The Zera Shimshon Phenomenon: How Did it Come About?

It all began with a man named Reb Yisroel Zilberberg, who established an organization called Maftei’ach Shel Banim, which focused on offering spiritual assistance to couples waiting to be blessed with children. His involvement in their lives began in a very modest way, with Reb Yisroel compiling Torah thoughts and ideas that he felt could serve as chizuk for those who were waiting for a yeshuah, segulos that he found in Chazal and other relevant Torah ideas, which he shared with those in need.

Reb Yisroel had a good friend named Yechiel who was married for over ten years and had not as yet been blessed with children. Needless to say, the couple was utterly heartbroken. Reb Yisroel saw a talented person with tremendous kochos who was suffering terribly. Although he was going through a very difficult time, Yechiel was very interested in the vertlach Reb Yisroel was working on and began helping him track down sources in Chazal pertaining to the topic of bearing children. After a while, Yechiel suggested that they begin distributing their Torah thoughts on a wider scale, so that more people could receive chizuk from their efforts.

At that time Reb Yisroel was a young man with no writing experience, but Yechiel was persistent, and in the end Reb Yisroel relented and began by distributing the Torah they had compiled in a weekly chizuk newsletter. They didn’t write about the challenges of waiting for children, focusing instead on beautiful Torah ideas that would help lift people out of their depression with thoughts of joy and hope. Their initiative succeeded and the list grew to include some seven hundred people around the world who enjoyed their writing and the words of chizuk. Some of the people were sent the newsletter in e-mail form, and others received hard copies in the mail. One friend brought another and their list grew from week to week.

This was when Reb Yisroel met a man named Reb Binyomin Paskesz from Williamsburg. Reb Binyomin came across the Torah content they were publishing, connected with what they were trying to do, and added another eighty names to their list—people whom he felt would benefit from being a part of Maftei’ach Shel Banim. Reb Binyomin is a doer and, through his efforts, they were able to reach more and more people in need in the United States.

Meanwhile, however, Reb Yechiel had still not merited a yeshuah of his own. Reb Yisroel watched with sadness as Yechiel grew more withdrawn and hurt with the passing years. His hopes dimming, they seemed increasingly like a dream that would never come true.

Throughout those early years, Reb Yisroel Zilberberg received a number of phone calls from people who wanted him to write about assorted sefarim that had been instrumental in bringing yeshuos to people.

The title of one sefer was Zera Shimshon.

“Why don’t you write about this sefer in your weekly newsletter?” they suggested, but he didn’t take them seriously. He had never heard of the sefer, he had plenty of material from other sources, and he simply didn’t get around to it.

And so while Reb Zilberberg’s organization was growing and he was helping more and more people with his work, he had still not opened a Zera Shimshon.

In the winter of 2007, a friend of Rabbi Nachman Seltzer approached him after davening on Friday night in Ramat Beit Shemesh and asked if he had time to listen to a story that had happened to his father-in-law, who lived in Manchester.  The story involved the Zera Shimshon, written by Rav Shimshon Chaim Nachmani zt”l, who authored a number of sefarim. This tzaddik had had one son, who passed away during Rav Nachmani’s lifetime. He therefore made the decision to leave behind sefarim for people to learn, and he writes in the sefer’s introduction that he promises all sorts of blessings to one who studies his sefer: “Hashem will stand by his side; the person who learns the sefer will sit at his table surrounded by his children and family; beautiful blessings, all given wholeheartedly to the person who studies his sefer. A house filled with everything good… The berachos will begin in this world and carry on in the World to

Come…

In the weeks following the story’s publication, readers reached out, trying to get hold of the sefer—only to learn that precious few copies of it were still in existence. The majority of sefarim stores didn’t carry the sefer, and those who did had them in storage. They were covered in dust and could be purchased at a low price.

Zera Shimshon, and its companion sefer Toldos Shimshon, had been written by Rav Nachmani, who was a great talmid chacham and tzaddik from the Italian city of Modina. He had served as rav in various Italian communities—Modina, Pisa, Sienna, and Rego. Not only was he revered and respected in his own town, but Rav Nachmani was appointed rav for at least five satellite towns as well.

