The third Rebbe, Rebbe Yissachar Dov, the father of Rebbe Aharon, was the son-in-law of Rebbe Zusha, the Rebbe of Chernobyl. After his marriage, he lived near his father-in-law, studying Torah day and night. His father, Rebbe Yehoshua, instructed him to write down all his Torah commentaries in a notebook. One day when he arrived at his father’s home, the latter asked him, “Yissachar Dov, show me your commentaries.” When he went to get the notebook, he couldn’t find it. As it turned out, his writings had been stolen when he spent one night in an inn. Rebbe Yissachar Dov was very bothered by this, but his father told him, “My son, don’t worry and don’t be sad. In place of your lost Torah commentaries, Hashem will give you a son that will illuminate the world with his Torah and his great wisdom.”
One year later, on the 17th of Teves, 5640 (1880), a son was born to Rebbe Yissachar Dov, after 12 years of marriage. He was named after his mother's great-grandfather, Rebbe Aharon of Chernobyl, although his father later revealed that he intended to name the child after the Great Rebbe Aharon of Karlin. Said Rebbe Yissachar Dov, “In the same way that the great Rebbe Aharon accepted upon himself all the misfortunes that could have struck Klal Yisroel, my son will also take upon himself all of their misfortunes.”
Aharonu’s mother died in 5644 (1884) when he was just 4 years old. His grandfather, Rebbe Yehoshua Rokeach, took Aharonu under his wing and oversaw his spiritual development. As he grew up, Aharonu spent much of his day ensconced in Torah learning and he ate and slept little.
When Rebbe Aharon was a boy, he would take with him some bread and coffee to the Cheder. One day he called the gabbai and asked him to bring his bread and coffee to a certain Jewish tailor. The gabbai did not understand why little Aharonu requested this of him, and he wondered about it. The boy replied, “Today when I passed the mikveh, I heard this tailor talking to another Jew. He said, “After such a cold mikveh, it would be wonderful to have a piece of bread and a cup of hot coffee.” At that point, I decided to send him my bread and coffee.”
One day Rebbe Yechezkel Shraga, the Rebbe of Shinova, noticed little Aharonu and carefully looked him over. He exclaimed, “Apparently the "yetzer harah" has completely forgotten about this young man.” The young Aharon showed great brilliance in Torah knowledge and extreme diligence, but above all in his sterling character traits and purity of heart. All who saw him knew that he was destined to become a great sage among the Jewish people.
Rebbe Aharon was very modest by nature. The verse “and walk humbly with Hashem your G-d” (Micah 6:8) was one of his guiding principles. The Chassidim recount that Rebbe Aharon studied day and night, and while he knew all of Talmud and Poskim, he concealed the extent of his knowledge.
Becoming The Rebbe
When he came of age, Rebbe Aharon married his cousin, Malka. After his marriage, Rebbe Aharon lived near his father-in-law for several years. His strict regimen of seclusion, deprivation, and asceticism made him become seriously weakened. His doctors recommended a change of location and they sent him to a spa. While recuperating at the health resort of Kreniec, he still ate little, and his sleep deprivation made it difficult for him to stand or walk quickly. On Shabbos, however, he displayed no weakness. Rebbe Aharon would stand upright, walk quickly, and partake in the meals with obvious pleasure.
Rebbe Aharon had five sons and four daughters. Several of them died at birth or during childhood. The rest were killed by the Nazis Hy”d.
When Rebbe Aharon's father, Rebbe Yissachar Dov, died in Belz on Friday night, on 22 Cheshvan 5687 (30 October 1926), his 46-year-old son accepted the mantle of leadership at the funeral which was held in Belz after Shabbos.
While Rebbe Aharon continued to live with extreme simplicity and seclusion, he revealed himself to be a warm and caring leader. He read each kvitel with great interest and prayed for the petitioner's salvation and success. At first, he tried to limit the number of petitioners who sought his counsel and blessings to five per night, saying, "I simply cannot bear the tzoros (tribulations) of Klal Yisroe!" With time, however, he allowed many petitioners to see him nightly.
After a few years, the name of the young Rebbe of Belz became known throughout the world. The more he advanced in age, the greater his Torah knowledge and holiness became. Rebbe Aharon developed into a light that lit up the whole Jewish world as everyone became aware of his holiness, his righteousness, and his greatness.
