The Watchman Who Went On to Become Lubavitch’s Lead Mashpia

A legend of Tomchei Temimim, R. Shmuel Groinem Esterman was the first and foremost mashpia in Lubavitch. His insights and stories set hundreds of talmidim in the ways of Chassidus, and continue to enlighten today.

R. Shmuel Groinem Esterman was the first and foremost mashpia in Tomchei Temimim and set hundreds of talmidim in the ways of Chassidus. He was educated by the chossid Reb Avraham, rov of Zhebin (“Reb Avremkeh Zhebiner”). Hundreds of stories and anecdotes were heard from him and transcribed by his students. He passed away in the year 5681 (1921).


Reb Avremke Zhebiner was a businessman, and only after his business failed did he agree to accept a position of rabbonus. When he was invited to Zhebin he told the baaleibatim, “The normal procedure is that the baaleibatim test the rov to see whether he is fit for the position, I, however, intend to test the townsmen to see whether this position is for me.” He requested that every single one of the townsmen come before him so he can speak to each one individually.

The last person to pass by was a poor man who worked as a watch guard of orchards. He told Reb Avremke how he had studied in depth all of Likutei Torah and Imrei Binah and he knew them by heart, but he had some questions, and he looks forward to asking the new rov his questions.

Reb Avremke then called together the community leaders and told them, “After having spoken to all the townsmen I concluded that this town is no place for me, and I had decided to move on. But at last, when the watch guard came to me with his request I decided to remain.”

That watch guard was Reb Groinem.


Every year, Reb Groinem would travel to Lubavitch to be with the Rebbe for Rosh HaShana. One year he was warned that the infection on his foot would become dangerous if it were not kept dry. One of his talmidim, Reb Shaul Ber Zislin, sensed that Reb Gronem wanted very much to toivel on erev Yom Kippur despite the risk, so the young boy decided to ask the Rebbe Rashab on his behalf. The Rebbe was opposed and said: “Nu, so he won’t toivel!”

When Reb Shaul Ber relayed the Rebbe’s words, his teacher was not happy that he had asked. Now that the Rebbe had said he should not toivel, he was afraid to do so.

Yet Reb Groinem could not conceive of the possibility of not toiveling on erev Yom Kippur, so when an opportunity arose, he told the Rebbe that he had an intense desire to toivel in the mikveh. The Rebbe replied, “If so, toivel, and with the help of the One Above there will be no harm.”

Reb Groinem did as he was told and indeed no harm befell him.


Reb Groinem once spent Shabbos Zachor in a town where there was no mikveh, and the river was frozen. Unable to imagine not going to the mikveh on Shabbos Zachor, he searched the river until he found a hole in the ice, that had been made to enable people to draw water for the animals. He undressed in an abandoned mill, and walked barefoot on the ice until the hole.

Before he immersed he told the river: “You should know that you have no permission to harm me, because the Baal Shem Tov taught that one tevila will do no harm!” Due to the severe cold, he was unsure if his head had fully submerged under the water, so he toiveled again.

He then headed back to the mill, his wet bare feet sticking to the ice, but the event did not harm his health.

Such was the emuna of chassidim of old: They trusted the Baal Shem Tov’s assurance with complete faith and even risked their life for it.


Reb Sholom Reb Hillel’s, so called because he was the dedicated talmid of the eminent chossid Reb Hillel Paritcher, once related the following to Reb Groinem, the mashpia in Lubavitch:

Reb Hillel once said that he did not understand what Chazal meant when they said that Moshiach ben Yosef would be killed in a war. Perhaps, Reb Hillel said, they were telling us that the light of Chassidus will not shine so strongly in the days before Moshiach. And while saying this, Reb Hillel broke into tears. When Reb Sholom told this story, he too cried.

When Reb Groinem would repeat the story he would conclude, “But we don’t cry…”


At a farbrengen, R. Groinem once turned to a bochur who had a hard time being accepted to Tomchei Temimim, though eventually was admitted, and said:

“Do you remember when you stood crying outside the door when you weren’t accepted? It was not you crying; it was your neshama. Even when one moves a finger, our Chazal say that it happens only because it was announced on high; surely so for a soul that yearns to enter Tomchei Temimim.”


