|Among the great tzaddikim and gedolim who illuminated the Torah world in the generation before the Second World War, a select few stand out as the major path finders of Klal Yisroel, (the Jewish People) and whose every thought and deed was given over to help Klal Yisroel as a whole. They made the important decisions and carried the heavy burden on their shoulders. One of these select few was the Chortkover Rebbe, Reb Yisroel Friedman zt'l. His chassidim numbered in the tens of thousands, and included quite a few famous Rebbes and Rabbonim.|
The poseik hador (recognized authority of Jewish Law), Reb Meir Arik of Tarnov, and also the Lubliner Rov, Reb Meir Shapiro zt'l, were faithful chassidim of the Rebbe of Chortkov, as were the Rebbes of Slonim, Amshinov and Radomsk. It was not an uncommon sight to see up to two hundred Rabbonim sitting at the Rebbe's tish.
Born on the tenth of Iyar 5614 (1854) to his father, Reb Dovid Moshe zt'l, the first Rebbe of Chortkov, it was immediately apparent that he was destined for greatness. When Reb Yisroel was but three years old, his mother took him to her father, Reb Aharon zt'l, the Rebbe of Chernobyl. Reb Aharon Chernobyler was not able to take his eyes off the small child, exclaiming that if he hadn't known that this was his daughter's son he would hardly believe that the child is a yelud isha (mortal human). Reb Yisroel's uncle, the Rebbe of Sadiger, also once commented that even though all the grandchildren of the Ruzhiner were something special, Reb Yisroel was unusual even among them (chidush shebechiddushim).
As a young child Reb Yisroel delved deeply into the sea of Talmud and would often speak in learning with the various rabbonim who came to his father, Reb Dovid Moshe zt'l, in Chortkov. Reb Yisroel became especially close to Reb Shlomo Dreimar of Skala (author of Yesharesh Yaakov) and every time the Skala Rov came to Chortkov they learned together. Reb Yisroel, who was only fourteen years old at the time, wrote two lengthy responsa on the topic of `bitul berov' (nullification of forbidden mixtures) which the Skala Rov published in his classic work Beis Shlomo.
On another occasion, the famed posek (decisor), the Maharsham, who also frequently came to Chortkov, asked Reb Yisroel if he owned a certain rare sefer (book) that spoke about a difficult she'ela in hilchos Gittin (difficult legal question in the Laws of Divorce). Reb Yisroel wanted to know what the she'ela was and when the Maharsham told him, Reb Yisroel proceeded to tell him all the different opinions and how one should act halocho lema'aseh (practically speaking). The Maharsham, who had been quite unaware of Reb Yisroel's vast knowledge until then, asked his permission to ask him about all the difficulties that he encountered during his learning. Reb Yisroel answered him that he never does anything without first asking his father's consent. Reb Dovid Moshe, however, did not give his consent.
The Rimolover Rov, the Kochav Mi'Yaakov, once told Reb Dovid Moshe how impressed he was with his son. Reb Dovid Moshe immediately called his son and sternly rebuked him, saying, "Why does the Rov of Rimolov have to know that you are a lamdan; (scholar) is that what I have worked so hard to achieve?" From then on Reb Yisroel was careful not to display his learning in public, and only on select occasions did he offer his opinion after being pressed to answer.
Reb Dovid Moshe zt'l was considered to be one of the greatest Rebbes of his time. Tens of thousands of people hung on his every word. There came a time, however, when Reb Dovid Moshe stopped saying divrei Torah at his tish, even though the chassidim begged him to resume. Reb Dovid Moshe refused, saying, "More than the calf wants to drink, its mother wants to feed it." When the chassidim persisted in their request, he told them to go to his son, Reb Yisroel, and he would say Torah for them.
Thus it became the norm in Chortkov that at the end of every tish Reb Yisroel would say Torah to the chassidim. Over the years a number of seforim of Reb Yisroel's Torah were printed. These seforim - Tiferes Yisroel, Yismach Yisroel, and Ginzei Yisroel became acknowledged as classic works. This practice continued for over ten years until Hoshanna Rabba 5664 (1904) when Reb Dovid Moshe was niftar (deceased).
