Light shining behind two trees in forest

PART 3. DEATHS AND GRAVESITES OF THE TWO TZADDIKS

LOCATIONS AND MAPS

The grave of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz is in Shepetovka, which is approximately 150 miles west of Kiev. Koretz is located about 50 miles north of Shepetovka and a few miles east of Mezhirech in the former province of Volhynia. The towns of Ostrog and Slavuta lie to the northwest of Shepetovka.

Rebbe Raphael of Bershad is buried in Tarashcha, which is about 60 miles south of Kiev. His family’s home, Bershad, is located 100 miles to the southwest, at the southeastern end of the former province of Podolia. Bershad is 42 miles southwest of Uman, 30 miles north of Balta, and 185 miles south of Koretz.

To locate Shepetovka and Tarashcha, as well as Koretz and Bershad, the reader is advised to consult a map of the region, e.g.:

Ukraine: http:⁄⁄www.ukrdzi.com⁄pic⁄map_big.jpg

Podolia: http:⁄⁄www.jewishgen.org⁄Ukraine⁄Podolia⁄podolia_map.htm

Volhynia (1899): http:⁄⁄www.sggee.org⁄VolGub10.pdf

Volhynia (shaded area): http:⁄⁄www.jewishgen.org⁄ukraine⁄Volhynia⁄volshad.jpg

Maps of the the pertinent regions are available at: http:⁄⁄travel.kyiv.org⁄map⁄ (click on Rivne oblast for Koretz and Shepetovka, Kyiv oblast for Tarashcha, and Vinnytsya oblast for Bershad).

Good interactive (zoomable) maps of each location are also available at: http:⁄⁄www.multimap.com⁄ and http:⁄⁄www.mapquest.com⁄

DEATH OF R' PINCHAS

In 1791, at approximately 65 years of age, R' Pinchas decided that it was, at last, time to fulfill his dream of living in Israel. After his departure from Ostroh, he visited the town of Shepetovka to bid farewell to his son's father-in-law, R' Yaakov Shimshon [Jacob Samson] of Shepetovka. According to Wiesel, R' Pinchas became very ill during his visit, with a burning fever and excruciating pain. He called for his disciple, R' Raphael, who came to his bedside to comfort him. A few days later, as his condition worsened, he called for another friend, R' Chaim of Krasna, who was spending Shabbat in a nearby town. Wiesel states that, although it was Shabbat, R' Yaakov Shimshon convened a rabbinical council, which authorized the sending of a messenger to R' Chaim; the letter he carried was dated Hayom shabbat kodesh [“on this day of Shabbat”]. However, R' Chaim was unable to arrive in time [411]. The tombstone of R' Pinchas contradicts this detail and notes that he died during the day before Shabbat. He is buried in Shepetovka.

R' PINCHAS'S GRAVE AT SHEPETOVKA

I am immensely grateful for the collaboration and guidance of my friend S. Cohen, who contributed a great deal of the information, interpretation, and commentary throughout this section.

The Ancient Cemetery

Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz was buried in the 18th century cemetery that existed at the time. As the town of Shepetovka grew, it surrounded the old cemetery; the land near R' Pinchas's grave, at the new center of the municipality, was used for a police station and a house.

In an old edition of the Midrash Pinhas, published in 1953 or later, “there is a letter at the beginning of this sefer, an approbation by Rabbi Tzvi Yecheskel Michelsohn of the Vaad HaRabonim of Warsaw, dated the third day of the month of Elul, September 8, 1929. Of the burial place of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, Rabbi Michelsohn writes: ‘On his grave is a house … surrounded by a wall … and in the house near the grave stands the matzeveh [tombstone]. On the large stone are written these words …’ (the words being the exact words quoted in other sources).” S.C. read the above lines from Midrash Pinhas to Rabbi Y.M. Gabai and asked him whether he had found the foundation of the wall which surrounded the house, and he replied that he did. He also confirmed that this area is near the police station [412].

After World War II, the old cemetery was razed by the government. The original tombstone on the grave of R' Pinchas may have been lost or destroyed.

Sometime after the old cemetery was demolished (or perhaps even earlier), a simple stone marker was erected to replace the original tombstone, which had carried a more elaborate inscription.

