Chapter 4
The Sadigerer Rebbe,
Reb Mordechai SholomYosef zt'l

  With the petirah of the Sadigerer Rebbe, Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef Friedman zt'l on the twenty ninth of Nissan 5739 (1979) the fourteenth day of the Omer, the life of one of the most remarkable tzaddikim in modern times came to a close. According to Kavonos Ha'Arizal (mystical intentions revealed by the Arizal, R' Yiztchok Luria of Sfas) the date of his petirah (death) - the fourteenth of the Omer - corresponds to the kavono 'Malchus She'b'gevurah'. (royalty within self restraint) No two words could more aptly describe his life. For over three generations the Rebbe led Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) with malchus and gevurah, guiding Yidden through two World Wars, all the while faithfully tending to their needs in every situation.

Born on the seventeenth of Kislev 5657 (1897) to his father Reb Aharon of Sadiger, Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef soon made a name for himself as an unusually gifted and talented child. He was blessed with a fantastic memory. Years later he once remarked that he could recall even the most minute details of his life from when he was three years old.

As a young child Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef was extremely close to his grandfather, Reb Yisroel zt'l, who was Rebbe in Sadiger. Reb Yisroel treasured his grandson greatly, taking time and care to personally supervise his upbringing. Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef received a test every two weeks from his grandfather who watched his progress with great satisfaction. Until the end of his days, Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef spoke about his zeide (grandfather) with awe and emotion, and often said that he asked Hashem that at least half of the brochos (blessings) he had received from his zeide should be fulfilled.

On the thirteenth of Tishrei 5667 (1907) Reb Yisroel was niftar and was succeeded by his son Reb Aharon. Known as the Kedushas Aharon, Reb Aharon was famed for his conduct and hasmodo (diligence). Even during the meal he sat with an open sefer (book) in front of him and in between spoonfuls he carried on learning. Always occupied with holy and lofty thoughts, he was regarded as a tzaddik from generations gone by. Under his careful watch, Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef developed and ascended from madreiga (spiritual level) to madreiga. By the time he was bar mitzva, he had already completed the whole of Shas (Talmud) twice. Such an achievement was only possible through his tremendous hasmodo. He was capable of learning whole nights through, surviving on a bare minimum of sleep. His mother who was concerned about his health asked her husband to intervene to which he replied, "many times I have stood behind the door to listen how he learns. You don't have to worry, his learning is Toras Emes (genuine Torah)."

On the nineteenth of Tishrei 5673 (1913) tragedy struck the House of Sadiger, the Kedushas Aharon was niftar after a serious illness; he was only thirty six years old. Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef was sixteen years old at the time, but despite his tender age, the chassidim saw that he already possessed the necessary qualities to lead them. Being Chol Ha-Mo'ed there was no shiva (mourning period), and right after the levayo (funeral) Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef started to receive kvitlech (petitions). He addressed a few words to his chassidim in which he asked that Hashem have mercy on Klal Yisroel and that his father's zechus (merit) accompany him in all he does.

The new Rebbe won the approval of all who saw him. Reb Avrohom Menachem Steinberg of Brod, author of the classic sefer 'Machzeh Avrohom' was considered one of the foremost poskim (decisors) of his era. Being a Sadigerer chossid, he was asked to test the young Rebbe to see if he was as knowledgeable as the rumors would have had it. The Machzeh Avrohom tested Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef and afterwards proclaimed that he was even greater than they had previously thought. He was truly familiar not just in whatever gemora he was asked, but in halocho and midrash also. From then on, the Machzeh Avrohom sat at the Rebbe's tish (table) listening to his every word. Amongst the elder chassidim at the tish were still twenty six people who had graced the 'court' of the Rebbe's great great grandfather, Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin!
The Sadigerer Rebbe Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef zt"l as a young man, in the streets of Pshemishal

Whilst he was still sixteen, Reb Mordechai Sholem Yosef received semicha (ordination) from the Maharsham and from the Rov of Chernovitz, Reb Binyomon Weiss zt'l.
The Rebbe led his chassidim in Sadiger for only a very short period. A year and a half later the first World War broke out and in 1915 the Rebbe was forced to flee to Vienna together with thousands of other refugees. In Vienna the Rebbe opened his Beis Hamidrash and became active in helping the many refugees to cope with their new surroundings. As a result of his strenuous activities, the Rebbe became seriously ill. Seeing his grave condition his mother rushed to the Husyatiner Rebbe, Reb Yisroel zt'l to beg him to daven for her son's recovery. The Husyatiner Rebbe calmed her down, telling her not to worry and promised her that her son would have a long life and live into his eighties....

