A beloved figure of the Hasidic movement, he became known as the chozeh, which means "seer" or "visionary" in Hebrew, due to his great intuitive powers. He was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. He continued his studies under Rabbi Shmelke of Nilkolsburg and Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. He lived for a while in Lantzut before moving to Lublin.
Rabbi Ezriel said to him: "On the following Sabbath, publicize before the congregation that you aren’t a Rebbe, and then they will stop following you." The Chozeh liked Rabbi Ezriel's advice. The following Sabbath, he humbled himself before the congregation, and told them how "worthless" he really was. However, the words of the Chozeh had the opposite effect; his followers supposedly sought to become humble themselves, attaching themselves to their Rebbe even more than before. When the Rebbe and Rabbi Ezriel met again, the Chozeh told Rabbi Ezriel how he did as he was advised, but it didn’t bring about anything. Rabbi Ezriel replied: "Now I see why, the way of Hasidim is to love humbleness and to stay away from haughtiness, therefore tell them of the great respect they should give you; for you are a true Tzaddik; then they will leave you." The Chozeh replied to him: "In truth I’m not a Rebbe, but I’m also not a liar. How will I be able to say that I’m a true Tzaddik?..." Before Rabbi Ezriel died, he regretted opposing the Chozeh and not getting to know him better.
After Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak moved to Lublin; thousands of Hasidim flocked to learn from him. Among his ardent followers were such Hasidic luminaries as the Yid HaKodesh ("The Holy Jew"), Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, Rabbi Meir of Apta, Rabbi David of Lelov, the Yismach Moshe, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Rabbi Naftali Zvi of Ropshitz, the Ma'or Vashemesh, the Sar Shalom of Belz and many others.
Nevertheless, as the Sabbath was quickly approaching, they had to stop and find some lodging for the night. At that point the Chozeh announced to his Hasidim, "This Shabbat I am not to be known as a rebbe." From this they understood that he wanted to be inconspicuous for some reason of his own. It was also understood that they would be on their own in finding appropriate accommodations. So, they entered the town and made their way to the synagogue, knowing that, according to the time-honored custom; strangers always received an invitation from some villager for the Shabbat meal. Sure enough, they all received invitations, except for the Chozeh who, in his usual fashion prolonged his prayers until all the congregants had left. There was, however, one very old man who also remained in the synagogue and sat singing the traditional Shabbat tunes. The old man noticed the stranger and asked him, "Where will you be having your meal?" The Chozeh replied, "I don't know yet." "Well, I would suggest that you have your Shabbat meals in the local inn, and after the Shabbat ends, I will go around and collect the money to pay the bill." "No", replied the Chozeh, "In that inn, they don't even light the Sabbath candles. No, I wouldn't make kiddush in such a place." "Well, I would invite you to my own home, but we really don't have much of anything to eat or drink." "Don't worry, I don't eat very much, and I don't drink very much either." "All right, so, you'll come home with me." said the old man, still sitting with his prayer book in his hand.
"Tell me, where do you come from?" "I come from Lublin." "You don't say! Why, you don't happen to know the tzaddik, the Chozeh, do you?" "It so happens that I know him very well. I spend all of my time with him." The old man's eyes lit up like a fire. "I would like very much to be able to see him in his glory, but I don't know how it can be. I'm very poor and I've become weak in my old age, so it is impossible for me to make the journey to Lublin. Nevertheless, my desire is so strong; I fast one day a week that I should have the merit to see him with my own eyes. Please, what can you tell me about him?" "Well, what kind of things do you want to know?" asked the Chozeh. You see, many years ago, when he was just a little boy, I was his teacher. In those days he was a regular boy, just like all the rest, nothing special about him. But now, I hear he performs miracles and is a great tzaddik. Every day when his turn came to read from the prayer book, he would be missing. And when he would finally show up, I would always spank him. Then, one day I decided to follow him. I was curious to see where he went all the time. So, I walked a little distance behind him, and followed him into the forest. There, he sat down and cried out from the depths of his heart, Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad (Deuteronomy 6:4)! From that day on I never spanked him again."
The Chozeh was greatly moved by the old man's recitation, and it was clear to him why God had directed his path to this out-of-the-way little village. He revealed to the old man his real identity, and the old man fainted. After he was revived, the old man told the Chozeh not to reveal to anyone who he was. After the end of Shabbat the Chozeh and his followers continued on in the originally intended direction. They arrived at an inn and enjoyed the Melave Malka (post-Shabbat) meal. (A ritual meal at the end of the Sabbath bidding goodbye to the "Shabbat Queen"). When they had finished, the Chozeh told them, "Let's return to the village now, for it is time for us to pay our last respects to the old man I stayed with. He has just departed from this world." They returned and eulogized the old man who had such a burning love for righteous people, that God granted him his greatest wish.
In a compilation of these works, entitled Torat HaChozeh MiLublin, his commentaries are arranged alphabetically according to topics and according to the weekly Torah portion.
See Glenn Dynner, "Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society" (NY: Oxford University Press, 2006)