Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin - the Holy Rizhiner
The 3rd of Cheshvan is the yahrzeit—the day of passing and ascent into heaven—of Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin (d. 5611 ), the great-grandson of the Magid of Mezritch. Rebbe Yisrael is commonly known as the Holy Rizhiner. Of all the pious leaders of his generation, it is known that he is the only one about whom the Alter Rebbe said that he is worthy of becoming the Mashiach.
Story and Commentary
The Rizhiner once recounted:
When I was a young child, 4 years old, my holy father Rabbi Shalom of Prabitch took me on a walk through the fields and there we saw the sun setting, a beautiful and grand sight.
Watching the sunset, it seemed to me as a young boy that the place on the horizon where the sun was setting was the end of the sky. I told my father, "Look Abba, you can see where the sky ends." My father answered, "Know my child that beyond the sky that you can see there is another sky, and beyond that another sky, and there are skies without number one after another beyond that."
"When my father spoke those words," the Rizhiner said, "My stomach began to churn. And the churning continues to this day, whenever I think of these words that my father told me then."
This story reminds us of course of Abraham's experience. Abraham became aware of God when he was 3 years old. God then revealed Himself to him and told him that He is indeed "the Master of the Castle." From that moment on, Abraham was filled with consciousness of the Creator.
The Rizhiner in his story is recounting the same type of experience. Suddenly God, and all the secrets of the universe-all the heavens and the heavens above the heavens-suddenly all of them are revealed. There is a sudden awareness of the infinite Infinitude of the Creator, who is more infinite than the infinite nature of the universe itself. This is an experience of becoming conscious and knowing God and from that moment on the Rizhiner's stomach churned and he continued to carry this experience with him, to this day.
This is an important story and it is worthwhile to reenact it in our imagination and to contemplate it. Every child has a particular moment-it might be at age 3, or 4, or 5-when he suddenly discovers the Creator. This is called that the child has come to know the Creator and is an experience that should be retained.
This experience is also full of love. When the Creator is revealed, I come to love Him endlessly. The experience is also full of fear and awe. This type of experience should make an impression in the heart, an impression and feeling that will be remembered throughout our lives. The impression is so deep that it is felt even when we don't think about the experience itself.
(Something similar is written about God's recollection of the Binding of Isaac. The sages say that He does not need to recall it, because the "ashes" from the sacrifice are always before Him. Something that is always present before you, you do not need to recall.)
This is the real secret of chinuch (educating a child): the first act of chinuch is done by God Himself who reveals Himself to us as children. He initiates us into the "secret of God that is to those who fear Him" and gives us the recognition that there is a Creator, an experience that forever should remain present before us, complete with love and fear of God.
(from a lecture given by Harav Ginsburgh on 4 Cheshvan 5768)
For another beautiful anecdote from the holy Rhuziner, see our article on Astronomy titled "Scientific Progress from the Geocentric to the Heliocentric Descriptions of the Solar System."