Reb Binyamin was known for his great piety, knowledge of Chassidic teachings, charitable efforts, and remarkable devotion in prayer. Once, in a synagogue known for its swift prayer services, he prayed slowly and with concentration, catching the attention of the Mitteler Rebbe's son, Reb Menachem Nochum. Upon being informed, the Mitteler Rebbe exclaimed, “Even the loftiest heavenly angels would exchange their divine service for his!”1

Who Was Reb Binyamin Kletzker?

Reb Binyamin Kletzker was born to Reb Michoel and Finkel Eisenstadt, around the year 1760.2 He went by the surname Rabinowitz,3 lit. “Son of [the] Rabbi,” but is more widely known as Reb Binyamin Kletzker,4 for the city in which he grew up—Kletzk.

He married the daughter of Rabbi Eliyahu of Pinsk sometime between 1775-1780, and together they relocated to the city of Shklov, where Reb Binyamin eventually embraced Chassidism under the guidance of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe.

His Ancestry

Reb Binyamin boasted an illustrious lineage. His father, Reb Michoel, was the son of the great Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi, author of the Panim Meirot,5 a book of Halachic responsa, and a descendant of Rabbi Shabtai Cohen, noted 17th-century Talmudist and codifier known by the name of his work, Siftei Cohen (“the Shach”).

His mother, Finkel, descended from the famed Rabbi Shaul Wahl, a wealthy and influential Polish Jew who lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. He was said to have briefly occupied the throne of Poland for one day, thus receiving the moniker “King for a Day.” He, in turn, was a grandson of the great halachic commentator and sage Maharam Padua, who came from the illustrious Luria family, whose patriarch is the famous Rashi, a primary commentator on the Torah.

Joining the Chassidic Movement

It is said that before he joined the Chassidic movement, Reb Binyamin was once learning in the study hall of the Vilna Gaon, a genius and world-renowned scholar in all areas of Torah who was, due to the spreading of misinformation by certain groups, opposed to the teachings of the Chassidim.

Rabbi Chaim of Volpa, a somewhat mysterious Chassidic scholar known as “Der Volper,” was there, speaking about lofty, mystical concepts foreign to Reb Binyamin. When Reb Binyamin asked where he’d learned these ideas, Der Volper responded, “Where I received these teachings, you are unable to receive.6 But if you go to Liozna [where the Alter Rebbe resided at the time], you can get something similar.”7

Piety and Prosperity

After spending years immersed in the study of Torah and Chassidism, Reb Binyamin ventured into commerce, where he prospered, eventually emerging as a wealthy and influential businessman, dealing primarily in rare furs8 and lumber.9

In the summer of 1822, during one of his regular visits to the business fairs in Leipzig, Germany, as Reb Binyamin wandered through the various stands of merchants peddling their wares, he stopped suddenly and began gazing intensely at some of the merchandise. Bystanders initially assumed he was admiring the quality of the wares, but soon realized that was not the case as he continued to stand there, unmoving, for approximately seven hours.

His close friend, brother-in-law, and fellow businessman, Reb Pinchas Reizes, eventually tapped him on the shoulder, waking him from his stupor, and asked, “Binyamin, what are you thinking about?”

Reb Binyamin eyed him, with an almost amused look. “Pinchas,” he asked, “where have you been? The [Alter] Rebbe just gave an explanation on the Chassidic discourse titled ‘Shechora Ani!’”

In fact, the Alter Rebbe had given that talk 20 years prior and had passed around 10 years earlier.

This was Reb Binyamin: even in the middle of business affairs, when the memory of this discourse came to mind, he forgot everything and transported himself to Liadi, as if hearing the Alter Rebbe deliver the Chassidic teaching for the very first time.

Once, in Riga, Latvia, some people came to purchase lumber from Reb Binyamin. After closing the deal, Reb Binyamin reached into his pocket to give the buyers their receipt. Instead, he pulled out a written discourse of the Alter Rebbe, immersing himself in its study with profound concentration. The buyers were outraged. “Is this a time to learn a Chassidic discourse?!”

