Reb Dovid Moshe Friedman zt'l

  In every generation there are hidden tzaddikim (righteous men). Some of them are famous as tzaddikim, but even so they are still considered hidden tzaddikim, for their true tzidkus is hidden from view - their real greatness being far greater than people think. Others are literally hidden tzaddikim, people who pass themselves off as simple and ignorant, whilst inside them burns a holy neshamo carrying out its lofty task far away from prying eyes.

Many people considered Reb Dovid Moshe Friedman to be one of these hidden tzaddikim. Even those who thought that they knew him well didn't know him at all; during his lifetime he served his Creator with mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice) under all conditions. Reb Dovid Moshe hardly ever mentioned a word about his illustrious past and his life, and indeed all that is known about him is what people discovered by accident, through circumstances beyond his control.

Born on the twenty eighth of Tammuz 5674 (1914) in Boyan to his father Reb Dov Ber of Chortkov, Reb Dovid Moshe's arrival in this world was in itself a miracle. Some years before his mother had a miscarriage with serious complications. As a result, the doctor told her that due to the damage wrought through the miscarriage, she would not be able to have any more children. A few years went by and she saw that the words of the doctor were coming true, so she pleaded with her father, the Pachad Yitzchok of Boyan, to promise her a child. The Boyaner Rebbe did indeed promise her a child, telling her, "You will have one more child and it will be a boy!"

Not long after Reb Dovid Moshe was born, the First World War broke out in all its fury. Although the Boyaner Rebbe advised his chassidim to flee to Vienna, he himself refused to leave Boyan. When the Sadigerer Rebbe, Rev Avrohom Yaakov zt'l, asked him why he doesn't also flee to Vienna, the Boyaner Rebbe told him that he was worried that in Vienna they wouldn't find a frum lady to nurse his new grandchild, and he was very concerned that his einikel (grandson) shouldn't receive his nourishment from a non-frum (religious) source. Only after an erlicher (outstanding in character) woman was found to take care of Reb Dovid Moshe did the Boyaner Rebbe agree to leave Boyan for Vienna.

In Vienna, Reb Dovid Moshe became very close to his other grandfather, the Chortkover Rebbe zt'l. His zeide (grandfather) showed him unusual love and affection, taking Reb Dovid Moshe with him wherever he went. Although the Chortkover Rebbe was very particular to eat in total solitude, not even allowing his own sons to eat with him, for Reb Dovid Moshe he made an exception, and from the time he was just a toddler he joined his grandfather for all the meals, every Shabbos and Yom Tov.

When Reb Dovid Moshe turned six he fell ill with appendicitis. The doctors examined him and decided that he needed an operation. When the family told the Chortkover Rebbe of his grandson's condition, the Rebbe told them that he wanted to visit his sick einikel. His visit caused a big sensation among his chassidim, for in the twenty years that the Rebbe lived in Vienna, it was the only time that he had stepped foot inside the house of his son, Reb Dov Ber zt'l.

Although a chair had been prepared next to Reb Dovid Moshe's bed, the Rebbe chose to sit on the end of the bed - a sign of his great affection for his grandson. Looking at Reb Dovid Moshe, the Rebbe exclaimed, "He hasn't got appendicitis and he will never have," and indeed he recovered without any operation.

The great love the Rebbe had for his grandson manifested itself every year on Pesach at the Seder. During the Seder the Rebbe sat on a beautiful golden chair which he had inherited from the Ruzhiner and was one of his most treasured possessions. The Rebbe was makpid (extremely cautious) that no one else should sit on the chair, and even he only used it once a year, during the Seder.

Being very wide, the chair really had room for two people, and from when Reb Dovid Moshe was a small child until the Rebbe's last year, the Rebbe would request his grandson to come and sit next to him on this priceless chair.

Reb Dovid Moshe was educated to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors; he never learned in a school or yeshivah but was educated at home by private melamdim (teachers). The best talmidei chachomim in Vienna were selected to teach him, his two main rebbeim being Reb Dovid Ochs (who was later Av Beis Din [chief Rabbinical judge] of Toronto) and Reb Hershel Schmerler (who was later Rosh Yeshiva of Chaye Olom in Yerushalayim). Under their careful tutelage, Reb Dovid Moshe made steady progress and by the age of twenty he was already fluent in most parts of shass (talmud) by heart!

Many of the great talmidei chachomim who came to see the Chortkover Rebbe would take the opportunity to engage Reb Dovid Moshe in a talmudical discussion. He became especially close to the Lubliner Rov, Reb Meir Shapiro zt'l, who foretold a great future for the young boy. The extent to which Reb Meir Shapiro held of Reb Dovid Moshe is illustrated by the following story which was related by Reb Bershe Shapiro (a nephew of Reb Meir).

