Rabbi Jacob Horowitz was the first Rebbe of Mielec (known also as the “Melitzer Rebbe”). Here is what we know of him and his life.
Rabbi Jacob Horowitz was born sometime around 1783-1784 in Ropczyce (known as “Ropshitz” in Yiddish), the son of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz, the Rebbe of Ropczyce and Shaindel Stuker. He was the oldest of at least four children and was named after his grandfather, Rabbi Jacob Horowitz, Rebbe of Linsk.
Children of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz and Shaindel Stuker:
- Jacob (1784 – 1839)
- Roza (Ratza) (ca 1785 – ??)
- Abraham Chaim (1789 – 1831)
- Eliezer (ca 1790 – 1860)
It is known that Jacob spent his early years under his father’s tutelage in Ropczyce. R. Halberstam says:
…from the dawn of his childhood there was “Jacob an innocent man sitting in tents,” in a tent before a tent, hidden from human eyes, the child sat and engaged in Torah very constantly, and grew in Torah and wisdom, righteousness and awe, until he grew very much.
Thus he spent his teenage years, in the shadow of his great father who was the shadow of wisdom and the shadow of the silver, as a great superstition to the pure work of G-d, only not to G-d alone, as is well known…Halberstam, Rabbi Aaron. Beit Ha’YYN. Hamatik Printing, 1998.
Sometime likely in his late teenage years he married Shprintza Unger, daughter of Rabbi Efraim Fishel Unger, Rebbe of Pinczów.
Rabbi Halberstam relays several stories of Rabbi Jacob smoking tobacco while he was living in Ropczyce.
[Rabbi Jacob] had a large box of tobacco, and whenever he wanted to take tobacco out of it he would spin with his finger around the box seven times, and his holy father said that when he rotated with his finger he rotated the seven heavens.
[Rabbi Jacob’s] sacred work with supreme fidelity to raise smoke was very important in the eyes of his father, the Rebbe of Ropshitz. Once upon a time, the Rebbe of Ropshitz set out with his sons, and everything was ready for the journey, and Rabbi Eliezer, Rebbe of Dzikov asked why they were waiting and not traveling. It’s their father who was the Rebbe of Ropshitz, then, who is now engaged in smoking pike, we will wait for him and we will not stop him. And once when he heard when one of them joked about his son who inhaled tobacco when he was still a boy, and said, “See how he already behaves like the great rabbis,” he told him he was willing and reconciled quickly, because when my son inhales tobacco, he makes all the worlds noisy.Halberstam, Rabbi Aaron. Beit Ha’YYN. Hamatik Printing, 1998.
In 1804 Rabbi Jacob’s father, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz, installed Jacob as the Rabbi in Kolbuszowa (known as “Kalbsov” in Yiddish). He was then known as “Rabbi Yankele Kalbsov’er”. It is believed that Rabbi Jacob lived in Kolbuszowa for over 30 years.
It is unclear exactly when he left Kolbuszowa for Mielec; sources report years ranging from 1810 to 1835. The consensus is that he only lived in Mielec a few years, hence coming around the year 1830. The story goes that the people of Kolbuszowa loved Jacob so much that when he finally decided to leave, he did it in the night to “escape”:
The city of Mielec did not have a rabbi, and she was jealous of her sister Kalbsov, who was privileged to wear a crown on her head. The people of [Mielec] made various intercessions with the people of the town of Kalbsov to let our Rabbi leave their city and come to dwell honor within them. But all the entreaties were answered in the negative, for the people of Kalbsov did not in any way agree that our Rabbi should leave them, as he was the glory of the city and the crown of its people, and was revered and sanctified in the eyes of everyone.
With no choice, a delegation of supporters came to his quarters, in the dead of night and darkness, and with the sweetness of their tongues they rose to move the heart of our Rebbe who would accept their offer, and that night they took him to [Mielec].
As for waking up the next day and learning what the neighbors were doing to their neighbors, they were very upset, but it was a matter of ‘no return’. The people of Melitz were called “Melitzer Thieves” for many years thereafter.Halberstam, Rabbi Aaron. Beit Ha’YYN. Hamatik Printing, 1998.
Stories and Religious Teachings
Rabbi Jacob was known as a “Tzaddik” for his tremendous knowledge and observance of Torah. In fact his father would call him “Der Kleiner Baal Shem” (Little Baal Shem Tov). Rabbi Halberstam says: “…this title was given to him from his father when he was a little boy, by an act he had. During the rounds of Simchat Torah, the Rebbe of Ropshitz took hold of his little sons and danced with them. After the rounds were over, the father asked his sons: Who saw? Our Rabbi jumped up and answered: I have seen! Then the father exclaimed in front of him: ‘Du Klein is famous’.”
Many stories and anecdotes were written about him. Here are a few as recorded again by R. Halberstam:
Every evening on Shabbat Kodesh, at the time of Shabbat, he cut an apple for years, and look inside it. Why? Some believe that it was from the teachings of Holy Sage Toldot to see the smell of my sons as the smell of a field, as it is written: “Because there are points in every apple and apple, which when you cut the apple [there inside] the Yod points, because the sages said for Israel that they were called first, and also the sages said that the righteous keep the world created in ten articles by keeping the Torah included in the Judgment of Deuteronomy.”
It is also narrated there that once, on Shabbat with his brother Rabbi Eliezer of Tarnobrzeg, Rabbi Jacob observed G-d’s sacred work in the division of the apple.