The 1989 Jewish Press article mentions a guide who led visitors to the grave of R' Pinchas: “In Shepetovka, at the entrance to the cemetery where Rabbi Pinchas (Shapiro) from Kuritz is interred, Bunim Kleiner and a group of Jews awaited us. Bunim Kleiner has been doing this for 70 years.” The article also contains a photo of a simple tombstone—that of R' Pinchas—lying flat on the ground [413].

Old tombstone of R Pinchas at Shepetovka

Old tombstone of R' Pinchas at Shepetovka (photo undated; courtesy of Jewish Press, 10⁄20⁄1989, p. 26)

Its inscription [414] reads:

Here lies
The holy Rav, a G-dly man
Our teacher the Rebbe Reb Pinchas Shapiro z”l of Koretz
Son of the holy Rav Reb Avraham z”l
Passed away on 10 Elul 5550 [1790]
May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life

Although the year written on this tombstone is 5550 [1790], many authorities, including Rabbi E.E. Frankel and Rabbi Y.M. Gabai, give the date of death as 5551 [1791].

The New Cemetery

A Shepetovker landsmanschaft organization in the United States funded the construction of a new Shepetovka cemetery in 1928; some tombstones were transferred from the ancient burial ground to the new cemetery [415].

A photograph taken in 1928 shows the Chevra Kadisha [burial society] of Shepetovka assembled at the dedication of the new cemetery. The photo was reprinted in the Jewish Press in 1989 [416]. It can be seen at http:⁄⁄asimplejew.blogspot.com⁄2006⁄09⁄new-jewish-cemetery-in-shepetovka.html.

In an article in Hamodia [417] about the work of Rabbi Y.M. Gabai, he relates the story of an elderly woman who, as a young girl in the waning days of World War II, had watched her father load the heavy tombstone of R' Pinchas onto a wagon. It was said that the Jews of the town were afraid to tamper with the holy remains, but they moved the stone for safekeeping and then placed it in the cemetery at the end of the war.

The tombstones of three members of R' Pinchas's family (his grandson Mordechai [son of Moshe], great-grandson Pinchas, and another descendant) appear to have sustained some damage over the years; it is likely that they were reset on new foundations during the post-World War II era. The three ornately decorated stones constitute a memorial to the family of R' Pinchas. Other tombstones, including the simple stone marker for R' Pinchas, were also enclosed within the fence surrounding the memorial.

In August 2001, the tombstones of the memorial were vandalized by two young Ukrainians, who were later prosecuted. An article [418] on the desecration notes: “During the war even the fascists had not touched these monuments but they were destroyed on August 1, 2001.” A photo of the damaged tombstones can be seen at http:⁄⁄www.jewukr.org⁄observer⁄jo13_16⁄page03_e.php?q=1.

Photographs of the repaired tombstones, taken in 2003, can be seen at http:⁄⁄www.breslev-midot.com⁄eng⁄photo_album.asp.

Memorial in new cemetery at Shepetovka

Memorial erected in the post-WWII era in the “new” cemetery at Shepetovka, 2001; this is not the true burial site of R' Pinchas (courtesy of A Simple Jew)

During A.S.J.'s visit to Shepetovka in 2001 [which occurred a few weeks before the vandalism of the memorial], the head of the Jewish community told him about some headstones that the Jewish community had reclaimed from the police station; they had been used for the stairs leading up to the station. These reclaimed stones were temporarily stacked at the entrance to the Jewish cemetery [419].

Uncertainty and Confusion about the True Gravesite

Although the actual tomb of R' Pinchas had never been moved, the location of the memorial stones at the new cemetery resulted in some confusion. In the 1989 article in the Jewish Press, Rabbi Chaim Uri Lipschitz obm says: “Rabbi Pinchas Kuritz's grave had been situated in the old cemetery until a police station was built on the site. It was then transferred to the newer cemetery. Opinions vary; some believe that only the tombstone was moved, others say that the whole grave was transferred” [420].

Alfasi notes: “The tombstone of Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz was moved from the old cemetery to the new cemetery but his grave stayed in place, according to one opinion” [421].

The Imrei Pinchas HaShalem states: “The current location of Reb Pinchos's kever [grave] in Shepetovka is unknown” [422].