After the war's end the Rebbe made a yearly visit to his many chassidim who were spread throughout Poland and Galicia. The Rebbe would spend a few weeks in Pshemishal, Galicia, on each of his visits. As a result, the town of Pshemishal became a metropolis for his chassidim who would flock there every year. In 1923, the Rebbe decided to found a yeshiva in Pshemishal for his many chassidim. It was known as Yeshivas Meshivas Nefesh and the Rebbe worried for its running and upkeep. The Rebbe appointed a well known talmid chochom (scholar), Reb Shabsi Segal, as Rosh Yeshiva.

In a letter written in 1925 the Rebbe explained the reasons behind the founding of the yeshiva. "The Yeshiva in Pshemishal, which I founded together with various dignitaries in the community, is intended to be a center for spreading Torah throughout eastern Galicia and will thereby fill a gap which has existed until now in all the towns of the area, praise to Hashem that we have succeeded in founding this magnificent mossad (institution) . . .". The yeshiva soon acquired a good reputation for itself and a second branch of the yeshiva was opened a few years later in a neighboring town when the original yeshiva became too overcrowded.

With the expansion of Agudas Yisroel after the war, the Rebbe joined the Aguda and did his utmost to help spread Yiddishkeit. Seeing his potential, the Rebbe's uncle, the Chortkover Rebbe zt'l, invited the Rebbe to attend the meetings of the Aguda cabinet so that he could offer his ideas on the various policies and decisions that had to be made. It didn't take long for the other gedolim (sage) to also recognize his qualities and at the first Knessia Gedola (Great Assembly, convention) in 1923 - when the Rebbe was a mere twenty six years of age - he was elected as a member of the Va'ad Hapo'el.(steering committee) In addition, he was given a second, even more prestigious appointment. He was appointed President of Keren HaTorah (fund to support needy Torah scholars), the organization the gedolim had set up to look after the continued existence and expansion of the many yeshivos throughout Europe. The Rebbe carried on his young shoulders the heavy responsibility of ensuring the welfare of thousands of yeshiva bochurim (young men in yeshiva), worrying for their upkeep and hatzlocho. (success) A few years later at the second Knessia Gedola in 1929 the Rebbe was elected as a member of the Mo'etzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages), where he sat with honor and dignity amongst such luminaries as the Chofetz Chaim zt'l and the Gerer Rebbe zt'l.

The Rebbe regarded his appointments not just as an honor but also as a duty. He invested much energy and effort in furthering the strength and prestige of Agudas Yisroel. The Rebbe travelled around Europe raising money for Keren HaTorah. Wherever he went crowds came out to see and hear him. In addition to his dynamic personality, he was also a fiery speaker.

Whilst in the town of Yaroslav in Galicia, the Rebbe delivered a passionate speech which remained in the hearts of those who heard it for a long time to come. He told a story of a young married man who would relate bad news at his parents-in-law's table every time he went there. Not able to take any more of his morbid tales, his father-in-law asked him to stop telling his stories or at least to say some good news beforehand. One day, the young man came as usual to his parents-in-law's house. In the middle of the meal, he mentioned to his father-in-law that at that very moment his house was on fire and was rapidly getting burnt to a cinder. Hearing his words, his shver (father-in-law) shouted at him, "Why didn't you tell me beforehand? Now it will be too late to save anything!"

The young man timidly answered his shver, "But didn't you tell me not to tell over bad news straight away?" His shver, exploding in a fit of anger shouted back, "You fool! When the fire is in your own house you should be running through the streets shouting, 'Help, Help, My house is on fire!' "Similarly," the rebbe ended, "Klal Yisroel is being consumed by a fire, we must all run through the streets from house to house and shout, 'Help! Help! There is a fire, help save us." The Rebbe's words left the desired effect and caused many to enlist in the cause of Agudas Yisroel.

On another occasion, the Rebbe travelled to Hamburg to raise funds for Keren HaTorah. His regal behavior greatly impressed all those who saw him. For many Yidden in Germany it was their first encounter with one of the Ruzhiner Rebbes and it wasn't something they forgot quickly. When the Rebbe was asked from where he received his aristocratic features, he answered, "Our features we received from our zeides and from the Torah." The Rav of Hamburg, Reb Shmuel Binyomin Spitzer zt'l arranged a grand kabolos panim (reception) at which he spoke at length about the Rebbe, praising him highly.

