The Bohusher Rebbe, Reb Yitzchok zt'l

  One of the greatest leaders of Romanian Jewry was the first Bohusher Rebbe, Reb Yitzchok Friedman zt'l. Thousands of chassidim traveled from all over Romania to bask in his glow and learn from his ways. The eldest grandchild of the Ruzhiner zt'l, Reb Yitzchok was cared for and educated by the Ruzhiner himself. Only a year younger than the Ruzhiner's youngest son, Reb Mordechai Shraga, Reb Yitzchok was regarded more as one of the Ruzhiner's children than as his grandchild.

Although not much is known about Reb Yitzchok's childhood years, his gadlus (greatness) can be gauged from a letter written by the Szanzer Rov, Reb Chaim Halberstam zt'l. In the letter, written many decades later to a kehilla (community) in Romania, the Szanzer Rov wrote, "And why don't you settle your problem through the help of the Rebbe of Bohush? I remember than when I visited his zeide, the holy Ruzhiner, I saw him when he was still a child, and already then his face shone like that of a malach Elokim..." (a godly angel)

Reb Yitzchok's father, Reb Sholom Yosef, was the eldest of the Ruzhiner's six sons and he was the apple of his father's eye. Even as a small child he was considered to be a chiddush. The Ruzhiner once entered his son's room whilst he was asleep. When the Ruzhiner emerged, he exclaimed, "It is truly a wonder that a son should learn to do everything that the father does, he even knows how to sleep in the same way as me." On another occasion, when the Ruzhiner extolled the praises of Reb Sholom Yosef, he noticed signs of amazement on the faces of his chassidim. "Why are you all so surprised?" he asked them. "My son is me and I am him." Similar sentiments were uttered by the Tolna Maggid zt'l who used to say that he regarded Reb Sholom Yosef's son - Reb Yitzchok - as a son of the Ruzhiner, for he knew Reb Sholom Yosef and his being didn't constitute a hefsek. (interruption in the lineage)

Being of a very weak nature, Reb Sholom Yosef often had to engage in various exercises and diets for his health. Once as he was about to eat a vegetable soup he pushed away the plate, refusing to taste even a spoonful. Later on it became known that by mistake a treifah (non- kosher) ingredient had been mixed into the soup. Reb Sholom Yosef quickly sought to dispel the thoughts of the chassidim who were convinced that it was only through a miracle or ruach hakodesh that he had known that the soup was treife. "The reason I pushed the bowl of soup away wasn't because I knew it was treife," Reb Sholom Yosef explained. "Just as I was about to start eating, my yetzer hora (negative inclination) came to me and told me what a good soup it was and that I would enjoy every drop of it. Whilst the yetzer hora was busy trying to entice me to eat the soup, I thought to myself, 'Why is the yetzer hora so eager for me to eat this soup? It isn't an aveirah (transgression) for me to eat it. I'm not even eating it for my own desire, but for my health', I couldn't figure out why the yetzer hora wanted so much that I should eat the soup, but one thing I knew; if he wanted me to eat it, it obviously couldn't be good for my neshomo (soul), and therefore I pushed the plate away."

When the Ruzhiner was niftar, Reb Sholom Yosef assumed his position together with his younger brothers, but after only ten months, on the eleventh of Ellul 5611 (1851), Reb Sholom Yosef was also niftar at the tender age of thirty nine. The chassidim used to say that Reb Sholom Yosef had been so close to his father, that after the Ruzhiner was niftar, he was not able to live any longer. His desire to be reunited with his father was stronger than his desire to live.

Reb Sholom Yosef was succeeded by his son Reb Yitzchok who was then a mere sixteen years old. Not only had the young Reb Yitzchok lost both his father and grandfather in one year, he had also had thrust on him the tremendous responsibility of advising and leading the many chassidim who turned to him for help.

