Thursday, February 28, 2008
"I Remember Him from the Rebbe"
The following story is very dear to me, for many reasons. First of all, it has an "all-star cast": The Rebbe Reb Elimelech*, the Ohev Yisrael*, the Chozeh, the Yid HaKodesh, Rebbe Yechezkel of Kuzmir*, and Rebbe Shlomo of Radomsk*, four of whom [those starred*] have yahrzeits in this Shvat-Adar-Nisan period. And it's one of the few Chassidic stories that has both a story-within-a-story, and in the form of a flashback. In fact, each of these stories has been told [for example, by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach] as a separate tale, but the real beauty is how they fit together… So without further ado, on to our story!
"I Remember Him from the Rebbe"
based on a story in sefer "Ohel Elimelech," plus other sources
CHASSIDIC REBBES often sensed when a great young soul was in their midst, sometimes from afar. There were often times when they could tell in advance if a youngster would grow up to become a Rebbe in his own right, with a huge Chassidic following. Thus when Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was born, the Baal Shem Tov declared, "A great soul is descending from Heaven, and he will speak up for the good of Israel." When the Kozhnitzer Maggid's parents once celebrated Shabbos in a very special way, the Baal Shem Tov sensed this from afar, laughing three times that Shabbos as the elderly couple celebrated. After Shabbos, he took some of his Chassidim to Apta, where the couple lived, and blessed them that they would have a son. He returned later, when the blessing was fulfilled, to be the Sandek [who holds the babay] at the Bris, instructing the couple to name the child Yisrael, after him (1). The Baal Shem also attended, incognito, the Bris of Rebbe Aryeh Leib of Shpole, giving him the name "Zeide" [grandfather].
When the Rebbe Reb Elimelech and his brother, the Rebbe Reb Zusia, were in their famous exile [they traveled around incognito for several years, posing as beggars], they were once outside of the town of Plonsk, where the young Yechezkel, later Rebbe of Kuzmir, was living. The two Chassidic greats became extremely exhausted, hungry and thirsty from the arduous journey. This was revealed to Reb Tzvi, Yechezkel's father, who sent his son with a pot full of warm food to give them. The young lad found them on the way into Plonsk. When they finished their meal, they called young Yechezkel over to them and blessed him: "You will be a faithful Shepherd for the Jewish People." (2)
Often a Chassid becomes so attached to his Rebbe, that if the latter passes away, the Chassid finds it difficult to attach himself to someone else. Thus when the Radoshitzer Rebbe passed away, R. Yechiel Landau, a Chassid of his and son-in-law of Rebbe Shlomo HaKohen of Radomsk, did not wish to go to any other Rebbe. He once was in Kuzmir and decided to visit Rebbe Yechezkel. Immediately upon entering the Rebbe's room, he was told, "A Jew is like a matza dough. As long as it's being worked upon, it remains Pesachdik [kosher for Passover]; but if one leaves it alone it becomes chametzdik [not kosher for Passover]." R. Yechiel astutely understood that one must never be without a Rebbe, and from then on became a follower of the Kuzmirer. (3)
* * * * *
AND SO it was, that in the town of Radomsk, there was a Chassid named Chaim Zev who would also go, together with Rebbe Shlomo of Radomsk, to the Radoshitzer Rebbe. When the latter was niftar [passed away], Chaim Zev asked the Radomsker where - to which Rebbe - he should go.
"To Kuzmir," answered the Radomsker. "To Rebbe Yechezkel."
Chaim Zev found someone to sponsor his journey, and went in to the Radomsker to bid him farewell. "Don't say anything about me to the Kuzmirer," warned Rebbe Shlomo. "He doesn't know me."
Upon his arrival in Kuzmir, Rebbe Yechezkel asked Chaim Zev, "Where are you from?"
"Who is your Rav?" continued Reb Chatzkel.
Against his will, Chaim Zev had to answer, "Reb Shlomo HaKohen."
"How much is his [weekly] salary?"
"And how many children does he have?"
"Has he made any shidduchim [marriage arrangements] with them?"
"And how much does he give for a nedunia [dowry]?"
"Six hundred rubles."
"Now, let me see," continued Reb Chatzkel. "Six rubles a week, six children, and a dowry of six hundred rubles [each]. How can it be?"
At this point, Chaim Zev couldn't answer, because of the orders he received from the Radomsker. The Kuzmirer wondered about this for about half an hour, and then they bid each other "good night" and went off to their inn. Chaim Zev thought, "Boy, am I a winner! That one asked me not to say anything, and this one can't stop asking!"
On Motzaei Shabbos, Reb Chatzkel informed them, "I am going away to Warsaw for a while. You can go home now, and when I return you can come again and stay for as long as you like. Tomorrow morning, come with kvitlach (4) to take leave of me." Then the Kuzmirer again began to speak of the Radomsker, and wondered, "How can he give a nedunia of six hundred rubles, when he only earns six rubles a week?" Again they were silent; and he thought it over for about half an hour, and then wished them a "Gut Voch - Good week."
When they returned the next morning, the Rebbe again began to wonder about the Radomsker. He threw his head back for a short spell and said, "Aha, ah...ha! There is a kvittel, and therein..." The Kuzmirer had deduced that the Radomsker had begun to take kvitlach as a Chassidic Rebbe. Absorbed in his thoughts, he then said, "Tell him that I remember him from the Rebbe [the Chozeh of Lublin] and from the Yid [HaKodesh of Pshischa]," and bid them farewell. (5)
Chaim Zev then informed his friend, "I had to be very patient in order not to answer him. Our Rebbe was never by the Chozeh in Lublin, or in Pshischa by the Yid HaKodesh. How could he have remembered him from then?"
