Living Legacy: The Skulener Rebbe, zt”l, Upon his Fortieth Yohrtzeit
By: Yehuda Alter
Friday, the 29th of Av, marks the 40th yohrtzeit of Rav Eliezer Zusia Portugal, zt”l, the Skulener Rebbe, who epitomized mesirus nefesh for spreading Yiddishkeit and unbridled love for his fellow Yid.
The rebbe was born in the town of Skulen, which was then in Moldova, to his father Rav Yisroel Avrohom, the Rov of the town. They were chassidim if the Bohusher and Sadigerer Rebbes.
He was known as a prodigy, and was a great masmid. When his father was niftar, he was only seventeen years of age. Nevertheless, he was appointed the Rov of Skulen at a young age.
The young Rov was fluent in Shas and Shulchan Aruch, and he began spreading knowledge and awareness of Halacha to the masses in his area.
Following WWII, the rebbe took in hundreds of orphans, caring for their every need—hundreds of souls that could easily have been lost, R”l, and today their third and fourth generations are thriving in Jewish communities around the world.
Later, the Rebbe would write about this time: “Please remember that I was dedicated to your well-being from the day that I came to know you. You did not have a greater friend than I, and I endured pain in body, in Monsey, and through much suffering that I experienced. Nearly every day, morning and night, I was concerned whether you ate and drank, and the like. I hired for you the most talented melamdim to enlighten your eyes in Torah, and to guide you on the good and proper way.
But this came at a price.
The authorities began persecuting him on account of his activities. His son, the late Skulener Rebbe later described the torture that they endured. “There was but one footstep between us and death. There was no natural way for us to escape alive.”
Due to the great miracles of their rescue from the Romanian resha’im, the Rebbe would host a great celebration every Motzei Shabbos Nachamu to give thanks to Hashem. This tradition was continued by his son and successor, and by, ybl”ch, his illustrious children.
The Skulener Rebbe was niftar in 1982, 40 years ago.
In his last will and testament, the Rebbe asks of his chassidim “I implore you to strongly refrain from bittul Torah and from idle pursuits… I ask of you to do this for my neshamah. Add in your Torah learning with joy and with love. Aside from fulfilling the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, you will accomplish a chessed shel emes with my neshamah.”
The kever on the Monsey Beis hachaim remains an important place for yeshu’os, and many thousands come to daven there each year, keeping alive his living legacy.