A few years later the Rebbe paid a second visit to Germany, this time to take a rest in one of the mountain resorts. The Rebbe took ten people with him, so that he would be assured of a minyan (quorom of 10 men for prayer). One day just before Mincha (the afternoon service), one of the ten people suddenly disappeared, leaving the Rebbe without a minyan. It became darker and darker and still there was no sign of the missing person. At the last minute they came across another Yid who joined them for the minyan.

After they had finished davening Mincha the Rebbe went over to the stranger, thanking him profusely for having made up the minyan. The Rebbe couldn't say enough to show his gratitude for not having missed davening with a minyan and asked the Yid (Jew) if there was any way he could reward him. After a moment's silence the Yid told the Rebbe that he had been married for fifteen years, and he didn't yet have any children. He wanted the Rebbe to reward him with a child. The Rebbe didn't hesitate for a second and immediately promised him, "This time next year you will have a child." The Rebbe took out a piece of paper on which he wrote his address, handed it to the Yid and told him, "When your child is born let me know at this address." Indeed, a year later to the day a telegram arrived for the Rebbe, bearing the news that the Yid had become a father to a healthy baby.

The Rebbe would often exhort those around him not to give up in their endeavors however bleak the situation appeared. He would say that we find that one of the mesechtos (Talmudic Tractates) in Shas - Mesechta Temurah - {which deals about transferring kedusha (holiness) from one animal to another} is about a situation which is only bedi'eved (after the fact), for strictly speaking one may not transfer the kedusha from an animal which has been set aside for a korban (sacrifice) to another animal. Even so, if one did so, the second animal is also considered kodesh. From this we see that even things which are only acceptable bedi'eved can still be rendered holy.

In 1934 the Rebbe decided to leave Vienna and to move to Pshemishal where he could be closer to his many chassidim. In Pshemishal the Rebbe established a large court to which his chassidim came in their masses. There he was able to truly lead his chassidim as in Sadiger before the war. Every time he left his house to go somewhere, he was accompanied by scores of his faithful followers. The large Beis Hamidrash was constantly full of those who came to see and be seen in their masses. From far and wide many flocked to Pshemishal to bask in his presence. The streets around his house were never quiet. As one group of chassidim left another group would arrive in its place. The Rebbe established a close relationship with the bochurim in his yeshiva, testing them regularly and overseeing their progress.

Seeing his great hatzlocho with his own mosdos haTorah(Torah institutions), Reb Meir Shapiro approached the Rebbe and asked him to assist him in opening Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. Already close friends for years, they now became even closer as the many letters between them testify. The Rebbe spared no effort in helping the yeshiva get on its feet, raising large sums of money on its behalf.

When the Rebbe came for a visit to the yeshiva, the Lubliner Rov commanded all the bochurim to don their Shabbos clothes as a mark of respect for their illustrious guest. After a tour around the yeshiva, a kabolos ponim was held in the Beis Hamidrash, at which the Lubliner Rov extolled at length the many praises of the Rebbe. Later on the rebbe delivered a brilliant and penetrating drosho (Torah speech) which left the bochurim spellbound for a long time.

A few months before the outbreak of the second World War, the Rebbe decided to make a trip to Eretz Yisroel. He had already visited the country once before, during Iyar 1933, and had commented then that he felt as if he belonged in Eretz Yisroel, all he was missing was the reality of actually living there, and he was sure that was still to come. Those words came true when on the advice of his uncle the Husyatiner Rebbe, Reb Yisroel zt'l, the Rebbe did not return to Europe but stayed to live in Eretz Yisroel.

The Rebbe could easily have settled in Yerushalayim or in another frum (religious) neighborhood where he could have established a large shul or yeshiva. The Rebbe, however, chose to settle in the secular city of Tel Aviv in order (as he would say) that the city should not turn into an Ir hanidachas (abandoned city). Instead of being surrounded by chassidim and talmidei chachomim, his new Beis Hamidrash in the city center was filled with the simple and the ignorant. "If my Beis Hamidrash will cause a Yid who has strayed from the path of Yiddishkeit to occasionally utter 'Amen yehei shema rabah,' then it's all worthwhile," the Rebbe would say.

When the news arrived of the annihilation of European Jewry, the Rebbe was heartbroken. "Bitter is the fate of the flock who have lost their shepherd, but even more bitter is the fate of the shepherd who has lost his flock," the Rebbe told those around him.