The War Years
During Shemini Atzeret 5700 (1939), the Rebbe was forced to take the baton of pilgrimage into his hand and leave the city of Belz. The Rebbe and his brother, Rebbe Mordechai of Bilgoray, who accompanied him, wandered for four years, but Belz Chassidim both inside and outside Nazi-occupied Europe made saving their Rebbe their primary goal and they protected him from any harm. His entire family was killed, yet it was Hashem’s will that the Rebbe be miraculously saved from the Nazi inferno and make his way to Eretz Yisroel.
The Rebbe gave the following account: “It is impossible to describe the miracles, and the miracles within miracles, that the Holy One, blessed be He, has done for us. The man who drove me from the Bochnia Ghetto all the way to Budapest in Hungary visited me while I was in Pest. I once asked him, “How could you dare leave us in the car for more than an hour in the middle of the road in Pschemichl, while you went to the cabaret to visit your soldier friends and have drinks with them? Weren’t you afraid that a Gestapo agent traveling along the roads would catch us and realize that you were hiding Jews?” [Note: This man was a Hungarian military officer who pretended that the Rebbe and his brother were officers who were taking their retirement]. He replied, “I knew with whom I was traveling.” No one saw us along the entire route, for a large cloud covered the car throughout the duration of the trip.”
The Rebbe and his brother arrived in Eretz Yisroel on the 9th of Shevat, which became an occasion for joy and good deeds in the homes of Belz Chassidim. The Chassidim would assemble in his Beit Midrash and seat themselves at the table, while the Rebbe would give them a “Tikkun” and recount the miracles that occurred to him in hiding. He finished by saying, “Thank G-d, I arrived in Eretz Yisroel.” He spent his first Shabbat in Haifa, leaving an atmosphere of spiritual elevation in the city.
The full story of the Rebbe’s miraculous rescue during the war can be read in the book Rescuing the Rebbe of Belz
Rebuilding In Eretz Yisroel
When he arrived, Rebbe Aharon settled in Tel Aviv where he worked to replant Belz from the ashes of destruction. Eretz Yisroel was zocheh to have the Rebbe for thirteen years, first in Tel Aviv and later in Yerushalayim.
To the utter surprise of the Chassidim who thought that he would live in Yerushalayim, he said that he had secret reasons for doing so, reasons that he couldn’t reveal. When it was suggested that he live in Bnei Brak or Petach Tikvah, he replied, “When there were incidents with Arabs, no Arab could enter Tel Aviv, unlike those other cities. Therefore, I want to live in Tel Aviv, for only Jews live there.” The influence of the Rebbe on Tel Aviv was considerable, leading to noticeable reforms in the spiritual landscape of the city. The Rebbe once told a Belz Chassid living in Tel Aviv who was giving his son a haircut on his third birthday and leaving him payos: “Take your son and walk with him along Allenby Street [the main street in Tel Aviv] so that people see that the city now has another child with payos.”
Rebbe Aharon devoted the rest of his life to rebuilding Belzer Chassidus in Eretz Yisroel. He initially established his court in Tel Aviv, where he opened the first Belzer Talmud Torah. Later he moved to Yerushalayim, where he founded the first Belzer yeshiva.
For Rebbe Aharon, the only way to respond to the near destruction of Belz and Chassidus, and to honor the memory of the dead, was to build new institutions and nurture a new generation of Chaasidim. Today, this task has been continued and largely accomplished by his nephew, the present Rebbe of Belz.
Rebbe Aharon remarried after the war but did not have children. His brother, Rebbe Mordechai also remarried and had a son, Yissachar Dov, on January 19, 1948. When Rebbe Mordechai died suddenly on November 17, 1949, Rebbe Aharon groomed his year-old nephew to inherit the dynasty. After Rebbe Aharon's own death in 1957, the boy was educated by a small circle of trusted Chasidim. He became the fifth Belzer Rebbe in 1966.
Rebbe Aharon lived for 13 years in Eretz Yisroel, elevating the standards of Belz. On Motzai Shabbos Parshas Eikev, on the 21st of Av, 5717 (1957), his holy and pure soul departed.