Reb Yitzchok was in no hurry to push himself into the limelight, and for the first few years he lived in the town of Potik, together with his uncle Reb Dovid Moshe of Chortkov. Later on, Reb Yitzchok moved to the town of Ezemal and then finally to Bohush in Romania, becoming known as the Bohusher Rebbe.

The Rebbe's shul in Bohush as it stands today
An interesting story is told of Reb Yitzchok's move to the town of Bohush. When Reb Yitzchok made known his wish to come and live in Bohush, all the Yidden (Jews) of the area were overjoyed that a great tzaddik had agreed to live in their midst. The necessary preparations were made, and everything was ready for his arrival. One snag, however, stood in their way. The local governor Pan Moldavsky was known as a violent anti-semite who delighted in making the lives of the Yidden a misery whenever he could.
The Yidden knew that the governor would never permit them to build a shul or house for Reb Yitzchok and could even stop him from settling in Bohush. The Yidden's fears were indeed realized. When the governor heard of Reb Yitzchok's wish to settle in Bohush, he forbade him to even enter the town. All the Yidden's pleas fell on deaf ears; the last thing the governor wanted was for Bohush to become a major chassidic center. Reb Yitzchok, however, wasn't upset by the news and stated quite simply, "Don't worry, I don't want to live together with the governor either. I don't want him to continue living in Bohush." A few days later the chassidim convened to try to work out a course of action, how to make the governor change his mind. In the middle of the meeting the door opened and Reb Yitzchok came in. "Is there anyone here who knows the governor personally?" he asked. One of the chassidim who was well-acquainted with the governor put up his hand. "I would like to know about the governor's daily routine and pastimes," Reb Yitzchok told him. "Does he enjoy hunting?" "Not especially," the man answered. "Does he smoke?" "Not normally." "Perhaps he is fond of drinking?" Reb Yitzchok persisted. Again the man replied in the negative, "No, I don't think he drinks either."

The chassidim who were following this unusual conversation were beside themselves with the Yid's negative answers. Didn't he realize that Reb Yitzchok wasn't just making conversation for the sake of it? He no doubt had some deep kavanoh (intention) in asking these questions. Reb Yitzchok continued with his questions. "Does the governor gamble? Does he play cards?" Having finally dawned on the man that Reb Yitzchok was waiting to hear a positive answer, he cried out, "Yes, he does play cards and in fact he is quite a good player." Having at last received a positive response Reb Yitzchok adjourned the meeting and left the room.

The governor had a very good friend by the name of Yevtushenko, and the two of them would spend much time together engaging in their various sports and pastimes. The next time Yevtushenko came to Bohush the governor asked him if he would like to play a game of cards. "I really would love to play but I am exhausted from the journey," Yevtushenko answered. "Perhaps later I'll have more strength."

"Let's play now, later on you can rest as much as you like," the governor insisted. Seeing his host so determined, Yevtushenko didn't have the heart to refuse his friend and the game began. Luck was against the governor from the start. He lost round after round with the stakes running high. Instead of bringing the game to a close, the governor carried on and on, quite oblivious to the sums of money he was losing. On the contrary, every loss increased his desire to continue to play and wait for fortune to shine on him.

After a few hours the governor had no money left to put on the table, but he still didn't give in. "I must play a little longer, my luck must turn." He put up his property for stakes, his fields, gardens, mansion, furniture and servants, everything was sacrificed. The game only came to an end when the governor had nothing left to gamble with, and was left without a penny to his name. The governor was evicted from his house and his job and Bohush a broken and penniless man. Yevtushenko became the new governor of Bohush. Known as a fine and kind man, he immediately granted permission for the building of the shul and for Reb Yitzchok to settle in Bohush.

With Reb Yitzchok's arrival, the city was transformed into a vibrant center for all Romanian Jewry. Thousands of chassidim flocked to Bohush to bask in his holiness and to receive his berachos. One of the famous rabbonim (Rabbi) of Romania who became a staunch Bohusher chossid was Reb Yeshaya Falik. He often used to recount what had drawn him close to the Bohusher Rebbe.