Restoration of the Gravesite

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Gabai [or Gabbay] from Bnei Brak, Israel, has made it his life's work to find and restore the graves of Chassidic rabbis in the Ukraine and elsewhere. He and his organization, Agudas Ohalei Tzadikim [also spelled as Oholei Tzadikim], have restored the graves of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, at Mezhibezh; the Ohel Yisroel from Apta; the Degel Machane Ephraim, Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov; and Rav Boruch of Mezhibezh. His organization's web site is http:⁄⁄www.zadikim.org⁄index.asp?lang=english. Some of the organization's work is described in “Renovation of Gravestones in Eastern Europe” [423] and “A Man with a Grave Mission” [424], published in Dei'ah veDibur.

In late 2003, when Derech Tzadikim⁄Ohalei Tzadikim purchased the property where the old cemetery had been, Rabbi Gabai first confirmed that the grave of R' Pinchas was not located near the memorial stones in the new cemetery by testing the ground with long poles; he also confirmed that the tomb of R' Pinchas had not been moved and was still at its original location. In early 2004, Rabbi Gabai restored the burial site and constructed an ohel [a small building covering the grave], as well as a small guest house to accommodate visitors. A series of photos, posted by Rabbi E.E. Frankel, the publisher of Imrei Pinchas HaShalem, documents the construction of the ohel: http:⁄⁄www.shemolam.com⁄rabbi%20pinchos%20of%20koretz-%20e.files⁄frame.htm, slides 32 to 48. Pictures of the ohel and kever can also be seen at the web site of Agudas Ohalei Tzadikim: http:⁄⁄www.zadikim.org⁄galleryPage.asp?articleID=44&tableName=gallery_table.

Rabbi Y.M. Gabai at ohel in Shepetovka

Rabbi Y.M. Gabai at ohel of R' Pinchas in Shepetovka (courtesy of Agudas Ohalei Tzadikim)

Thus, the true location of the actual grave of R' Pinchas is at the restoration site where the ohel was constructed; this was confirmed to S.C. by both Rabbi Gabai and Rabbi Frankel. When S.C. asked Rabbi Frankel why the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem did not give this information, he replied that Rabbi Gabai was still trying to negotiate the purchase the property at the time (2003) when the book was published [425].

ohel of R Pinchas 2009

Ohel of R' Pinchas, 2009 (courtesy of Rabbi Tal Zwecker)

Rabbi Frankel's web site describes the sequence of events: “Rabbi Pinchas passed away and was buried in Shepetovka on his way to Eretz Israel. The cemetery in Shepetovka was ancient. The residents inaugurated a new cemetery a long time after his demise. Over the years, Shepetovka grew and surrounded the old cemetery on all sides. After the Second World War, the authorities destroyed the old cemetery and built the center of the town on the site. The Jews were afraid to move Rabbi Pinchas's bones and erected a memorial for him in the new cemetery, which still stands” [426].

Grave of R Pinchas at Shepetovka

Grave of R' Pinchas of Koretz at Shepetovka (courtesy of Agudas Ohalei Tzadikim)

Epitaph on R' Pinchas's Tombstone

Mishpachot Atikot be-Yisrael [Ancient Jewish Families], by Yaacov Leib Shapiro, states: “the wording that was engraved on the matzeveh of Reb Pinchas … was composed by Reb Yaakov Shimshon [of Shepetovka] and Reb Chaim of Krasna” [427].

Rabbi E.E. Frankel's web site shows the authentic testimony of Rav Mendel Bieber, who visited Shepetovka in 1860 and copied down the exact words on the tombstone [428]. Rav Bieber's testimony was recorded in a book titled Mazkeret Legedolei Ostraha [In Memory of the Great Men of Ostroh] [429].

A photograph of the original matzevah [tombstone] of R' Pinchas is published in Parashat Pinchas, by Rabbi Mordechai Gurlitz [429a].

Original tombstone of R Pinchas at Shepetovka

Original tombstone of R' Pinchas at Shepetovka (photo undated, probably circa 1913; reprinted from Parashat Pinchas, courtesy of Rabbi Mordechai Gurlitz, 011-972-03-61958222)

Inscription on tombstone of R Pinchas at Shepetovka

Inscription on new tombstone of R' Pinchas of Koretz at Shepetovka, 2009 (courtesy of Rabbi Tal Zwecker)

Original tombstone of R Pinchas at Shepetovka Inscription on new tombstone of R Pinchas at Shepetovka

Close-ups for comparison of inscriptions on original and new tombstones of R' Pinchas of Koretz at Shepetovka (courtesy of Rabbi Mordechai Gurlitz, 011-972-03-61958222, and Rabbi Tal Zwecker)

The epitaph [430] on the new tombstone of R' Pinchas, which now resides in the ohel constructed by Rabbi Y.M. Gabai, aims to preserve the words of the original tombstone. However, a few small discrepancies have been noted between the original matzevah and the new one, and these differences are reflected in the varying translations.

