As rov of Lublin, Rabbeinu stood firmly at the helm of the battleship that fought against emancipation and modernizing Yiddishkeit. Determined and fearless, he was unswayed by even the mightiest of opponents.
In his time, the Chassidic movement began to spread through Poland. In his city of Lublin, the Rav HaKodosh Reb Yaakov Yitzchok, known as the Chozeh of Lublin, became famous.
Rabbeinu was very suspicious of this new `cult' and fought with all his strength against the chassidim, often taking part in fierce arguments with the Chozeh himself.
Once, R' Ezriel asked the Chozeh, "Aren't you aware of your own madreigoh? How can you lead others and tell them what to do? Have you completed your own avodoh? Chazal tell us, `First correct yourself and only then can you correct others.' "
"Is it my fault then," asked the Chozeh, "that the public came to me of their own accord?"
"I have an idea," suggested Der Eisener Kop. "This Shabbos, announce in front of the whole congregation that you are not worthy of being a Rebbe, and they'll leave you."
The Chozeh heeded, R' Ezriel's advice. Came the next Shabbos and the Chozeh, with lowered eyes and humbled pose, admitted all before the chassidim. In a broken voice, he explained that they had been mistaken all along: that he was really a nobody, not only the most simple of poshuter Yidden, but the worst of them.
The whole idea, however, backfired. Impressed by the Rebbe's genuine humility and self-deprecation, they were even more attracted to the Chozeh and tried to emulate his avodoh.
The next time the two rabbonim met, the Chozeh reported that he had heeded Rabbeinu's advice, but the result had been exactly the opposite of that which he had intended.
Then R' Ezriel had a brainwave. "The chassidim admire and value anovoh and hate pride. Say to them that you, the Chozeh of Lublin, are a true tzaddik. When they hear these words of gaivoh they will surely be repelled."
However, to this the Chozeh refused.
"True, I am not worthy of being a rov. I am an ordinary Jew. I'm not a great Torah scholar and my mitzvos are sorely lacking. But a liar I am not! How can I tell these people that I am a tzaddik, when this is totally untrue?"
Upon hearing this, R' Ezriel was satisfied that the Chozeh was indeed a true eved Hashem.
The nickname, Der Eisener Kop — the Iron Head, was conferred on R' Ezriel already as a young boy, due to his sharp wisdom and understanding. As the years passed however, his iron will was seen, too, in matters of Yiddishkeit. Several times he had to oppose the heads of the community and wealthy, influential Jews, and he stood firm as an iron wall, refusing to allow breaches in halocho.
Once, before he was twenty years old, R' Ezriel met the venerable Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo of Chelma, author of Mirkeves Hamishneh. The latter was then one of the most elderly gedolim of the generation. They began talking in learning, their subject being a sugya of psik reisho. It evolved into an argument with Rabbeinu, young as he was, refusing to give in and expressing his opposition to the opinion of the older gaon. After a stormy debate of a few hours, the sage R' Shlomo, relented, admitting that R' Ezriel was fitting of the description: Avreich, as the gemora puts it, is an acronym for Av (bechochmah) verach (beshonim).
Due to his concern not to favor one person above another, Rabbeinu took upon himself never to take payments from people who came to Beis Din. Even the sum that is customarily paid for the rov's time, he refused to accept, because of the remote doubt that perhaps it would cause him to be biased in judging.
R' Ezriel mentions this custom in his sefer, and these are his words.
". . . And it is sixteen years since I've taken up this holy work to build fences and stand up against breaches, without a price or bias . . . "
In the sefer of the HaRav Yehuda Leib Eidel, Afikei Yehuda, we find his great hesped of Rabbeinu. There he mentions that Rabbeinu merited both the crowns of Torah and Kedushoh, bemokom echod. "HaKodosh Boruch Hu bestowed on him parnossoh in an honorable fashion from another source so that he would not be forced to benefit from his Torah crown at all."
Rabbeinu taught Torah to the many who flocked to him to hear his shiurim on the masechtos of Shas. He had no official yeshiva, but the great thirst to hear his chiddushei Torah propelled the masses to his house.
His intense learning notwithstanding, R' Ezriel always had the spare time to greet everyone with a smile and give his friendly and wise advice. HaRav Yaakov Gezundheit writes in his haskomoh to Rabbeinu's sefer, ". . . for he had an understanding heart . . ." a "chacham lev ve'amitz koach."
Interestingly, despite his greatness in Torah and the fact that many leaders of his generation sent him their shailos to hear his clear, concise answers, Rabbeinu did not want to write approbations for seforim.
The one unique haskomoh he gave is the one on the siddur Kesser Nehoroh.
Then, Rabbeinu made an exception to his unsaid rule.
"Many siddurim have been printed with lofty kavonos according to Kabboloh, but not every mind can grasp their meaning.
"However, this siddur is based on the posuk, `Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,' which is applicable to every soul; and everyone should have it in mind even when not in tefilloh".
He therefore saw fit to support the author and gave him a glowing haskomoh.
When Rabbeinu was niftar on Shabbos, 22 Cheshvan, the heads of Lublin decided to bury him close to the grave of the great gaon Rabbi Sholom Shachne zt"l rov of Lublin and father-in-law of the Ramoh zy"a.
To this day, his kever stands in the ancient cemetery of Lublin.