Half an hour before Reb Dovid Moshe's petirah, he asked that his chair (on which he used to sit during a tish) be brought into the room. When the chair was brought in, Reb Dovid turned to his son and instructed him, "Sit on my chair my son, and take over my position." Reb Yisroel answered his father in a choked voice, "Oy Tatte (daddy), what are you saying?" and refused to sit until his father commanded him a second time. Even then, he got up straight away. Only when Reb Dovid Moshe asked him a third time to stay seated did he finally remain in his father's chair. His father then addressed him, saying, "You shall be Rebbe and all the brochos (blessings) that you shall bless Klal Yisroel with will be as if I had blessed them and you should be worthy to ascend to Eretz Yisroel together with all the Yidden." Reb Dovid Moshe then asked his son to reply, "Amen", to which Reb Yisroel answered, "Amen, together with you."
After Reb Dovid Moshe had crowned, his son Rebbe, he proceeded to recite the tefillah 'Nishmas kol chai' with great dveikus (attatchment to Hashem). As he finished the last words of the tefillah, his holy neshomo (soul) ascended.
Since it was Hoshanna Rabba, there was no shiva (mourning period) and with the onset of Yom Tov, Reb Yisroel took over the mantle immediately. Reb Yisroel danced the hakofos (circuits) with great joy; it was impossible to notice on him that he had just lost his father that very day. He recited Kiddush for the first time in front of the chassidim and said his first Torah as Rebbe, in which he asked Hashem to help him be worthy of sitting in his father's place. In a subsequent discourse, he commented that during a father's lifetime, the mitzva of kibbud av (honoring one's father) is that one may not sit in his father's place. Now, however, the mitzva is the opposite: to sit in his father's place and take over his position and through doing so, to bring honor to his father
As long as it was Yom Tov, Reb Yisroel showed absolutely no sign of mourning for his father, but right after reciting Havdoloh at the end of Yom Tov, he burst into tears. Reb Yisroel never stopped crying for his father and even many years later would burst into tears at the mere mention of his father's name. The tens of thousands of Chortkover chassidim accepted Reb Yisroel immediately as the heir to his father's position, for even before Reb Dovid Moshe's petirah, Reb Yisroel had played a major role in the daily lives of the chassidim.
Reb Yisroel attributed his success to his Torah learning. He was once overheard to comment that he had always hoped to remain a child at his father's table and although Hashem had decreed otherwise he was grateful that he had at least managed to complete the whole of Shas (Talmud) over forty times before he had to take his first kvittel! (petition note)
Although Reb Yisroel had been very active on the communal scene even before he became Rebbe, he now tripled his efforts. He became extremely busy in all aspects of the community but even so he realized that alone he would never accomplish what he wanted to achieve. He needed a group. The maskilim (reformers) and the poverty were slowly eating away at the foundations of Yiddishe family life, and emergency action had to be taken. To this end, the Rebbe founded the "Histadrus Hachareidim" which was the forerunner of Agudas Yisroel.
The first meeting took place in Chernovitz during Nisan 5672 (1912). Among the participants were the Rebbes of Boyan, Husyatin, Vishnitz, Kosov, Antiniea, Kapischnitz and Sadiger. They all signed a proclamation pledging to build new yeshivos where the rich and the poor could learn together without any distinction between them. They also pledged to have workshops for those bochurim who were not successful their yeshiva studies. When Agudas Yisroel was founded half a year later in Katowicz, the Rebbe was unable to be present at the inaugural meeting. He therefore sent a letter in which he wrote, "The holy idea to found an organization to help Klal Yisroel also occurred to me and to the other leaders of Klal Yisroel in our district, when we saw that the major principles of our faith are beginning to weaken, and that the younger generation is no longer able to prevail in the difficult battles from inside and out. We therefore decided, myself and the rabbonim and tzadikim, that it is not the time to keep still. To this end we came together during the previous Nisan to work out how to defeat the evil and to stop the storm enveloping the four corners of our religion."
The Histadrus Hachareidim merged with Agudas Yisroel and the Rebbe was invited to become the president (nosi) of the Moeztes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel, a position which he filled with honor until the end of his life.