On the new tombstone, the 5th line from the bottom uses the word betahara (“in purity”); the phrase is translated as: “His soul departed in purity … .” However, after the photograph of the original matzevah became available in early 2009, the need for an alternative translation became apparent; the epitaph on the original matzevah, as shown in the photo, actually reads: “His soul departed in quickness … .” The term bemehaira (“in quickness”) appears in the Bieber testimony of 1860 [430a], as well as in the Midrash Pinhas, which was first published in 1872 [430b], and in Mishpachot Atikot be-Yisrael, by Yaacov Leib Shapiro (1981) [430c]. However, the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem, published by Rabbi E.E. Frankel in 2003 [430d], and Parashat Pinchas, published by Rabbi M. Gurlitz in 2008 [430e], give betahara, and that is the word used on the new matzevah installed by Rabbi Gabai's organization, Agudas Ohalei Tzadikim. S.C. notes that betahara may, in fact, be an accurate rendering of the intended words of R' Yaakov Shimshon of Shepetovka and R' Chaim of Krasna, as the engraver may have erred in substituting one letter (mem) for another (teth) with a similar shape, thus altering the meaning to “in quickness” (bemehaira). Nevertheless, the photograph of the original tombstone clearly shows the letter mem. Rabbi Gabai may have been aware of this error, or he may have had information from other sources confirming that “in purity” was the intended wording.

The inscription on the original tombstone states: “His soul departed in quickness on Erev Shabbos.” The epitaph on the new tombstone adds the word kodesh [holy], thus reading: “His soul departed in purity on the eve of the Holy Sabbath, 10 Elul.” Mishpachot Atikot be-Yisrael gives the line as: “His soul departed in quickness Erev Shabbos.” Parashat Pinchas gives the transcription with a comma after “in purity,” indicating that the next phrase should be read as: “Erev Shabbos he was buried, 10 Elul.” The transcription of the epitaph in the Midrash Pinhas is ambiguous; it uses no commas in this portion of the transcription, and thus the phrase Erev Shabbos can be interpreted as applying to either the death or the burial.

The original matzevah, but not the new one, also has two words nikvar bekevurah, both meaning “buried”—the duplication is a poetic flourish. The date of death is not explicitly stated; only the date of burial is given. Nevertheless, 10 Elul has been considered the yahrzeit of R' Pinchas for more than 200 years.

It appears that the correct translation of the final portion of the original tombstone's inscription is: “His soul departed in quickness on Erev Shabbos and he was buried [before Shabbos] on 10 Elul 5551.” Thus, R' Pinchas died and was buried before sundown on the same day, on the eve of Shabbos, the 10th day of Elul, 5551 [1791].

The epitaph on the original matzevah reads:

Here lies
The sublime light as of Pinhas ben Yair
The breath of our life
Our master and teacher
Rabbi Pinhas, son of our master, Rabbi Avraham Shapiro
Protects us from adversities
His praise fills the world
His soul departed in quickness [in purity] on Erev Shabbos
And he was buried [before Shabbos]
10 Elul 5551 [1791]

Crown on tombstone of R Pinchas

Crown on tombstone of R' Pinchas (courtesy of Rabbi Tal Zwecker)

LEGENDS ABOUT R' RAPHAEL'S DEATH

The story of the circumstances of R' Raphael's death has been told and retold in many different versions with divergent details. In the following version, R' Raphael must make a life-or-death decision that challenges his integrity:

“Once in a town in Ukraine, a Jewish man was accused of committing a capital crime. The judges who were hearing the case reviewed all the evidence for and against the man, but in spite of careful investigation, they couldn't decide the case. They decided that if two well-known tzadikim [holy people] who lived in the area would swear under oath that he was innocent, they would acquit him of the crime.

