#184 (s5761-31 / 2 Iyar 5761)

A Doctor in Zefat

"You will save many lives," said the holy Rebbe of Ruzhin.

A Doctor in Zefat


Young Pesach, an orphan, was born about 1800 in the city of Jassy in Romania. Because his grandfather had been an assistant to Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the famous holy Rebbe of Ruzhin, Pesach was taken in and raised by the Rebbe's family.

One day, the Rebbe called Pesach into his room. "A time will come, when you shall have to go away," he said, "You will study medicine and become a doctor. Then you shall go to the Holy Land. There is your place. There you will save many lives."
Pesach burst into tears. "Must I leave, Rebbe?" he cried.

"Do not be upset," the Rebbe said. "My thoughts will be with you always."

And so it was. Pesach did become a doctor, and around 1840 settled in the town of Tzfat (Zefat), in the highlands of the Galil. He adopted the family name of his beloved Rebbe, and soon became well known as an excellent doctor who brought relief and healing to his patients.

One day, a regal carriage, pulled by two handsome steeds, stopped in front of his house. A gentleman of obvious importance stepped out and said:" Where is Dr. Friedman? He is needed at once. The Princess of Prussia is in Tzfat and she is seriously ill."

A heavyset man with a joyful smile emerged from the house. "I am Dr. Friedman," he said. "What seems to be the matter?"

"First the Princess is boiling hot. The next minute she is freezing. Her private doctor is unable to make a diagnosis. He thinks it may be some disease endemic to the region. You must come immediately. If you can help her, His Royal Highness, the Kaiser, will be eternally in your debt."

Pesach hurried off. After examining the Princess he said, "She has malaria. Let her take this medicine for three days. At that point we'll be able to see if we caught it in time."

The Princess' fever raged for three days, and then, to everyone's relief, it broke. Her temperature returned to normal, and she began to recover.

A few weeks later, Pesach received a royal summons. "Dr. Friedman, the Princess will now continue her journey to Jerusalem. Since she still feels weak, she asks that you join her."

The royal party was astonished at the reply they soon received. "Your Highness, your request is not an easy one. I am a Jew. I must pray three times a day with ten men, and I may eat only kosher food. The journey to Jerusalem is a long one."

"Never mind the expense," he was told. "If you need companions, you may bring them. If you need special food, prepare it. Only come."

It was indeed a long journey in those days, and a difficult one. Quite a while passed before Pesach was able to return home.

Months passed. No further word was heard about the Princess, or her father, the Kaiser, whom they said would reward the doctor. In the meantime, new problems beset the Jews of Tzfat. The government of Turkey, which then ruled the Holy Land, was demanding that young Jewish men serve in their army. It was a terrible state of affairs. Not only was it impossible to observe Torah in the army, it was highly dangerous as well. The only alternative was prison.

No one knew what to do.

Then, out of the blue, came a telegram for Dr. Pesach Friedman, from the Kaiser of Prussia.

"Where do they want me to go now?" he wondered. But the cable stated briefly that by the grace of His Royal Highness, the King of Prussia, Dr. Pesach Friedman had been appointed Consular Agent in Tzfat for the Government of Prussia, with full authority to issue passports, visas, and any other such papers to citizens of Prussia.

Pesach was silent for a long while, as he read and re-read the telegram. He remembered the words of his Rebbe, "There you will save many lives."

Now he understood the Rebbe's far-sighted intention. Hastily, he called a meeting of the communal leaders. "Gentlemen," he announced, holding up the telegram, "Here is the answer to our troubles. By this document I have been given the right to issue passports to citizens of Prussia. Do you realize what this means? No longer will the Turks have power over us. If any young men are threatened, let them come to me. I'll issue them a Prussian passport that will save them! With these papers they'll become citizens of Prussia, and not have to serve in the Turkish army!"

And so the words of the holy Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzhin came true over and over again.

* * * * * *

In Tishrei 5645 (1884), Dr Pesach Friedman passed away. He is buried in the Old Cemetery in Tzfat. He left behind his wife, four sons and a daughter. His eldest son, Reb Yaakov Yosef, went to live in Jerusalem with his wife, Zissel and their children in 1892. Michael Kam-Friedman, a grandson, opened the first hotel in Tzfat, in 1891. It became known as 'Pension Friedman', and was operated for several generations by his descendents. In 1990, Mrs. Rachel Friedman, widow of Fischel Friedman, a grandson of Michael Friedman and great great grandson of Pesach Friedman, sold the hotel to …

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from an article in The Moshiach Times and supplementary notes from Reb Simcha Friedman of Beitar Ilit, a descendant of Yaakov Yosef Friedman and a friend of Ascent.]

Biographical notes:
According to a family letter circulated in 1984 (5745), on the occasion of the 100th yahrzeit, 8 generations of Reb Pesach's descendents are known. Some of them go in his footsteps as Chassidim, many following the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Israel, the United States, South America and in Switzerland. Others are Torah-observing, although not Chassidim.

Rabbi Yisrael Friedmann of Ruzhin [1797-3 Cheshvan 1850], the great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch, at a young age was already a charismatic leader with an enormous following of chassidim. He was also greatly respected by the other rebbes and Jewish leaders of his generation. Six of his sons established Chassidic dynasties, several of which -Sadigora, Chortkov, etc- are still thriving today.

Reader in Tsfat's comment:

The holy Ruzhiner's blessing enabled Dr Friedman to save Jewish lives also spiritually. ASCENT is continuing to do so in the building acquired from his descendants!

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

A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.

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