Not long after Shavuos 1914, the Rebbe travelled from Chortkov to a spa in Germany on the advice of his doctors. When the Rebbe came to the border where Austria, Germany and Russia all met, the Rebbe stopped and looked to the sky and said, "Austria says the earth is mine and so say Germany and Russia, and I say the earth and the whole world belongs to Hashem. My holy father told me not long before his petirah that he saw in a dream a black cup: the day will just start to brighten and will then become totally dark... My holy shver (father-in-law, the Rebbe's uncle, the Rebbe of Sadiger) also said that Vienna is a royal city, and Vienna is a good place to make kiddush."
At the time, no one could understand the Rebbe's words. When, however, the First World War broke out just over a month later and the Rebbe escaped to Vienna, the meaning of his words became apparent to all.
The First World War caused thousands to flee in panic to Vienna which was a safe haven, far away from the battle front. When the Rebbe arrived in Vienna, the heads of the heimishe kehilla (chassidic community) came to invite him to be a member of their kehilla. The Rebbe asked them how many Yidden (Jews) lived in Vienna. They answered that two hundred thousand Yidden lived in Vienna. "And how many of them are in your kehilla?" asked the Rebbe. "Ten thousand," they answered. "So you want me to constrict my ahavas Yisroel (love for Jews) from two hundred thousand to ten thousand Yidden?" the Rebbe retorted. "This is against what I received from my holy fathers. They took care and worried about those who had fallen by the wayside. Chassidus was founded to help Yidden from all walks of life, and therefore I cannot accept the invitation to join your kehilla. Instead, I accept upon myself the task of rectifying the broken fences and rebuilding Yiddishkeit in Vienna."
|The Chortkover Rebbe zt"l|
Rabbi Shmelka Pinter zt'l of London used to relate a typical story. A wealthy businessman wanted to open three new branches of his bank, and wanted a brocho. Reb Shmelka's father advised the man to go to the Rebbe for a brocho and sent his son to accompany him. When they entered the Rebbe's room, the businessman told the Rebbe what he wanted. The Rebbe displayed a great knowledge of banking affairs and at the end he stood up, grasped the businessman's hands in his and asked him to promise to keep the banks closed on Shabbos. The man immediately refused, saying that it was impossible. The Rebbe asked the man again, and again he refused. Suddenly hot tears began to flow down the Rebbe's cheeks as he pleaded with the man not to desecrate the holy Shabbos. The businessman became very distressed that he had caused the Rebbe to become so upset and finally promised that the banks would stay closed on Shabbos, a promise that was indeed kept. By the end of the war, over sixty people had personally promised the Rebbe to keep their shops closed during Shabbos.
During the war many Yidden were conscripted into the army where they met their deaths or were badly wounded. The Rebbe tried to help Yidden avoid conscription. Hearing about this, the authorities dressed up one of their officers as a Yid and sent him to the Rebbe to see if this was true. The man went into the Rebbe's room and started to cry, telling the Rebbe that he has only one son who had been called to perform his army service. He begged the Rebbe to have pity on him and help his son evade the army. The Rebbe listened to the man's story and when he had finished, asked the man to repeat the story. The man again told over the whole story, crying bitter tears for his son. When he had finished the Rebbe asked him to tell over the whole story again. When the man finished his story for the third time, the Rebbe said sternly, "Don't you know that you have to obey the laws of the country? It is strictly forbidden to evade army service." A few days later, a high ranking officer came personally to thank the Rebbe for sending people to do army service. They had heard rumors that the Rebbe helped people to avoid the army and they were pleased that they were not true.
The chassidim were convinced that it was only through a mofes (miracle) that the Rebbe had known that the crying man was a disguised officer. The Rebbe sought to dispel this mofes and explained to them how he had suspected the truth. "Normally when a Yid tells me his personal sorrows," he explained to them, "I feel inside me part of his pain and suffering. Yet when this man told me his story, his tears did not touch me at all. At first, I thought that it was my fault that perhaps I am not on the madreiga (level) to feel another's suffering. I decided, therefore, to ask him to tell over his problem again. Perhaps I would then feel part of his pain. I still, however, did not feel touched by his story and I also felt that this man himself was not truly upset by his own problem. I asked him then to repeat it a third time and then I noticed that it was indeed as I had thought. The man was not really upset and that was the reason that I had not been able to feel his pain. I therefore knew that his story was not true and he was lying."