The Rebbe often engaged some of his learned chassidim in deep talmudical discussions. These discussions took place in the very early hours of the morning until Shacharis. Reb Yeshaya was once present at one such discussion. Suddenly in the middle of a sentence the Rebbe got up to wash negel vasser. Reb Yeshaya looked at his watch and noticed that it was the exact time of Amud ha-shachar (dawn). Reb Yeshaya wondered to himself how the Rebbe had known exactly when Amud ha-shachar was without having looked at a clock. Noticing Reb Yeshaya's great amazement, the Rebbe said to him, "I suddenly felt my hands were getting heavy, so I knew it was time to wash negel vasser." (morning handwashing to remove spiritual impurity)

Reb Yeshaya said that it is written in seforim (chassidic literature) that if a person truly sanctifies himself, his body feels the need to keep the Torah and mitzvos without having to be instructed by his head, in the same way that a baby feels the need to eat even though no one ever taught him that one must eat in order to live. It was this madreigah (level) which attracted Reb Yeshaya to Bohush. The Rebbe had sanctified himself to such a degree, that his hands knew when it was time to wash negel vasser without having first to be instructed by his head that it was time to do so.

The Rebbe was very active in helping the Yishuv (community) in Eretz Yisroel to get on its feet. Under his guidance and help the town of Rosh Pina was founded in the north of Eretz Yisroel. The Rebbe was once approached by a group of secular Zionists who wanted to enlist him in their group. They explained to him that the Yidden needed their own homeland where they would be safe from outside disturbances. "But why have you selected Eretz Yisroel as your land?" the Rebbe asked them. The group was rather surprised by the Rebbe's question and they answered him, "Eretz Yisroel is our land; it belongs to the Jewish people."

"Do you have any documents proving that it is your land?" the Rebbe asked them. The group stood not knowing what to answer. They didn't have any documents whatsoever. "I'll show you the document," the Rebbe told them, and with that he opened a chumash to parshas Ki Savo. "This is our document," the Rebbe explained to them. "Here it is written that Hashem has given Eretz Yisroel to the Yidden. But, there were conditions under which the deal was made. It says here that the Yidden have to keep the Torah and mitzvos and abide by Hashem's commandments. If you keep these conditions, then you have a rightful claim to the land and I will help you to achieve your goal."

Many are the stories told of the Rebbe's ruach hakodesh (prophetic spirit) and the miracles that he wrought. A Yid (Jew) once came to the Rebbe crying. He was an innkeeper, and one day one of his non-Jewish customers dropped dead in his inn. The authorities claimed that the innkeeper had murdered him and were looking to arrest him. The Yid pleaded with the Rebbe to save him from the clutches of the authorities who would certainly execute him if they caught him.

The Rebbe told the innkeeper to take the first available train back to his hometown and added that he should buy a ticket for the first class compartment of the train. The Yid did as the Rebbe instructed him and left on the first available train. On the way home the Yid burst into bitter tears at the thought of what would happen to him when he arrived home. A goyshe nobleman, who noticed the Yid's sobbing, came over to him and asked if he could help him. The Yid proceeded to tell the man of his predicament - how he had been wrongly accused of a murder and that a terrible fate awaited him. The nobleman calmed the Yid down and told him, "Don't worry, I happen to be the judge of the local court and I can see that you are really innocent. You have nothing to fear."

When the Yid arrived in his home town, he was arrested immediately and put on trial. Before the trial began, the judge invited the witness who claimed to have seen the murder for a drink. After the witness had become drunk, he boasted to the judge that he was the real murderer and he framed the Yid, to whom he owed a lot of money. When the court case came before the judge he acquitted the Yid and convicted the witness in his place!

Among the masses who came knocking on the Rebbe's door were many who were far removed from Torah observance. They came because they had heard of the Rebbe's reputation as a miracle worker, and they wanted the Rebbe to give them his blessings. One such person came to the Rebbe and asked him for a beracha (blessing) that he shouldn't have to serve in the army.

