By Yitzchok Cohen
The Tosher Rebbe, Harav Meshulam Feish Lowy, shlita, attributes his deliverance from the Holocaust to the merit of his grandfather, the Saraf of Tosh (in Hungary). After World War II, when the Rebbe found himself in Austria, he set up a beis medrash by means of which he hoped to infuse survivors with new strength and hope.
In Adar 5711/1951 the Rebbe left Europe and set sail for Canada. Immediately after Pesach, he established the Tosher Beis Medrash Ohel Elimelech in Montreal, which quickly turned into a flourishing center of Torah.
After a few months the Rebbe realized that if he wished to build up a strong chassidic community, he would need to move away from the bustling metropolis and build a private enclave in a quieter area outside the city. Defying skepticism and many other more concrete obstacles, the Tosher Rebbe forged ahead with his plan, determined to turn his dream into reality. It took a decade and tremendous effort, but in 1964 the Rebbe finally succeeded in opening his yeshivah in a small town about thirty kilometers (18 miles) from Montreal.
Although the village of Tosh in Boisbriand, Quebec, is but a tiny dot on the map, it regularly attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world, as Jews of all backgrounds are drawn to the Rebbe for Shabbosos, Yamim Tovim, and just to receive his blessings.
I would like to share some personal impressions of my visit to Tosh. As the saying goes, “A guest for a while sees a mile.”
It was a blustery Thursday night in Teves when I boarded the bus in front of Eichler’s sefarim store in Boro Park. The bus made a stop in Williamsburg to pick up another group of people who, like me, were heading to Tosh for Shabbos.
At the border, grim-looking officers grilled us with endless questions, making us somewhat anxious as we waited to be granted entry into Canada. When my turn came, I was so nervous that they thought Iwas hiding something. Until Iconvinced them that Iwas an innocent albeit inexperienced traveler, took much too long. Of course, the bus load of travelers were obligated to wait for me. Dawn was starting to break on Friday morning before we were finally allowed into Canada.
A blast of frigid air greeted us as we exited the bus in Tosh. A thick layer of snow blanketed the streets and in the distance I could see men and boys already heading toward the shul in the predawn light. We entered the yeshivah where the bachurim welcomed us warmly and showed us to our rooms. We retired for a few hours of rest to shake off some of the exhaustion from the long bus ride and wait at the border.
Later in the morning, we went to daven in the large shul, where the air was charged with spiritual fervor. Outside, I saw Tosh residents, bundled up in warm coats and fur hats pulled down low to protect them from the icy Canadian weather. Many men were driving to shul already wearing tallis and tefillin as a way of elevating their arrival at shul. It didn’t take much time for me to appreciate the spiritual aura that predominates in this insulated enclave. Away from the noise and flashiness of the big city, life in serene Tosh is focused on the Rebbe and the ideals he represents.
Our group joined the bachurim in the yeshivah building for a lavish and nourishing breakfast. Then we went to check out the local sefarim store and tour the town. Visiting the full gamut of institutions needed for a frum community’s existence, I couldn’t help but admire such an extensive achievement in a quiet corner of Quebec.
I merited to daven Shacharis with the Rebbe when he davened with a private minyan. The bachurim explained that the yeshivah administration instituted a rotating minyan to give each bachur an opportunity to daven Shacharis with the Rebbe. They said they use energy drinks to sustain themselves until the late afternoon since they don’t eat before davening Shacharis.
An Inspiring Shabbos
Attempting to describe Kabbalas Shabbos with the Rebbe is nearly impossible; one has to have experienced the kedushah that fills every inch of space and floods one’s soul. I had the zechus of standing close to the Rebbe and was able to observe him carefully as he welcomed the Shabbos Queen.
After davening, people flocked to the shul from all sides of town and stood on a long winding line waiting to say “Gut Shabbos” to the Rebbe. After my turn, I went to the yeshivah to join the bachurim at their Leil Shabbos seudah. I wasn’t the only guest; we were a colorful mix of people – Sephardim, chassidim and Litvaks all had come to get a taste of “Shabbos in Tosh.”
