The chasidic dynasty of Belz is one rich in tradition and righteous devotion. The sleepy little Galician town of Belz may have been small in size, but it was a towering bastion of chasidic zeal and piety, as well as an immeasurable repository of Torah, yir’as Shamayim, and avodas Hashem. Beginning with the holy Sar Shalom who became the first Belzer Rebbe in 5577 (1817), Belzer Rebbes have led their flock for close to 200 years and, during that span, most have emerged as leading lights, not only for their followers, but for all of klal Yisrael. The previous Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon Rokeach zt”l, was a spiritual giant and a true saint in the literal sense of the word. Although he was a mere mortal, he was viewed by many followers in the pre-war generation, Jews and gentiles alike – and even contemporaries – as nothing less than a mal’ach, an angel!
Shortly after his wedding, Reb Aharon, the young future Rebbe, came down with a life-threatening illness, which took a terrible toll on his already weak and frail physical state. His ravaged body became extremely susceptible to infection, and his doctor warned him against any form of contact that could make him sicker. He especially forbade him from going to the mikvah, a practice he would do each and every morning since he was a little child, for the risk of contracting an illness there was especially high. His father, Rav Yisachar Dov zt”l, suspected that his son might not take the doctor’s dire warning to heart, and so he called Reb Aharon into his private study and told him in no uncertain terms that he must obey the doctor’s orders. “I hereby command you, as your father, that you may not go into the mikvah under any circumstances until you are all better and cleared by the doctor to do so.”
One cold wintry morning, a relative noticed Reb Aharon leave his house in the pre-dawn hour and walk in the direction of the mikvah. He watched as Reb Aharon entered the mikvah building and did not reemerge for another 15 minutes. The relative was shocked, for it was known in the family that the Rebbe has strictly commanded his son not to go to the mikvah. He couldn’t believe that Reb Aharon would so blatantly disregard his father’s stern command.
The next morning, he decided to see for himself. Waking up extremely early, he hid himself inside the mikvah building and waited to see what Reb Aharon would do. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before he saw a lone figure stealthily making his way through the darkness to the mikvah building. It was Reb Aharon, and the relative watched with curious anticipation as Reb Aharon walked inside and didn’t even bother to turn on the lights. He quickly walked over to one of the benches and unhesitatingly removed his clothing. The room was unheated and quite cold at that hour, but the young future Rebbe didn’t seem to notice. Placing his clothes on a bench, he strode over to the pool of water and walked down the few steps leading to the water. The relative was stunned, as it appeared that Reb Aharon was about to immerse himself in the water, in direct contravention to his father’s orders.
But then, Reb Aharon suddenly stopped. Standing on the final step, peering into the water’s depth, he announced evenly: “Behold, I am prepared and ready to fulfill the commandment of obeying (my) father not to immerse in the mikvah.” At that, Reb Aharon turned around, walked up the steps and back to the bench where his clothing was piled. He got dressed quickly, walked out of the mikvah building, and went straight home.
The relative remained in his hiding place for some time after, mesmerized by what he had just witnessed. Reb Aharon was forbidden by his father from immersing in the mikvah, but that did not mean that he would spare himself from the burden of walking in the cold and frost to the mikvah or save himself the trouble of getting undressed and then redressed. The only thing he could not do was go into the mikvah’s water – because that was what his father expressly forbade him from doing!