Rabbi Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin, referred to as the Heiliger Ruzhiner, “the holy one of Ruzhin,” was royalty of the Chassidic movement.

Born on the 3rd of Tishrei, 5557 (1796), he was the great-grandson of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the successor of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement. His paternal grandparents were Rabbi Avraham the Malach (“the angel”) and his saintly wife, Gittel. He was named Yisrael at the suggestion of his uncle, Reb Mordechai of Chernobyl, “Because he will have the neshamah of Reb Yisrael Baal Shem Tov.”1

His father, Rabbi Shalom Shachna of Prohbisht, passed away when Yisrael was only six years old. He was raised by his brother, until the age of thirteen, when he married Sarah, the daughter of Reb Moshe Efrati, rosh yeshivah in Berdichev.

He set up his court in Ruzhin, where he became known far and wide for his penetrating insight, sanctity and inspiration.

About him it was said, “The primary service of the Maggid of Mezeritch, Reb Avraham and Reb Shalom Shachna, was to bring the holy Ruzhiner into the world.”2

Taught by His Father to Be in Awe of G‑d

Although all too short, the six years that the Ruzhiner had with his father laid the foundation for his future:

As a child, my father carried me in his arms, and we came to a place, outside the city, where we saw the horizon, where heaven and earth meet. I asked, “Father, is that where the heaven ends?”

My father replied, “No, my son. There are great, awesome heavens above this heaven, and there is a great G‑d, Who created all of them.”

When I heard this, my innards trembled from fear, and they are trembling until today.3

The Ruzhiner also recalled:

When I was a child, my father told me, “Suzkela kum (sweet boy, come).” We went into heaven, and we passed through many courtrooms until we came to a room where there was a table with tefillin on it. My father asked me, “Suzkela, what do you see?” I replied that I saw G‑d’s tefillin. My father told me to put them on. I did, and I never took them off.4

The Ruzhiner once described the difference between himself and one of his contemporaries: “He keeps reminding himself that there's a G‑d, but I never forget.”5

“I can live on a deserted island for a hundred years, all alone, without any holy books, and I wouldn't forget G‑d for a moment, and I wouldn’t stop serving him.”6

A Holy Child

For a Jewish butcher, purchasing a cow or bull for slaughter was risky business. If the post-slaughter inspection revealed that the animal was a treifah, morbidly unwell, the meat could not be consumed by Jews, and the butcher would suffer significant loss. As a child, Yisrael sensed which ones would be found kosher and was able to advise the merchants which animals to buy and which to avoid.7

Such stories of young Yisrael’s otherworldly inspiration abound.

His teacher once taught the Talmudic discussion regarding what one should do when he is in the wilderness and he is unable to determine which day is Shabbat.8

Young Yisrael innocently asked, “How could a person be uncertain when it’s Shabbat? When Shabbat comes, there's a new heaven; all they need to do is look up!”9

Shortly after his father’s passing, he stopped saying Mourner’s Kaddish and went outside. His teacher rebuked him: “Why don't you say Kaddish for your father, as I taught you to?”

“My father just came to me from heaven and told me that there is another orphan in the synagogue who isn't saying Kaddish out of respect for me. (The old custom was that only one mourner would say Kaddish.) That child's father came to my father and said, ‘You don't need your son’s Kaddish; you are already at your proper place in heaven. But I need the Kaddish.’ Therefore, my father requested that I stop saying Kaddish, so the other orphan will say it for his father.”10

A Royal Court

The holy Ruzhiner led a majestic court, with immense wealth and splendor, like a king among his reverent subjects. Stories are told of the Ruzhiner's golden shoes (that had no soles) and clothing. (In fact, I know a person who currently owns the Ruzhiner’s gold Seder plate.) His majestic court even roused the envy of the Russian czar, who feared the Ruzhiner was creating a kingdom within Russia.

Yet, it was all for the sake of heaven. As Rebbe Hirsh of Riminov said, “I am overwhelmed by this holy man – the Ruzhiner. He wants all the money and honor of the world, yet his intention is solely to increase G‑d’s honor. This won't be understood until Moshiach comes.”11

Although we can't understand the Ruzhiner's ways, we have some clues. Here are three explanations that help shed light on why he lived a life of majesty and wealth.

1) To elevate everything for spirituality.

"A grobyan" is a derogatory Yiddish word describing someone immersed in worldly, material pursuits. Nevertheless, the Ruzhiner called himself a grobyan.

