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The Ohalei Yaakov of Husiatyn: Clean and Fresh

Rabbi Yaakov Friedman of Husiatyn was born in 5639 (1879) to Rabbi Yitzchak Friedman of Bohush. In 5655 (1895) he married Chaya Sara Rachel, the daughter of Rabbi Yisrael Friedman of Husiatyn and lived in his father-in-law’s home. From the time of his marriage until his father-in-law passed away (54 years later) he lived and worked adjacent to him.

Rabbi Yaakov was unique in his support for Zionism. At the end of the First World War, he founded (along with Rabbi Chaim Meir Yechiel Shapira of Drohovitz and Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Friedman of Sadigora) the Chasidic-Zionist union, called the “Settlement of the Land of Israel Company.” (This union joined the Mizrachi union in 1918). In the Second World War, Rabbi Yaakov expressed his positive approach toward volunteering for the British army. Every year on the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, he would hold a chasidic farbrengen.

In the month of Tevet 5697 (1937) Rabbi Yaakov made aliyah to Israel with his family and father-in-law. They settled in Tel Aviv and built a study hall there. After his aliyah to Israel, Rabbi Yaakov ceased his public involvement and devoted his time to Torah study. When his father-in-law passed away on Channukah 5709 (1949), he succeeded him.

He was famous for making do with very little, as opposed to the other Rebbes of the Ruzhin dynasty, who were known for their affluent lifestyle. He was a great expert in Torah sources, and many consulted with him on Torah matters. Rabbi Yaakov passed away on the 18th of Cheshvan 5717 (1957) and was laid to rest in the ancient cemetery in Tiberias, near his father-in-law. In his will, he did not appoint his successor and the chasidim would turn to his widow for blessings. It was only after her passing that their son, Rabbi Yitzchak, succeeded his father as Rebbe. 

As a descendant of the Ruzhin Chasidic dynasty, Rebbe Yaakov would walk in an upright, steady, and measured manner. His head, however, was not held high. His eyes were directed downward and his heart upward. His beard was meticulously combed, and every hair was in its place. His garments were fine, pressed, and clean and always spotless.

After his passing, his family related that the white garments that he wore over his pure body were always clean, even after he would remove them to change them. It was impossible to discern if he had even worn them. Even on the hot, moist summer days in Tel Aviv, his garments remained fresh, clean, and white as if he had just put them on.

Rabbi Yaakov’s amazing cleanliness is more than just wondrous. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that the cleanliness of clothing alludes to the rectification of the covenant (sexual purity). A pure body will be reflected in that person’s spotless clothing. This aspect of the rectification of the covenant has a special connection with the royal Ruzhin dynasty. Its founder, Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin, was known to be meticulous about the cleanliness of his garments, and his descendants followed suit. As Rebbe Nachman writes, the final letters of the words in the verse “At all times your garments should be white [i.e., clean]”[1] (בְּכָל עֵת יִהְיוּ בְגָדֶיךָ לְבָנִים), spell the word “kingdom” (מלכות). This verse is also associated with sexual purity by Rebbe Nachman.

The numerical value of “kingdom” is also equivalent to 2 times the value of “Abraham” (אַבְרָהָם) as well as to the words spoken by Abraham, “And I am dust and ashes”[2] (וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר). These words express Abraham’s sense of his own lowliness. The fact that they equal 2 times the value of “Abraham” alludes to his double role as both the father of the Jewish people and as “the father of a multitude of nations.”[3] The ability to assume these two roles is associated with the loving kingdom of the Mashiach: It will include all the peoples of the earth, while preserving the unique role of the Jewish People.

Garments allude to more than external rule and kingdom. They are also an expression of internal cleaving to the Creator: A garment that always remains fresh and clean expresses the constant renewal and refreshing of one’s service of God, which was the hallmark of the tzaddik of Husiatyn. In addition, the garment, which surrounds the body, alludes to the near-surrounding level of the soul, the living one, the chayah (חיה). This is the part of the soul that rests above the consciousness inside us, touching and not touching our consciousness and associated with our will. The will that motivates us is the seam between our consciousness and that which lies beyond it. A completely rectified will, which longs for and cleaves to God alone, is the secret of the Land of Israel, which is so dear to the Rebbes of Ruzhin.

[1]. Ecclesiastes 9:8.

[2] Genesis 18:27.

[3] Genesis 17:5.

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