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In the Guise of a Madman

Yeruchem Yitzchak Landesman

The many broken, down-and-out visitors to Rav Avraham Yechiel Fisch’s home in Tel Aviv were looking for salvation — and knew the blessings would be hidden in the cryptic ramblings of this hidden tzaddik. Fifteen years after he passed away in the exact manner he predicted, his followers still talk about his mysterious powers and how he presented himself as an ignorant lunatic. What was really the force behind this self-proclaimed “king of the crazies” whom the Baba Sali himself announced was his inheritor?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

He lived in a rundown apartment building in the south of Tel Aviv, dressed in hand-me-downs of the deceased, spoke in cryptic, disjointed sentences, and worked as a common construction laborer. He always seemed surprised, even a bit angry, when people would come to seek his blessing and his advice.

“Go to Bnei Brak or Yerushalayim,” he would yell, trying to chase them away. “The gedolei hador are there. What do you want from a crazy person like me? Leave me in peace.”

The more tenacious among them were begrudgingly showered with good wishes cloaked in uncomplimentary epithets; others were indeed convinced that they had arrived at the wrong address.

Rav Avraham Yechiel Fisch ztz”l might have called himself “the king of the crazies,” but through his actions and promises, sick people were healed, childless couples were blessed with children, older singles found their zivugim, and Jews who had lost their jobs found ways to make an honorable living. He would ramble on, and couched between words that seemed to make no sense he would utter “A child will come,” to a barren woman, or “An angel will come and hide the file,” to someone facing felony charges.

Although 15 years have passed since the death of this hidden tzaddik, the lives he influenced and the salvations he accessed still reverberate throughout Israel and beyond, although no one ever really learned his secret, even those closest to him.

How many times did I, too, visit the house at Rechov Kalisher 32, making my way through the throngs of people lining the hallway outside his door — chassidim together with traditional Sephardim, people who had to borrow a yarmulke and vagrants pulling themselves from the sidewalks of the Tel Aviv slums. I merited my own salvations and fulfilled prophecies, but take a random survey of Israelis and many of them, too, will concur. Rav Fisch didn’t discriminate.

 

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