The explanation is: Someone who bakes is a baker. Someone who builds is a builder. People are named after what they do. The Ruzhiner's goal was to elevate the physical world and to make it spiritual. Therefore he called himself grobyan, because he was involved with the material world, and his intention was to make it all sacred for G‑d.12

The Biblical Chanoch, a fifth generation descendant of Adam, was a shoemaker, and the sages tell us that with every stitch he said, “Baruch shem kevod malchuto le-olam va-ed” - “G‑d’s glorious kingdom should be blessed for eternity.”13 The Ruzhiner followed Chanoch's path, to serve his Maker with everything he did. And though engaging deeply with the pleasures of this world, he connected it all to spirituality. 14

Reb Yehoshua Ostrava writes, “When I was young, I visited the Ruzhiner … and I told him that in my opinion, it is more important to take care of the soul than the body. The Ruzhiner disagreed. “If your body isn't complete,” he argued, “you aren't a fitting utensil [to be deployed in the Divine service]. Therefore, the body's health comes first.”15

The Ruzhiner used this world as a vehicle to serve G‑d. Nevertheless, before his demise he clutched his peyot and said, “Master of the World, You know that I didn’t enjoy this world, not even a hairsbreadth.”16 Because his intentions weren't for himself, only for G‑d alone.

2) To bestow bounty upon the world.

The Ruzhiner loved his people deeply, and felt distressed at any suffering, even that of a sinner. His primary service was to arouse G‑d's compassion for His nation.17

“If a Jew at the other side of the world has pain, I feel it immediately,” he said.18 “People think loving one's fellow means to give him a pat on the back. Loving one's fellow means that if a Jew on the other side of the world has a problem, you feel it.”19

And it was because of his love for the Jewish nation that he lived a majestic life. For when a tzaddik lives with wealth, it creates a ripple effect and bestows wealth to all.

The Gemara teaches, “The entire world receives parnassah from the merits of Reb Chanina ben Dosa. Yet all Reb Chanina had was some carobs.”20

The tzaddikim of the Ruzhin dynasty explain that Reb Chanina was poor, and therefore the sustenance that was bestowed upon the world in his merit was also minimal.

However, there are tzaddikim who need a lot and have a lot. These tzaddikim bring abundance to the world.

Such was the way of the Ruzhiner: He wanted wealth so that the Jewish nation could receive wealth.21

His chassidim built the Ruzhiner a beautiful home, but the Ruzhiner wasn't satisfied. It wasn't beautiful enough. His mother asked him, “What more do you want? That the floors should be gold?!”

“There was once an evil decree against the Jewish nation, and at a gathering of tzaddikim, they decided to make a gold decoration for the horse of Reb Mendel of Vitebsk, and that annulled the decree,” he explained.22

Once again, we see that wealth for tzaddikim brings goodness for the entire nation.

The Ruzhiner's grandson, Reb Yisrael of Tchortkov, explained, “For a tzaddik to do favors for a generation, or to fix a generation, he needs to draw himself down to their level, so he can connect with them. Only then can he truly pray for them and help them. This was the way of my grandfather. His intention with all of his services was for the good of his people. This is the reason he lived with opulence, with beautiful, large homes, expensive utensils, etc. He did so to be associated with the low levels of the generation, so he could pray for and protect them.23

3) He had the neshamah of Moshiach.

Once, the Ruzhiner sent a messenger to all the Chassidic rebbes of his time, wherein he asked them to agree for him to be Moshiach. Many agreed, but one (Reb Uri of Strelisk) said, “He has all the right qualities, but we don't want a young man to be Moshiach.”24

This story illustrates that the Ruzhiner was potentially King Moshiach, which would explain his majestic lifestyle.

His son, Rebbe Dovid Moshe of Chortkov said, “All great tzaddikim (including the Apter Rav and Reb Mordechai of Chernobyl) said that our father has the neshamah of Moshiach.”25

Once, the wealthy Reb Yaakov Yosef Halprin, whose son had married the daughter of the Ruzhiner, wrote a letter to the Ruzhiner on a torn piece of scrap paper.

The Ruzhiner grabbed the peyos of his son-in-law, Reb Dovid Halprin, and said, “How could your father write me a letter on a quarter of a page? Doesn’t he know who I am? I have the neshamah of King Hezekiah!”26

“When this occurred, I was so afraid, my hair stood up from fright,” recalled Reb Dovid.27

In Prison

The Ruzhiner’s majestic lifestyle roused the wrath of Czar Nicolas I, and he was imprisoned for two years as a result.

