Friday, 31 October 2008

Yahrtzeit - 3 Cheshvan - Rabbi Yisrael of Rhuzin - The Rhuziner Rebbe

Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin (Rhuzin)

Born: Pogrpbisht, Ukraine, 1797
Died: Sadagora, Galicia, 1850
Known as the Rhuziner.

Rabbi Yisrael was the son of Rabbi Shalom Shachna (and Chava), the son of Rabbi Avraham HaMalach (the angel), the son of the Maggid of Mezritch – the pupil of the holy Baal Shem Tov. He founded the Rhizin dynasty – also known as the GOLDEN DYNASTY. Not only were his descendants to become “gold” in Torah, becoming Rebbes with their own courts, but he – and they were blessed with fortunes of wealth! One need just look at the palaces they lived in – their homes – to know that their wealth was absolutely huge! He was born on the day after Rosh HaShanah.

At the tender age of just 15, he succeeded his father as Chassidic Rebbe of Prohovitch (near Kiev). With his phenomenal talent for organization, the young Rebbe built the community into a Chassidic center. In Rizhin he conducted his "court" in a palace with all the trappings of royalty, maintaining a staff of servants, an orchestra of musicians, and a splendid horse-drawn coach. Thousands of Chassidim, attracted by the glitter and the opulence, rallied around to the Rizhner. The Rebbe's motive for the ostentatious display of wealth was to raise the standards of Torah and Chassidut. He derived no personal enjoyment from it. He was said to walk on hard peas that he placed inside his elegant leather shoes. He often fasted, and he slept only three hours each night.

One of the most famous stories told about R’ Yisrael concerned an evening when the Rebbe went out to do Kiddush Levanah (sanctifying the new moon). As usual he was dressed like a king – going so far as to wear his golden shoes. He certainly must have been a sight! One can imagine the looks on people’s faces as they would look at his regal appearance in all respects – even the gold shoes! Does a Rebbe need to wear such ostentatious garments and shoes – even when the Torah goes so far as speaking about the modesty of garments?!

The Rebbe continued his blessing… It was a freezing evening and the snow had settled upon the ground. The Rebbe completed his blessing and began to walk back to his “palace.” It was only then that the truth became known… Those nearby the Rebbe noticed that wherever the Rebbe walked, there were marks of red. Suddenly it became clear, the red was nothing less than the blood from the Rebbe’s feet… It was only then that it became clear, the Rebbe wore shoes without soles! While externally the shoes appeared glamorous, in actual fact the Rebbe had no desire for the opulence for material veneer. Rather, the reasons for his “excessive” behaviour were known only to him. In truth, however, the Rebbe well felt the pain of the Shechina in Galut (exile.)

As a result of false accusations of treason, R' Yisrael was imprisoned for two years in Kiev. After his release he fled to Sadagora where he was acclaimed more than ever before.

Compilations of his commentaries were published under the titles Irin Kaddishin, Knesset Yisrael, and Pe'er Layesharim. His comments, many of which are based on Kabbalistic themes, attest to his great wisdom and piety. He was the father of the Chasidic dynasties of Sadagora, Chortokov, Boyan, and others, all of which are keeping alive the Rizhiner tradition today with large Yeshivot and Chassidic centers in Israel and the United States. For the most comprehensive information about the descendants of R’ Yisrael and the Golden Dynasty, see “The Golden Dynasty” by Rabbi Yisroel Friedman (himself a direct descendant of R’ Yisrael!)

Chassidic tradition maintains that R. Shalom Shachna possessed a "spark" of King David's soul and that his son R. Yisrael of Rizhin had a spark of King Solomon's.

For a comprehensive look at the Ruzhyn dynasty together with photographs of many of the Rebbes, together with links to other beautiful sites – including the entire book “The Golden Dynasty” online, click HERE


“Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”

Once there was a follower of the holy Rabbi Yisrael of Ryzhin that owned a large soap factory. He had many non-Jewish workers and always treated them fairly and kindly.

One of his workers was a fifteen-year-old lad that suffered terribly at home and was always miserable. This boy's father had died when he was a baby and his mother remarried a cruel drunkard of a man with four grown sons of his own. It wasn't long before this sadist began to order his sons to beat the poor lad while he sat back and enjoyed the spectacle. To make matters worse, the boy's heartbroken mother was helpless to stop the torture.

One night, insane with depression after an unusually long thrashing, he found a long piece of rope, limped to the factory, climbed up to one of the rafters above the huge vat where the soap was crushed and boiled, and … hung himself.

Early next morning when the chasid opened the door to his factory and was greeted by this gruesome sight, he understood that it could mean big trouble for him. If anyone found out about this he was sure to be accused by the anti-Semitic villagers of murder.

He had to act fast. Without giving it too much thought he took a knife, climbed up to the same rafter, cut the rope and watched as the body fell below him and melted into the boiling churning soap.

But the case was far from closed. It seems that one of the neighbours saw the lad enter the factory late the previous night, and because no one saw him leave, the Jew was suspected. Needless to say, the Bishop and the townsfolk began to demand justice.

The Chassid had no choice than to speed as fast as possible to his Rebbe, 'The Holy Ryzhiner,' for help.

The Rebbe listened, thought a bit, and finally assured the trembling man that everything would be all right. He added that he personally would defend him in court.