One of the Rebbe's chassidim, who had connections in the army, wanted to be the one to inform the Rebbe that the First World War had ended. On the day the cease-fire was signed, he went to tell the Rebbe the happy news that at long last peace had arrived and the fighting was over. The Rebbe, however, showed no joy, and when the chossid showed signs of astonishment, the Rebbe told him "The war has not ended. It will only end with the coming of Moshiach!"
With the war's end in 1917 the tens of thousands of refugees who had fled to Vienna began to return to their hometowns. The chassidim took it for granted that the Rebbe would also go back to Chortkov, especially since Vienna was far away and totally out of the chassidishe camp. It came as quite a shock to them when the Rebbe announced that he intended to stay in Vienna. Many people had promised him to keep Torah and mitzvos and if he moved back to faraway Chortkov, many of these people might go back to their old ways.
The chassidim would not take 'no' for an answer and sent many delegations to plead with the Rebbe to change his mind. When they saw that it was impossible to move the Rebbe, they begged that at least he shouldleave Vienna and come to live in a town that was nearer to Galicia. The Rebbe again refused. Vienna was nearer to Eretz Yisroel than Galicia, and now that he had started the journey in fulfillment of his father's brocho, he did not want to turn back.
On a different occasion the Lubliner Rov, Reb Meir Shapiro zt'l, begged the Rebbe to change his mind and return to Galicia. The Rebbe told him that it would cost a lot of money to build a new shul and house for him and therefore it was preferable that he stay in Vienna. Reb Meir Shapiro offered to travel around Europe to raise the required sum, adding that he was sure that the chassidim would donate the money with great joy. "True," the Rebbe answered him. "They would indeed give the money with great joy, but how is it possible to ask them in such difficult times?"
When the Rebbe was in Lemberg during Cheshvan 1921 a delegation from the Mizrachi came to speak to him. When they arrived they were upset to see that one of the heads of Agudas Yisroel in Lemberg was also in the Rebbe's room. They asked the Rebbe to tell him to leave as they would be uncomfortable speaking in the presence of a representative of Agudas Yisroel. "If that is the case, then I will also have to leave the room," replied the Rebbe, "because I am a member of Agudas Yisroel from the day it was founded!"
On the third of Elul 1923, the first Knessia Gedola of Agudas Yisroel was held in Vienna. The Rebbe looked upon Agudas Yisroel as one of the main ways of helping to keep Klal Yisroel on the correct path, and the Rebbe spared no effort in furthering the cause of Agudas Yisroel, until he himself felt physically attached to the organization.
During the Knessia Gedola, the Rebbe was elected the head of Agudas Yisroel together with the Chofetz Chaim zt'l and the Gerrer Rebbe zt'l. The three gedolim were asked to sign a special document to commemorate the event. Being the oldest, the Chofetz Chaim was asked to sign first, but he refused and handed it over to the Rebbe, insisting that he should sign first. The Rebbe also refused to sign first and handed it back to the Chofetz Chaim saying, "The Chofetz Chaim is a Cohen and therefore according to the halocho he has to sign first." The Chofetz Chaim handed the document back to the Rebbe a second time and exclaimed, "The Rebbe has the din (law) of a king and a king even comes before a cohen godol (high priest)." The Rebbe took out his pen and signed in the middle of the top line, leaving room for the Chofetz Chaim to still sign before him on the same line. The Chofetz Chaim, however, signed on the second line and the Gerrer Rebbe signed on the third line.
The Rebbe represented nobility in its highest form; he was a direct descendant of Dovid Hamelech and his whole conduct echoed his royal lineage. When the rosh yeshiva of Chevron, Reb Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt'l, saw the Rebbe for the first time in 1929, he exclaimed, "Now all we have to do is to daven (pray) for the final geula. We already have a king to lead us, the Chortkover Rebbe will be our king."