Rav Nachmani was the grandson of Rav Yehuda Matzliach, one of the greatest of Italian rabbanim. Rav Nachmani studied under the father-in-law of the Ramchal, Rav Dovid Pinci, and was a talmid of Rav Binyomin HaKohen b’inyanei Kabbalah. He grew in Torah and was highly regarded by the greatest gedolim of his day. The Chida referred to him as “chasida kaddisha”—an extremely righteous individual, and writes, “I have heard that he was proficient in practical

Kabbalah and that he requested that all his private writings on Kabbalah be buried with him when he passed away.”

Though the Zera Shimshon was blessed with a son, he passed away in Rav Shimshon Chaim’s lifetime, and this served as a source of motivation for the promise that he penned in the introduction to his sefarim. He also called the sefarim Toldos Shimshon and Zera

Shimshon respectively, titles that indicate that he regarded his sefarim as a personal contribution to the world—they were his “children,” so to speak—and would serve to memorialize him for all time.

For years, almost no one learned the sefarim. Hardly anyone had even heard of them. They had been published in an old-fashioned font and were very difficult to read and understand. But Rabbi Seltzer’s article about the sefer in 2007 took the Torah world by storm. Suddenly, everyone wanted a copy of the sefer. It became almost impossible to acquire a Zera Shimshon because they had all been bought.

The sefer had gone from one that no one knew about to something that everyone wanted. It was incredible to see.

But it didn’t end there. Months passed, then years, and people still called Rabbi Seltzer and asking, almost begging, for details about the sefer. He told them to get in touch with a Rav Wagschal from Williamsburg, because his was the contact name and phone number provided on the flyleaf of the lone sefer Rabbi Seltzer had. The number was an old one—six digits in all—although Rav Wagschal’s Williamsburg address was included. It seemed that those who wanted to possess a copy of the Zera Shimshon would have to work that much harder to obtain it. Five years passed. Still people got in touch, wanting to know how to track down the sefer.

In 2012, Rav Yitzchok Yosef Zilberberg, one of the roshei yeshivos of Yeshivas Ohel Shimon-Erlau, and Reb Yisroel’s father visited Canada for a wedding. A chashuve rosh yeshivah, his father was closely acquainted with his son’s friend Yechiel, having taught him in yeshivah, and was looking forward to hearing good news from his former talmid. During the course of the meal, someone shared a vort with him from the Zera Shimshon.

“Who is the Zera Shimshon?” Reb Yisroel’s father wanted to know. He had never heard of the sefer, and here this person was sharing this vort with a real bren, as if the Zera Shimshon were a

famous Torah work—yet he, a prominent rosh yeshivah, had never even heard the name mentioned.

The man who had told him the vort pointed at someone else who was just passing by.

“See that man?” he said. “His name is Reb Reuven Sharf. He’s from Boro Park, and he was instrumental in the original publishing of the sefer many years ago.”

Reb Yisroel’s father approached the man and asked him about the sefer. Reb Reuven listened and began enthusiastically telling the Israeli rosh yeshivah all about the Zera Shimshon.

 “It all began about forty years ago,” Reb Reuven Scharf said, the nostalgia evident in his voice. “I was a yungerman who worked in the sefarim-printing business. One day, someone entered my store with a copy of the original version of the sefer.

“‘Look here,’ he said to me. ‘This sefer was printed only once in the lifetime of the mechaber and never printed again. But look at what the author writes in the introduction… He really, really wants people to learn his sefer…’”

“I promised to take a closer look at the sefer. If it was that important to the author that Yidden learn his sefer, I decided that I would see what I could do. However, even with the greatest of intentions I still had a problem, because it was going to take a large amount of money to publish the sefer and I had no idea if I would manage to cover the costs! Doing a chesed for the mechaber was one thing, but I didn’t want to go into major debt either! I made a calculation and realized that I would need about five thousand dollars to print the sefer. So I visited a friend of mine who had been married for a while and still didn’t have any children and I asked him for the money.

“‘Would you consider paying for the printing of this sefer?’

“He wanted to know why he should choose this sefer over any other. I told him about the mechaber’s berachah in the introduction.

“‘Perhaps in the zechus of paying for the printing of this sefer, the Zera Shimshon’s berachah will come true for you.’

“My friend agreed, gave me the money, and, indeed, was blessed with a child later on that same year!