Rabbi Jacob’s father, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi, Rebbe of Ropczyce, was also used to eating apples. The Rebbe of Nowy Sącz would sometimes bring apples for Rabbi Naftali Tzvi who would take them and ‘humiliate’ them. When his father [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Rubin, the Rebbe of Linsk] wanted to eat a piece of apple, [Rabbi Naftali Tzvi] gave an apple to his father who and ate a piece of it and then gave the rest back to his son he joined once again. And when [Rabbi Naftali Tzvi] had already eaten the whole apple, then he would give his father another whole apple.
Once upon a time there was a piece of apple for a while and it started to spoil, [Rabbi Jacob] ate it and then when his father wanted to eat the apple, he gave his father a new apple. When [Rabbi Jacob]’s father asked him about the piece of apple he left, his son said that, “once [the apple] began to spoil, I had to eat it immediately.” [Rabbi Menachem Mendel responded] to his son, “Were you created for this apple?” [Rabbi Naftali Tzvi replied]: “When an apple starts to spoil, shouldn’t we eat it so that it does not spoil?”Halberstam, Rabbi Aaron. Beit Ha’YYN. Hamatik Printing, 1998.
Our Rabbi’s way of writing a ‘prescription’ for medicine, was to write to take almonds. Anyone who received such a report would be healed, and saw it as a miracle.
His father also knew and recognized the virtue of this medicine. One time his father the Rebbe came from Ropczyce to Łańcut, where he fell ill and fell asleep. Our son-in-law came to visit him and asked his father if he would write him almonds for medicine. His father answered him: “Yes, it is written.” But as soon as our Rabbi left his room, the Rebbe of Ropczyce turned to those gathered around him and said: “[the almonds] will not help me anymore anyway…” because he knew in his heart that the time had come for his passing, and therefore he came to Łańcut because he wanted to lie there, as it is known.Halberstam, Rabbi Aaron. Beit Ha’YYN. Hamatik Printing, 1998.
Shabbat and Sukkot
Every Shabbat when he stormed his meal he did not sit on a chair, but turned on a staff (‘turned-kick’) as on Passover night.Halberstam, Rabbi Aaron. Beit Ha’YYN. Hamatik Printing, 1998.
In his sukkah, there were chairs for the [people of Oświęcim] all seven days of the holiday, and no one sat on them, only they were all covered together with one lid.
Robes and Kittels
Rabbi Jacob was very religious about his dress. He would dress in the same formal robe with tallit for Shabbat as he did on Pesach.
There is even a very complex story about Rabbi Jacob’s kittel when he was on a trip to Żabno:
One of the things that the Rebbe made worse for himself was not to wear any garment until after he had been immersed in the mikvah. In this they saw wonders in him that he felt in his holy feeling every time he came across a garment that was not baptized, which he could not wear. This is a story that has been passed down:
Once our Rabbi went to the city of Żabno on Shabbat Kodesh, and since they hurried out there was no time for the sun to dry the new ‘kittel’ before they left, and they threw it on the cart among the other things without drying it.
On Saturday night, when our Rabbi finished the ‘Kiddush’ and wanted to replace his ‘kaftan’ and with his ‘kittel’ as was his custom, he suddenly recoiled and took it off abruptly. The Rebbe tried again but again could not put it on – he said his hand does not want to enter…
The Rabbi turned to his servant and asked: “Did you dry the garment?” Having no choice, the boy acknowledged the truth, and since it was already late, the Rebbe had no choice and went to the table without immersing [in the mikveh]. Of course, at this meal our Rabbi was already sitting in the kaftan and not in the unbaptized garment.
The sincere Rabbi Mordechai David of Dąbrowa, who was present there, was very surprised by this act. He decided to test our Rabbi and to see if this reaction was real.
[Rabbi Mordechai David and his disciples] took the ‘kittel’ to the house of our Rabbi’s hostel and hid it under the pillow on the chair where our Rabbi normally sat when he came to [Żabno]. After they were finished [setting this up], they turned to our Rabbi with the question of whether he would allow them to accompany him to the hostel.
Our Rabbi was happy to oblige and they accompanied him to the hostel. When they arrived, our Rabbi went to sit on his usual chair, but even before he sat down properly he immediately jumped up and stood, not knowing himself why he could not sit.
Our Rabbi began to examine the chair. He rocked it back and forth, until he reached the pillow, which he had raised, and to his astonishment found the ‘kittel’ there. Then he struck his finger like a conductor, and declared: “Aha! Behold the unbaptized garment lies here.”
The sons of the Rabbi [Mordechai David of Dąbrowa] wanted to try a third time. They took the ‘kittel’, went into the bedroom, and buried it deep in the straw.
After the sons finished their work they went out to the outer room and declared, “It’s late.” Our Rabbi agreed to this as well, recited a recitation and entered his room to rest and exchange strength. The sons then stayed and lingered in the outer room to see what would happen.
Suddenly they heard from within our Rabbi is calling: “Oh!” He tried to lie down in the bed but could not, and as if the bed picked him up and was ejected. Here, too, our Rabbi begins to look carefully for the trigger, examines the cushion and the quilt and finds nothing bad. He then checked in the straw until he reaches deep, to the lower stage, when his hand hits a cloth. Then our Rabbi slowly pulls the cloth from the straw saying, “kittel…the kittel is here.” Our Rabbi then tapped a narrow finger on his forehead, already knowing the reason why he could not lie down on the bed.Halberstam, Rabbi Aaron. Beit Ha’YYN. Hamatik Printing, 1998.