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Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish of Vorki

Born: Poland, 1779
Died: Vorki, 1848

Popularly known as the Vorker Rebbe.

Yitzchak Kalish ws introduced by his father, Rabbi Shimon Kalish, to the world of Chasidism; early in life he became a devoted chasid of the Chozeh of Lublin, Rabbi David of Lellov, and Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pshis'cha. After the latter's death he chose the Kotzker Rebbe as his mentor, becoming the Kotzker's closest friend and disciple, together with Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger and Rabbi Chanoch of Alexander.

The hallmark of the Vorker Rebbe's character was his gentleness and rectitude, and his passionate ahavat Yisrael, love for every Jew regardless of his standing or reputation. The Vorker Rebbe's generous spirit and prodigious greatness in Torah made him one of the most cherished rebbes of Polish Jewry, and he was elected to be the official leader and spokesman of all its groupings. In 1846 he conferred with Sir Moses Montefiore of England, requesting him to intercede with high officials in the czarist government that ruled eastern Poland after its third partition in 1795, in an attempt to have an anti-Jewish edict rescinded.

Among the Vorker Rebbe's disciples there are known to have been 114 leading chasidic rebbes. His Torah thoughts and anecdotes about his life were all collected in a book entitled Ohel Yitzchak. The current Amshinover Rebbes of Jerusalem and Brooklyn - descendants of Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki - have built thriving chasidic centers and yeshivot where the spirit of Vorki Chassidut is perpetuated.

"And the Priest is impure until the evening" (Bamidbar 19:7)   Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki said that the essence of the Red Heifer (i.e., that is, the whole procedure of purifying those who were spiritually impure) is the whole concept of "love thy neighbor". His grandson, Rabbi Mendel of Vorki, explained that this is because the priest who was involved in the purification process himself became impure by the same process that purified the person who came to him. Giving up something yourself in order to help another is the ultimate love for one's fellow man. When one truly loves another, one feels pleasure in all the sacrifices made for him/her.


In his younger years, Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki was a wealthy man. He used to journey periodically to the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin. On one such visit the Chozeh said: "If a reasonable opportunity were to come up for taking a job as a private teacher, it would be a good idea to take it."

Rabbi Yitzchak was certain that the Chozeh had erred and in fact had in mind some other person: why should a propertied man like himself be interested in the meager stipend of a tutor? Out of respect, of course, he kept his thoughts to himself, and, after taking his leave, entered the rebbe's Study Hall.

A moment later a villager from near Ternigrad called on the Chozeh and wept bitterly. His sons were growing up to be coarse because they lacked a good schoolmaster. He was prepared to pay whatever was requested, so long as he had a conscientious teacher for his boys.

"If you can pay forty gold rubles," said the Chozeh, "then I would suggest that you hire the young man who left this room just now, and your sons, God willing, will do well in their studies."

The villager went out, found Rabbi Yitzchak, and told him that he would be agreeable to paying the sum the rebbe had stipulated, provided that he would travel back with him at once. Rabbi Yitzchak was now convinced that the rebbe had really meant what he had said to him. What he still did not understand was why the Seer thought to make a schoolmaster out of him.

Nevertheless he accepted the rebbe's orders without a second thought, and off he went. Before leaving Lublin, he managed to write to his wife, explaining why he was not yet returning home. After several days he received her reply: he had acted wisely in accepting this modest appointment, because the French, who were then at war with Russia, had marched through their town, and had plundered all their property. Even their fodder was gone.

Rabbi Yitzchak now began to teach Torah to the villager's sons. They were not quick-witted, though, and they grasped not a word. Sorely vexed, he journeyed to Lublin, and told the Chozeh of his difficulties.

"Pray for them," advised the Chozeh. This he did, and from then on, saw steady progress in this work.

Now, in the village, there was a regular minyan, of exactly ten men, and it once happened that one of them refused to join the others in prayer because of grievance he had against one of them. One of the other villagers quoted the patriarch Yaakov's blessing to his son Yisasschar, "The Torah says. 'He saw that rest was good…and bowed his shoulder to bear' [Gen. 49:15], and commented, "This suggests that if a man understands that tranquility is a good thing, then his is willing to bear anything, because whoever bears all the vicissitudes of life with equanimity and is never angry at another - has peace."

When the period of his employment came to an end, the villager asked him to stay on. Rabbi Yitzchak said: "Since I came here only because of my rebbe's orders, I must ask him about continuing here."

Once in Lublin, he was told by his rebbe that he no longer had to be a teacher. The Chozeh added: "Tell me, did you perhaps hear some quotable insight on the Torah in the village?"

Receiving no reply, the Chozeh asked again: "Is it possible that in half a year there, you heard nothing?"

Rabbi Yitzchak then recalled the villager's observation on patience and peace. He repeated it to the rebbe, who said: "If so, then you've heard a great deal."

When after many years, Rabbi Yitzchak became a renowned rebbe, he recounted this incident, and concluded: "Soon after this happened, I became wealthy once again, and gave away the stipend which I had earned as a tutor. As to the observation of that villager on peace and patience - why, I'm still working on it today.


Solitude is good for the soul; indeed, it is good for everything. But the key to solitude is to be alone while still in the company of others. Those who are completely alone and silent cannot claim that they have conquered their appetite for speech. - Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki 

May the merit of the tzaddik  Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish of Vorki protect us all, Amen.