When Reb Meir Shapiro opened Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in 1930, the Chortkover Rebbe together with his whole family traveled to Lublin for the event. Reb Dovid Moshe had also been intending to go along, but a few days before they were scheduled to leave, a telegram arrived from Reb Meir Shapiro. In the telegram he wrote that Reb Dovid Moshe shouldn't come to Lublin because he recognized his great potential, and every minute he spent learning was irreplaceable and so he couldn't accept responsibility for his bitul Torah (negligence of Torah study).

In addition to his demanding schedule, Reb Dovid Moshe had a daily chavrusah (learning partner) with his zeide, the Chortkover Rebbe, who handed on to him the special derech (path) of Beis Ruzhin. When the Chortkover Rebbe was niftar (passed away) on the thirteenth of Kislev (5694) 1934, Reb Dovid Moshe was heartbroken. His zeide had been more like a father to him than a grandfather. Two and a half years later tragedy struck again when his father, Reb Dov Ber, was niftar after a serious illness.

Reb Dovid Moshe didn't despair and tried to carry on like normal. He started to give regular shiurim (classes or lectures) in the Shiff-Shul (which was the main center of Torah and Yiddishkeit in Vienna). He also became active in Agudas Yisroel, continuing the projects and ideas that his father had started.

With the German takeover of Austria in 1938, hardship and suffering became the lot of the Viennese Jews. Many Yidden (Jews) were rounded up and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. The Germans took special pleasure in terrorizing Rebbes, Rabbonim and their families. Even so, Reb Dovid Moshe was not molested, and although much of his family had been tormented, he himself was left untouched.

One day as Reb Dovid Moshe's elder sister was walking along the road, she was approached by a very high ranking German officer who stopped her and told her, "Until now I have been watching over your younger brother that no one should harm him. Now, however, I am being transferred to a different city and I won't be able to look after him any longer," and with these words the officer strode away. Who this officer was and why he wanted to protect Reb Dovid Moshe remains a mystery to this very day.

Reb Dovid Moshe went into hiding to evade capture, but after a time he was caught. The Germans proceeded to beat him with such fury that a river of blood flowed from his body. Only when he fell to the ground unconscious did the accursed Germans leave, thinking that they had succeeded in killing him.

Finally, in 1939, just two months before the outbreak of the Second World War, Reb Dovid Moshe succeeded, through the help of Dr. Schonfeld, to leave Vienna for England together with his mother and sister. In England he was interred on the Isle of Man together with thousands of refugees. The refugee camp became very overcrowded and the British authorities decided to send some of the refugees to Australia. Reb Dovid Mmanaged to remain in England by volunteering to join the British Army. Although the British didn't accept any refugees for fear that there might be German spies amongst them, they accepted him, because in Vienna Reb Dovid Moshe had not had the status of an Austrian but of a foreigner.

Reb Dovid Moshe joined the anti-aircraft gunners (whose job was to shoot down enemy warplanes) a few days before Shavuos. In a panic he realized that he would have to work on Yom Tov even if there was no immediate threat of an enemy raid. He decided to pretend to be ill and was given a letter by the doctor exempting him for a few days. When Motzoai Yom Tov came, Reb Dovid Moshe climbed out of bed and went to his commanding officer to report for duty. Now that Yom Tov was over he felt that he had no right to evade his duty.

When the officer saw Reb Dovid Moshe he exclaimed, "This is the first time that a soldier exempt from serving has reported back for duty because he now feels better and is capable of resuming his task...," and with that he told Reb Dovid Moshe, "I see that you are a very truthful person. From now on whenever you need to take a day off you may do so without having to first ask for permission." From then on Reb Dovid Moshe took off every Shabbos and Yom Tov, and during the four years that he was in the army it never happened that he had to be mechallel Shabbos (desecrate the Sabbath). Reb Dovid Moshe often related this story to show that a person gets further by telling the truth, and it is not as people think, that one achieves more through lies and deceit.

After the war's end, Reb Dovid Moshe moved to Hampstead where he lived with his mother. When she was niftar in 1956 he decided to leave Hampstead and move to Edgware in the suburbs of London, where his cousin Reb Yaakov Heschel was the Rov of the Adass kehilla (community). At that time Edgware was still a very small and undeveloped community, which was just ideal for Reb Dovid Moshe; here he could serve Hashem far away from the public eye, sitting and learning without interruption.

Although he was very careful not to tell anyone that he came from a very important family and that he was well versed in Torah, it was impossible not to notice his refined speech and his deep and penetrating comments on any topic he was asked.