R. Groinem said:

It is written in the siddur that it is proper to know the exact time of the molad (renewal of the new moon) before bentching the new month. Though the siddur only states that it is “proper” everyone runs to the calendar to check the time. Yet, strangely, when it comes to an explicit command of the Torah, “Da es elokei avicha” – know the G-d of your father, which is accomplished through the study of Chassidus, people aren’t running…


One of his students recalled:

At his farbrengens, R. Groinem would bring out his points with many stories. He had a special talent to bring his episodes to life. He would describe the main character of the story in such a way that we felt as if we had met him. Likewise, in describing the happenings of the story in a way he made us feel like we had experienced it ourselves.

We sensed that the point of it all was to ingrain within us middos tovos and deeper sensibility to life, which would then enable us to properly appreciate the uplifting and pleasurable ways of Chassidus.


There is a common chassidishe refrain in Yiddish, describing someone as being a “chassidishe beindel,” which literally means: a chassidishe bone. R. Groinem explained that elder chassidim used this phrase to describe a true chossid to his essence, since the Yiddish word “beindel” (bone) is translated to Hebrew as “etzem”, which also means “essence”.

There is a principle that the essence is something that cannot change. Likewise, a chossid at his essence is someone who is set on the path of Chassidus that he will not leave it and he will certainly continue to grow in its ways.


Reb Nochum Gorelnik related:

“As a bochur in Lubavitch, I had the merit to stay in R. Groinem’s home. One of the other boarders, a tall and broad fellow, had come to Lubavitch straight from a secular school. His parents weren’t chassidim, but a local Lubavitch family drew him close, and convinced him to drop his school and go to Lubavitch.

“Interestingly, in Lubavitch as well, he maintained some of his lifestyle. Each morning, after saying brachos, he would put out a mat, remove his shirt, and begin a series of exercises – lifting and turning his hands, legs, back and belly. Not once did R. Groinem make a comment to him about this ‘un-Lubavitcher’ custom.

“Years later, I heard that this young man suffered from hunger, yet he refused to defile himself with non-kosher food, and he died for Hashem’s honor.”


The Tzemach Tzedek once said, “The level of chassidishkeit has gone down.”

He went on to explain that in the days of the Mitteler Rebbe, first the melamdim were admitted for yechidus, then the rabbonim, and finally the baalei-batim would take their turn. Now, he said, the baalei-batim enter first. (After all, they have important matters to discuss; besides, they are the ones who support the melamdim and rabbonim….) Only afterwards are the rabbonim and melamdim admitted.

When the legendary mashpia, Reb Groinem, related this story, the temimim in Lubavitch asked him why the Tzemach Tzedek did not reverse the order to the way it had been in the past. Reb Groinem, in true chassidic tradition, explained with a story:

“There was once a villager, a simple yishuvnik, who would occasionally visit the rov of the nearby town and ask him all his shaylos. One day he arrived at the home of the rov and found him at a meeting discussing a serious matter with his colleagues. When the meeting ended, the villager presented his shaylos, and then asked the rov if he could know what was the matter of such great concern.

“The rov explained that since it hadn’t rained for a while, they were deliberating whether they should declare a day of fasting and davening for the much-needed rain, to save them from possible famine. The villager, astonished, offered his counsel.

” ‘I have a far simpler solution,’ he said. ‘Whenever my cat runs into the house and crouches near the oven, rain begins to fall shortly after. All we must do is grab the cat, place it near the oven, and the rain will surely follow!’ “

The mashpia concluded: “In the days of the Mitteler Rebbe, the baalei-batim admired and respected the melamdim and rabbonim and gave them precedence. But now that the situation has declined and they no longer respect them, rearranging them in the correct order is no more helpful than putting the cat near the oven to bring the rain….”

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