“The two holy Jews who were asked to swear in court were Reb Moshe [Zvi or Tzvi ben Shimon (1775−1838)] of Savran and Reb Raphael of Bershad. But they were in a terrible dilemma: swearing a false oath is strictly prohibited in Jewish law, and is a grave sin. On the other hand, the saving of a life takes precedence over every other mitzva in the Torah. Isn't it said, ‘He who saves a life is as if he saved the entire world?’

“Reb Moshe of Savran deliberated long and hard over the question, and he finally reached the conclusion that saving the life of the man and the future of his wife and children took precedence over the basic tenet of truthful testimony. And even if he were wrong in his conclusion, he was willing to suffer whatever punishment awaited him in the Next World, as long as his fellow Jew escaped death.

“For Reb Raphael the decision was not just difficult, it was utterly torturous. Reb Raphael was a loyal disciple of Reb Pinchas of Korets who taught that truth was the entire basis of the Divine Service. He had devoted his life to this principle and had never allowed even the slightest hint of falsehood to enter his thought or his conduct, even to the point of not wearing dyed clothing, thus disguising the color of the fabric.

“His other, most dominant, characteristic was his total love of his fellow Jews, his willingness to sacrifice his every possession or comfort in order that his fellow Jews be spared any suffering. How could he possibly resolve this terrible conflict?

“Reb Raphael sat in his study immersed in the most confounding, painful and tortured thought. On one hand, there was a possibility of saving the man, his wife and his children—and the wife and family of the accused gave him not a moment of peace. But on the other hand, he couldn't bring himself to do a thing from which he had distanced himself in an entire lifetime of spiritual struggle.

“The basis of his whole philosophy was that falsehood was the source of all impurity in the world, and truth, the wellsprings of all that was holy. Now, at this time in his life, was he to repudiate all that he believed in? A vision of the man, his wife and children at the mercy of a cruel justice stood before his eyes, while his belief in the primacy of truth consumed his thoughts like a blazing fire.

“Finally, he could stand it no longer. Reb Raphael broke out in a piteous wail that came from deep within him, and he could not stop weeping. ‘Master of the Universe, You alone know how I have striven with every fiber of my being for the sake of truth. You know I have been willing to make every sacrifice, and now, in my old age You have brought this terrible trial to me. I beg You to take away my soul, and not let me fail this test!’

“He wept and wept until his soul departed from his body.

“Early the following morning his Chasidim rushed to his house to give him the alarming news—the accused man had confessed his guilt. The two tzadikim were excused from testifying before the court. But when they entered the room of Reb Raphael, they found that the tzadik had departed this world” [431].

The accounts of Martin Buber [432], Milton Aron [433], and Adin Steinsaltz [434] are briefer but essentially the same.

In a version related by Rabbi Gedaliah Rabinowitz, a third tzaddik, R' Yisroel of Ruzhin (1797-1850), was also called to testify before the court. But the dilemma for R' Raphael was the same: to save the life of a fellow Jew, or to hold fast to the principle of truth, as he had done throughout his life. R' Raphael left Bershad for Tarashcha, where he cried all night, begging Hashem to take his life. After he died, it was revealed that a Gentile was guilty of the crime [434a].

A variant of the story is told by Chaim Bloch: “[R' Raphael] was once invited to the house of a nobleman to tell what he knew of a certain Jew. Through a single false word he could have made the Jew happy for his whole life, but by speaking the truth he would have brought him grave harm. The Rabbi felt he could neither speak the truth under the circumstances nor do a man an injury, and, therefore, with tears, he begged G-d to take away his life. To this degree did he seek to guard himself from straying off the path of truth.” Newman notes that there is another version in which two rabbis were to testify; one was willing to swear falsely so that he might save the Jew and his family. But the other rabbi hesitated to do so; at that point, the accused man confessed to the crime to save the rabbi from telling a lie [435].

Another variant of the story indicates that Rebbe Raphael was required to testify on behalf of the grandsons of his mentor, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz; the grandsons were charged with publishing Jewish books without authorization. In this version, the government agreed that if three prominent Jewish leaders would attest to their innocence, the publishers would be allowed to go free. “Reb Refael der emeser” [“the truthful”] was faced with a dilemma: although he realized that the publishers had been accused of trumped-up charges, he could not attest to something he did not know without absolute certainty. He prayed for the withdrawal of his blessing of longevity so he could be prevented from bearing witness about something he did not see with his own eyes. The following day, upon learning that one of the three character witnesses had died, the authorities summarily sentenced the brothers to flogging and incarceration [436]. This version of the story appears to mix two separate legends; the involvement of R' Raphael is not mentioned in other accounts of the persecution of the Shapiro grandsons.