If Reb Dovid Moshe had hoped to escape from his many followers by hiding himself in Edgware, it was not to be. People constantly phoned him or came to ask his advice and receive his beracha (blessing). A well known askan (community official) in Eretz Yisroel, Reb Yaakov Katz, published an article about Reb Dovid Moshe in which he wrote, "I was delighted to meet Reb Dovid Moshe Friedman, the son of Reb Dov Ber from Chortkov, in London. A great talmid chochom and extremely learned is the young Rav Friedman who continues in his father's ways. I remember him from the days of the Knessia Gedola in Marienbad in 1937 when he came there on behalf of Agudas Yisroel. His speech and manners are refined as befits somebody from such a family. He sits and immerses himself in the Torah in total concealment."

Reb Dovid Moshe's knowledge left everyone he spoke to breathless. During a visit to Eretz Yisroel he became acquainted with Reb Nota Zheinwirt, one of the foremost Rabbonim in Yerushalayim. They entered into a deep discussion in Hilchos Shabbos (in which Reb Nota was considered an expert). Reb Nota later said that during their conversation he couldn't 'find his hands and feet' to answer himself to Reb Dovid Moshe's geonus (genius). Similar sentiments were heard from Reb Shmelke Pinter zt'l from London who used to say that one could ask Reb Dovid Moshe a question on any tosfos in Shass and he would answer it. On one of the rare occasions that he mentioned something about himself, he said that in a few mesechtos (tractates) he even knew Rashi by heart, word for word!

Reb Dovid Moshe in his later years
In worldly matters Reb Dovid Moshe was equally knowledgeable. Once he met a top heart specialist. Reb Dovid Moshe spoke with him at length about the way the heart works. The specialist was dumbfounded by Reb Dovid Moshe's vast understanding and asked him if he was a doctor, for he was convinced that Reb Dovid Moshe must have studied medicine for years. When Reb Dovid Moshe told him that he had never studied medicine the specialist refused to believe him.
In politics and economics he was considered to be one of the top experts in the country. His knowledge earned him a job in the Treasury in Whitehall, which is responsible for organizing the government's spending programs and budget. His work was top secret so he never elaborated exactly what his job was, and until this day it remains a secret.

Reb Dovid Moshe made his way to work every day by subway (London Underground). Each way took about three quarters of an hour. During the journey Reb Dovid Moshe would sit with his eyes tightly shut. Even when he was accompanied by his children he would not converse with them but would continue his practice of sitting with his eyes shut.

Although Reb Dovid Moshe was considered by many to be worthy of becoming Chortkover Rebbe, and after the position became vacant there were constant delegations who came to plead with him to take over the mantle and lead his chassidim, he always answered them in his great humility that he does not feel that he is worthy of doing so.

To illustrate this point, how much it hurt him that people thought that he was fitting to be Rebbe, can be testified by the story that every year, on Simchas Torah, Reb Dovid Moshe would dance the Hakofos (circuits) with great joy. One could see on his face the happiness that he had to dance with the Torah. One year however, Reb Dovid Moshe appeared to be very upset and it was noticeable that something was bothering him greatly. When he was asked what caused his change of mood, he answered that when the gabbai had called him up to dance with the Torah he had called him, 'Reb Dovid Moshe, the Chortkover Rebbe' and he felt that this was an insult to his zeides, and therefore he was not able to dance properly!

Even though Reb Dovid Moshe never accepted to become Rebbe, he didn't stop his many followers who regarded him as their rebbe and leader from coming to him. Many people came to him for his berachos and to ask his advice. The Rosh Yeshiva of the Ruzhiner Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, Reb Yehoshua Brim zt'l, was a fervent chossid of Reb Dovid Moshe. He often said that it was a pity that he didn't agree to become Rebbe, for if he had accepted the title, everyone would have seen immediately that he was one of the true Rebbes of his generation. On another occasion Reb Yehoshua exclaimed, "I am ready to go through fire and water for Reb Dovid Moshe!"

Another of Reb Dovid Moshe's great admirers was the Bohusher Rebbe, Reb Yitzchok Friedman zt'l from Tel Aviv. He constantly spoke about Reb Dovid Moshe, saying that people didn't realize who he was. He often said that Reb Dovid Moshe was one of the true tzaddikim of the generation and would tell people to go to him with their problems. When the Bohusher Rebbe came to London he gave Reb Dovid Moshe a kvittel (petition) and indeed, whenever he spoke to Reb Dovid Moshe, he did not call him by name, but referred to him as the Chortkover Rebbe.

