around the world today. A number of Shiniver chassidim were in America prior to WWII, with the blessing of Rebbe Moishele, and were known to stand out in the darkness of America, adhering fiercely to their faith, and clinging to their heritage as Shiniver chassidim.