All of the preceding accounts dwell mainly on the rebbe's dilemma and do not describe the crime in detail. An article by Shnayer Z. Leiman in Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought [437] presents several other accounts of the story. Most of them describe the circumstances in great detail, but the ending is usually the same. Leiman's Account 1 is based on the autobiographic work, Zikhronot mi-Yemei Ne'urai, by Abraham Baer Gottlober (1810−1899). In his story, a Jew from the Bershad area was aided by a Polish noble in smuggling goods across the Polish border. When the noble was eventually caught, he, in turn, accused the Jew of owning the smuggled goods, but the Jew denied the charges. The two rebbes were compelled to swear on the veracity of his claim [438].

Leiman's Account 2, from a story published by Benjamin Mintz in 1930, concerns the murder of a Jewish informer and revenge by the informer's widow. Although the events take place near Bershad, in this version, R' Raphael travels to Tarashcha to die [439].

Leiman's Account 3 was written by R. Yekutiel Kamelhar in 1933; in this version, the guilty Jew's wife and children beg R' Raphael to aid them, but he refuses to swear falsely. During the night before the swearing ceremony, the Jew confesses, saving the two rabbis from perjuring themselves. However, it is too late, and R' Raphael has already died [440].

In contrast to all of the preceding stories, Leiman's Account 4, published by Jacob Roven in 1935 in a memorial volume on Tarashcha, is quite different. There is no Jewish criminal and no false testimony. R' Raphael arrives in Tarashcha on a Thursday and visits the cemetery, where, years earlier, R. Motele of Chernobyl had planted a tree. He declines an invitation from the community to stay in Tarashcha for Shabbos, promising to return at another time. As he continues on his travels, the rebbe starts regretting his decision; how can he be sure that he will be able to keep his promise and return? He tells the driver to turn the wagon around, and he goes back to Tarashcha. He spends Shabbos there but contracts an illness; he is the last victim of an epidemic. He dies on Shabbos and is buried under the tree planted by R. Motele, now known as the “rebbe's tree.” The community builds an ohel over his grave [441].

A fifth account is presented in the footnotes of Leiman's article. This version, by Y.L. Maimon, published in 1944, is essentially the same as Accounts 1 and 3, but there are new details at the end. As R' Raphael cries out in agony over his dilemma, “his heart was broken, he was overcome by a stroke, and his soul departed in purity.” The next day, in court, when the accused Jew hears of the rebbe's death, he admits his guilt. R. Israel of Ruzhin later said: “I apply to both R. Raphael and R. Moshe Tzvi the verse (Proverbs 12:21). No harm befalls the righteous” [442].

Interestingly, we know from R' Raphael's tombstone that he died on a Sunday, not on Shabbos, although this is not a wide discrepancy. Although he was called “the Bershader,” the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem states that he lived in Tarashcha toward the end of his life: “Because of his weakness in his last days, Reb Raphael lived in the home of his grandchild in Tarashcha, for here he had a better house” [443].

R' Raphael's grave is in Tarashcha, which is approximately 140 miles from Bershad; it is likely, therefore, that he died in or near Tarashcha, not Bershad. Furthermore, although his tombstone was protected and hidden by a fallen tree, there was no ohel (or if there was, it had disappeared) until the grave was restored by Rabbi Y.M. Gabai (see below for further information about the gravesite).

The author and journalist Menashe Unger wrote accounts of this story that were published in the Yiddish daily newspaper Der Tog on 2⁄9⁄1936 and 1⁄19⁄1939. His narrative resembles Leiman's Account 1, but it adds a significant detail concerning the grandson of R' Raphael. The story published in 1936 is summarized as follows:

“It is related that R' Refuhl died in this manner: that a Jew of the town was condemned to death for smuggling. The Jew pleaded his innocence. The local government, respecting R' Refuhl's judgment and reputation for truth, agreed to exonerate the defendant if R' Refuhl would declare him innocent. R' Refuhl, believing in his heart that the man was guilty of the crime, could not bring himself to declare him guiltless, yet could not utter the words that would have cost the man his life. He called his congregation about him (his grandson Isrultze among them) into his shul, bade them goodbye, lay down in a bed of straw, begged the Lord that he might die, closed his eyes—and died” [444].

