Weekly Chasidic Story #672 (s5771-06 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan 5771)
The Glory of Israel
One of the major accomplishments of the holy Rhiziner Rebbe in the Holy Land was the building of a synagogue in Jerusalem.
Connection: Seasonal – 160th yahrzeit
Rabbi Yisrael of Rhizin was faithful to the spirit of the Baal Shem Tov, who explained the Biblical verse “To these the Land shall be divided “(Num. 26:52), as “The Holy Land can bring a separation between a woman and her husband when he wants to go to Israel and she wants to remain in exile” (see story #520 in this series).
On the last day of Pesach, 5607 (1847), the Rebbe’s wife, Sarah, passed away. On the day of the funeral, he wept profusely the whole day long. When the chasidim asked him about this, he replied, “The Baal Shem Tov, after the passing of his wife, decided to immigrate to Israel, but on the way a great storm arose and he was detained by Heaven. (see story #701 in this series) When he finally reached the port of Constantinople, he saw other heavenly signs indicating that he should return, at which point he said, ‘All my life I yearned to come to Israel, and now I am being prevented. Since half of me is remaining in the Diaspora, it is decreed that I, too, shall remain.’ And I, too,” concluded the Rebbe, “yearned and hoped for the day that I would go to Israel, and now that half of me remains here, I am afraid that I will have to remain here, and for this I weep.”
After a few years passed, the situation in Russia improved somewhat and the Rizhiner gave his consent to those of his Chasidim who requested permission to immigrate to Israel. He involved himself with them and cared for them, never losing interest in their welfare and in the most mundane details of happenings in Israel.
Although the Rebbe longed to go and settle in Israel, he was unable to forsake his chasidim. He used to say that if he came to Israel he would be asked why he had come without his Jews. On one occasion the Rebbe spoke about the final redemption and said that it would begin with the 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 Jews Israel 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 redemption should start in such a way, but we have no more strength to wait. However it will be, let it start already.”
One of his major accomplishments in the Holy Land was the building of a synagogue in Jerusalem. It eventually was named after him, Tiferes Yisroel, “the Glory of Israel.”
It began when in the year 1843, Nissan Beck of Jerusalem came to visit the Rebbe in Sadagora. Along with the news he brought from the Holy Land was that he had heard from officers of the Turkish government that Nicholas, the Czar of Russia, was planning to buy a plot of land next to the Western Wall, in order to build a large church and a monastery. When he heard this, the Rebbe became very agitated and said, “Ponye (used here as an euphemism for Russia) wants to block the way to the Western Wall with his impurity. He shall not be able to do it; we shall not allow him!”
Beck hurried to comply with the Rebbe’s command. As soon as he returned to Jerusalem he spoke to the Arab owners of the land. With great difficulty, after interminable debates and arguments, he was able to buy the land for a huge sum. A few days after the purchase had been completed, and order came from Czar Nicholas to the Russian consul in Jerusalem urging him to conclude the purchase. But it was too late.
It is told that after the Czar was informed that the plot of land had been “snatched away,” by his enemy, the tzadik of Rizhin, he became extremely angry and cried out, “He always stands in my way!” By then, nothing could be done, for the Rebbe had already received Turkish citizenship papers and had been registered as a citizen of Jerusalem, so that the Czar had no alternative but to buy a different plot of land outside the walls of Jerusalem for a church. The area is known today as the “Russian Quarter.”
According to the directions of the Rebbe, Nissan Beck immediately hired workers to clear the property he had purchased for the building. Beck himself was the architect and the contractor.
Even at the outset, however, many obstacles presented themselves. It transpired, for example, that the burial place of a sheik was beneath the plot of land; it was therefore necessary to move the grave elsewhere. Permission was obtained from the Moslem kadi (religious judge), but it was necessary to do it quietly, so as not to arouse the attention of the Moslem masses. Unfortunately, a too curious Arab saw what was happening and demanded a bribe not to reveal the secret. R’ Nissan refused to pay the bribe. On Friday, when the Moslems gathered in the Mosque of Omar to pray, the Arab revealed to them that the sheik had appeared to him in a dream, complaining that his pious brothers had allowed his grave to be desecrated and removed. He succeeded in inflaming all present, and they decided to visit the kadi, to ask him to halt further construction. The kadi, intimidated by the mob, promised that he would, and work on the building came to a halt.
R’ Nissan, however, understood the psychology of his Arab neighbors. He waited until the community’s anger dissipated. Then he went to the Grand Sheik of the Mosque of Omar and the kadi and persuaded them to rescind their prohibition, as well as to pacify the masses sufficiently to ensure that they not interfere with the construction of the synagogue. On the following Friday, when the worshipers came to pray at the Mosque, the Grand Sheik told them in his discourse that the dead sheik appeared to him in a dream, saying, “What do you have against me? For preventing the Jews from building their house of prayer I was called to our Patriarch, Ibrahim (beloved of All-ah), in the Garden of Eden, and he berated me, saying, “Why do the children of your nation prevent the children of my nation from building a house of prayer in Jerusalem, the Holy City? Watch yourself, lest you be punished! Now, instead of deterring them, you will assist the sons of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov to build their house of prayer at my former place of burial. This will give me in my grave great satisfaction and peace.’ “The Grand Sheik concluded, “So harshly did he speak to me that I have promised him that I will command you to do his will. Now I command you to do my bidding!”