“With the money in hand,” Reb Reuven continued, “I visited Reb Naftali Elimelech Wagschal from Williamsburg, who was also still waiting to be blessed with children, and I told him that based on what the mechaber had written it would be kedai for him to get involved. I asked him to head the team of talmidei chachamim who would review the entire sefer, make the necessary corrections, and help prepare the sefer for printing.”

Reb Naftali Elimelech consulted with the Kashau Rav of Williamsburg, who advised him to spearhead the project. He then handpicked a team of three avreichim who, in addition to being

outstanding talmidei chachamim, were all still waiting to be blessed with children. In an astonishing turn of events, all three had children even before the sefer was printed! Rav Wagschal, too, ended up with a beautiful family.

• • • • •

“Though a skeptical man by nature,” Reb Yisroel continued, “my father was convinced by what Reb Reuven told him and excited by what he had heard. On the day that he returned to Eretz Yisrael, he called me and asked me to tell my friend Yechiel to make sure to begin learning the sefer Zera Shimshon as soon as possible!”

Tatte,” Reb Yisroel told his father, “Yechiel has already been married for almost fourteen years. He has heard about all the segulos already, davened at all the kevarim in the country, done everything there is to do. He is wary. If I call him about this, he’s not going to take me seriously. However, if you, his rosh yeshivah, write him a letter advising him to start learning Zera Shimshon, I have a feeling that would convince him to take your advice.”

His father immediately sat down and wrote Reb Yechiel a letter extolling the virtues of the sefer. Reb Yisroel delivered the letter to his friend, who took his rosh yeshivah’s advice seriously and agreed to learn the sefer.

There was still a technical problem for him, however, because there were no copies of the Zera Shimshon available in Eretz Yisrael. The two of them checked all the sefarim stores up and down Meah Shearim and came up with nothing. Even the stores that normally specialized in the most obscure sefarim were unable to help them.

Reb Yisroel was finally given Rav Wagschal’s phone number in Williamsburg, and he in turn gave him the address of a sefarim store in Yerushalayim that had a few copies. He visited the store and asked the owner about the sefer.

“I have some copies of the Zera Shimshon,” the owner said, “but they are up in the storage loft, covered in dust. It will take me some time to get them down.”

“We’ll wait.”

“Okay, I’ll go look for them now.”

He found them in the back of the storage loft—about twenty sets—and both friends purchased a set. It was Kislev, and Yechiel began learning it right away. Both found themselves connecting to the sefer immediately. Reb Yisroel also told Reb Binyomin Paskesz about this new development. Reb Binyomin had never heard about the Zera Shimshon and was very excited to learn about the mechaber’s promise and how people who had taken upon themselves to help make the sefer well-known had seen yeshuos in a very short time.

• • • • •

 “Besides publishing a weekly Torah newsletter for my organization, Maftei’ach Shel Banim,” Reb Yisroel continued, “we also used to host a few parties throughout the year for the couples who were involved with our organization. Sometimes thirty couples attended, sometimes fifty couples, with the main event taking place on Tu B’Shevat, when around one hundred couples came. We felt that since Tu B’Shevat was the Rosh Hashanah for trees, it was an especially ‘fruitful’ time for chizuk. That year we were expecting one hundred couples at the Tu B’Shevat party, and Reb Binyomin and I decided that we would distribute the Zera Shimshon, hoping that this would provide an extra dose of chizuk to all the participants and a major zechus for Reb Yechiel and his wife. Wanting to give each couple the sefer was one thing, but there was still the problem of obtaining copies for all the couples who would attend. Reb Yisroel returned to the store where he had purchased the sefer and bought all there were, but there still weren’t enough. Then one day his brother called.

“Listen to this,” he said. “I was just in a shul in Bnei Brak and I overheard someone mention that he had just published the sefer Zera Shimshon.”

After a little investigation, it turned out that the man had published a similar sefer by the same author, Toldos Shimshon on Pirkei Avos, and it had just been printed a few weeks earlier. It was so fresh that it hadn’t even been distributed to the stores! Here, too, the mechaber had promised yeshuos to those who learned his sefer, though the wording of his promise in the introduction to Zera Shimshon stressed the matter of children in stronger terms. (The difference in enthusiasm between the earlier and later promises can perhaps be attributed to the fact that Toldos Shimshon had been written fifteen years before Rav Nachmani passed away, while the

Zera Shimshon had been published in the final year of his life, when he knew that he would not be leaving any children behind.)