He accepted this decree with equanimity, saying that the only thing bothering him was G‑d’s distress.28

Rabbi Shalom of Belz became blind around this time, and he attributed it to the copious tears he shed while the Ruzhiner was in prison.29

How did his imprisonment and subsequent release unfold?

In 1827, Czar Nicolas ordered that Jewish boys must be drafted into the army for 25 years.

One of his primary intentions was to distance Jewish children from their parents, which would result in them abandoning their faith, and perhaps even agreeing to be baptized. As a devout Christian, he considered this a significant accomplishment.

His other harsh decrees against the Jewish community, primarily chasidim, included:

  1. The prohibition to dress as a Jew
  2. The prohibition to print Chassidic books
  3. Certain Chassidic Rebbes were forbidden to travel (to prevent them from encouraging their followers to go in the path of chassidus)

The Ruzhiner was outspoken, and he didn't conceal his disdain for the evil ruler.

And the Czar heard about that.

The Czar was also concerned with the royal way in which the Ruzhiner led his chasidim, and he feared the Ruzhiner was creating a monarchy of his own.

Two secular Jews from Oshitz, Yitzchak Oksman and Shmuel Shwartzman, were known to tattle to the government, providing the names of children who had escaped the draft.

A delegation from Oshitz told the Ruzhiner how much they were suffering from the two slanderers, and they brought up the law that it is permitted to kill a slanderer (moser) who puts an entire community in danger. The Ruzhiner heard them out, but didn't reply.

Soon afterwards, the men died. Some say that one of them accidentally poured boiling water on himself in the bathhouse and died from the burns, and the other drowned in a river. The government, however, understood that someone called Fishler had killed them at the Ruzhiner's behest.

The wives of the two dead men asked the Ruzhiner if their husbands’ deaths were established as fact, which would allow them to remarry, and he said it was permitted. This was a set up, however, to prove that the Ruzhiner knew about their deaths. The claim was that if he knew they had died, it proved he had ordered it.

The Czar appointed Biberkov, the governor of Kiev, to investigate the matter. Biberkov wrote to the Czar, claiming that the Rebbe is very respected and should not be considered a suspect.

“It is exactly as I thought!” fumed the Czar. “The Ruzhiner is turning the entire government against me. He even has the governor on his side!”

Biberkov understood that the Czar wanted Ruzhiner imprisoned, so he agreed to play the game.

He ordered the Ruzhiner's arrest and visited him in jail. Biberkov was impressed by the Rebbe's tranquility and shining continence, but he didn't ask him any questions. In fact, they didn't speak at all.

Biberkov knew what the Czar wanted, so he told him that although the Ruzhiner doesn’t look like a murderer, his clever eyes frighten him, and there is something dangerous about his appearance.

Biberkov added that the Ruzhiner is following the ways of Abraham who rebelled against Nimrod, and Reb Shimon bar Yochai who rebelled against the Roman government.

(When these claims were repeated to the Ruzhiner, he smiled and said, “This non-Jew wrote well. I am going in the ways of Abraham and Shimon bar Yochai. He said it very well.”)

The Czar declared the Ruzhiner a danger and ordered him to be moved to a more secure facility. He was transferred to Kripost, a well-guarded prison, and was kept on the lowest floor, with the worst criminals.

Chassidim paid significant sums of money to send him food and ritual items, but no one was permitted to visit him.

After 22 months he was freed.

Legend goes that Governor Biberkov saw the Ruzhiner in the streets of Kiev, coming from a mikvah, and Biberkov didn't understand how that could be. He went to the prison, where he found the Ruzhiner, his peyos still wet.

He understood that the Ruzhiner was a holy man, and felt guilty for imprisoning him without proof.

He freed the Ruzhiner, and wrote a letter to the Czar saying that since the court date hadn’t yet been determined, he was permitted the Ruzhiner to return home, under his supervision.

The Ruzhiner left Russia for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was saved from his peril.

Pathways Towards Teshuvah

A serial sinner once asked the Ruzhiner for a path for teshuvah. How could he rectify all his bad ways? The Rebbe told him to say every prayer from a siddur (including blessings over food, and other blessings that we say throughout the day). This relatively easy counsel elevated him to very high levels.

