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25 Tishrei, 5783 - October 20, 2022 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Kodshei Kodshim: The Chortkover Rebbe, Reb Dovid Moshe Friedman zt'l

by F. Avraham


First published in 1996.

Hailed as the Rebbe of Rebbes, the tzaddik of tzadikim, the Chortkover Rebbe, Reb Dovid Moshe zt'l is regarded as one of the greatest gedolim in the last hundred and fifty years. His kedusha was considered to be beyond ordinary human grasp and even his physical strength was not understood.

The Rebbe was capable of going for days on end without sleep, food and drink, and even then he didn't show any sign of weakness. He once proclaimed that from the age of seven he had never moved a limb, unless to perform the wish of his Creator.

Although the Rebbe spent most of the day behind closed doors, there were certain occasions when he would emerge from his room. Then the chassidim were granted the opportunity to witness the Rebbe's great avoda and kedusha. Every Friday night the Rebbe recited Kiddush in front of his chassidim. As the Rebbe started the first words of Kiddush, a terrible dread and fear fell on all those assembled. The Rebbe's Kiddush made such an imprint on those who heard it, that even many years later the chassidim who had witnessed it would shed hot tears as they reminded themselves of the event.

The Beis Medrash of the chassidim in Chortkov

Whilst the Rebbe recited the Kiddush, the wine in his cup bubbled like ordinary water on a fire, and it was even possible to hear the noise of bubbling wine. As can be imagined, the spectacle of the bubbling wine drew large crowds to Chortkov who refused to believe what they heard until they saw it for themselves. Amongst the many Yidden who came was a professor, who, after watching the Rebbe's Kiddush, came to the conclusion that the bubbling wine was not a miracle. A dying man in his last minutes is often gripped by spasms as his body takes its last breaths. If a cup was to be put in the hand of such a person it would also start to bubble.

In his memoirs the maggid of Kolomei, Reb Yitzchok Weber zt'l relates his impression of the Rebbe's Kiddush.

"Who can possibly describe the intensity of the Rebbe's avoda. Those who saw how he wept, and those who heard his heavenly voice, felt as if a fiery flame was enveloping them, cleansing them from all their impurities. The words coming from his holy mouth pierced the very heart causing tears to well up in one's eyes. Anyone who had just the slightest knowledge of our holy Torah could see with his naked eye how the Rebbe's every move and act was performed with intense kavono far beyond our understanding."

During the tish, the Rebbe often didn't utter a word except for the Kiddush. A second chossid writes in his memoirs: "After the Rebbe finished reciting Kiddush one doesn't hear from him anything else, but one feels. One feels a new level of kedusha which fills the whole body. One feels like a new person, clean and pure. One appreciates the meaning of the words `oneg Shabbos,' one understands what `yismechu bemalchuscho shomrei Shabbos vekor'ei oneg' means. We have experienced the words of Chazal that Shabbos is a taste of Olam Haboh."

Amongst the many great gedolim and tzadikim who flocked en masse to Chortkov was the Shiniva Rov, Reb Yechezkel Halberstam zt'l. When the Shiniva Rov was asked to describe the atmosphere in Chortkov he replied: "How is it possible to describe the ruchniyus that one feels in Chortkov? All I can say is that I looked around me whilst the Rebbe was giving a tish, and I noticed that when he calls out suddenly in deep deveikus: "Heiliger Tatte! Heiliger Rachamim of the whole World"—there isn't a dry eye in sight as each and every person there is gripped with intense feelings of teshuva."

Revered by hundreds of thousands of chassidim, Reb Dovid Moshe was regarded as more a heavenly mal'ach than an ordinary human mortal. His father the Ruzhiner once exclaimed: "My son Dovid Moshe is the Amud Hayirah of our generation." Indeed his vivid fear of Hashem was noticeable on him in all his actions and words, even in his sleep, he didn't rest from his avodas Hashem and he would call out, "Heiliger Tatte, Heiliger Rachamim of the World," begging Hashem to have mercy on His people.

The Rebbe of Slonim, Reb Shmuel Weinberg zt'l, was once present when Reb Dovid Moshe's gabbai came into the room to inform him that it was time to daven Mincha. Reb Shmuel later related that as the Rebbe heard that it was time to stand up in prayer in front of Hashem, his hair stood on end in fright. Such was his fear of Heaven.

