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19****Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak - Ha-Yehudi Ha-Kadosh

Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak - Ha-Yehudi Ha-Kadosh

Born: Poland, Przedborz, 1766

Died: P'shischah, Poland, 1813

R' Yaacov Yitzchak was known as Yehudi ha-Kadosh, "the holy Jew." His father R' Asher, who was a scion of a distinguished rabbinic family, was a darshan (preacher). 

R' Yaacov Yitzchak studied under Aryeh Leib Charif whom he followed to Opatow (Apta) and at the yeshivah of Leszno, under David Tevele B. Nathan of Lissa. Though as a youth R' Yaacov Yitzchak excelled in physical strength, he was weakened as a result of his withdrawal from worldly matters, prolonged fasts, and ecstatic supplications. At first he attempted to conceal his spiritual qualities and his charitable deeds, but when the tzaddik Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov settled in Apta he influenced R' Yaacov Yitzchak to join the Chasidim. He was particularly influenced by the tzaddik Rabbi David of Lelov from whom he gained an insight into the obligation of loving one's fellow Jew. R' Yaacov Yitzchak became famous as a Torah savant and man of intense devotions. He would say: "If a sword were stuck into the body of a praying man and he felt pain, then his prayer is not authentic." He performed charitable deeds dispensing his money among the poor, although his own fortune deteriorated and he was obliged to work as a village schoolmaster.

A turning point in his life came when he met R' Yaacov Yitzchak, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin and became his closest disciple. Because his name was the same as that of his master, and possibly for other reasons, the Chassidim called him "the Jew" (Hebrew, "Ha-Yehudi) or "the holy Jew" (Ha-Yehudi ha-Kadosh). The Chozeh of Lublin admired his disciple and appointed him spiritual counselor of the young scholars. In this capacity he advised his pupils to cast off pride and, above all, sentiments of one's own worth. He maintained that a tzaddik always sees his friends' virtues and his own lowliness. 

According to R' Yaacov Yitzchak, there are three kinds of tzaddikim. One who acknowledges that he is a tzaddik is the least worthy. One who recognizes the fact that he is not a tzaddik of high order is more worthy. Better than both is the true tzaddik who holds that he is yet to achieve perfection. He stressed the imperative of striving for self-perfection----the absence of endeavor implying deterioration----through the honest performance of the mitzvot, untarnished by any interest in honor or material gain. Indeed, R' Yaacov Yitzchak's own integrity earned him the nickname Shibbolet Zahav ("golden ear of corn"), which he was said to resemble in that he, too, was golden to the very kernel.

R' Yaacov Yitzchak initiated (in the words of Uri Strelisk) "a new path in Chassidism"----the service of God through Torah study together with prayer. He thus founded a Polish version of Chassidism, which assigned a greater importance to Torah study and the role of scholars, and started to campaign against the superficiality and ignorance which had developed within Chasidism. R' Yaacov Yitzchak opposed wonder-workers and the tzaddikim who occupied themselves with material matters. He pointed out that anyone who had attained a certain spiritual level could perform wonders; a more difficult task is simply to fulfill one's obligations honestly as a Jew. "The good is sufficient even if it is only a hairsbreadth, provided it be offered in truth and wholeheartedly." Because of this the P'shischah Chassidim were not meticulous in fixing the time of prayer according to the law as set out in the Shulchan Aruch, preferring to wait until spiritual preparation produced the requisite devout frame of mind. P'shischah Chassidism was thus a combination of emotional attitude with rational scholarship. 

R' Yaacov Yitzchak's new path, especially the delay in the set time of prayer, aroused the opposition of all contemporary tzaddikim who were the disciples of the Chozeh of Lublin. A split was created between P'shischah Chassidim and the popular Chassidim. The disciples faithful to the Chozeh regarded R' Yaacov Yitzchak as a competitor of their master and began to harass him and his disciples. The Chozeh himself was harsh on R' Yaacov Yitzchak who, unwanted at Lublin, set about to lead a community of his own. This further aggravated the controversy between the master and his disciple. Eager for peace, R' Yaacov Yitzchak requested R' Menachem Mendel of Rymanov to intervene but he did not succeed. During R' Yaacov Yitzchak's last years, world happenings in the wake of the Napoleonic wars, which some of the tzaddikim regarded as the war of Gog and Magog, created among Jews new expectations for redemption. Accordingly, on the Passover seder night of 1814 they sought to bring the Messiah through mystical means, but R' Yaacov Yitzchak refused to take part in this undertaking.

In the same year, at the age of 48, he died in Pshis'cha. Though he was succeeded by his son Yerachmeel, most of the Chassidim accepted the leadership of his outstanding disciple, R' Simcha Bunam of Pshis'cha. R' Yaacov Yitzchak's important disciples included R' Menahem Mendel of Kotzk, R' Chanoch of Aleksander, R' Yitzchak of Worky, and R' Issachar Baer of Radoshitz, all of whom were chassidic leaders of influence among Polish Jews.

May the merit of the tzaddik  Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak - Ha-Yehudi Ha-Kadosh  protect us all, Amen.


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