A chossid of stature and a wealthy man, R. Hirshel Gurary donned four pairs of tefillin and was a son-in-law of the Radziner Rebbe. When he was seen sleeping on a bench to attend the Frierdiker Rebbe‘s daughter’s chassuna, he inspired a Mirrer talmid in the way of Chassidus.
R. Yechiel Tzvi Hirsh Gurary was born in 5643 in Kremenchug, where his father R. Nosson was a well-known chossid and gvir. R. Hirshel was one of the early talmidim in Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch, where he learned from the mashpia R. Hendel.
A son-in-law of the Radziner Rebbe, R. Hirshel lived in Kremenchug where he owned a tobacco factory and was a leading gvir and askan. After the Communist revolution, he fled Russia and settled in Warsaw where he served as a member of the administration of the local branch of Tomchei Temimim. R. Hirshel died in the Warsaw Ghetto in 5703, together with most of his family. His only surviving child was Chaya Devorah, the wife of R. Nochum Goldshmid in Eretz Yisrael.
An outstanding maskil and oved, R. Hirshel was grabbed as a son-in-law by the fourth Radziner Rebbe, R. Mordechai Yosef Elazar Leiner. The Radziner Rebbes were known for renewing the mitzvah of techeiles in tzitzis, and when R. Hirshel joined the family, he was expected to don it as well.
Knowing that the Rebbe Rashab rejected the renewal of techeiles – based on Kabbala that it will only return after the geulah – he was in a quandary, and he asked the Rebbe what to do. The Rebbe Rashab instructed him to wear it at home out of respect for the Radziner Rebbe, who was a great person.
The Rebbe lists R. Hirshel among those special chassidim who put on four pairs of tefillin.
During WWI, the Tomchei Temimim yeshiva escaped from Lubavitch to Kremenchug. R. Hirshel bought a large three-story mansion surrounded by an orchard that had belonged to a nobleman, and made it available to the bochurim for learning and sleeping. He also arranged meals and other needs for the hundred bochurim who learned there.
Hirshel had a room in the building where would come to learn Chassidus each day.
At a farbrengen in 5681, during the Russian Revolution, the Frierdiker Rebbe spoke emphatically about the need for avoda. R. Hirshel was taken aback and asked, “Now?! When Alter [Simchovitch] is being forced to clean the streets, the Rebbe is demanding avoda?”
The Rebbe replied that although we are small in comparison to the mesiras nefesh of Rebbi Akiva, since Hashem chose us for this task it is a sign that we can succeed.
R. Hirshel’s younger brother, R. Zalman Gurary, related:
The chassuna of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s daughter Shaina to R. Menachem Mendel Horenshtein took place in the Polish town of Lentvaris, and accommodations were arranged in a large barracks. Having arrived late, my brother R. Hirshel didn’t have a bed and he laid down to sleep on a bench.
Present at the chassuna was a bochur named Moshe Gitteles. He had once learned in Lubavitch, but later transferred to the Mir yeshiva. I had brought him previously to the Frierdiker Rebbe who tried to impress upon him the importance of learning Chassidus, but Moshe countered that Mussar is just as effective.
But when he saw this esteemed and wealthy chossid sleeping on a bench, Moshe was stunned, and he admitted, “By us, such bittul doesn’t exist!”
For sources, visit TheWeeklyFarbrengen.com