Wednesday, February 01, 2006
The great master woke in the morning. Today was a day of quest. There was no grail at the end, no pot of gold to find. The prize was the spirit ... the goal, an elevated sense of self. The Baal Shem Tov, the spiritual leader of Chassidus, walked out his door on such a journey. He went to a special clearing in the forest outside his village. In the clearing he lit a fire in a special way, a way that he had come to understand only through his studies. He then began to hum a special niggun, a song without words. As the melody floated ever softly towards the sky, a ray of light came down upon the spot where the Baal Shem now stood. A calm came over him as he had arrived at the heights of his spirit. He felt lighter now, his soul less burdened.
When his student, the Maggid of Mezritch came to him for guidance, the Baal Shem Tov had already forgotten the instructions for lighting the special fire, but he remembered where the spot was in the forest and he knew the melody of the niggun. The Maggid found the spot and sang the melody and he, too, reached the heights of his spirit.
The Maggid’s student, Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov, was known to say: “Not only have we forgotten the instructions for lighting the fire, but the melody, too has been lost. All we know is the place in the forest, and that is enough.” Finally, his student, Rabbi Yisrael [of Rizhin?] noted with sadness: “We no longer know how to light the fire or how to sing the melody, and we do not know the place. All we have is the story of how it was done.” And for him, that was enough.
NOTE: There is more than one version to the following story. What appears below is a condensed version of what Rabbi Eliahu Kitov z”l wrote in his sefer, Chassidim v’Anshei Maaseh, Vol. 2. [Another version appears in R. Shlomo Y. Zevin’s Sippurei Chassidim – Torah; story #164].
One episode in his life seemed to Rebbe Moshe Leib himself to be a high point of chessed.
At one point in his life, Rebbe Moshe Leib decided to move to Apt, a city known for raising Torah scholars. He and his family were traveling in their carriage and met up with two people on a horse and wagon -- one horse and a small wagon. Rebbe Moshe Leib recognized them as a poor father and his son on the way to get married to the daughter of the shamas [synagogue caretaker] of Apt. He went out to greet them and was struck by the sad expressions on their faces.
Rebbe Moshe Leib realized that the unfortunate couple hadn’t the wherewithal for even the basic wedding festivities, so right then and there he and his wife decided to sponsor the wedding. He said to the father and son, “A Chasan [groom] is like a king – you and your son deserve the best.” Rebbe Moshe Leib dressed the Chasan in his own clothes, fed them from his own provisions, sat him in his own carriage and sang and danced the Chasan and father into Apt.
When they reached the outskirts of Apt, Rebbe Moshe Leib and his two sons jumped out of the carriage, and he danced before the Chasan, while his sons played on drums. Eventually, the Chasan’s family alighted from the carriage and joined them. As they made their way down the main street of Apt, throngs of passers-by were pulled into the amazing circle of song and dance, until they reached the Kalla’s [bride's] house.
There, Rebbe Moshe Leib’s wife likewise cared for the Kalla, giving her beautiful clothing and jewelry, and preparing the wedding feast for them.
The Klezmer musicians of Apt were the finest in the entire region. Only the wealthy Jews from Apt and the surrounding towns could afford to hire them to play at their children’s weddings. That night, there was no wealthy man’s wedding for these musicians to play. But when they heard that the entire town had assembled at the wedding of this poor boy and the daughter of the Apter shamas, they decided to come with their instruments.
There was tremendous rejoicing in the town -- the townspeople of Apt, the parents of the Chasan and Kalla, and especially for the Chasan and Kalla themselves and for Rebbe Moshe Leib. In the middle of a particularly beautiful song he called out, “If only they would play this niggun as I leave this world.” The wedding feast went on and the slightly cryptic statement was forgotten.
Years passed, and after sojourning in various towns, Rebbe Moshe Leib returned to Sassov, his hometown, with which his name was associated. "A person never knows when he will breathe his last," he thought, "and if I can’t be buried in Yerushalayim, let me at least find my resting place near my ancestors." It wasn’t before long that he was niftar [passed away], on the 4th of Shvat, 5567 .
On the evening of that very day, the wedding of an only daughter of a very wealthy man in Sassov was supposed to take place. The man spared no expense for his daughter’s chasuna, which included sending emissaries to Apt to invite the famous Klezmer musicians to play for the event.
That morning, Rebbe Moshe Leib davened his last Shacharis [morning prayer], and as he was taking off his tefillin, all those around him could see that his end was near. He, too, felt this, and called the fathers of the Chasan and Kalla over to his bedside. “I decree,” he said, mustering his last ounce of strength, “that your simcha [rejoicing] should not be affected in the least. Rejoice, and I will rejoice with you!” he declared, and expired.
The men, women and children of the entire town and its surrounding villages all turned out for the funeral of Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov. On their way to the cemetery, two wagons, full of people, were coming towards them. It was the musicians from Apt, with their assistants and instruments, who had come for the simchas Chasan and Kalla – the wedding of the wealthy man’s daughter!
Noticing the throngs of people, they inquired as to whose funeral it was. When they found out that it was none other than Rebbe Moshe Leib’s, they remembered his request of so many years before, at the wedding of the Apter’s shamas’ daughter: “If only they would play this niggun as I leave this world.” So many years had passed since they had played that tune, and oy! They had long since forgotten the incident along with the niggun!
But now, stopping at Rebbe Moshe Leib’s funeral, it all came back to them – the story and the niggun. They had to keep their promise! “It’s a mitzva to fulfill the command of a deceased one,” the Talmud tells us. And so, an ad hoc “beis din” [judicial court of three men] was convened at the cemetery, and they decided that the niggun would indeed be played! “And I will rejoice with you,” Rebbe Moshe Leib had said.
Picking up their instruments, the Klezmer band approached the open grave, which was surrounded on all sides. They began to sing and play their instruments, with that very niggun that they had played so many years before, at the wedding in Apt…and all those around them joined in.
the last link i put in i made a typo
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