To the sound of marching German jackboots, Austria was annexed to Germany in 1938 and the years of horror began.
Bechasdei Shomayim Reb Abe Yaakov, as he was known, fled European soil soon after and arrived in Eretz Yisroel.
Having left behind an empire of thousands of chassidim, the Rebbe of Sadigur settled unobtrusively in Tel Aviv with the few followers who had escaped with him.
It is told that after the war, the chassidim of the Admor Reb Aaron of Belz zt"l, wanted to appoint a second attendant for the Rebbe's needs. However, Reb Aaron stopped them, saying, "Take a look at the Rebbe of Sadigur, who lives nearby. In Sadigur he was like the King of Yisroel and now he only has one gabbai — and you want me to take a second one?"
Not that Rabbeinu's avodoh was any different, with or without a multitude of chassidim. He served his Creator in his humble, holy way regardless.
During the war years, the Rebbe was the address for any chossid who managed to escape the inferno and reach Eretz Yisroel. These lonely Yidden from the spectrum of Chassidic courts found a new Rebbe and mentor in Reb Abe Yaakov. Yet, when the few Rebbes who survived came to Eretz Yisroel, the Sadigur Rebbe encouraged each chossid to return to his former Rebbe, even though it meant that he was left once again with very few followers.
Rabbeinu, who could recall the surging sea of chassidim who used to come to bask in the warmth of his father's court and subsequently his; and was now left with only a faint echo of the thousands of voices, had no concern for his own kovod. Rather he assisted each of the Rebbes of Vishnitz, Boyan, Karlin, Belz, and others, in picking up the fragments of their shattered lives and rebuilding their own communities.
It was not the custom of Rebbes of the Ruzhiner dynasty to lead a tisch every Shabbos. During the war years, however, when there was no one to make a tisch for the various chassidim who came to live in Tel Aviv, the Rebbe of Sadigur did so for their sakes.
When the Belzer Rebbe Reb Aaron Rokeach came to Tel Aviv, the Sadigurer stepped down, saying, "The Rebbe of Belz knows how to fir tisch better than I. It's better that he should fir tisch every Shabbos, and I'll learn the Ramban al HaTorah. He said the same of the Vishnitzer Rebbe and encouraged his family members to attend their tischen.
The Rebbe's humility knew no bounds.
At one point during his early years in Tel Aviv, it was discovered that the Rebbe swept the pavement in front of his house every morning before sunrise. Asked about the reason behind this strange custom, the Rebbe's eyes misted over with emotional tears as he related the following.
"In 1938 when the Germans took over Austria, they began a new sport. Nazi thugs would roam the streets of Vienna looking for `fun.' On one occasion they chased and dragged out of their homes several rabbonim and Rebbes and forced them to sweep the dirty pavements. To the accompaniment of the mocking laughter of the Austrian goyim, only partly drowned out by the loud weeping of Vienna's Yidden who were forced to watch their leaders so degraded, these rabbonim were given brushes and soapy water and forced to scour the paving stones on their hands and knees."
"I, too," continued Rabbeinu, "was part of this unfortunate group and as I lowered my head and scrubbed, I made a promise to myself: I took upon myself that if, G-d willing, I would survive the war and merit to go up to Eretz Yisroel, I would sweep the streets of the Holy Land!
"Now that I have been zocheh to reach these holy shores, I am happy to fulfill my vow."
Subsequent to his revealing the story, the Rebbe realized that his chassidim followed him every morning to observe him. Considering his promise fulfilled, he stopped abruptly and was never seen sweeping again.
Once, a Jew who had long strayed from the Torah path was niftar. A chossid told the Rebbe the news and added, "Halevai his death should be a kaporoh."
"It is forbidden to speak like that," rebuked the Rebbe sharply. "Do I look as I do due to my own efforts? And did he look as he did through his own fault? The reason I am what I am is because I had the father that I had, and he looked like this because of his father.
"Who knows? Perhaps had I been the son of his father and he the son of mine, what he would have looked like and what I would look like . . . ?"
He continued vehemently, "Hakodosh Boruch Hu hates one who speaks against Yisroel his children. And I too do not like them. There is yet to be born the father who doesn't hurt when bad is spoken of his sons. A person must do everything and correct them as much as possible, but never speak against them."
Then he repeated, "Hakodosh Boruch Hu hates them and I too do not like them."
As all the Admorei Ruzhin, Rabbeinu could not bear the various machlokes among Yidden. His aim was to respect and encourage every Yid ba'asher hu shom.
Once, one of his chassidim who was not very medakdek with mitzvos reported to Rabbeinu that he gets and reads the newspaper of the kanoim. He was sure that the Rebbe would praise him for this and see it as a step closer to being medakdek in mitzvos. However, the Rebbe told him, "We must not go against the Torah. The Torah says, `Behold you are today as many as the stars in heaven.' Why would you want to now say that Klal Yisroel is made up of only a limited number of kanoim and not all the multitude of Jews?"
"Let me tell you a story of the value of a Jew," the Rebbe was heard to say.
In the town of Belz, one of the Chassidim told the Belzer Rov that a certain Yid, a barber, had given people haircuts on Shabbos.
After the Rebbe spoke to the Yid in question, the man apologized and asked the Rebbe what he could do as a tikkun.
The Belzer Rebbe instructed the barber to donate to the Beis Hamedrash a one rotel-candle as an atonement for his sin.
To the chossid who had seen and reported the deed to him, he gave instructions to bring two rotel-candles for the Beis Hamedrash.
As for himself — the rov in whose city a precious Yid could do such a sin — the Belzer donated five rotel-candles for the Beis Hamedrash.
On Shabbos, 6th Iyar, 5718-1958, the pious Rebbetzin fell sick. Just that Shabbos, none of the Rebbe's Chassidim were with him in Tel Aviv. The neighbors too, were not at home and the Rebbe had no telephone with which to call a doctor.
In desperation, he ran out into the street in the middle of the night, but found not a soul around. Nobody was awake at that unearthly hour.
In pain and fright, the Rebbe ran through the quiet streets to the nearest doctor. However, by the time he got back it was too late. The Rebbetzin a"h had passed away.
Before going out to the levaya, the shamash heard Rabbeinu remark, partly to him and partly to his deceased wife, "Another two, three years . . . "
About two-and-a-half years later, on the seventh night of Chanukah, the night before he was due to have a second operation, the Rebbe gathered his strength to light the Chanukah candles. Suddenly, one of the wicks sputtered and was then extinguished. Peering closer, the Rebbe inquired, "Which flame went out?"
With a sigh, the Rebbe said softly, "I was the fifth son of my father . . . " A few days later, on 5 Teves, Rabbeinu returned his soul to his Creator.
Zechuso Yogein Oleinu.