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Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak - The Chozeh of Lublin

 Born: Shbarshin, Poland, 1745

Died: Lublin, Poland, 1815                                                                                     

Chassidic leader

    Rabbi Yaacov Yitzchak, the Chozeh of Lublin, is one of the truly beloved figures of Chassidism. He merited the cognomen of Chozeh, which means seer or visionary, due to his great intuitive powers. For example, he had the ability to discern a petitioner's character, his past deeds, and the root of his soul by glancing at his forehead. The Chozeh could look into the future. He could see, it was said, "from one end of the world to the other." He could see events taking place, far away from where he was sitting. On the day he left the world (9th of Av), he prophesied that 100 years from this day, the Russians would lose their reign over Poland. And so it was to the date July/20/1915 (9th of Av), the Austrians conquered Lublin, and the Chozeh's prophecy was noted in the Polish newspapers.

   A disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, he continued his studies under Rabbi Shmelke of Nilkolsburg and Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. After he moved from Lanzut to Lublin, thousands of chassidim flocked to him to savor his teachings and to be warmed by his saintly presence. Among his ardent followers were such chassidic luminaries as Rabbi Yaacov Yitzchak ha-Yehudi ha-Kadosh (The Holly Jew), Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pshis'cha, Rabbi Meir of Apta, Rabbi David of Lellov, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Ujhel, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz, Rabbi Klonymos Kalman of Cracow (Ma'or Vashemesh), Rabbi Shalom of Belz, and many others.

   The story is told of Rabbi Yisachar Dov Ber of Radoshitz , who said to his teacher, the Chozeh "Show me one general way to the service of God."
His teacher replied, "it is impossible to tell people what way they should take. For one way to serve God is through learning, another through prayer, another through fasting, and still another through eating. Everyone should carefully observe what way his heart draws him, and then choose this way with all his strength."

    During his stay in Lublin, the Chozeh was opposed by a big rabbi, the  Gaon - Rabbi Ezriel Halevi Horowitz. Because of his great sharpness in learning, he was called "the Head of Iron".   He used to go to the Chozeh of Lublin and bombard him with questions, with the complaint that he knew that the Chozeh wasn't really a Rebbe, and even so he grouped after him a congregation to follow in his customs. The Chozeh once replied to him that it wasn't really his fault. The people used to follow after him on their own. The Gaon said to him: "On the following Shabbat, publicize before the congregation that you aren't a Rebbe, and then they will stop following after you." The Chozeh liked the Gaon's advise. On the coming Shabbat, he lowered himself with a broken spirit before the congregation of Chassidim, and told them how worthless he really was. However, the words of the Chozeh inflamed the Chassidim to bring about in themselves the aspect of humbleness, and they attached themselves to the Rebbe even more than before. When the Rebbe and the Gaon met again, the Chozeh told the Gaon how he did as he was advised, but it didn't bring about anything. The Gaon replied: "Now I see why, the way of Chassidim is to love humbleness and to stay away from haughtiness, therefore tell them of the great respect they should give you, for you are a true Tzaddik. Then they will leave you. The Chozeh replied to him: "In truth I'm not a Rebbe, but I'm also not a liar. How will I be able to say that I'm a true Tzaddik?... Before Rabbi Ezriel died, he regretted opposing the Chozeh, and not getting to know him better.

"G-d should shine his countenance upon you and pleasure you." [in the Priestly Blessing; Bamidbar, 6:25]

 The Chozeh explains the word V'yechuneka [and pleasure you] as, "G-d should make you like Choni the Circle Maker" [of whom the Talmud says that his prayers were always answered. This is a play on words in Hebrew, "V'yechuneka" coming from the same root as "Choni"].

   The Chozeh's boyhood teacher... 

The Chozeh of Lublin and his disciples had set out on a long journey. As the holy Shabbat quickly approached they found themselves at an unfamiliar crossroads. Dismounting from their wagons, they debated the question of which way to turn. The Chozeh interrupted the discussion, and advised them to let the horses' reins go free and let them go where they would. They did as he said, and they traveled quite a few miles on the road before meeting a peasant who told them that the town which they had reached was not the one they had been searching for. Nevertheless, as Shabbat was quickly approaching, they had to stop over and find some lodging for the night. At that point the Chozeh announced to his chasidim, "This Shabbat I am not to be known as a rebbe." From this they understood that he wanted to be inconspicuous for some reason of his own. It was also understood that they would be on their own in finding appropriate accommodations. So, they entered the town and made their way to the synagogue, knowing that, according to time-honored custom, strangers always received an invitation from some villager for the Shabbat meal. Sure enough, they all received invitations, except for the Chozeh who, in his usual fashion prolonged his prayers until all the other congregants had left. There was, however, one very old man who also remained in the shul and sat singing the traditional Shabbat tunes. The old man noticed the stranger and asked him, "Where will you be having your meal?" The Chozeh replied, "I don't know yet." "Well, I would suggest that you have your Shabbat meals in the local inn, and after the Shabbat ends, I will go around and collect the money to pay the bill." "No," replied the Chozeh, "In that inn, they don't even light Shabbat candles. No, I wouldn't make kiddush in such a place." "Well, I would invite you to my own home, but we really don't have much of anything to eat or drink." "Don't worry, I don't eat very much, and I don't drink very much either." "All right, so, you'll come home with me." said the old man, still sitting with his prayer book in his hand. "Tell me, where do you come from?" "I come from Lublin." "You don't say! Why, you don't happen to know the tzaddik, the Chozeh, do you?" "It so happens that I know him very well. I spend all of my time with him." The old man's eyes lit up like a fire. "I would like very much to be able to see him in his glory, but I don't know how it can be. I'm very poor and I've become weak in my old age, so it is impossible for me to make the journey to Lublin. Nevertheless, my desire is so strong, I fast one day a week that I should have the merit to see him with my own eyes. Please, what can you tell me about him?" "Well, what kind of things do you want to know?" asked the Chozeh. You see, many years ago, when he was just a little boy, I was his teacher. In those days he was a regular boy, just like all the rest, nothing special about him. But now, I hear he performs miracles and is a great tzaddik. Every day when his turn came to read from the siddur, he would be missing. And when he would finally turn up, I would always spank him. Then, one day I decided to follow him. I was curious to see where he went all the time. So, I walked a little distance behind him, and followed him into the forest. There, he sat down and cried out from the depths of his heart, 'Shma Israel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!' From that day on I never spanked him again." The Chozeh was greatly moved by the old man's recitation, and it was clear to him why God had directed his path to this out-of-the-way little village. He revealed to the old man his real identity, and the old man fainted away. After he was revived, the tzadik told him not to reveal to anyone else who he was. After the end of Shabbat the Chozeh and his followers continued on in the originally intended direction. They arrived at an inn and enjoyed the Melave Malka meal, bidding goodbye to the Shabbat Queen. When they had finished, the Chozeh told them, "Let's return to the village now, for it is time for us to pay our last respects to the old man I stayed with. He has just departed from this world." They returned and said the eulogy for the old man who had such a burning love for tzadikim, that Gd granted him his greatest wish. 

His writings are contained in three books: Divrei Emet, Zot Zikaron, and Zikaron Tov. In a compilation of these works, entitled Torat HaChozeh MiLublin, his commentaries are alphabetically arranged according to topics and according to the weekly Torah portion.

May the merit of the tzaddik  The Chozeh of Lublin protect us all, Amen.