The Ruzhiner used to pray at length, often after the proper time for prayer had passed, but he encouraged his chassidim to pray on time. He told them a parable:

A wife cooked the same supper each night, and it was always ready for her husband when he came home.

One night, the husband came home hungry, and his wife told him that she was still preparing his supper.

He was glad to wait, figuring she was preparing something special this time.
But then she brought him the same supper as always. He said in disappointment, “I thought I was waiting for something better than usual. It wasn't worth waiting for this.”

This is what happens when people pray late, explained the Ruzhiner. If people are preparing for the tefillah and the tefillah will be better, G‑d is willing to wait. But if after the long wait, He only receives an ordinary service, G‑d is disappointed.

The chasidim repeated this lesson to an elderly chasid, who replied: “It isn't exactly so. When there is perfect love between husband and wife, even if she serves the same, simple supper late, the husband won't be angry with her.”

When the Ruzhiner heard, he said, “This man’s soul came into the world just to give this explanation, in defense of the people who pray late. Now that he completed his mission, he has left the world.”

He Read Thoughts

“I can testify that my father [the Ruzhiner] could read thoughts,” Reb Dovid Moshe Chortkover said. “Once I was traveling with my father to catch fresh air, and I was thinking about something ... My father repeated to his student what I was thinking … word for word … He knew the thoughts of everyone who came to him. This is a wondrous level, because even angels cannot read the thoughts of man, but my father could.”30

A Ruzhiner chassid tried to convince his scholarly son-in-law, Reb Yehoshua Charif,31 to go with him when he visited the Ruzhiner. The son-in-law refused, explaining that he could better use the time for Torah study.

The father-in-law kept urging him to go, until Reb Yehoshua replied, “I will accompany you once, if you promise that you won't ask me to go with you again.”

The father-in-law promised.

Reb Yehoshua decided to test the Rebbe. He said to himself, “Chasidim say the Holy Ruzhiner knows people's thoughts. I will think about a difficult Gemara question. If the Ruzhiner picks up my thoughts and answers it, I will know he has Divine vision and I will become his chasid. Otherwise, this will be my last trip to Ruzhin."

They arrived, and the Ruzhiner paid them no attention. A chasid called Reb Leib came in, and the Rebbe honored him immensely. The attendant served Reb Leib something to eat.

The Ruzhiner said to Reb Leib, “People say that I am not a Torah scholar, although I finish the entire Talmud each month. But my great-grandfather, the Maggid of Mezeritch, was known far and wide as a Torah genius. Despite his reputation, a Lithuanian scholar once came to Mezeritch to test him. He told himself he would think about a question, but not ask it. If the Maggid picked up on the question in his mind and answered it correctly, he would become the Maggid's chasid.

The Ruzhiner repeated the question that this Lithuanian Jew posed to the Maggid. It was the very same question Reb Yehoshua had in mind!

The Ruzhiner continued, “How my grandfather answered the question isn't important for us now. We will answer the question our own way…” and he provided a wondrous explanation.

Reb Yehoshua trembled from fear. He was witnessing ruach hakodesh!

The Ruzhiner looked around the room, and when he saw Reb Yehoshua Charif he said, “And now you will be my chassid.” To give tangible expression to their new connection, the Ruzhiner gave him his pipe and asked him to light it.32


The Ruzhiner and his wife had six holy sons, which he said corresponded to the six wings of the angels and the six tractates of Mishnah: Reb Shalom Yosef of Sadigur, Reb Avraham Yaakov of Sadigur, Reb Dov Ber of Leyov, Reb Menachem Nochum of Shtefenesht, Reb Dovid Moshe of Tchortkov, and Reb Mordechai Feivish of Husyatin.

His four daughters, Chaya Malka, Gittel Tovah, Miriam, and Leah, were married to Reb Yitzchak Twersky of Skver, Reb Yosef Monazon, Reb Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz, and Reb Dovid Halprin.

After his wife, Sarah’s, demise, in 5607 (1847), he married Malkah, the widow of Reb Hirsh of Rimanov.

The Ruzhiner passed away in Sadigur at the age of 54.

Today, the Ruzhiner dynasty continues, in the chassidic courts of Boyan, Sadigur, Chortkov, Bohush, and others.

The grand synagogue of the Ruzhiner Rebbe in Sadigur.
The grand synagogue of the Ruzhiner Rebbe in Sadigur.