Reb Dovid Moshe was born on the second day of Shavuos 5587 (1827). At the time of his birth the Ruzhiner was conducting a tish in honor of Yom Tov. The chassidim present asked the Ruzhiner to serve a `lechayim,' as is the minhag for a baal simcha. "Perhaps it's you who should provide the lechayim," exclaimed the Ruzhiner. "I have brought you today a great neshamah which will bring Yiddishe hearts closer to their Father in Heaven."

The Ruzhiner used to say that each one of his six sons corresponded to one seder of the six volumes of the mishna. Reb Dovid Moshe, the fifth son, corresponded to the fifth volume— Kodshim, and the Ruzhiner would finish, "And he is indeed holy of Holies." (Kodshei Kodshim)

After the Ruzhiner's petiroh, his property and belongings were divided among his sons and daughters, each getting what they required without argument or dissent. Only about one particular item—the tefillin—did a problem arise as to whom it should go.

These were no ordinary tefillin. The Ruzhiner had inherited them from his father, Reb Sholom, who, in turn had been given them by his father Rev Avrohom, who had received them from his father the Maggid of Mezeritch. The Ruzhiner had treasured these tefillin more than all his other possessions, and therefore it wasn't surprising that all his sons wanted to inherit them.

Finally, it was suggested that each son write on a slip of paper how much of the total inheritance he was ready to forego, if the tefillin were given to him. The oldest of the brothers, Reb Sholom Yosef, didn't agree to this scheme. Why should they forfeit their rights to the inheritance in order to obtain the tefillin? The brothers then decided to draw lots for the ownership of the tefillin, and in that way they came into the possession of Reb Dovid Moshe.

The home of a Jewish family in Chortkov


After the division was completed, one of the older brothers, Reb Avrohom Yaakov of Sadiger, said: "It would interest me to see what each of us had intended to choose for himself." When he opened the slips of paper they saw that Reb Dovid Moshe had written that he was willing to forego his whole share in the estate in exchange for the tefillin.

About two years after the inheritance had been divided, Reb Avrohom Yaakov, the Sadigerer Rebbe, was sitting with a group of his chassidim and the topic of the tefillin came about. Reb Avrohom Yaakov remarked: "I envy my brother Reb Dovid Moshe, he has the zechus to wear the tefillin of our holy zeide the Mezeritcher Maggid."

At these words, two young men in the crowd grew pale. Mustering up their courage, they announced that they had a confession to make. Knowing how much these tefillin meant to the Sadiger Rebbe, they took upon themselves to get hold of the parchment scrolls inside the tefillin and bring them to their Rebbe. They had succeeded in removing the parshiyos from the battim of Reb Dovid Moshe's tefillin, putting in their place ordinary parshiyos, but as yet hadn't found an opportunity to hand them over to the Sadigerer Rebbe.

The Sadigerer Rebbe ordered his chassidim not to breathe a word of what had happened, and the next day he left Sadiger to go to see his brother. On his arrival he didn't mention a word about the reason for his visit. The next morning Reb Avrohom Yaakov entered the room in which his younger brother used to daven. On the table he found two pairs of tefillin—the priceless pair inherited from the Maggid and another pair. As Reb Dovid Moshe joined him, he approached the table, took up the Maggid's tefillin, sighed and returned them to their place, he then picked up the other pair in order to put them on.

"Why don't you war the Maggid's tefillin which you rightfully inherited?" Reb Avrohom Yaakov asked his brother.

Rav Yisroel Friedman, Chortkov-Manchester

"I'll tell you the truth," replied Reb Dovid Moshe. "Not once in these two years have I donned these holy tefillin. You see, every time I pick them up, I don't feel their kedusha any more, and if I can't feel their kedusha, then I am not worthy of using them."

"No, my dear brother," Reb Avrohom Yaakov exclaimed. "You are indeed worthy of using those holy tefillin. It's not you who is at fault. The reason why you didn't feel their kedusha was because the holy parshiyos have been removed from them! Now here they are. Return them to their place for you are truly worthy of using them!"


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