"He has almost never sinned in his life," declared the Chiddushei Harim upon being asked how R' Yaakov Arye reached such lofty heights. Then he added, "And perhaps he's never sinned at all!"
A rare comment coming from the mouth of a giant in Torah and Chassidus, that gives us a small insight into the greatness of the Rebbe of Radzimin.
As a young boy, Yaakov Arye was particular to purify his body and mind before tefilloh. Even during the freezing Polish winter, he would immerse himself every day. If the mikveh was locked, he made his way to the river that flowed close to Vorki. In the event that the river had frozen over, he would break the ice in order to immerse in its frigid waters.
After marrying the Rebbetzin, daughter of the Rav of Ritchvall, his days were spent in constant Torah study and avodas Hashem. Following the passing of his father-in-law, Rabbeinu was appointed rov of that small town.
During this period, his wage was extremely low, nowhere nearly enough to support his growing family. His pious Rebbetzin took upon herself the responsibility of being the breadwinner, working hard and even doing manual labor in the fields to earn a few pennies. After digging up potatoes all day, she would come with some food to put into her children's mouths. She also kept a cow, from which she sold milk to the neighbors.
Anything, so long as her husband could learn undisturbed.
Despite all her efforts, the family was destitute, with hunger and poverty stalking them constantly.
One Simchas Torah, the house was bare of food. Not wanting the children to miss their yom tov joy, the Rebbetzin sent them to their neighbors, where they were readily served cake and apples to still their hunger. In this way she managed to hide her difficulties from her husband, sparing him any worries.
When the Rebbe Reb Bunim was passing through the area, he went to visit the Rav of Ritchvall.
The Rebbe was surprised and perturbed to notice the obvious poverty that screamed from every corner. Reb Yaakov Arye's entire dwelling consisted of one room divided into two. Behind the partition crouched the cow on her bundle of straw and the family's division had to suffice for the Rov, his wife and their children.
His talmidim had already informed him of the Rebbetzin's difficulties and how she worked in the field to earn barely enough to feed her family.
"Mah tovu oholecho Yaakov," exclaimed the Rebbe Reb Bunim. "One who fulfills Torah in poverty will in the end do so in wealth." He added his brochoh that this situation would not continue much longer and there would come a time when they would be showered with gold and silver.
Subsequently, there was a vacancy in the rabbonus of the prominent town Radzimin. A delegation was sent to Reb Yaakov Arye to request that he accept the position of rov in that town.
However, Reb Yaakov Arye was not ready to agree to their suggestion, even with the added prize of a generous wage of 5 rubles a week which was offered for extra persuasion. He was afraid the duties entailed in leading a large kehilloh would take him away from his learning.
Hinting at the poverty around him, the delegates explained that with the high wage offered in Radzimin he could support his family honorably.
"That is true," agreed Rabbeinu. "The Rebbetzin surely deserves that and more, but who am I to take on such a position?"
The delegates then turned their efforts on the Rebbetzin herself, reporting her husband's obstinate refusal.
With a bitter cry, she burst into the Rov's room. "It's time you saw my suffering," she blurted out, "and if I deserve this, then see the faces and hearken to the cries of your children, who are begging for bread and I have none to give them!"
Reminding him of the brochoh and promise of the Rebbe Reb Bunim, she pleaded with the Rov to accept. "Apparently Reb Bunim was referring to this suggestion. You cannot just dismiss the idea."
Reb Yaakov Arye, however, stood firm in his decision — until that night.
The hour was late and Reb Yaakov Arye was learning, when he heard one of his younger children cry out in his sleep. The boy had gone to sleep on an empty stomach and now, as Reb Arye tried to soothe him, he kept asking for something to eat.
The father had nothing to offer and sat next to the child's bed until he cried himself to sleep. Sitting there, the Rov was surprised to note that the house was unusually silent. Where was the Rebbetzin? Strange as it seemed, he could do no more than wonder, and so he returned to his learning. Only with the sunrise did he hear the stealthy footsteps of his wife returning home. Making every effort not to be heard, the Rov saw her removing a heavy coat made of coarse fur like the local watchman wore. He decided not to ask for explanations and returned to his seforim.
Shivering with cold, the Rebbetzin lit a fire and tried to warm her frozen hands. After she had recovered somewhat from the cold, she thought back over the night's activities and began sobbing quietly. Hearing her muffled crying, Reb Yaakov Arye hurriedly walked in, hinting that he was curious to know what she had been doing all night.
In the beginning she bit her lip, refusing to divulge her secret, so as not to cause him pain. But when he pressed on, it all came pouring out. Her suffering, her hard work, her pain at being unable to provide her family with food. She had decided to hire herself out as a night watchman, guarding the logs of wood that were arranged on rafts by the river's edge.
All night, every night she would faithfully wait for the hours to pass, braving the fierce cold that pierced her very bones until the rising sun would relieve her of her duty.
"You've suffered enough, my loyal wife," called out Reb Yaakov Arye.
He took on the rabbonus of Radzimin, albeit against his will, and from then on their situation improved dramatically. Things became even better when Chassidim began to stream to him to bask in his presence and ask him for brochos.
The Radziminer Rebbe became renowned for his blessings, whether curing the sick or giving segulos. He often gave kemayos which continued to work wonders with their owners even in later generations.
The Avnei Nezer once remarked wistfully, "If only we'd have in our generation someone who could show us mofsim like the Rebbe of Radzimin, he would strengthen the emunah and yiras Shomayim throughout the world."
Chassidim have it that before davening for a sick person, the Rebbe would offer up a prayer that it never be known to anyone that the yeshuo had come through him.