The Rebbe left a lasting impression on all who saw him, this is how Reb Binyomin Zev Jacobson, one of the Aguda leaders from Germany, described the Rebbe in one of his seforim. "In front of our eyes still stands a glorious picture, a beautiful and magnificent picture. It is the image of the Rebbe of Chortkov zt'l as we saw him the last time, not long before his petirah, and as we saw him the first time many years ago. The inner beauty, the beauty whose source is from the soul and spreads over the whole body. At the first Knessia Gedola (convention) the Rebbe stood, and in a soft and gentle voice blessed the assembled. Next to him stood Reb Meir Shapiro. The young and dynamic Reb Meir stood listening to his Rebbe, swallowing every word that left the Rebbe's mouth. The scene symbolizes the Rebbe's strength, a symbol of his inner strength over his chassidim.
His thousands of chassidim respected him like a malach (angel) from heaven; the whole world regarded him as the prince of our people. The leaders of our nation stood before him in awe and fear, even those who had fallen by the wayside realized their insignificance in his presence. The Rebbe, however, walked in humility in front of his Creator, the more the people honored him, the more he humbled himself."
Although the Rebbe sought to dispel any rumors that he was a miracle worker, his name spread before him until even many assimilated Jews and Gentiles would also come to receive the Rebbe's brocho. On one occasion the Rebbe stayed in the town of Drohibisht for a Shabbos. When he left, he forgot a bekeshe (long satin or silk coat) of his behind. A few days later a major fire broke out in the house, reducing it to ashes. The whole house and all its contents were totally destroyed. Only one item emerged unscathed: the Rebbe's bekeshe! Even the secular newspapers of the area were impressed with this story, calling it, 'A repetition of the Salvation of Avrohom in the Fiery Furnace.'
Even though great sums of money were deposited in the Rebbe's hands by those who had been helped by him, the Rebbe was very careful never to use money received from non-kosher sources. This point is illustrated by the following story which was related by Reb Dovid Prever zt'l from Antwerp. Reb Dovid, who was a well known Chortkover chossid, lived in Berlin.
One Friday night, Reb Dovid's door bell rang. An assimilated Jew who had heard that Reb Dovid intended to visit his Rebbe soon wanted to ask for a berocho for himself. The assimilated Jew took out a kvittel and some money and put them down on Reb Dovid's table, asking him please to hand them over to the Rebbe. Reb Dovid, aghast at this open display of chillul Shabbos (Shabbos desecration), thought at first that he would not take the kvittel with him. On second thoughts however, he decided that since he had been asked to carry out a mission, he would do so and whatever the Rebbe would do with the kvittel and pidyon (money) was none of his business.
When Reb Dovid entered the Rebbe's room he put the two sums of money down on the Rebbe's table, his and the other Yid's. He made no mention of how the money from the other Jew had come into his hands. Normally the Rebbe never looked at the pidyon. He would ignore it, leaving it to the gabbai (attendant) to clear away. This time, however, the Rebbe took the money which the assimilated Jew had sent, and put it in his breast pocket. Reb Dovid noticed this sudden change but said nothing. Reb Dovid's money remained lying on the table as usual, awaiting the gabbai.
After the conversation came to a close, the Rebbe told Reb Dovid that he had to go somewhere and that he wanted Reb Dovid to accompany him. On the way, a priest came over to the Rebbe and asked him for a donation for an orphanage that had just opened. The Rebbe put his hand into his breast pocket, took out the money that Reb Dovid had brought from the assimilated Jew, and handed it to the priest. Reb Dovid understood that the Rebbe had wanted to show him that he knew the money was not from a kosher source.
and on the right is the gabbai Reb Yosef Sternberg
|The Rebbe used to say that the only merit that he had for asking Hashem to answer his tefillos was the mitzva of tzedoko. The Rebbe distributed sizeable sums of money each week to dozens of families. These families never found out from where the money came, and only when the Rebbe was niftar and the money stopped did they realize that it had come from the Rebbe. The Rebbe gave the money to a few messengers who would deliver it to the needy.|
On one occasion, the Rebbe's wife commented to one of the messengers about her own difficult financial position. There was no money even for basic health treatment that needed to be carried out. The messenger decided to tell over the rebbetzin's words to the Rebbe. The Rebbe listened to him in silence and didn't comment, but from that day on the Rebbe did not ask him to distribute money anymore.
