Monday, July 02, 2007

The Rebuilding of Belz

Part 1: From Belz to Eretz Israel

In the late 1950's , the Belzers had no rebbe, no heart, no center. The young Issachar Dov Rokeach continued in his learning until the age of 17, when he married the daughter of the Rebbe of Vizhnitz, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager. At this time, secular Zionism, still young and confident, seemed to be scoring major achievements building a country, making deserts bloom, winning diplomatic victories. Almost every family could count someone who had "gone off the derech," leaving the fold of observant Judaism to follow the sun-bronzed pioneers.

Rabbi Issachar Dov Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe

But Torah, the Eitz Chaim, the Tree of Life of the Jewish people, has a way of sprouting new branches from a seemingly dead stump. In 1966, at age 18, Rabbi Rokeach returned to Jerusalem to take control of the Belzer Chassidim. He began his work establishing schools and shtieblach (hassidic synagogues.) In one of these buildings, hidden inside the walls, several bricks, the last surviving remnants smuggled from the ruins of the great Shtiebel of Belz, were carefully hidden.

Not until 1980, when the educational and religious institutions of Belz had been rebuilt around the world, was the Rebbe ready for the master project; to rebuild the great synagogue of Belz. Fundraising began five years before the groundbreaking in 1985, and and continued until the project was complete fifteen years later, in 2000. The location for the shul was carefully selected. In the heart of Kiryat Belz, at the center of Israel's Belzer community, it faces precisely towards Har Habayit, the Temple Mount. All prayers in the world are understood to travel from their place of origin to Har Habayit, and from there into the next world. Therefore, to reduce the risk of impurity, the Belzer Beis Hamedrash Hagadol was located such that if one were to draw a straight line from there to the Temple Mount, no Mosques or Churches would be encountered. The elevation of the shul is such that, from the rooftop, one can see directly onto the Temple Mount, several miles distant, over the tops of the mosques built around it.

The Southern entrance to the Belzer Beis HeMedrash HaGadol in Kiryat Belz, Jerusalem

A close-up of the doors to give a sense of scale.

The Beis Medrash Hagadol itself is, in fact, built to one-third the scale of the Beit Hamikdash (holy temple) itself. The massive structure is a full 14 stories, and can be seen from all directions, especially at night.

The Belzer Beis Hamedrash Hagadol, lit up at night.

Like his anscestor, the Sar Shalom, the present Belzer Rebbe managed all aspects of construction using all the secrets of purity and construction first revealed to the Sar Shalom by Eliyahu Hanavi. The Rebbe even appointed two of his Hassidim to pour all concrete to be used for the structure, with instructions to visit the mikveh (purity bath,) recite tehillim (psalms,) and maintain a deep sense of kavannah (divine intent) during their work.

To be continued...

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