Living Legacy: The Shpoler Zeide
By: Yehuda Alter
6 Tishrei marked the yohrtzeit of Rebbe Yehuda Aryeh Leib, known as the Shpoler Zeide, zy”a, who was known for his fiery avodas Hashem, and doing everything possible to help a fellow Yid.
He was born on the first night of Chanukah of the year 1724 to his father, R’ Baruch, a descendant of the Maharal MiPrague. He named his son for his holy ancestor.
In later years the Shpoler Zeide would relate that as a young boy of three years old, his father took him to the Ba’al Shem Tov, who placed his holy hand upon his heart. “Ever since then, my heart was aflame,” he said.
He learned under the great talmidim of the Ba’al Shem Tov; Rebbe Pinchos of Koretz, the Toldos Yaakov Yosef of Polno’oh, and the Maggid of Mezrich. Like a number of other early luminaries of the chassidic movement, he went into ‘exile.’ For a period of seven years, he wandered from place to place through the towns and villages of Ukraine, dressed as a pauper—assisting many Yidden in need along the way.
Eventually, he returned to Shpole, and he became known as a great tzaddik and miracle worker. In Shpole, he began to attract a great following, and he would influence them to follow in the path of chasidus.
Despite his many followers, it seems the Shpoler Zeide did not want to be called a Rebbe—although he was part of the first generation of leaders following the Ba’al Shem Tov—and this is how came to be called “Zeide,” according to some historians.
He was singular in the way he related to the simple people, and nothing was beneath him when it came to assisting a fellow Yid. He functioned as a tzeddakah collector for many years, with a special emphasis on the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim.
A number of famous chassidic nigunim are attributed to the Shpoler Zeide.
He was known for his incredible dancing. Every Friday night he would dance and dance l’kovod Shabbos. Tzaddikim of his generation said that the avodah of his dancing was greater than their own davening. The most famous story about his dancing is of the time that he traded places with an unfortunate Yid, and danced in a bear’s skin, until he outdanced the kozzack—all to ease the plight of his fellow Yid in trouble.
Once, the Shpoler Zeide crossed a frozen river in order to attend a bris. On his way, the ice broke, and he fell into the icy waters-. He was only saved through a miracle. His descendants celebrate this miracle to this day.
The Shpoler Zeide was niftar on 6 Tishrei of the year 1811 at the age of 87, and was interred in his hometown of Shpole, where Yidden have continued to flock for yeshuo’s.