The 1939 story mentions R' Moishe Savran and refers to the “legend of the tree” [445].

Thus, it seems apparent that Unger had read some of the accounts mentioned in the Leiman article (particularly Accounts 1 and 4) and was merely retelling (and perhaps embellishing) the story.

Nevertheless, descendants of R' Raphael's grandson Israel (Isrultze) confirm that, according to the story passed down as family lore, the rebbe's grandson was present when R' Raphael bid the congregation farewell [446].

R' RAPHAEL'S GRAVE AT TARASHCHA

Tarashcha is the town where R' Raphael of Bershad spent the last days of his life and where he is buried. The earliest known Jewish community there was founded in 1765. A memorial webpage for the town was created by Richard L. Baum in 2011 and is hosted on the JewishGen ShtetLinks site, at: http:⁄⁄www.shtetlinks.jewishgen.org⁄Tarashcha⁄

The Cemetery in Tarashcha

The Jewish cemetery in Tarashcha has separate sections for men, women, children, and suicides. There are several hundred graves, dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. Some tombstones have portraits on the stones and⁄or metal fences around the graves. Adjacent properties are residential and ravines with trees. The graves are overgrown with vines, and the stones are eroding, although the cemetery receives sporadic maintenance from the community. Access is open, via a dirt road. The site also contains a mass grave from the World War II era [447].

According to Michael R. Tobin, who visited in 7⁄1997, about 100 tombstones remain. A few cows and goats from the nearby farm keep the cemetery from being overgrown.

A photographic account by Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams of her trip to the cemetery and the mass grave in Tarashcha in 2008 can be seen at http:⁄⁄www.maqom.com⁄aug6_
2008.html
.

Finding the Gravesite

According to Rabbi Gedaliah Rabinowitz, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Gabai told him that he had been searching Bershad's Jewish cemetery, unsuccessfully, for the gravesite of R' Raphael, so that it could be restored. “He's not in Bershad,” Rabbi Rabinowitz informed him; “he is buried in Tarashcha.” Some months later, at the Kotel in Jerusalem, Rabbi Gabai again encountered Rabbi Rabinowitz and told him, “I found the kever.” He reported that, in the cemetery at Tarashcha, all the gravestones had been removed or vandalized. He and his team searched for a long time for the tombstone of R' Raphael. He was starting to leave, when he noticed a fallen tree. He directed his workmen to lift the tree and found the gravesite underneath, miraculously preserved and in perfect condition [447a].

Rabbi Y.M. Gabai had searched for R' Raphael's grave in the cemetery at Tarashcha, where no stone was left intact, and he had almost given up hope when he stumbled on the Rebbe's tombstone, which had been hidden by a fallen tree [448].

Similarly: “There is an amazing story about the kever [grave] of Reb Refoel. The beis hakvoros [cemetery] there was destroyed by local Gentiles, but miraculously Reb Refoel's matzevah [tombstone] was concealed by the branches of a big willow, and it was found by the chevra [organization] Derech Tzadikim, which is helping to maintain the kivrei [graves] of tzaddikim now in the Ukraine” [449].

Gravesite in 1997

When Michael R. Tobin visited and photographed the rebbe's gravesite in the cemetery at Tarashcha in 1997, the grave had been enclosed by a fence; a plaque on the fence read, in Hebrew: “This is the burial place of … Rabbi Rafael from Bershad, the student par excellence of the world-pillar [literally, ‘foundation of the world’] tzaddik, our teacher, Rabbi Pinchas from Koretz.” The last two lines say that the sign was located and put in place by Agudas Derech Tzadikim [450].

Fenced grave of R Raphael at Tarashcha

Fenced grave of R' Raphael at Tarashcha, 1997 (courtesy of Michael R. Tobin)

Gravesite in 2003-2004

The Imrei Pinchas HaShalem (published in 2003) contains a photo of the grave surrounded by a fence, with a gate at the front. More recently, Rabbi Gabai's organization, Agudas Ohalei Tzadikim, has built an ohel [a small building] to cover and protect the tomb.

