R' Yitzchak was the son of, and successor to, R' Chaim of
Volozhin, founder and head of the yeshiva of Volozhin. He was
born in 5540 (1879/80) and died in 5609 (1848/9).|
In addition to his duties as rabbi and rosh yeshiva, R'
Yitzchak was a leading spokesman for Jewish causes. It is said
that he won the respect of the Russian Czar through the following
The Czar asked R' Yitzchak, "I know that the Jews pray for my
welfare on every Shabbat, and I even asked a Jew to translate the
prayer for me. However, now I have learned that the Jews in
every country recite the identical prayer for their own ruler.
If the Jews in my kingdom pray for my success and the Jews in my
rival's kingdom pray for his success, what will be the outcome?"
R' Yitzchak replied with a smile, "Since your majesty had the
prayer translated, you certainly noticed that it refers to G-d as
'The One Who makes a path in the sea and a lane in the fierce
"The answer is as follows: A ship that wishes to travel
westward needs an east wind to blow. On the other hand, a ship
which must travel eastward needs a west wind. How can both ships
"Hashem's greatness is that He can satisfy both! So, too, we
pray for your success while our brothers in other lands pray for
the success of their king, and Hashem's greatness is such that He
can answer both prayers."
On another occasion, R' Yitzchak presented himself to a Russian
official wearing his Shabbat clothes. The official taunted him,
"Doesn't Mishlei (25:6) say, 'Do not beautify yourself before the
king'? Furthermore, doesn't the Talmud (Chagigah 9b) say,
'Poverty looks nice on Jews'?"
R' Yitzchak responded, "One of your questions answers the
other. Poverty looks nice on the Jews, but when I come before
the king I may not beautify myself. Therefore, I have removed my
poverty and dressed up in fine clothes."
R' Yitzchak was known for avoiding lashon hara and never
speaking ill of another person. Once, when he had no choice but
to say that someone had lied, he refused to say it directly. He
said, "This person has a phenomenal memory. Some people remember
things that happened ten years ago. Others can remember things
that happened fifty years ago. This man's memory is so
phenomenal that he can remember things that never happened."
R' Yitzchak's works include Mili D'Avot on Pirkei Avot and a
Torah commentary entitled Peh Kadosh. Among his sons in law was
R' Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the "Netziv"). (Source: Gedolei