The meeting of two worlds — the titular head of Hungarian chassidus and the senior sage of the Sephardic world
Title: The Munkacs Lag B’omer
Document: Welcome poster
Time: May 1930
Rav Chaim Elazar Shapiro, the Minchas Elazar of Munkacs, long desired to meet the Saba Kaddisha, Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandari. In the spring of 1930, the Rebbe arrived for a 13-day sojourn in the Holy Land, and the historic meeting finally took place. During the visit, the Rebbe also expended great efforts in building Batei Munkacs in Jerusalem, and wrote the bylaws of the emerging neighborhood. A chassid who accompanied him kept a diary, which appeared in English in 2009 under the title Journey to Jerusalem.
On the eve of Lag B’omer, the Rebbe traveled by car to Tzfas, where he was invited by local Sanz chassidim to spend the weekend. The Rebbe avoided Meron that night, as he was concerned about the mingling between boys and girls. He instead danced at a bonfire in Tzfas and took part in the upsherens of local children.
The next morning, the Rebbe and his entourage ascended to Meron. As they approached the mountain, the group increased in size, and the Rebbe pleaded with them to allow him to enter before the crowds. Arriving at the kever, the Rebbe’s eyes welled with tears as he recited the words of the Idra Zuta, read kvitlach, and recited Tehillim, begging Hashem for mercy on behalf of Klal Yisrael. Following his passionate tefillos, the Rebbe’s mood changed and he began to sing the traditional “Bar Yochai” to a special tune, encouraging those around him to sing and dance along. Those who witnessed this spectacle would recall it vividly for the remainder of their lives.
Four days later the Saba Kaddisha passed away, and the Minchas Elazar participated in the funeral, tearing his garments at the tremendous loss.
When the Rebbe returned home, he sent a letter to the Munkacser chassidim in Jerusalem:
Believe me, I loved the Holy Land so much, and I especially loved you, my followers who love me and are zealous for Hashem, His Torah, and His faith. The 13 days that I spent in the Holy Land correspond to the 13 years that Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabi Elazar spent in the cave, but in light of the trials of this last generation, may Hashem in His goodness consider one day in place of each year, but this is not the place to explain at length. Those days are engraved upon my memory until and beyond the arrival of the Redeemer, speedily in our days… I will therefore delineate to you several matters that should be before you and inside your hearts so that you should know to watch and be exceedingly careful…
The Saba Kaddisha lived most of his long life in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, where he served as a rosh yeshivah and kabbalist. In 1888 he was appointed to serve as the Chacham Bashi (chief rabbi) of Damascus. This was followed by a stint as the rav of Tzfas. He finally retired to Jerusalem’s Mekor Baruch neighborhood.
A messianic atmosphere surrounded the visit. The meeting of two worlds — the titular head of Hungarian chassidus and the senior sage of the Sephardic world — was facilitated by the Yerushalmi kabbalist Rav Yeshaya Asher Zelig Margolis. According to his account, when the Munkacser Rebbe entered the chambers of the Saba Kaddisha, the Rebbe asked, “When is Mashiach going to arrive? Eimasai asi mar?”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 858)
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