Ohel of R Raphael at Tarashcha in summer

Ohel of R' Raphael at Tarashcha, summer 2003 (courtesy of Rabbi E.E. Frankel)

Photos taken in 2003 and 2004 show the matzeveh [tombstone], the rounded dome of the tomb itself, a menorah at the window, and a plaque on the wall, which reads: “gravestone of the holy rav Rabbi Rafael of Bershad,” followed by the abbreviation for “may his merit stand by us.” The plaque concludes with: “Amen. The outstanding student of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz,” followed by the abbreviation for “may the tzaddik be remembered for a blessing” and a statement that the gravesite was restored by Ohalai Tzadikim, headed by Rabbi Y.M. Gabai [451].

Interior of ohel of R Raphael at Tarashcha

Interior of ohel of R' Raphael at Tarashcha, 2004 (courtesy of Breslev Center, Israel)

Tombstone

With the assistance of members of JewishGen, the inscription on his tombstone has been translated. The following is an amalgam of parts of various translations:

Here lies a humble and pious man,
Superlative and famous
Our great teacher and rabbi, Raphael of Bershad,
Son of our teacher and rabbi, Yaakov Yakili
He spoke the truthful word of the Torah,
And dishonesty was never found on his lips
He walked in peace and righteousness
[Who died on] Sunday, 15 Tevet

The tombstone is a simple stone slab, with no ornamentation other than a simple design, which can be seen only partially, and a framework of lines at the top. The top of the stone may originally have been curved, but it is broken or worn away at the top, so the true shape and design cannot be determined. The design has two scallops on one side, so it appears to represent a crown, although another possibility is that it depicts horns (of the altar), to represent forgiveness of sin.

Closeup of tombstone in 1997

Close-up of tombstone of R' Raphael, 1997 (courtesy of Michael R. Tobin)

In the 1997 photos of the grave, it can be seen that the inscription appears to be written in raised letters. However, in the photo from 2004 of the grave within the ohel, the same inscription seems to be written in black paint on the tombstone. In telephone conversations with S.C., Rabbi Gabai discussed the restoration of the gravesite. He said that he had found the matzeveh [tombstone] 20 years earlier (i.e., ~1986) and had rebuilt the grave several times. He said that the letters were engraved (although they appear to be raised), and he confirmed that he had painted the inscription with black paint during the restoration of the gravesite. There is nothing written on the other side of the stone. He agreed with the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem that there are three letters on the stone for which nobody is certain of the interpretation [452]. [These letters, shin – bet – peh, are interpreted by one JewishGen translator as shin – nun – peh (an abbreviation for “who died on”).]

Date of Death

The date “Sunday 15 Tevet” (no year) is inscribed on the tombstone. It is possible that the tombstone originally carried another line, giving the year, but the bottom of the stone may have crumbled when the tomb was restored, or it may have been cut off for leveling before placement on a base during the restoration.

R' Raphael's date of death is given, in various sources, as: 1814, 1815, or 1816 [5575 or 5576] [453]; 1816 [454]; 1816 or 1826 [455]; 1824 [456]; 15 Teves 1825 [457]; 15 Teves 1827 [458]; 1827 [459]; and 14 January 1827 [15 Tevet 5587] [460]. A check on a calendar converter for any 15 Tevet's that fell on a Sunday during the years suggested above gives the following possibilities for the date of death: Sunday 25 December 1825 or Sunday 14 January 1827.

The date 14 January 1827 (15 Tevet 5587) is confirmed by the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem, which also states that R' Raphael was approximately age 76 years when he passed away [461].

Eulogy

In the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem, there is a eulogy in the form of poetry printed in two columns over one and a half pages and 16 stanzas. The last section [462] reads:

Look down from your (heavenly) dwelling
Shield us with your soul
Do not forget us and we will not forget you
A remembrance forever, we will remember your name
At the end of days G-d will remember you
To stand you up to your destiny
Put us as a seal upon your heart

Additional photos of the gravesites of R' Pinchas and R' Raphael, as well as those of some disciples, are shown in Part 6.

© 2014 Susan K. Steeble | http:⁄⁄www.twotzaddiks.org | All rights reserved

Tombstone of R Pinchas of Koretz   Tombstone of R Raphael of Bershad