Despite the precarious situation in Eretz Yisroel the Rebbe did not despair and did his utmost to comfort and reassure his followers. When a certain Rov commented that if one could actually feel the 'Divine Presence' it would strengthen people's emunah (faith), the Rebbe answered him that such a comment holds true only for a simple person. Any Jew who has just a small measure of erlichkeit (earnesty) feels the Hand of Hashem constantly in everything around him!

Although the Rebbe had been a leader of masses in the years before the war, now he changed his direction, concentrating mainly on the individual. In the years after the second World War it was necessary to comfort and rebuild the shattered lives of the survivors. The Rebbe gave of his time and money to help them adjust to their new lives. Even when he had no more to give, he still did not desist from helping all who turned to him. When he heard of a yungerman (young married Torah scholar) who wanted to start up a business but was unable to do so because people were afraid to lend him money, the Rebbe didn't hesitate for a second. He gave away his gold watch as a pledge to secure a loan for the yungerman.

Having arrived in Eretz Yisroel before the war, and been spared all the horrors that befell his brethren, the Rebbe felt that it was his duty to help rebuild Klal Yisroel from its ruins. His house became a well known address for the various communal dignitaries who sought his advice and ideas. Each and every problem brought to his knowledge received his total attention and until the problem had been solved he would not sit back for a minute. Besides local communal problems, he also became involved in many of the burning issues of the period which enveloped Klal Yisroel with the independence ofthe State of Israel. When word leaked out about Yaldei Tehran (Iranian children) the Rebbe did his utmost to alleviate their plight. In another instance when the idea was broached to establish a 'Sanhedrin' (Rabbinical Supreme Court) it was the Rebbe who fought against it and alerted other rabbonim until the idea was abolished.

The Rebbe once underwent a very painful medical treatment. The doctor who was treating him was amazed that he could not detect any sign of pain in the Rebbe's face and wanted to know how it was possible for the Rebbe not to react to the pain. The Rebbe explained quite simply, "When a Yid comes and tells me of his suffering it hurts me even more." The Rebbe once fell down and broke his hand. Afterwards he told his chassidim, "Until now when I davened for the recovery of those who had been wounded or were ill and suffering, I was always concerned that I could not put myself in their position to feel part of their pain. Now however I will be able to daven for them feeling what it means to have to suffer a little bit."

Indeed, so concerned was he about the suffering of others that he totally neglected himself. His chassidim begged him to move out of his cramped, temporary quarters where he had been living since his arrival, but the Rebbe would not hear of it. As long as others didn't have enough to eat or a place to sleep, a cramped and tiny flat would suffice for him also.
The Sadigerer Rebbe zt"l
It was therefore no wonder that many people came knocking on the Rebbe's door to receive his brochos (blessings), for they knew that his brochos came from the heart. Many were the stories told of the power of his brochos. A yungerman came to the Rebbe to seek a brocho for his daughter who was lying in hospital critically ill. The doctors had tried their best to cure her, but nothing had helped, and they were now at a loss how to treat her. The Rebbe listened to the yungerman's story and when he finished the Rebbe told him to try a certain drug called 'Phenbriten.' The yungerman explained to the Rebbe that the doctors must for sure know about this drug, and since they didn't prescribe it, it is obviously not the correct medicine for his daughter. The Rebbe however was not impressed and repeated his opinion for the second time. As the Rebbe finished speaking, the clock on the wall chimed ten times; it was ten o' clock in the morning

Later on that afternoon the young man went to the hospital to visit his daughter. Upon his arrival, he was informed that the doctors who were working on his daughter's case had held a meeting in the morning to work out a course of action, and they had decided to administer her a certain drug called 'Phenbriten.' The yungerman could hardly believe his ears and asked what time the meeting had taken place. He was curious to know if it was before he had been at the Rebbe or afterwards. At first the doctor could not recall the exact time of the meeting but after a few seconds he remembered and told the young man, "Now I remember, just as we started the meeting the clock chimed ten times, it was ten o' clock in the morning...".

Not only was the Rebbe fluent in all sections of the Gemora and Midrash, in the many present day seforim he was also well versed. Every new sefer printed found its way to his hands. The Rebbe would encourage the various rabbonim to print their chiddushim and he would often offer to check through the manuscript beforehand and give financial assistance when necessary. Over the years he amassed a large library of seforim and manuscripts which he took with him when he left Europe for Eretz Yisroel, thereby saving them from destruction.

