R. Shmuel Betzalel Sheptel, known among chassidim as Rashbatz, was a prominent chossid of many Rebbeim, the melamed of the Frierdiker Rebbe, and later a mashpia of Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch. His sayings and meshalim guided generations of chassidim.
R. Shmuel Betzalel Sheptel, known among chassidim as Rashbatz, was one of the prominent chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek, Rebbe Maharash and Rebbe Rashab. In the publications “HaTomim,” the Frierdiker Rebbe describes his incredible journey to Chassidus Chabad and the Tzemach Tzedek. The Rebbe Maharash entrusted him with the education of his son, the Rebbe Rashab, who later entrusted him with the education of his son, the Frierdiker Rebbe.
In the year 5660 (1900), he was appointed as the leading mashpia of Tomchei Temimim, a position which he kept until his last day. He passed away on the 15th of Sivan 5665 (1905), and was buried, according to his wish, within 50 amos of the ohel of the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash.
R. Michoel Opotzker was a talmid of the Alter Rebbe, about whom chassidim said that angels “danced around him.” He once sent his talmid the Rashbatz with a letter to the Tzemach Tzedek, warning him not to open the letter.
The Rashbatz could not control himself and opened the letter on the way. To his surprise, he saw that the page inside was blank – there was nothing written on it! When he arrived at the Tzemach Tzedek, the Tzemach Tzedek himself took the letter out of Rashbatz’s bag, because fear had overcome him. When the Tzemach Tzedek opened the letter, he studied it with intent, and then said to the Rashbatz, “Who gave you permission to read it?”
The Rashbatz once asked his mentor R. Michel Opotzker to show him klipah (impurity). At first, R. Michel would not agree, but after much pestering R. Michel agreed to show him. The Rashbaz would later regret this and said that it would have been better had he not seen klipah.
The Frierdiker Rebbe related:
In my youth, I would often look out the window. My mentor, Rashbatz, guided me to change my instinct – though what could one see already in the streets of Lubavitch? He would tell me, “Why should you stand inside and look at the street outside? Better go stand outside and look in…”
The same is true in general: In the past, all chassidishe activities – such as learning, davening, mikveh, a niggun, a joyous rikud, and a farbrengen – left an impact, since the person himself was all there. Today, one only “lends” his mind and heart for those activities, but he himself is elsewhere. It would be better if he did less of those things, as long as he himself is attached to Chassidus.
The Rashbatz valued time exceedingly. During the time when he mentored the Frierdiker Rebbe (then a young bochur), he would sometimes wake him up at 1 am saying, “Wake up, wake up, vehinei Hashem nitzav alav”, Hashem’s presence is upon us.
The Rashbatz once ate at the Rebbe Rashab’s Shabbos table. His young student, the Frierdiker Rebbe, noticed that he was not eating the chrein (horseradish) with the fish, and he pushed the chrein toward the Rashbatz. The Rashbatz told him, “It’s bad enough that we have to eat. The food does not need a ‘mediator’ as well…”
The Rebbe Rashab once said: “The Rashbatz is a penimi; he lives with a vort. The Rashbatz makes every concept, however deep it may be, into a vort that encompasses the light of the idea. It is with this vort that he davens, goes to sleep, and rises.”
When the Tzemach Tzedek was in Petersburg, an artist drew a portrait of him. Hearing the news, the Rashbatz commented, “It’s a joke to make a portrait of the Rebbe! The Rebbe has six different appearances in a day!”
(When recording this story, Reb Chaim Mordechai Perlov adds that the same was true with the Rebbe Rashab; his appearance during yechidus was so different than his appearance during saying Chassidus, and so on.)
Oftentimes, when the Rashbatz would see a bochur in the yeshiva walking around during davening, he would tell him, “You must have moved from your original spot to a new one thinking that the second place would be more conducive for davening with kavana. In that case, why did you then walk back to the first spot?”
To another bochur he remarked, “You have already ‘harnessed’ yourself (with the tefillin); why do you still need to run around like a horse?”
Someone once asked the venerable chossid, the Rashbatz, whether the Rebbe Rashab had ruach hakodesh. The Rashbatz replied, “To me it makes no difference! I know that he is a Rebbe. If a Rebbe needs ruach hakodesh, then he surely has it, and if not, then what is there to be excited about…?”
The Rashbatz once visited Chernobyl for Shabbos, where he was received with respect. After Shabbos he was invited to a lavish melava malka, and the chassidim wanted him to partake of all of the foods. Despite the fact that it was connected to a mitzva, Rashbatz was not thrilled about the overindulgence.
The chassidim challenged him, “Doesn’t it say that melava malka feeds the ‘Luz’ bone, from which there will be Techiyas Hameisim?” Rashbatz retorted, “True! However, it is possible to eat in such a manner that one does not deserve to rise at Techiyas Hameisim at all…”
The mashpia Rashbatz, would teach Tanya in Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch. Upon reading the words of the Alter Rebbe, “One will definitely do teshuvah in the end, in this gilgul or the next, for ‘no one is entirely pushed away,” he would break out crying. “Kinderlach!” he would say, “You must do teshuvah. Ultimately, you will be forced to do so; so what are you waiting for?”
The Rashbatz would daven at great length, putting special emphasis on Pesukei Dezimra. He was once asked, “Chassidus has more explanations on the ideas of the bracha Yotzer Or. As such, that is where the main contemplation ought to be.”
He replied, “If it is good for me here, why the need to go further?”
The elder chossid Rashbatz would tell the following mashal:
There was once a king who had a beautiful bird and would play with it constantly. At one point, the bird broke one of its feet, yet the king still cherished it. Soon after, the bird broke her second foot and her feathers fell off, but the king still loved it.
One day the bird died. The king was so distressed that he became sick. The doctors diagnosed the king with having a great desire for something and if this desire would be fulfilled, he would regain his health. Everyone knew it was the missing bird, but what could be done? Finally a plan was devised. Professional craftsman were brought in who designed a bird made out of gold with feathers, eyes, feet and all. Its beauty surpassed the old dead bird by far. Now they were sure that the king would recover. But not only did the king not play with it, he didn’t even pay any attention to it. When asked for an explanation, the king said: “The previous bird may not have been so beautiful, but it was alive. This one, with all its beauty, is lifeless…”
The great chossid and mashpia Rashbatz would advise the chassidim who would fast, “Instead of fasting with your stomach, fast with your mouth!”
One Yom-Tov, at a seuda with his chassidim, the Frierdiker Rebbe related the following.
When a chossid is actively involved in his shlichus he is mekushar to the Rebbe. His entire being is bound to the Rebbe. He walks like a chossid, eats like a chossid, and sleeps like a chossid. However, this is only true of chassidim who have a mentor and accept guidance. If, however, one is his own teacher and guide, the above does not apply.
The Rashbatz would tell the story of a Russian non-Jew who found a pair of tefillin. Grabbing them by the straps, he headed for the market to sell his new metzia. A yid walking by was shocked to see a non-Jew holding tefillin by the retzuos and dragging the batim on the ground.
He asked him in astonishment, “Where did you get those?”
The non-Jew responded arrogantly, Ya sam sapozhnik! (“I myself am a cobbler!”), as if to show off his craftsmanship by claiming to have made them himself.
The Frierdiker Rebbe concluded, “The lesson is self-understood…”
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