In any event, they purchased one hundred copies of Toldos Shimshon and distributed them to the guests along with whatever copies of Zera Shimshon they could find, keeping in mind that everything they were doing with the sefarim would serve as a merit for Reb Yechiel and his wife.

• • • • •

Yechiel called his friend in the middle of Tammuz. Reb Yisroel remembers the call as though it were yesterday.

 “Yisroel,” he said to me, “I just wanted to tell you the good news. My wife and I are expecting a baby.”

Reb Yisroel stood rooted to the spot, shocked beyond measure.

“I also wanted to tell you,” Yechiel continued, “that I have been learning Zera Shimshon b’kviyus, week after week, and baruch Hashem we feel that is the reason for our good fortune!”

Yechiel and his wife had been waiting nearly fifteen years for this moment. When he’d seen his friend’s number on caller ID, Reb Yisroel had vacillated between hoping for good news and telling himself not to get excited for no reason.

“I cannot accurately describe to you how incredibly happy Yechiel’s news made me,” Reb Yisroel said. “For the last decade and a half my friend had been so down and depressed, and suddenly I could hear the newfound joy in his voice—and the lightheartedness that I’d never heard before made my heart sing!”

Almost automatically, Reb Yisroel began making calculations. The miracle had occurred right after the party they had made in Shevat, when they’d given out all the sefarim. He couldn’t believe the turn of events. Tears of happiness came to his eyes and he wiped them away in a daze.

Reb Yisroel immediately called Reb Binyomin Paskesz in the United States and related the entire chain of events. He, too, was stunned and couldn’t respond for a few minutes. Both of them stood there on opposite sides of the ocean and couldn’t get over the significance of what they had just found out. They had been waiting for this for so long, hoping beyond hope, davening with all their hearts, and when they finally heard the news, it seemed almost too good to be true.

It was at that moment that Reb Binyomin and Reb Yisroel made a resolution. There was no question in their minds that the sefer Zera Shimshon was a powerful catalyst for yeshuos.

“We have to make sure that this sefer is available for everyone who wants to learn it—no matter the expense or time it takes!”

They also saw that it was imperative that Klal Yisrael be informed about the sefer, so that everyone could learn and benefit from it.

As Reb Binyomin said at the time, “When you see something so amazing, a yeshuah so unbelievable, you have an obligation to do something about it!”

Reb Binyomin, having never really heard about the sefer, decided it was time for him to begin researching it—to find out more about the sefer and about its esteemed author, who had lived in Italy hundreds of years earlier.

• • • • •

As he began investigating the Zera Shimshon, Reb Binyomin called Rabbi Seltzer to ask him to write another article about the sefer, so that people would know about the treasure in their midst.

And so the story really began. Because that was when Reb Yisroel and Reb Binyomin started including vertlach from the Zera Shimshon in their weekly Torah newsletter. They also began working on the publication of another beautiful version of the sefer.

And more and more stories began coming their way.

After another article was published, Reb Binyomin’s phone began ringing off the hook. This would eventually lead to multiple shiurim in Zera Shimshon all over the globe, as well as a website devoted to its Torah. Today a person can listen to shiurim on the sefer in Hebrew,

Yiddish, and English. At long last, people have become aware of what has lain dormant for so many years.

Things have begun to spiral as more and more people hear about the sefer, learn the sefer, and benefit from its influence on their lives. In addition, Reb Yisroel and Reb Binyomin are constantly involved in numerous Zera Shimshon projects, such as the weekly “Zera Shimshon on the Parashah” newsletter. Now, ArtScroll is publishing a groundbreaking ten-volume set of Zera Shimshon, translated, annotated and elucidated. The excitement and anticipation surrounding this project are palpable.

“All this started,” said Reb Yisroel, “with a Tu B’ Shevat party and the miracle that occurred shortly afterward—which we couldn’t and didn’t want to ignore. Reb Yechiel’s personal yeshuah spurred us to make the sefer accessible to everyone who could benefit from it. It caused Reb Binyomin to reach out to Rabbi Wagschal and to ask him to reprint the sefer, for which Reb Binyomin raised funds. As it became more and more well known, they could feel that the mechaber of the sefer, Rav Shimshon Chaim Nachmani, was smiling down at them from Shamayim.”