In the introduction to one such sefer - the sefer Resisei Torah - the author relates: "This sefer is all that remains from my manuscripts which I had and were lost during the war, and this was through an amazing hashgocho. The Sadigerer Rebbe shlita used to come to our town from time to time. The last time he was there, I handed to him this manuscript so that he could take it back with him to Pshemishal in order to look through it. With the outbreak of the war, I suffered one exile after another until I was finally zocheh to arrive in Eretz Yisroel. My first steps in Eretz Yisroel were to the house of the Sadigerer Rebbe and when he told me that he still had my manuscript, I rejoiced greatly that all my efforts had not gone to waste."

The Rebbe continued to play a major role in Agudas Yisroel as in the years before the war. His opinion was especially valued for he had the experience of having been a member of the Mo'etzes Gedolei HaTorah since he was a young man and had seen how the gedolim from past generations had acted. In a letter written in 1964 the Rebbe wrote, "For over fifty years I have been leading my flock, and in me have been fulfilled the words of the posuk 'Na'ar hoyisi gam zakanti,' for I started when I was still young, and all these years I have been working for Klal Yisroel together with the elders of the previous generation."

At the fifth Knessia Gedola in 1964 in Yerushalayim, it was the Rebbe who suggested that a frum settlement be founded in Ashdod; he was among the first who had the foresight to encourage new settlements outside Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak. In Chinuch Atzmai too, the Rebbe was very active in promoting its importance and ensuring its continued existence together with other Torah organizations.

Only in 1967 when the Rebbe turned seventy did he finally agree to move out of his cramped flat to better quarters. The Rebbe insisted on staying in Tel Aviv. In Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak there were no shortage of shuls and it was more important that he remained in Tel Aviv. A large flat and shul were built in northern Tel Aviv in a totally secular district. In Tammuz 1971 the building was completed and the Rebbe moved in. The new shul created a total upheaval in the lives of the local residents, bringing many of them back to the path of Yiddishkeit they had forsaken years earlier. When one of the locals thanked the Rebbe for installing air conditioning in the new Beis Hamidrash so that people could cool down when they came in from the street, the Rebbe retorted, "I built this Beis Hamidrash in order that people could warm themselves up from the street and not chas v'sholom (G-d forbid) for them to cool down!"

The Rebbe's mere presence served as a beacon of light in his new surroundings, shedding warmth on the whole area. His words and comments infused new values into those around him. One cold winter evening, the Rebbe went out to a meeting and forgot his coat behind. Someone offered to bring another coat for the Rebbe so that he shouldn't have to stand in the freezing cold, but he refused, saying, "You are worried about the cold, but I am more concerned about shatnez." (forbidden mixture of linenand wool fibers)

In his last years the Rebbe started to rebuild the destroyed Sadigerer Mosdos. Way back in 1954 the Rebbe had founded the Ruzhiner Yeshiva in Bnei Brak together with the other rebbes of the Ruzhiner dynasty. The yeshiva had outgrown its old premises and desperately needed to move to a bigger building. A plot of land was secured in Bnei Brak on which the new building was built and finished in 1974. Four years later the Rebbe established a large Talmud Torah (elementary school, cheyder) in Bnei Brak. In Yerushalayim a shul, kollel and Talmud Torah were also set up. Finally in his last year the Rebbe founded a yeshiva gedola (for ages 16-22) which was built adjoining the existing yeshiva ketana (for ages 13-16) in Bnei Brak.

In his final weeks the Rebbe became weaker and weaker, after Pesach (Passover) his condition took a turn for the worse. The night of his petirah he recited Kri'as Shema with Kavonos Ha'Arizal with intense concentration followed by Viduy(personal confession) after which he went to sleep for the night. In the early morning he asked his gabbai for a drink of water and after calmly reciting a 'Shehakol' (the blessing over water), peacefully passed away.

Reb Gedalia Schorr (who was a faithful chossid of the Rebbe) later explained that it is written in seforim that a tzaddik who has lived his whole life 'bikedushah v'tehara' (in holiness and purity), his every action being only to perform the Will of Hashem, such a person is zocheh that his last words in this world should also be in the same vein, 'shehakol nibidvoro,' everything is according to His Will. Zechuso yogein oleinu.

The Rebbe is succeeded by his son Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman shlita, the present Rebbe of Sadiger, who lives in Eretz Yisroel and presides over the various Sadigerer Mosdos and is a leading member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.

From right to left: the Boyaner Rebbe Shlita,
the Sadigerer Rebbe Shlita, the Vasloier Rebbe Shlita

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