A yungerman (young married Torah scholar) who had been married for many years without children often went to the Bohusher Rebbe to ask for a berocha for children. After a number of years passed and he still hadn't been zocheh (merited) to children, he asked the Rebbe to promise him a child. Hearing his request the Rebbe became very serious and after a moment's thought he told him to go to ask the Chortkover Rebbe in London, and if he agreed to promise him a child and was ready to sign on it, he would agree as well.

The yungerman did as instructed and prepared a text for Reb Dovid Moshe to sign. The text read as follows, "We who have signed below promise to Mr. So and So from such and such a country that Hashem will send him berocha and hatzlocho (blessing and success) in his work and especially in the following three things; children, health and wealth. Hshould have parnossah (a livelihood) without difficulty and with kovod (honor), and foreign peoples shouldn't rule over him and he should be saved from eyin hora (the evil eye) for many long years. All this we have accepted on ourselves with total responsibility, our signatures bearing witness forever."

Reb Dovid Moshe signed the text and underneath him signed the Bohusher Rebbe.* Just over nine months later his wife gave birth to a healthy baby!

People never failed to be amazed at Reb Dovid Moshe's midas ha-emes (dedication to truth). On one of the few occasions that he spoke about himself he said that he could testify that he had never said a lie in his life! It happened quite a few times that he decided to go to a certain place the following day but the next day it had become inconvenient or the weather had turned bad. Even so he refused to postpone the trip since he had said that he would go on that day and therefore he did not want to go back on his word.

On one occasion Reb Dovid Moshe was approached by a well known askan who wanted Reb Dovid Moshe to influence a certain philanthropist to give money to a particular yeshiva. The askan added that it would help if Reb Dovid Moshe would exaggerate a little the number of bochurim (boys) learning in the yeshiva. Reb Dovid Moshe looked at the askan in disbelief - as if he had just asked him to commit the most terrible crime imaginable - and told him, "I would rather throw myself from the top of the Eiffel Tower than tell a lie!"

When it came to loshon hora (gossip, slander) he was equally strict. It didn't matter that the person telling the story hadn't even mentioned anyone's name. If he heard someone relating a bad story about Yidden he immediately interrupted the person, telling him, "One may not speak badly about Yidden." Reb Dovid Moshe was once at a meeting during which the participants heaped scorn on a particular person, saying that he didn't behave in a correct and civilized fashion. Hearing their words, Reb Dovid Moshe asked them to refrain from speaking badly about this person, adding that this person was not fully accountable for his actions because he wasn't mentally stable.

A few days later Reb Dovid Moshe wrote a letter to the person in whose house the meeting had taken place. In the letter he wrote, "After I left your house last week, I realized that I had transgressed the aveirah of lashon hora through my words when I said that this person isn't mentally stable. And even though my intention was to protect his honor, by showing that his behavior is not a result of his bad middos (character traits), even so, it wasn't correct of me to say that he was not in control of himself. I therefore ask of you to contact all those who were at the meeting and to tell them that I retract my words and I regret having spoken them in the first place and I ask that they should not pass on what I have said to others. Hashem in His mercy should accept my teshuva and have pity on me together with the rest of Klall Yisroel."

Reb Dovid Moshe's feeling for Hashem's creations did not include only people. It once happened that a bird became trapped in the chimney of his house. Unable to escape, it screeched out loudly in desperation. Reb Dovid Moshe took a ladder, climbed into the dark and dirty chimney, and set the bird free.

Reb Dovid Moshe was very careful to give the proper respect to the Torah. In a local shul not far from his home a non-Jewish caretaker would put back the siddurim (prayerbooks) and chumashim (Bibles) after they had been used on Shabbos. Not being able to read Hebrew he would put many of them upside down. Reb Dovid Moshe would go himself every week and take them all out and replace them in the correct way. This he did for many years, even when he was already very ill and the most minor tasks were difficult for him.

His whole life Reb Dovid Moshe ran away from kovod and honor, shunning any public position. On one occasion, after one of the influential Chortkover chassidim, Reb Zalman Hocherman of Yerushalayim, tried to convince Reb Dovid Moshe to change his mind and become Rebbe, Reb Dovid Moshe told him, "The reason I don't grow a beard (he was clean shaven) is so that people shouldn't mistake me for a choshuva (important) person... If I would become Rebbe, then I would have cut my beard for nothing all these years and that I don't want!" When Reb Zalman would tell over Reb Dovid Moshe's words he would add, "Even though it is written in Sifrei Kabbola (Kabbalistic literature) that there are lofty kavonos (intentions) for having a beard, Reb Dovid Moshe had even more lofty kavonos for not having one!"