“During your daily prayers, you don’t hesitate to entertain thoughts of purchasing lumber,” Reb Binyamin explained. “Is it not then fitting to contemplate Chassidic teachings when engaged in the act of buying lumber itself?"10

In another incident, Reb Binyamin was once tallying up his business expenses, recording the costs of lumber, labor, transport, and various other expenditures. At the bottom of the page, where he was supposed to calculate the total, he wrote, in apparent Chassidic inspiration, “Ein od milvado - there is nothing aside from G‑d!”

Meticulously recording the specific costs to ensure honesty and transparency in his business dealings was his way of creating a vessel for G‑d’s blessings. When it came to the grand total, however, he wrote “ein od milvado,” symbolizing that the entire purpose of his business—and his existence in general—was to come to the realization that besides G‑d, there is truly nothing.11

A Generous Supporter

Reb Binyamin played a pivotal role as a leader among the chassidim, providing both material and spiritual support. In a conversation with his close friend Reb Pinchas Reizes about their approaches to charitable giving, Reb Binyamin described his practice of keeping various sacks containing copper and silver coins of different denominations. When a needy person approached, he would assess the individual and decide from which sack to give. He would then reach in, grab a handful, and pass it over without counting the coins.

“I employ a similar method to yours,” Reb Pinchas responded. “I also have assorted sacks of coins and choose one to grab a handful for those who seek assistance at my door. However, I differ in one aspect—I count the money before handing it over. I have yet to attain your level of generosity.”12

Connection to the Rebbes

Reb Binyamin maintained a very close relationship with the Alter Rebbe and was among the chassidim who accompanied him during the retreat from Napoleon’s advancing forces in 1812.

When the Alter Rebbe passed away during the journey, Reb Binyamin was entrusted with the mission of conveying the news to his son and successor, Rabbi Dovber (the Mitteler Rebbe), and offering consolation.

In a letter written following his father’s passing, the Mitteler Rebbe wrote, “After the news arrived in Kremenchuk … I fell to the ground [and remained there] for the entire night, and I had no strength within me. G‑d granted me strength after two or three days, restoring my spirit a little, and I was [furthermore] strengthened by a friend dear to my heart and soul, Reb Binyamin of Shklov … ”13

Devoting himself to the Mitteler Rebbe, Reb Binyamin emerged as one of his greatest Chassidim.14 The Mittleler Rebbe once said, “I succeeded in implanting Chassidic teachings into three chassidim: Reb Hillel Paritcher, Reb Nota Malastritstzena, and Reb Binyamin Kletzker.”15

Reb Binyamin remained deeply connected to the Mitteler Rebbe up until the latter’s passing. Towards the end of his life, the Mitteler Rebbe called upon Reb Yosef—the rabbi of the city of Lubavitch16—and Reb Binyamin Kletzker, and instructed them to tell his son-in-law Rabbi Menachem Mendel (known as the Tzemach Tzedek17) to assume the responsibility of Rebbe after his passing.

During the early days of the Tzemach Tzedek's leadership, although he held a deep respect for the young leader, Reb Binyamin didn't relate to him as his Rebbe. A significant shift occurred, however, when the Tzemach Tzedek delivered a Chassidic discourse to Reb Binyamin. In the middle of the discourse, Reb Binyamin jumped up in trepidation. Afterward, he remarked that, at that moment, “I heard the voice of the Alter Rebbe speaking through him!”18

Reb Binyomin had two daughters, one who was married to the Alter Rebbe’s grandson Rabbi Boruch Klotzker, and the other to Rabbi Aharon Tumarkin, whose descendant of the same name was the renowned Rabbi of Kharkiv, Ukraine, in the early 20th century.

Reb Binyamin lived a long and fruitful life, passing away in Shklov on the 23rd of the Hebrew month of Sivan, 1838, at around 80 years old.19