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Monday, April 03, 2006


Today is the 5th of Nisan, the yahrzeit of Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt [or Apta], known for his sefer, the Ohev Yisrael. [He also authored another sefer, Toras Emes]. He was a talmid of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, about whom it is told that before he died, he bequeathed his power of speech to Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt. The Ohev Yisrael began his ‘career’ in Kolbisov, then moved on to Apt, and later to Medzibuzh, where the Baal Shem Tov also lived. Although he is thought to be buried there, there is a Chassidic tradition that he was ‘transported’ to Tiveria [Tiberius] and buried beneath a stone there. Another Chassidic tradition has it that he said whoever lights a candle for the benefit of his soul, on his yahrzeit, will be rewarded.

The following story is well-known, appearing the sefer Sippurei Chassidim by Rav Zevin, but I have embellished it from other sources, including some from Reb Shlomo Carlebach.

The Sadigerer, Reb Yaakov, used to tell this story on the night before Pesach, at the time of the searching for leaven, Bedikas Chametz:

In a small village near the town of Kolbisov there lived a Jew who rented a tavern-inn from the poritz, the nobleman of that village. As it was, business wasn't so great, and he couldn't meet the rent payments. In those days, not paying the rent was a terrible crime, especially if a Jew was involved.

Many times the nobleman tried to collect the rent, and each time the Jew was unable to pay it. Even threats of violence failed to move the Jew to pay, as he simply didn't the money. Finally, on Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos before Pesach, the nobleman sent his “Cossacks” - henchmen - over to the Jew’s house, to show him that he meant business. So what did they do? Well, they poured out sewage water all over the floor, threw the cholent [hot Shabbos stew] out the window, ripped apart all the tables and chairs and literally destroyed everything they could get their hands on.

When the Jew and his family returned to what was left of their house, they were so dismayed, and full of despair and fear, the only thing that the Jew could do to comfort himself, he decided, was to go to Kolbisov to hear the Rav's Shabbos HaGadol drasha [sermon].

At that time the Rav of Kolbisov was Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, who later became the Apter Rav. The shul was jam-packed, for when Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel spoke on Shabbos HaGadol, it was as if Moshe Rabbeinu were talking to the Jews in Egypt telling them that they were about to be redeemed from slavery. Coming into his Rebbe's Beis Medresh in the middle of the speech, the poor Jew had to squeeze himself into a corner near the door.

This is what the Rebbe happened to be saying as the Jew entered: "There are two kinds of blessings involving the redemption of Israel. One we say before the Amida (the daily silent prayer); it is in the past tense: "Ga’al Yisrael - He Who redeemed Israel". The other is one of the eighteen blessings said during the Amida itself and it is in the present tense, "Goel Yisrael - He Who redeems Israel". The first blessing refers to the redemption from Egypt and that is why it is in the past tense. The second blessing, however, is in the present tense because it refers to the redemption that is going on right now, this very moment. Even if there is a Jew who can't pay his rent, and the landlord has his house destroyed because of it. Even to this person, I tell you that Hashem will show him the way out of his misery and will redeem him from his afflictions."

No one present understood these words, except the Jewish innkeeper, who was certain that they were meant for him – and you can well imagine what joy these words brought to his heart! And so when he returned home, he was so filled with joy, that he started to dance, and while he was dancing he sang out, "The Rebbe says, 'Goel Yisrael - He Who redeems Israel now!' The Rebbe says, 'Goel Yisrael!' "Unbelievable! His house is in ruins and his family destitute, but there he is, this Jew, jumping up and down, singing and shouting, "The Rebbe says, 'Goel Yisrael!'" What a scene!!

Meanwhile, the nobleman of the village wanted to know how the Jew was taking all his misfortunes, so he sent over his henchmen to check up on him. When they discovered that the Jew was dancing and singing for joy, they didn't know what to make of it. They went back and told the nobleman that the Jew had most likely cracked up, under the strain of his troubles.

That night the nobleman sent for his tenant, the Jew. At first he was afraid to go, but then he remembered the words of the Rebbe, that Hashem is redeeming Israel all the time, so he went. When he arrived, the nobleman asked him, "Hey Moishke - what's going to happen to you now?! You know, it's your own fault that you're penniless, and I don't have any money to give to you."

"Well what can I do?" replied the Jew.

"Okay, Moishke", the nobleman answered, "I'II tell you what I'll do for you. Take this credit slip and bring it to the distillery in Kolbisov, and they will give you some whiskey. With this whiskey you can realize a small profit. With the profit, you can pay the rent you owe me, and also provide for your family’s needs. You can get on credit as much whiskey as you need."

So the Jew did this, and in the few days, between Shabbos and Erev Pesach he sold so much whiskey that he was able, not only to pay part of the rent he owed the nobleman, and to buy for his family all that was necessary for the holiday, but he even had some money left over also.

Now what do you think the Jew did with this money? He tied it up in a handkerchief and brought it to Kolbisov, to Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, and said, "I’ve brought you ‘Goel Yisrael’ money!'"

R. Shmuel Zivan adds: Shabbos HaGadol is the kernel and beginning of the Redemption that comes on Pesach. The Redemption begins when the heart is filled with emuna and bitachon, faith and trust in Hashem, to such an extent, that one is filled with joy, even if the external circumstances are excruciatingly difficult. In this story, we see how this internal change shifts the developments to a new path.


The Ohev Yisrael and Negina:

When Rivka Imeinu first encountered her husband, Yitzchak, it says that she covered herself with a tza’if, a scarf. The Ohev Yisrael informs us that that the word tza’if has the same gematria [numerical value] as Rina, exultuous song, which indicates that Rivka, through her prayers with Rina and Zimra [song], with great intent, full of Love and Fear of Hashem, was able to ‘cover’ the dinim [harsh decrees], nullify them and protect her people. The word for songs, zemiros, comes from the root of zamir aritzim – cutting down the wicked. This indicates that by singing zemiros with great intent, full of Love and Fear of Hashem, one can cut through all opposing forces [of evil] and nullify decrees and tribulations on the Jewish People, by “sweetening them” at their Source.

A recording of Apta-Medzibuzh niggunin was released in 1991 by R. Yonasan Weiss, and produced by the Ohev Yisrael Torah Center in Jerusalem. It includes eight niggunim, including two from the Ohev Yisrael – “Shabbos Kodesh” and “Hodu LaShem,” about which the Apter Rav said, "This is how I heard the Malachei HaShareis [ministering angels] singing."

Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael - May the Ohev Yisrael's merits protect us all!

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