At once, all the gathered worshipers became excited and went to the kadi to ask him to rescind his prohibition. Many of them came to help in the laying of the foundation. This was also difficult, as there was no rock on the site with which to build the foundation. Further delays ensued.
It is told that during the laying of the foundation, the Rizhiner saw in a dream the Biblical verse addressed to King David, when he wanted to build the Temple. “You, however, shall not build the Temple. Rather your son shall build the Temple for My Name” (I Kings 8:19). The Rebbe then sent a letter to his followers in Jerusalem, directing them to stop the construction. It stopped until his demise in 1850, was renewed by his son, R’ Avrohon Yaakov of Sadagora, and continued, with sporadic interruptions.
In 1699, Yehuda HaChassid Segal (1660-1700), the fiery maggid (“preacher”) of Szydlowiec, left Grodno for Israel with 120 people , known as the “Holy Society of Yehuda HaChassid.” They traveled through Altona, Frankfurt, and Vienna, and their number grew to 1,300. But many died en route, and no more than a few hundred of them eventually reached the Holy Land on 14 October 1700. Unhappily, Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid died five days after arrival. His followers purchased a site in Jerusalem on which they planned to erect a synagogue and forty homes. The new settlers borrowed heavily from the Arabs, who, in November 1701, attacked them and destroyed the synagogue.
After that, it was known as the Hurva Yehuda HaChassid. The synagogue remained a ruin from 1701 until a new foundation stone was laid on 7 Nissan 1857. The synagogue took nearly eight years to build. It was dedicated on 24 Elul 1864 and became the chief synagogue of the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem.
The rebuilding of the ‘Hurva’ inspired Beck to persevere in his efforts to erect a Chassidic synagogue. In a public proclamation he pleaded that “it is already twelve years since we acquired a site to erect a magnificent structure.” He was financially backed by the Sadagora Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman, son of the deceased Rhizinner, who sent one of his Chasidim to Jerusalem to help, and by the family of Ezekiel Reuben Sassoon.
On 14 November 1869, when Kaiser Franz Joseph visited Jerusalem on his way to inaugurate theSuez Canal, he noticed the beautiful building of the synagogue was lacking a roof. He asked the reason for this. Nissan Beck, who was accompanying the Kaiser’s touring party in the walled city, replied: “Even the synagogue wishes to welcome you and took off its hat in honor of Your Majesty.” The Kaiser smiled and added, “I hope that the roof will be built soon.” He left the Austrian consul one hundred franks (a huge sum in those days) towards the completion of the synagogue, the roof of which was called from then on, “Franz Josef’s cap.”
The building was fully completed in the month of Av 1872, and inaugurated on the fifteenth of that month, at which time the Kollel Vohlin distributed four hundred meals to needy Jews of the community. The festivity was great as the masses, including gentiles, came to witness the bringing of the Torah Scrolls into the synagogue. All the chasidim of Rizhin-Sadagora journeyed from throughout the country to participate in the dedication. The beautiful synagogue was a fine example of Ottoman architecture, with its thirty windows facing the Temple Mount and the twelve windowed dome.
It had superb decoration, and silver objects which were donated by various chasidim. The synagogue also had a ritual bath in its basement. It was considered one of the richest and most beautiful synagogues of Jerusalem. The descendants of the Rebbe bought themselves seats in this great synagogue, and most Chasidim of Rizhin would walk on Shabbos to pray there, at this unifying “small Temple” of their great Rebbes.
It was destroyed by the Jordanians on 19 Iyar 1948, together with fifty-seven other historic synagogues (only the Tsemach Tsedek Shul remained intact, miraculously -ed.). The Jordanians also vandalized the Scrolls of the Torah and the synagogue’s very valuable library.
In 2010, the restoration and rededication of the Yehuda HaChassid synagogue was spectacularly completed, after nearly a decade of construction work. May it be G-d’s will that we will soon see also the complete restoration of the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue.
Sources: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from “The House of Rizhin” by Rabbi Menachem Brayer (Mesorah), “Hasidism in Israel” by Tzvi Rabinowcz, (Jason Aronson), and “The Golden Dynasty” by Yisroel Friedman (Kest-Lebovits).
Connection: Seasonal – 160th yahrzeit
Rabbi Yisrael Friedmann of Rizhin [1797 – 3 Cheshvan 1850] 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.
Nissan Bak’s father, Yisrael Bak (1797-1874), became a pioneer in Hebrew printing in the Holy Land. After printing twenty-six books in Berditchev, he settled in Safed in 1831. The first book he printed one year later was Siddur Sefat Emet, a prayer book that was endorsed by the Safed rabbinate. Two years later, he was joined by his wife, five daughters, and his son Nisan and other families from Berditchev and Odessa. His printing press grew, and he soon had a staff of thirty. During the Peasant’s Revolt against Muhammed Ali on 8 Sivan 1834, his printing press was damaged. He himself was attacked and physically injured, and he remained lame for the rest of his life. Three years later, his son-in-law perished in the earthquake that rent Safed on 24 Tevet 1837. He moved to Jerusalem in 1844, where, for twenty-two years, he enjoyed the monopoly in printing Hebrew books. By 1883, nearly 130 Hebrew books had been printed by the Bak family.
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