Although there was no money for the day to day running of the house, the Rebbe was makpid (scrupulous) to live in a palatial house. The Rebbe lived in fabulous luxury in keeping with his royal status. His house was decorated with the most costly furniture and designs. The most expensive woods and materials adorned the walls. But the Rebbe did not benefit at all from this luxury. Most of his day was spent in his private study which was totally bare. Just a simple wooden chair sat on the plain stone floor. The luxury was just a show for the outside world.
The extent to which the Rebbe ignored his surroundings can be seen from the following story. When the Rebbe escaped to Vienna at the beginning of the World War, he arrived without any of his personal belongings. A few months later the furniture was brought over. Three years later, the Rebbe commented that at long last the furniture had finally arrived! Until then he had simply not noticed it.
The Rebbe laid great stress on the derech of 'kedoshim tiheyu.' ("You shall be Holy.") His whole outlook was governed by the principle that a person has to sanctify himself in all his mundane acts. Chazal tell us that if someone eats without making a berocho it is as if he has stolen from Hashem. The Rebbe understood this to mean that a person must have more enjoyment from making the berocho than from the food itself, otherwise one hasn't given what one has taken.
On one occasion, the Rebbe was asked by one of his close chassidim, Reb Shmuel Halpern zt'l, how it was possible for a person to achieve such a high madreiga. "What's the problem?" the Rebbe answered. "Rabbi Yehuda Hanossi declared that he had never benefited from this world." "Who can compare to Reb Yehuda Hanossi?" asked Reb Shmuel.
"Why not? My zeide (grandfather) the Ruzhiner made a similar declaration," said the Rebbe. Again, Reb Shmuel exclaimed, "Who can compare himself to the great Ruzhiner?" The Rebbe, however, did not understand what Reb Shmuel found so difficult to understand and told him, "You should at least know that if you can't achieve this madreiga, then you have not yet achieved anything."
This statement echoed a similar remark by the Rebbe's father, Reb Dovid Moshe zt'l, who once said, "A person can live seventy years learning and davening, but if he hasn't learned how to eat properly, it's all worth nothing." The Rebbe lived by his father's words and constantly urged his chassidim to better themselves in all their mundane acts. It was his opinion that the only way to conquer the yetzer hora was by eating lesheim Shomayim (for the sake of Heaven alone).
All the Rebbe's actions had only one kavono (intention): `lesheim Shomayim.' It once happened that a Karliner chossid came to the Rebbe's gabbai in the middle of the week to ask if he would be able to daven in front of the omud (reader's stand) on Shabbos, as he had yahrtzeit that Shabbos. The gabbai said that the Rebbe did not approve of the Karliner method of screaming and shouting during davening and therefore, if he wanted to lead the tefillos in the Rebbe's minyan he would have to daven softly and quietly as was the minhag (custom) in Chortkov.
The Karliner chossid agreed to the condition, but when it came to Shabbos he totally forgot about his promise and screamed and shouted all the way through davening. After davening, realizing his mistake, the man was hesitant to approach the Rebbe. The Rebbe however, made no mention of the broken promise and thanked the man, adding that he had enjoyed his davening.
"But I thought the Rebbe doesn't like this type of davening," the man queried. "If a man comes in the middle of the week and says that when Shabbos comes he will shout during davening, that's what I don't like, but if in the middle of davening his voice starts to rise by itself, that is something else altogether," the Rebbe explained.
Although it was the Rebbe's fervent wish to settle in Eretz Yisroel, in keeping with the berocho that he had received from his father Reb Dovid Moshe zt'l before his petirah, his wish wasn't fulfilled. In his last years the Rebbe explained that the reason his father's berocho had not been fulfilled was because the Rebbe had not answered Amen as instructed, but "Amen together with you."
When the Rebbe was asked why he didn't go to visit Eretz Yisroel, he answered, "I have the strength to travel to Eretz Yisroel, I just don't know where I will find the strength to leave!"
The Rebbe encouraged his chassidim to settle in Eretz Yisroel and when a group known as 'Beis Dovid' left to live in Eretz Yisroel, the Rebbe wrote to them an enthusiastic letter telling them of his joy that they would be settling in the Holy Land.
