Monday, October 22, 2007
THE CHERNOBLER’S GREAT AHAVAS YISRAEL
Read more at last year’s post, A Taste of Captivity. There is also a fine story about him called "Who’s Saving Whom?" in my post on the Cherkasser Rebbe.
Payment for a Mikva
This story, from the L’Chaim Weekly website, was edited and supplemented by yours truly.
Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl felt the suffering of his fellow Jews deeply. Whenever he was not engaged in Torah study or prayer, he would devote himself to helping his fellow Jews in any way he could. Although he was a poor man himself, he would collect large amounts of charity to distribute to the needy. He spent much time traveling through towns and villages to discover what spiritual or physical needs he might be able to fill for his beloved brethren.
Rebbe Nachum was concerned not only with the lack of material possessions, but also the spiritual poverty which endangered his Jewish brethren's holy souls. In every place he visited, Rebbe Nachum would ask, "Do you have a shul? Do your children have a teacher? Is there a mikva here?" After he identified the needs of the community, Rebbe Nachum set about raising funds.
On one of his travels, Rebbe Nachum visited a small village which had no mikva. He was informed that since the village was located on a high elevation, it would be prohibitively expensive to dig down until one could find a natural source of water. Those villagers who could afford it would travel a distance to a larger neighboring town. In the winter, when the roads were often muddy, these trips were nearly impossible. In addition, the poor would have to break through the ice in a frozen body of water in order to purify themselves.
Of course, Rebbe Nachum resolved to have a mikva built for the village. When he returned home, Rebbe Nachum approached a wealthy member of his congregation with a startling proposition: "If you will pay for a mikva in the village I have just visited, I will sell you my portion in the World to Come." The rich man was stunned by Rebbe Nachum's offer but accepted it immediately.
When his Chassidim heard about the unusual arrangement, they were shocked. How could the Rebbe have done such a thing? Seeing the questions in their eyes, Rebbe Nachum explained to them: "According to the teachings of the Torah, every Jew must love G-d with 'all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.' It has been explained that the phrase 'with all your might' means with all your money. Like every other Jew, I recite this verse every evening and every morning, and I wonder, 'How can I, a Jew who owns nothing and has no money fulfill this command? When I profess to love G-d with all my material means, what can I possibly be saying? Am I lying to myself?'
"This is what I have concluded regarding my situation. Although I may not have money, I do have one very valuable possession, and that is my portion in the World to Come. I have found that people are willing to put a price on anything. There are even such people who will put a price on the after-life. Since that is the case, and I cannot fulfill my duty to love G-d with 'all my might' in any other way, then I am obligated to sell this property to meet my obligation."
Why Did He Have to Travel?
Aware of his talents as a powerful speaker, Rebbe Nachum never entertained the idea that people should come to him to hear him speak. He dedicated much of his life to traveling around, spreading Torah and Chassidus. There was nothing that could interfere with his fulfilling this burning desire.
He harnessed his meager horse himself, sat in his shaky wagon, and traveled, winter and summer, without paying any attention to the heat or the cold. Neither pouring rain nor snow could deter him. There wasn’t a town or village that he passed by; wherever there were Jews, he made an effort to get there. If his horse tired, or the wagon’s wheel got stuck in the mud, he simply set them aside, and made his way by foot to the town’s beis medrash [study hall] to give a drasha [sermon]. He thus fulfilled his holy mission: to bring the Jewish People closer to their Father in Heaven.
Rebbe Nachum’s ahavas Yisrael [love for his fellow Jews] was aptly demonstrated when, on one of his many journeys, he came to a town which had many Misnagdim [those who opposed and were skeptical of the Chassidic movement]. One of them asked him, "If you believe in the Gemara which says that a person's sustenance for the year is determined on Rosh Hashana, why do you need to travel away from home? Why don't you remain in town, and your livelihood will come to you?"
His answer was, "You should know that on High it is decreed for each person's occupation, how much he will earn for his sustenance. For example, if he's a tailor, it is delineated how many suits he will make, and how much he will earn on each one. It is similarly so for a shoemaker.
"But I am neither a tailor nor a shoemaker; I merely receive from people. Up Above it is decreed how much each person will give to give me, but since people don’t remember to give me, what is done on High? It is decreed that this one should, G-d forbid, become sick, or some other troubles should befall him, and then he remembers to come and bring me that which it was decreed to bring. But I don't want troubles to befall people, so I travel to them and receive from them all that they were obliged to give me. In this way, they are spared from Divine punishment."
Zechuso yagein Aleinu - May Rebbe Nachum's merits protect us!