• • • • •

“When one of the versions of Zera Shimshon was published,” said Reb Yisroel, “someone suggested that I send a copy of the sefer to Rav Chaim Kanievsky. I sent it with Rav Shtiglitz, who publishes sefarim under the name ‘Asicha’ and who visits the gadol on a regular basis. Rav Shtiglitz informed me that Rav Chaim looked through the sefer and gave positive feedback.

“I usually visit Rav Chaim once a month and share with him a number of questions that I encounter. I told Rav Chaim that many of the questions that I discuss come from the sefer Zera Shimshon and he seemed to enjoy them very much.

“Recently,” Reb Yisroel continued, “we published Zera Shimshon on Shir Hashirim, in which the mechaber explains the Megillah word for word. We printed the sefer in a beautiful font, clarified any point that we felt might be unclear, and provided copious sources for everything written, turning the contents into a sefer anyone can understand.”

“‘Why don’t you bring the new sefer to Rav Chaim?’ Rav Shtiglitz suggested.

“So I did.

“Rav Chaim examined the sefer and his face lit up with a glowing smile.

“‘Yasher koach, yasher koach,’ he exclaimed, leafing through the pages with obvious enjoyment.

 “Suddenly he turned to me and said, ‘The Zera Shimshon was an adam gadol.’

“From this statement, I understood that Rav Chaim was already familiar with the Torah of the Zera Shimshon and that he considered him to be a person of prominence and a talmid chacham of note.

“‘The Chida writes in Shem Hagedolim,’ I told Rav Chaim, ‘that the Zera Shimshon was a great tzaddik, and that he was an expert in Kabbalah studies, and even in practical Kabbalah.

“Rav Chaim immersed himself in the sefer, and especially enjoyed studying the introduction that we had taken from the sefer Zera Shimshon. There the mechaber shows his knowledge of the entire Torah, since every phrase in the introduction is quoted from a different source, either Chumash, Navi, or Gemara, and he ties every word together in a delightful tapestry that is extremely enjoyable to read. This is something the earlier rabbis would have done, and not usually attempted in the last few hundred years.

“For our part, we decided to provide a source for every single one of the lines in the introduction, and when you read the long list of sources—430 of them—a person can truly begin to grasp who the Zera Shimshon was and why his sefarim resonate so deeply with Klal Yisrael. He based it on the Rambam and Maseches Shabbos, Maseches Gittin, and the Shavuos morning Akdamus. The list is varied and profoundly impressive, and Rav Chaim—a man who holds the entire Torah in the palms of his hands—connected to what the Zera Shimshon had accomplished.

 “Near the end of our meeting I said to Rav Chaim, ‘There are some people who feel they have managed to discover the kever of the Zera Shimshon, but it’s not conclusive.’

“‘In that case,’ he replied, ‘we certainly have to learn his sefarim.’

“I then told him of the mechaber’s berachah to anyone who learns his sefarim and asked him for an extra berachah for those who involve themselves in the printing and publishing of the Zera

Shimshon’s Torah.

“Rav Chaim didn’t hesitate, blessing everyone involved, those who learn the sefer and those who help spread the Torah throughout Klal Yisrael.”

• • • • •

“There’s a point to consider,” said Reb Yisroel. “Many people have told me that they learn the sefer for one reason: because a tzaddik asked them to. Not because of the segulah and not because of the promises in the introduction and not because of the countless miracles that we have heard about. Just because Rav Shimshon Chaim Nachmani of Italy left a tzavaah asking Klal Yisrael to learn his sefer.

“Everything else – while a nice side benefit, perhaps – is secondary. The Zera Shimshon passed away without children. His sefarim are his children and he is filled with gratitude when we learn his Torah.

“Though there are many amazing stories about the efficacy of the Zera Shimshon for those looking for yeshuos, there is no such thing as an iron-clad segulah with guaranteed results. What is guaranteed is that you will read beautiful, profound, and inspiring divrei Torah—and fulfill the wishes of the author, a true gadol b’Yisrael.”

There is virtually nothing like the Zera Shimshon in Jewish literature. A tzaddik of this stature without any memory in this world – no children or known kever location. Just his sefarim.

And a promise and blessing to those who study his writings.

Who doesn’t want his promise and blessing?

What people have found, however, is that they may have come for the segulah, but they stay for the Torah, which is enlightening, insightful, and uplifting.

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