Weekly Chasidic Story #828 (s5774-06 / 3 Cheshvan 5774)

The Asset for Austria

When the Rhizhiner Rebbe was forty years old, he was arrested on false charges of having ordered the execution of an informer.

Connection: Seasonal - the 163rd yahrzeit of the "Holy Rhizhiner".


The Asset for Austria

The Russian Czar and the various maskilim ["intellectuals"-forerunners of the Reform Jewish movement] of the time were greatly distressed by the power the "Holy Rhizhiner" Rebbe wielded. Through his royal conduct the Rebbe greatly uplifted the level of the downtrodden masses. The maskilim had long been plotting to bring about the Rebbe's downfall, but without any success. But then, when the Rebbe was forty years old, he was arrested on charges of having had a hand in a murder. An informant brought evidence that the Rebbe had ordered the execution of a second informer. As the Rebbe was taken away into custody he paraphrased Psalm 23, "Although I walk in the valley of the shadow of death"--even as I am to be locked up-"I fear no evil." One thing however upsets me, "You [G-d] will be with me"--the Shechina [the manifestation of Your Presence] will also be in exile with me.

Following the orders of the Czar himself, the Rebbe was imprisoned in the notorious Kiev dungeons. He spent twenty two months locked away under terrible conditions in a small dark and damp cellar. No charges were ever brought against him, nor was he ever put on trial. The Rebbe was then transferred to a second prison in Kamenitz for six months until he was finally freed on Shushan Purim. A few days after the Rebbe was freed he was given a tip that the Czar had decided to arrest him on charges of rebellion and had already passed a sentence on him of life exile in Siberia. The Rebbe was left with no option but to flee Russia.

As soon as the authorities realized that the Rhyzhiner had disappeared, soldiers were sent to look for him and prevent his escape. But the Rebbe crossed the border into Austria in the middle of the night [thanks to near-miraculous aid sent by Rebbe Meir of Primishlan!-see story#660-"From Fire to Ice"--of this list], and the Russians, having narrowly missed recapturing him, returned home empty-handed. The Russian Czar, however, did not give up and demanded that Austria send the Rebbe back to Russia.

Meanwhile, 'witnesses' were produced who testified that the Rebbe was really an Austrian citizen who had disappeared many years ago and had finally returned home to Austria. The Russians, however, also had witnesses to contradict this story and insisted on his return. The Austrian Government refused to comply. They knew that the Rebbe would attract tens of thousands of Chasidim, and this would greatly benefit the economy and businesses of the area. The Rebbe was simply too valuable an asset to lose.

When Reb Yitzchok of Vorka came to visit the Rebbe soon after he arrived in Austria, the Rebbe told him that he had not been imprisoned for his own sins, for in his life he had never transgressed even the smallest rabbinical prohibition.

The Rebbe settled in the town on Sadigur. Some years earlier Reb Chaim Kosover had promised the people of the town that one day a great tzadik would come to live there, and he would make the name "Sadigur" famous for all generations. Once again the Rebbe set up a magnificent court with a big shul. Tens of thousands flocked to Sadigur, and indeed all the people of the area became his chassidim. The Rebbe lived in Sadigur for ten years until his demise.

A few months before he passed away he started to drop broad hints of his imminent departure. Just before Rosh Hashana 5610 (1850 C.E.) he told his sons that he had prepared extremely beautiful living quarters for himself and he would be moving there after the High Holidays season was over. As he walked to his Beit Midrash (House of Study) on Yom Kippur, he put his hands on the mezuzah and announced that he would be a kapara (atonement) for the Jewish People. Two weeks later, right after Sukkot, the Rebbe became ill and one week after that passed away on the third of the Jewish month of Cheshvan.

A few hours before he passed on he asked one of his close chasidim if he knew what Queen Esther prayed before she risked her life to go to Achashverosh. Without waiting for an response the Rebbe answered his own question, "She asked G-d that He either help the Jews or take her from this world."

The Rebbe's last words before his departure were: ""Rebbe" [Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, redactor of the Mishna] testified about himself that he never had enjoyment from this world, not even the amount of a small finger, and I testify on myself that I didn't enjoy this world not even the amount of a bit of thread. The reason for my grand and royal conduct was totally for the sake of Heaven."

Source: Excerpted and adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "The Golden Dynasty" by Yisroel Friedman.

Biographic note:
Rabbi Yisrael Friedmann of Rizhin [of blessed memory: 5557 - 3 Cheshvan 5611 (1797 - Oct. 1850 C.E.)] was a great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch. At a young age was already a charismatic leader with a large following of chasidim. Greatly respected by the other rebbes and Jewish leaders of his generation, he was-and still is-referred to as "The Holy Rizhinner." Six of his sons established Chassidic dynasties, several of which-Sadigora, Chortkov, etc-are still thriving today.

Connection: Seasonal--the 163rd yahrzeit of "the Holy Rhyzhiner."


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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