"Do you put on tefillin (phylacteries) every day?" the Rebbe asked. Stuttering with shame, the young man admitted that he didn't. "Do you keep Shabbos?" the Rebbe asked further. Again the man answered in the negative. "How can I help you?" the Rebbe told him, "You haven't got any zechusim (merits) for which I can bless you. All I can wish you is that the army be as disappointed in you as I am!" When the young man, who was a strong and healthy looking person, went for his medical examination, the officer in charge took one look at him and screamed at him to leave at once, and he added, "How dare such a misfit step foot inside my office!" In due course the young man became a baal teshuva. (a returnee to Judaism)

The Bohusher Rebbe had five sons, each one of them renowned for his tzidkus (righteousness) and gadlus (greatness). The second son, Reb Dovid, was famed for his brilliance. He was niftar as a young man, and his petirah (death) was a terrible blow for the thousands of chassidim who had laid great hopes in him. The Rebbe told his chassidim, "If a person is given an object to look after, and he returns it in the same condition as he received it, then he is praiseworthy. All the more so, if he returns it in an even better condition than he received it." The Rebbe concluded, "I am returning my son in a much better condition than when I received him."
Reb Yaakov of Husyatin (fourth from the right) with other Rebbes of Beis Ruzhin. From right to left: Reb Dovid of Pishkan, Reb Avrohom Yaakov of Drohibisht, Reb Shlomo of Chortkov, Reb Mordechai Sholom Yosef of Sadiger, Reb Zvi Aryeh of Zlatipol and Reb Yitzchok of Bohush zt"l
The Rebbe was niftar on the tenth of Ellul 5656 (1896). Before his petirah he turned to each one of his four sons and said, "Vi-heyisem kedhoshim le-Elokeichem, Vi-heyisem kedhoshim le-Elokeichem," (and you shall be Holy to Hashem), and with these words he was niftar. The Rebbe's four sons did indeed fulfill their father's last words. Famed for their kedusha (holiness), they spread the word of Hashem far and wide. The eldest of the four - Reb Yisroel Sholom Yosef succeeded his father as the Bohusher Rebbe. He set up the first yeshiva in Romania called Yeshivas Beis Yisroel. It was situated in Bohush and had over one hundred and twenty bochurim (young men). Many of the rabbonim and talmidei chachomim (scholars) in Romania were educated there. The second son, Reb Avrohom Yehoshua, settled in the town of Adjud where he opened his court.

The third son, Reb Moshe Yehuda Leib, settled in the town of Pishkan and became known as the Pishkaner Rebbe. For over fifty years he led his chassidim until his petirah on the same day that his father had been niftar - the 10th of Ellul 5707 (1947). Recognized as one of the greatest leaders of Romanian Jewry, his chassidim numbered in the thousands. With the outbreak of the Second World War he moved to Bucharest where he founded and was president of the Agudas ha-Rabbonim (Rabbinical Union). He spearheaded the many campaigns to help save Romanian Jewry from their oppressors.

During a tish (the Rebbe's table, a chassidic gathering) given not long after the war'send, the Pishkaner Rebbe was telling stories of miracles wrought by tzaddikim of by-gone generations, when he was respectfully asked by one of the elder chassidim, "It's true that in previous generations there were tzaddikim who could perform open miracles, but why don't we see such miracles nowadays too?"

Although the questioner hadn't said so explicitly, those present realized that his intention was to ask why the Rebbe and other tzaddikim had kept silent during the war and hadn't revoked the evil decree. The Rebbe fell deep in thought and his face turned bright red. After a few minutes the Rebbe opened his eyes and said, "We do as we are commanded from Heaven!"

The youngest son, Reb Yaakov, lived in Husyatin with his shver (father-in-law) Reb Yisroel of Husyatin. After Reb Yisroel's petirah Reb Yaakov succeeded him as the Husyatiner Rebbe.

Return to the Nishmas Chayim Home Page