Living Legacy: Rebbe Yaakov Yosef of Ostroh (Rav Yaivee)
The 20th day of Tishrei marks the yohrtzeit of Rav Yaakov Yosef of Ostroh, known as “Rav Yeivee (an abbreviation of the name Yaakov Yosef ben Yehuda),” a prize talmid of the Maggid of Mezrich who had the merit of being by the Ba’al Shem Tov and a number of his talmidim.
He was born in the year 1738 to his father, Rav Yehuda Leib, zt”l, who was a dayan and a darshan in the town of Ostroh, in western Ukraine.
In his youth, he was zoche to be by the holy Ba’al Shem Tov, an encounter that left him with an indelible impression for life. He lived beside his father in Ostroh, but due to the opposition of the misnagdim, he left the town and settled in Mezrich, near his rebbe, the Maggid.
When his father passed away, Rav Yaakov Yosef assumed his place in Ostroh. He was a great ba’al darshan who drew the hearts of many close to the Chassidic movement.
Rav Yaivee would stand on the market days in the center of the market, collecting money for the needy. One time, the Rebbe stood in the market close to a full day, barely raising any money, which caused him great aggravation. At the end of a disappointing day, he encountered a simple Yid who asked him how much money he needed. The Rebbe told him that he had not managed to collect anything, and thus needed a large amount of money. The Yid immediately took out the entire sum and handed it to Rav Yaivee.
Overcome, the Rebbe wished him that the hands that gave the money should never be able to transgress any aveirah, the eyes which looked at the pain of the poor should not be able to transgress any aveirah, and so on for all the limbs in his body. And from that day on, every time a test came to him, his limbs began aching, and he simply could not do any aveiros.
The Rebbe—whose yohrtzeit falls on Sukkos—was known to have a special affection for the mitzvah of sukkah. He would not exit the sukkah for the entirety of the Yom Tov, and it is said that one never saw a fly in the sukkah of Rav Yaivee, even when it was very hot. When his friend Rav Pinchos of Koretz heard about this, he made his way especially to the sukkah of Rav Yaivee to see it for himself.
The Rebbe had a small number of chassidim, but they were great in caliber, and he authored two monumental seforim. The first is called Rav Yaivee, and is learned by many chassidim today, especially the Skverer chassidim and the second is called Morah Mikdash. The Ostroh Chassidus lasted—through his children and grandchildren—up to the Second World War, and there are many descendants of the great tzaddik alive today.
Zechuso yagein aleinu.