Indeed, although most of his neighbors and friends didn't know who or what he was, they knew he was different. His mere presence had a great effect on his surroundings. Although he hardly ever raised his voice during davening, sometimes, from great concentration, he forgot himself and said parts out loud. Every day in Maariv when he came to the words 'ki beyodcha nafshos ha-chayim ve-hamaysim asher beyodo nefesh kol chai ve-ruach kol besar ish beyodcha afkid ruchi,' he would say them very loudly, until it was audible in the whole shul, and those who heard him were deeply moved to hear how he deposited himself in the hands of Hashem.

Later in life he agreed to give a private gemoro shiur (Talmud class) to a group of balai batim (working men) in Golders Green. For over twenty years he delivered the shiur, during which time they covered much of Shass. When a Ruzhiner shteibel (small shul) was opened in Stamford Hill he was overjoyed and would make the long journey from Edgware to participate in the seudos (joyous meals) on the yahrzeiten of his zeides. During the seudo he would address the gathering, saying Torah in the derech he had received from his zeides.

Six years before he was niftar, Reb Dovid Moshe fell seriously ill. During these years he was faithfully nursed by his wife Rebbitzen Leah, who took care of all his needs. They had been married in Switzerland in 1968 where his parents-in-law lived. His shver (father-in-law), Reb Shimon Noson Gut, had been a Rov in Johannesburg and had retired to Switzerland where he was menahel (director) of the Jewish Old Age home in Lugano.

Despite his illness, Reb Dovid Moshe struggled with his last strength to carry on as normal. On the last night of Chanukah 1988 he went to Golders Green to deliver his shiur as usual. As he arrived home he collapsed. Two nights later, Friday night, his condition became critical and he had to be rushed to hospital.

That Friday night the Bohusher Rebbe was sitting with his family around the Shabbos table in his house in Tel Aviv. Suddenly, in the middle of the meal, the Shabbos lecht (Shabbos candles) fell on the floor and went out. The Bohusher Rebbe became very upset and told his family, "I see that things are not as they should be with Reb Dovid Moshe, we must say tehillim (Psalms) for him...".

Although his condition was desperate and the doctors needed to know how he was feeling in order to treat him, Reb Dovid Moshe refused to speak a word. When he was asked if he was making a taanis dibbur (speaking fast) he nodded his head. After three weeks he agreed to answer the doctors' questions, with a 'yes' or 'no', but besides these few words he refused to speak at all.

During the few weeks that Reb Dovid Moshe was lying critically ill in hospital, the Bohusher Rebbe didn't stop davening for his recovery (together with many others across the world). Before every mitzva that he performed he said that the zechus of this mitzva should help Reb Dovid Moshe. Finally, on the night of the twenty seventh of Shevat 5748 (1988), the Bohusher Rebbe suddenly exclaimed, "Oy vey! Reb Dovid Moshe has left us, we have lost our crown, his passing is a terrible loss for the generation...". Hearing how the Rebbe was speaking, his daughter said to him, "Tatte! What are you saying? He is still alive!" The Bohusher Rebbe didn't answer her and burst into tears; the next morning the sad news arrived that Reb Dovid Moshe had been niftar.

At the large levayo (funeral),the Rov of London, Reb Henoch Padwa shlita, was maspid (delivered an eulogy). He said that Reb Dovid Moshe had been a gaon in nigleh and a gaon in nistar (expert in both the revealed and mystical aspects of the Torah). (They had learnt together b'chavrusa as bochurim in Vienna.) Another maspid, Reb Chuna Halpern shlita, told the assembled that he would like to tell them the following story from which they would be able to see who Reb Dovid Moshe really was.

One day, very early in the morning, Reb Chuna's phone rang. Reb Dovid Moshe was on the other end. He sounded very distraught and told Reb Chuna that he was very upset and hadn't been able to sleep the whole night. The previous day he had been at a chupa (wedding), where he had agreed to be one of the witnesses. After he had left the chupa, he felt terrible that he had agreed to be a witness. Chazal tell us that in order for the chupa to be valid, the witnesses must be frum, erlicher Yidden (upright religious Jew). Reb Dovid Moshe was worried that perhaps he didn't qualify, and therefore the chupa hadn't been valid. It was only with the greatest difficulty that Reb Chuna managed to convince him that he was indeed a kosher witness. Reb Chuna finished his hesped, saying that he very much doubted that there was another Yid in the world who was medakdek (exacting) on himself to such a degree. Zechuso yogein oleinu.

Reb Dovid Moshe is survived by his wife, three children and grandchildren.

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