Upon completing the seudah, I quickly headed over to the beis medrash for the Rebbe’s tisch. I had purposely rushed, hoping to get there early enough to find a good spot, but others had obviously been faster than I – the bleachers were already filled to capacity. I managed to squeeze into a tiny space among the tiered rows of men and bachurim so that I had a good view of the Rebbe. The Rebbe sat at the table below, flanked by his sons and sons-in-law.
It was a sublime sight – the Rebbe, wrapped in his tallis, his face shining with an otherworldly light as he intoned soul-stirring melodies for Shalom Aleichem, Ribbon Kol Ha’olamim and Eishes Chayil. The Rebbe took out an assortment of besamim, recited a brachah and took a sniff from each one. Palpable silence reigned during Kiddush, and an aura of holy anticipation enveloped the crowd as we watched the Rebbe wash his hands.
The Rebbe recited a measured and fervent Hamotzi on the challah, cut a slice, and then distributed shirayim for the crowd. When I asked someone why the Rebbe only eats spelt challah, he explained that the Rebbe guards his health very carefully, fulfilling the mitzvah of v’nishmartem meod l’nafshoseichem to the utmost. Not surprisingly, the Rebbe is extremely knowledgeable in medical matters, and thousands turn to him from all over the world for advice.
(The same chassid told me that the Rebbe often instructs sick people to drink certain herbal mixtures and that he distributes various curative brews.
Once, the Rebbe was asked to come to the home of Reb Moshe Leib Weinberger, z”l, father of, ybl”c, Reb Yeshaya Doniel Weinberger. Reb Moshe Leib had served as the Rebbe’s baal tefillah during the Yamim Nora’im for over fifty years. On this occasion the Rebbe was told that a minyan had already assembled around Reb Moshe Leib, who had become so weak that his end seemed imminent. The Rebbe instructed his hoiz bachur [attendant] to cook up some fresh almond milk, which he then gave to Reb Moshe Leib to drink. Within a short time, Reb Moshe Leib regained his strength. The following Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he once again davened for the amud in Tosh, his strong voice resounding vigorously, and he lived for several more years.)
The fish course was an avodah in its own right for the Rebbe; it is known that earlier tzaddikim brought about tikkunim for suffering neshamos while eating fish at the Shabbos seudah.
The soul-stirring echoes of Ahavah Rabbah still resonate in my ears and I can see before me the rows of chassidim swaying together to the rhythm of the niggun. When it came time to say divrei Torah, the Rebbe shared insights from the sefer Noam Elimelech, mentioning that although the evening was “nittel, when we usually don’t learn Torah, learning from the Noam Elimelech is more of a tefillah than a limud.”
On Shabbos morning the shul was filled with people reciting Tehillim. It was an awe-inspiring sight to see the Rebbe standing at the amud with a sefer Tehillim open before him for three hours, entreating Hashem on behalf of Klal Yisrael. Shacharis began at about eleven, with each passuk of Pesukei d’Zimra recited slowly and clearly.
Listening to the crystal-clear enunciation of the Pesukei D’zimra recited that way, I was reminded of a story mentioned in a sefer written by Harav Aharon Roth, zy”a, the father-in-law of the previous Toldos Aharon Rebbe, zy”a, known as the Shomrei Emunim Rebbe. The Saraf of Tosh (the first Harav Meshulam Feish Loewy) was once approached by a group of people from a prominent city in Hungary who asked him to leave Tosh and accept the mantle of rabbanus in their city. The Saraf was considering accepting the position, but when the Tosher chassidim learned about it, they begged the Saraf not to leave them.
The Saraf listened to their request and then said that he was willing to remain in Tosh, but only on one condition. The heads of the Tosher kehillah were overjoyed to hear this and asked the Rebbe what his stipulation was. The Rebbe replied that Perek 107 of Tehillim, which is recited on Shabbos afternoon, should henceforth be recited out loud passuk by passuk, as should Mizmor L’Dovid on Friday night, Hallel on Yamim Tovim, and the Pesukei D’zimrah Shabbos morning. Needless to say, the kehillah in Tosh was more than happy to take on these commitments in order to have the Saraf remain with them. Ever since then it has been a Tosher custom to recite key parts of the davening aloud, slowly and clearly.