During the second half of the 18th century, two great disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, Reb Leib “The ‘Mochiah’ of Polonnoye, and after him Reb Yaakov Yosef ha-Kohen, held rabbinical positions in the town of Polonnoye. In fact, Reb Yaakov Yosef was introduced to chassidus and to the Baal Shem Tov by his friend Reb Leib.
Reb Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye (1705-1781), was one of the first and most prominent disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. His book Toldos Yaakov Yosef (1780) was the first Chassidic work ever published. It repeats the phrase, “I have heard from my teacher”, 249 times, and is one of the primary sources for teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Reb Pinchos of Koretz called this book “Torah from the Garden of Eden”.
Reb Yaakov Yosef also authored Ben Poras Yosef, Tzofnas Paane’ach, and Kesones Passim. Remembered simply as “the Toldos”, his name is revered in the Jewish world.
As Rabbi Israel Meir Gabay, Chairman of the Oholei Tzadikim recalls “Two decades ago, I was privileged to find the actual original three tombstones, after extensive and thorough research throughout the old cemetery, and then we built an Ohel over the original tombstones of the three neighbors, that were surprisingly discovered. I am so grateful that in 2018 in partnership with Geder Avos we were privileged to build an even more beautiful Ohel, which has electricity and lighting, means of heating in the winter cold, benches and bookcases, and other amenities. “The day after Simchas Torah, 24 Tishrei, 1781, Reb Yaakov Yosef passed away and his tomb was hewn next to Reb Leib. Tradition has it that many years earlier Reb Leib sensed and felt that there was special holiness in this burial plot, and after an inquiry, he learned that it belonged to a local tailor who would come to recite Psalms near that spot. According to tradition, Reb Leib asked to be buried there. Later on, Reb Yaakov Yosef also felt the sanctity of the place and expressed his desire to buy a burial plot in the same place, but when he learned that this plot already belonged to the tailor, Reb Yaakov Yosef begged him to give up his plot. Only after Reb Yaakov Yosef assured him that his resting place would be near him, did the tailor agree to it. After Reb Yaakov Yosef passed away, years passed and this Jew died, and when they went out to dig a grave next to the tomb of the Reb Yaakov Yosef and Reb Leib ‘Mochiach’ – as he promised this Jew – there was no place, but suddenly a gap was found between the graves and the tailor was buried there between the two Chassidic masters.
The legend lives on.
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