The day of the trial arrived and the courthouse was packed. The police had trouble keeping order; the only thing that quieted the crowd was their desire to hear the witnesses. They were almost in tears when the boy's stepfather and stepbrothers testified one after the other, how they loved the dear departed lad, and they hissed when they heard how the boy often cursed the evil Jew.

They seethed when they heard the testimony of the neighbour. But it was the Bishop's speech, a venomous assault on the Jews and their blood rites, which began to drive the crowd to the point of frenzy.

He was just in the middle of a glorious sentence; --hand lifted majestically in the air-- when suddenly the courtroom door burst open, everyone turned to look, and in walked … the dead boy!

Everyone froze in astonishment as the boy walked to the front of the courtroom faced the audience and shouted angrily: "What are you doing to this Jew! He was my only friend! Dead? I am not dead! I just ran away to escape their beatings! Your Honor!!" the lad looked up at the Judge pointing his finger at his 'brothers', "if anyone deserves punishment it is these evil snakes!"

The stepfather and his sons shot quick glances at each other. Then, blind with flaming rage, they suddenly jumped from their places and before the police could intervene, one grabbed the boy by the throat while the others beat and kicked him mercilessly until … he died.

They were all arrested on the spot and charged with murder.

Later the Rhyzhiner Rebbe explained the miracle that he had accomplished by telling a story that involved the Baal Shem Tov bringing back a non-Jewish nobleman who had been dead for fifteen years.

"I am nothing compared to the Besht," concluded the Holy Ruziner; "nevertheless, if he could reconstruct a person a decade and a half after he died, I felt sure I could do the same thing with this lad who died only last week. That is how I knew I could help you."

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition of his friend and colleague Rabbi Tuvia Bolton in his weekly email for Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim: ; ]

“The Secret of Le’Chayim Revealed”

Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin once stayed in a town called Sanek during one of his travels. Of course, everybody came out to greet him since the reputation of the tzaddik preceded him wherever he went. Among them were some Jews who were not adherents of the Chassidic path. These Misnagdim (opponents) decided to vent their hostility on R' Yisroel.

"Tell us," they challenged, "it is very difficult for us to understand. Our custom is to arise well before the break of dawn, to pray the morning prayer at sunrise according to the custom of the ancestral pious ones. After we finish praying, we remain for some time in the shul, still wrapped in tallit and tefillin and we learn Chumash and Mishna before we leave. Even as we put away the tallit and tefillin we learn chapters by memory from the Tanach. The rest of the day, we maintain fixed times when we gather for additional study in the shul. For this behavior we are labeled Misnagdim?!

"You Chasidim, your way is to pray the morning prayer long after the prescribed time for doing so, and immediately after the prayer, instead of dedicating time for study, you race to set the table. Then you bring out cake and brandy, and sit together drinking, eating and singing. For this you are called Chasidim (pious)?! It seems to us to be quite the opposite."

Reb Leib, the attendant of the Rizhiner, after hearing these accusations could not hold himself back. "I'm not surprised," he imputed. "Your whole service is performed with so little heart, in such a calculated, chilly and lifeless manner, it is no wonder that you learn Mishnayot afterwards, for that is what one learns in memory of the dead! (Mishna, spelled mem-shin-nun-hei, has the same letters as the word for soul, neshama.) Not so the service of the chasidim. Whatever we do, no matter how much, or how little, we do with devotion, warmth and vitality. Doesn't a living man need a sip of brandy once in a while!?"

He drew a breath to go on, but the Rizhiner interrupted him. "I am sure you realize that he is just joking. I will tell you the real reason for our way of praying and the secret of L'Chayim.

It is well know that since the destruction of the Holy Temple, our prayer takes the place of the sacrifices which were offered there, as it is written, "The prayer of our lips shall replace the oxen of the sacrifice" (Hoshea 14:3). Our three daily prayers correspond to the daily burnt offerings. Just as a sacrifice was rendered invalid by undirected thoughts, so too is our prayer.

When a man stands in prayer before his Creator, the Evil Inclination wants nothing more than to confuse him and introduce all manner of strange thoughts into his head. How is it possible to stand in prayer in face of that? In the end, it is unlikely that we succeeded in replacing the oxen of the sacrifices with our prayers. What did the chasidim discover to remedy the problem, and to battle against the ploys of this Evil Inclination, the Yetzer Hara?

After the Prayer, the chasidim sit together, raise their glasses in L'Chayim, and pour out their hearts in blessing. "Yankele, you should find a proper shidduch (match) for your daughter," exclaims one. "Beryl, your business should have as many customers as the eyes on a potato," exclaims another.

The Yetzer Hara, already regaling in his victory of having confounded the prayer of an entire congregation of Jews, and seeing them eating and drinking, concludes that for the meantime their prayer is indeed finished, and he joyfully retires for the morning.

Now, it is a clear law in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), that prayer can be said in any language that one understands (Orach Chayim 62:2). Therefore, when Jews gather together to say L'Chayim, and in the absence of the Yetzer Hara they begin to bless one another from the depths of their hearts, it is the real prayer, and it goes straight to the heart of the Master of the World.


[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from, the website of the former Nishmas Chayim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, headed by Rabbi Benyamin Adilman. Posted there are also back issues of his weekly parsha sheet, B'ohelei Tzadikim.]

Historical note:
It is an accepted fact that the labels "chasid" and "mitnaged" were originated (derisively) by the Mitnagdim themselves. -- y.t.

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the and websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

Story published at

May the Tzaddik Rabbi Yisrael of Rhuzin protect us all, Amen!

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