By Hershel Rosenbluh for Anash.org
Reb Meshulam Yedidya Gottlieb “Shilem” Kuratin lived for only 34 years, but in that short time, he taught so many temimim how far one can reach if only there is a will. It’s been 100 years since his passing on 5 Elul, 5679/1919.
Reb Shilem passed away a day after the gaon Reb Mendel Chein, who was killed in a pogrom, and the Rebbe Rashab said: “Shilem un Mendel iz a klap far der velt,” the loss of Shilem and Mendel is a blow for the world.
All of Reb Shilem’s greatness was in a span of barely 20 years. During that short time, he grew into the man about whom the Rebbe Rashab said that he paid back the whole keren (principal) on what he invested in the yeshiva, and anything more was pure profit. That’s the extent of Shilem’s accomplishments in Torah and avodah.
Young Shilem arrived in Lubavitch looking like a “Gymnasia” (high school) student, and the mashpia Reb Groinem took one look at him and was going to send him away. Only upon his bursting into tears did the hanholoh see that this young boy really wants to learn and grow. He was really an orphan who never had a chance, but the will to learn was there.
He was first sent to Horoditch, where talmidim got private attention and would thus flourish. In 5663/1903, he was already learning in Lubavitch in the zal, and 3 years later, in 5666/1906, he was the main chozer of Hemshech Samach Vov, from whom all temimim would want to hear the maamorim.
Chassidim repeat in the name of Reb Yehoshua Lein, hyd, an incident that occurred with Shilem one Tishrei:
That year, Rosh Hashonoh, the first days of Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres were on Thursday and Friday. The Rebbe Rashab said many ma’amorim, and Shilem was there to hear and then chazzer each one. So it went the whole Tishrei; Shilem had little time to sleep or eat the Yomtov meals, all he could do was review the ma’amorim.
On Motzoei Shabbos Bereishis he collapsed in a deep faint and could not be revived. Try as they may, nothing worked. Doctors were summoned, but to no avail. The Rebbe Rashab was informed, but he didn’t seem concerned. He simply instructed them to carry him into a bed and let him rest it off. Shilem slept for almost a full day and then was as good as new.
Temimim who were with him in yeshiva later related how none of this came easy for Shilem. Despite being blessed with a good head, it was difficult for him to focus on in-depth learning. Yet he broke through his natural limits, and he became the one who transmitted the Rebbe Rashab’s deepest Chassidus. Thes same is true of his davening, during which he would be totally disconnected from his surroundings.
One year, before Pesach, it was hard to get shmurah flour for the bochurim. Yet, Rebbetzin Rivka – the Rebbe Rashab’s mother – gave Shilem some of her own shmurah flour since she saw how important it was for him. In 5667/1907, he was spared from being drafted to the Russian army after a bracha from the Rebbe Rashab.
Reb Chonye Marozow once said that he’s jealous of Shilem who can speak to the Rebbe Rashab about the ma’amar and “argue” about pshat. Whereas when he, Chonye, goes comes before the Rebbe Rashab, he can barely open his mouth to say anything.
In 5672/1912, four years after marrying Guta Beila Hilvitz, daughter of the chossid Reb Mendel of Zhebin, he was appointed mashgiach in the yeshiva in Lubavitch. It is said, that after returning to Lubavitch as a yungerman, the Rebbe Rashab was quite happy to see Shilem how he’s dressed respectably, being that as a bochur he never bothered to take care of his appearance, but now he did…
As a mashgiach, he was the ultimate dugma chaya in every respect. The temimim saw in him a product of the yeshiva who was totally devoted to their ruchniyusdike wellbeing, and all with a great sense of dignity for his students. He never ceased to demand more of the bochurim, but it was all with a sense of love and respect.
Almost every leil shishi (Thursday night) after seder chassidus – approximately at 11:00 pm, he would farbreng with the bochurim, sharing with them the ideals of Chassidus and what they could and should achieve. Once, word came to the Rebbe Rashab that he was reprimanding the bochurim quite strongly. The Rebbe Rashab called him in and said: a bochur that you don’t cry over his behavior at Krias Shma she’Al Hamittah you cannot reprimand!
Reb Shilem later became a Shadar [fundraiser] for the yeshiva. When the yeshiva moved to Kremenchuk during World War I, Shilem moved there with his family. There, they were once miraculously saved from a band of bandits that tried to kill them. However, he soon fell ill and passed away on Sunday, Hey Elul, 5679/1919.
His wife Guta Beila left the Soviet Union decades later in 5726/1966, and she merited to have yechidus with her son by the Rebbe. His son Reb Zalman Kuratin later lived in France and passed away there in 5761/2001. Some of his descendants include Reb Yankel Holtzman, formerly of Antwerp, who married his granddaughter, as well as the Rabbi Tzvi Perlman, shliach in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who are descended from his daughter.