Even so, the Rebbe did not always agree to let his chassidim move to Eretz Yisroel. He felt that only three types of people were able to cope with the difficult situation in Eretz Yisroel at that time. Only a single person, or someone with a job at hand or a well-to-do person were allowed to settle there. The financial situation in Eretz Yisroel was very precarious and a poor man with a wife and children would not be able to make ends meet. This would result in their going back to Europe and the Rebbe held that this gave a bad image to the Holy Land.
The Rebbe never publicly spoke out against Zionism, but he made his opinion quite clear to the various communal leaders who sought his advice. On one occasion the Rebbe said there were three times when Moshiach had been ready to come but each time had been ruined. The first time was during Bayis Sheini (the 2nd Temple) and Oso ho'ish (J.C.) ruined it. The second time Shabsai Zvi spoiled things and Zionism ruined it the third time. The Rebbe wrote in one of his letters that if frum Yidden (religious Jews) would control and run Eretz Yisroel, this alone would be enough to bring the Geula (redemption). The yetzer hora, however, knew about this and sent his messengers to gain control of the land, thereby preventing the Geula.
The Rebbe used his utmost power to spread and advance the study of Torah. In 1906 the Rebbe helped to open a yeshiva in the town of Stanislav. The yeshiva was called Keser Torah and the famous gaon, Reb Arye Leibush Horowitz (author of Harei Besomim), was appointed rosh yeshiva. The Rebbe publicized a letter telling of his immense pleasure that the yeshiva had opened, and his hope that it would be the first of many such yeshivos. He wrote of his great anguish that until now, due to the lack of yeshivos, the Torah had become deserted and forgotten. He hoped that the new yeshiva would rectify this downhill trend, bring an increase in Torah learning and knowledge and lift up the kovod haTorah (honor of the Torah).
When the Rebbe's faithful chossid, Reb Meir Shapiro, announced his plans to build Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, the Rebbe backed him fully, writing letters to people to ask them to give money. The Rebbe traveled especially to Lublin to lay the foundation stone and then traveled there a second time to open the yeshiva.
At the opening ceremony, the Rebbe met Reb Shmuel Eichenbaum, the person who had donated the plot of land on which the yeshiva was built. When the Rebbe saw him, he said, "I am not jealous of the mitzva that you did by donating this land. It was a mitzva which was done in the public eye and you are receiving a lot of honor as a result. Chazal tell us that one mitzva brings another (mitzva goreres mitzva). I do envy the precious mitzva that you did in private that has brought you this mitzva."
The Rebbe stayed in Lublin for four days. During those four days not one person died in Lublin. The chevra kadisha (burial society) attributed this to the zechus (merit) of the Rebbe. Lublin had forty thousand Yidden and there was never a day without a levaya. Four days without a levaya (funeral) was literally a miracle. No one could find any other explanation except that it had been the Rebbe's zechus.
Reb Meir Shapiro used to say that the Rebbe was his Urim veTumim. No matter, small or large, was done without first consulting the Rebbe. The Rebbe also used Reb Meir as his spokesman on manyoccasions. A lot of times Reb Meir would pass over the message as his own, in keeping with the Rebbe's wishes that he remain anonymous. Reb Shlomo Zalman Horowitz zt'l, the Rov of Potik who lived on the Lower East Side in New York City (he was niftar in Ellul 1994), and who was a close talmid (student) of Reb Meir, used to relate what Reb Meir had told him: the idea of Daf Yomi had not really been his own but the Rebbe's. The Rebbe had asked him to say it over in his own name.
Reb Meir Shapiro was not the only one who followed the Rebbe blindly. Reb Meir Arik, who was one of the most famous poskim of his era was also an unswerving chossid of the Rebbe. Reb Meir Arik was the Rov of Tarnov which, like many towns, had a high wall surrounding it that was locked every night. On one occasion, late at night, Reb Meir Arik heard that the Rebbe was on a train which would be passing by, not far from Tarnov. Reb Meir Arik went right away and with a talmid's help climbed up the high wall and down the other side to go and greet his Rebbe. The Tschebiner Rov, who was also a frequent visitor in Chortkov, always marveled at the number of rabbonim sitting around the Rebbe's tish. Each tish looked like a small Knessia Gedola.
