Friday, October 19, 2012

3 Cheshvan ~ R' Yisrael of Rozhin

Torah scroll crown from the court of Rabbi Israel Ruzhin

The mere mention of the word "Ruzhin" is enough to conjure up stories of fabulous wealth and undreamed of treasures. Indeed, the Rebbe of Ruzhin was already a legend in his own lifetime. All of his personal belongings, even his everyday cutlery, were made of the most expensive materials. The buttons on his bekeshes were made of solid gold, studded with diamonds,
and his pillowcase was woven from pure gold thread. Even though the reasons for the Rebbe's conduct were not understood by most people, he was regarded as one of the greatest tzaddikim of his time.

As a small child his phenomenal level of kedusha was noticeable. When he was only a few years old he would often cry bitter tears but would refuse to disclose the reason for his crying. When his father told him that as a father he has the right to decree that his son tell him the reason for his tears, he answered, "I am thinking to myself how many times I have lifted up my hands today not for the sake of heaven."

Wherever the Rebbe went crowds came to see him. The Rebbe travelled in a beautiful carriage drawn by four white horses. On one occasion, the Rebbe was asked how he keeps himself from having haughty thoughts when he sees the many people pushing to see him. The Rebbe answered the question with a parable.

There was once a king who ruled over a country which was too big for him to control by himself. He therefore appointed a governor over each province. One day the king decided to visit one of his faraway provinces that he had never been to before. When the king arrived he asked the governor to accompany him for a stroll through the main street of the area. As they walked down the street together, crowds began to push each other to get a better view of their governor. The king, however, was not recognized by anyone. In the commotion to see the governor, the king got pushed and shoved around along with everyone else. Can you imagine how embarrassed the governor must have been? His importance came only from the king, he must have felt terrible to see that the kiwas getting pushed around. "Similarly", ended the Ruzhiner, "When I see the way people try to honor me, I think to myself, if only they would honor Hashem like this as well, and it makes me so upset that the idea of becoming haughty doesn't even occur to me!"

Although from the outside it appeared that the Rebbe enjoyed all the comforts of this world, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the Rebbe afflicted himself terribly, denying his body even the basic necessities. This point is illustrated by the famous story of the Rebbe's boots. The Rebbe used to wear a magnificent pair of boots. It was rumored that even the Czar of Russia was jealous of these boots. Made of solid gold and studded with diamonds and other precious stones, they were the envy of all who beheld them. Once on a bitterly cold night the Rebbe went out in his boots to sanctify the New Moon. The Rebbe stood for a long time in the snow davening. When he left, the chassidim noticed blood where he had been standing.

An investigation of the Rebbe's boots revealed that they had no sole. Every time the Rebbe wore them he was really walking barefoot and when he stood on the snow his feet became stuck to the icy ground, causing them to bleed when he left. When this story became known, even those people who had until then been opposed to his extravagant life style, bowed their heads in deference, acknowledging that the Rebbe's every action was only for the sake of Heaven and not for his own pleasure.

On one occasion he commented that when the time came for him to be born, his soul did not want to descend into this lowly world until the body promised the soul that it would not partake of this world, only what it would need for its basic survival.

The Rebbe sought to lighten the heavy burden of the Jews as much as possible. When it was decreed that all the Jews had to change their way of dress to that of the non-Jews, most of the authorities of the time held that a person should give up his life rather than change his mode of dress. When the Rebbe was asked what he held, he answered, "Jacob received Isaac's blessing when dressed in Esau's clothes."

On one occasion the Rebbe spoke about the final geula and said that it would begin with the gradual emigration of Jews to Israel. Just as in the times of Ezra there was no miraculous redemption as in Egypt, similarly in our times if the generation will not be worthy, the redemption will also take place in a natural way.

The countries of the world will decide to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish people as a land of their own, and the Jewish people will come back and rebuild the land. There will be great miracles but they will be hidden in the circle of nature, and after this we will see the final redemption. As the Rebbe finished these words he sighed and said, "Of course it bothers us that the geula should start in such a way, but we have no more strength to wait. However it will be, let it start already."

Source: The Golden Dynasty, The Lives and Times of the Rizhniner Rebbes

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