Although the Rebbe lived in Vienna after the war, and refused to move back to Chortkov, he did agree to visit there once a year during the month of Sivan. Every year the town of Chortkov came alive again for the four weeks that he was there. Tens of thousands poured into the town to be with the Rebbe.
On one occasion when the Rebbe visited the town of Lemberg in 1921 for a Shabbos, the police estimated that thirty thousand chassidim arrived to spend Shabbos with the Rebbe.
Even the buildings in Chortkov, which had been specially built to accommodate large numbers, were packed. The Rebbe's beis hamedrash could comfortably hold five thousand people. On Yom Tov after the tefillos were over, the Rebbe would go out onto a balcony overlooking a large courtyard where the chassidim would dance while the Rebbe watched them.
The yearly journey of the Rebbe from Vienna to Chortkov became a major event in the lives of his chassidim. The Rebbe traveled by train and at each town on the way thousands came to greet him. This is how Reb Yosef Mordechai Baumel shlita remembers the event. "The Rebbe's train was due to pass through the town late at night. Already a few days earlier the unusual flurry of activity was noticeable. The railway station was specially cleaned for the occasion until it shone like new. It was almost as if there was a family simcha. Everyone was excited at the chance to see the radiant face of our holy Rebbe.
"Finally, at the appointed time, the whole town left towards the station: men, women and children, all dressed in their Shabbos best. Chairs were prepared on the platform for the rabbonim of the town and the elderly. As the train came into view, the whole crowd respectfully rose to their feet. Suddenly, their hearts missed a beat. Standing at the window was their Rebbe, the Rebbe who cared for all their needs and problems. During the ten minutes that the train was in the station, the assembled filed past to receive the Rebbe's berocho. After the train left, the crowd dispersed, each one going home with a full and contented heart and treasuring the few words the Rebbe had exchanged with them all."
The Rebbe's concern for the feelings of others extended even to the feelings of goyim. He was very careful not to upset them. The Sadigerer Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Yaakov zt'l, was once sitting with the Rebbe on a park bench in a park in Vienna. While they were sitting there, a non-Jewish woman came and sat down at the other end of the long bench. The Sadigerer Rebbe wanted to jump up straight away, but the Rebbe held his hand, restraining him. After a minute, the Rebbe looked at his watch and exclaimed loudly in German, "Oh, it is already very late, we have to be on our way." The Rebbe had not wanted to insult the woman's feelings by leaving the second she arrived.
During Sukkos 1934 it became noticeable that the Rebbe's strength was leaving him and he was becoming weaker and weaker. On leaving the sukkah on Shemini Atzeres, he used to make a lechayim, al hamichya and say the yehi rotzon and then get up and leave. That year, after saying the yehi rotzon, as he got up to leave the sukkah, he stood for a long time, deep in thought. Then he left but, after taking just a few steps, he went back inside the sukkah and stood by the door for a few minutes more, before departing for the last time. With his last strength he managed to dance on Simchas Torah.
Soon after, he became seriously ill and the doctors gave up hope, saying that it was a miracle he was still alive. The family was afraid to inform the Rebbe of the sudden petirah of his close chossid Reb Meir Shapiro zt'l on the seventh of Cheshvan, but the Rebbe had felt it by himself and said that Reb Meir had gone ahead to prepare the way for him. On the eighth of Kislev, the yahrtzeit of his zeide Reb Aharon of Chernobyl, the Rebbe spoke about the petirah of tzaddikim and said that if a person can see that he is about to depart from this world, he should try to hold out until erev Shabbos after chatzos (midnight).
Thursday evening, the thirteenth of Kislev the Rebbe's condition took a turn for the worse. The next morning, erev Shabbos, the family and close chassidim stood around the Rebbe's bed. The Rebbe lay in bed and sang the dveikus niggunim (wordless melody of longing for closeness to Hashem) that he used to sing during a tish. The Rebbe sang for a few hours until after chatzos. Then the Rebbe lifted up his head and looked at the people assembled at his bedside. He stared into the eyes of each and every person present, and then he lay down again on his bed and his holy neshomo ascended.
Tens of thousands participated in the levaya (funeral) on Sunday. To this very day the Rebbe's kever (gravesite) is a place of tefillo for many who go to Vienna specially to daven at his grave.
Zechuso yogein oleinu.