Upon his arrival in Radomsk, Chaim Zev told the Radomsker everything that happened. The Radomsker asked his Chassid, "Did you tell him that I had never been in Lublin or Pshischa?"
"Even though I knew so, I didn't say anything, because of your warning."
"It's good that you did so, for the Kuzmirer was a hundred percent correct!"
* * * * *
AND HERE'S HOW it happened: as everybody knows, the Rebbe Reb Elimelech would wander around in a self-imposed galus [exile], dressed as a very simple peasant - with a short jacket and a straw belt.
Once he came upon the town of Zarnovtzeh, and asked an official to be allowed to speak in the Shul. Due to his simple appearance, the official denied his request. When he persisted in asking, the official finally pushed him out of the Shul. When the official's young son, Avner, saw this, he asked his father, "What does it matter to you if this poor man earns a few rubles by giving a drasha? If he's asking to be allowed to speak, surely he must be capable of doing so!"
Moved by his son's words, the official recanted - presenting Rebbe Elimelech with a note which indicated he was allowed to speak. The caretaker of the Jewish community informed everyone that there would be a drasha in the Shul. The entire Jewish community came to the Shul to hear Rebbe Elimelech's words.
Ascending to the bima [lecturn], Rebbe Elimelech did something very strange: he was silent. He gazed around the room, as if looking for someone. Someone then asked, "Who is it that you're looking for? The whole town is here!"
"There is a smell of immorality here, G-d forbid," was Rebbe Elimelech's strange reply.
Incensed by these derogatory remarks, the people wanted to hit him. He ran out of the Shul, with the crowd chasing after him. He didn't take a straight path, but a rather twisted one. Finally, they came to a rather wide gate, like that of a horses' stable, which was open on two of its sides. And then they saw…the town shochet [ritual slaughterer] with a non-Jewish woman. They ceased chasing him, having understood his words, and what he was looking for.
BUT REBBE ELIMELECH was still running with all his might, thinking that the whole town had continued to chase him. However, the only one who had followed him this far was the young Avner, who didn't really understand what he had seen. But he knew one thing - if this man would have been allowed to speak, he would have earned some money. Now that the townspeople had chased him out of the Shul, he was unable to earn his fee.
With these thoughts, he ran after Rebbe Elimelech, shouting, "Stop, stop! No one is chasing you any more!"
"What is it, young boy?" asked Rebbe Elimelech.
"Surely you need to be paid for your drasha…I can pay you! Why should you lose out just because the people wouldn't let you speak?"
"Your money belongs to your father, and you cannot give it to me without his permission."
"My father gives me four large coins every day, and I've saved some of it."
"In that case," responded the Rebbe, "I will take it."
"Here's eight gold pieces. That's what one gets for a drasha in our town."
"Son, how can I bless you?" asked Rebbe Elimelech.
"However you wish," was Avner's response.
Putting his hand on Avner's head, the Rebbe Reb Elimelech said, "I bless you that we should become mechutanim (related through a [future] marriage of descendants)."
* * * * *
AVNER grew up, became wealthy and well known. Eventually, a shidduch [match] was made between a granddaughter of R. Avner's, and a grandson of Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta [the "Ohev Yisrael"]. This chasan [groom] was also a great-grandson of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, who had already passed away.
The "Ohev Yisrael", a talmid of Rebbe Elimelech, made the trip to Zarnovtzeh for this wedding. In fact, over seventy Chassidic Rebbes were present, similar to the famous "Ustila Chasuna [wedding]". Among them were the Chozeh of Lublin and the Yid HaKodesh.
Arriving at his hosts', the "Ohev Yisrael" inquired of R. Avner, "How did you deserve such mechutanim, especially the Rebbe Reb Elimelech? Tell me about yourself and your deeds."
R. Avner replied that he is very hospitable, taking in guests. He gives generous amounts of tzedaka [charity]. He is careful to set aside time for Torah study.
With each attempted answer, the "Ohev Yisrael" responded, "It's not because of that. Try to remember…"
R. Avner delved deeply into his memory, trying to find some incident in his life which would be a fitting answer to the "Ohev Yisrael". Finally, he remembered the above incident with the poor "darshan" - for he never discovered that it was really the Rebbe Reb Elimelech.
When he finished the story, the "Ohev Yisrael" said, "Now tell me, exactly what did he look like?"
Upon hearing R. Avner's description, the "Ohev Yisrael" nodded in approval. "That's it! That poor man was the Rebbe Reb Elimelech, and it was from his bracha [blessing] that you merited becoming his mechutan!"
THE SHABBOS morning following the wedding, all the young boys present went to see the Chozeh of Lublin after he finished davening, to wish him a "Good Shabbos." Among the many guests was a Reb Tzvi HaKohen of Voloshtziva, who happened to be the father of a little boy, Shlomo [later the Rebbe of Radomsk].
Little Shlomo was among the many boys who ran to greet the Chozeh. When the Chozeh saw him, he grasped his hand and asked him to call his father over. When Reb Tzvi came, the Chozeh said, "Take good care of your son."
A few hours later, it was the Yid HaKodesh's turn to come back from shul - for he davened at a later hour than the Chozeh. The scene was a near repeat of the previous one - little Shlomo ran to greet him. The Yid HaKodesh, holding Shlomo's hand, said to Reb Tzvi: "Take good care of your son, for he will be a vessel [i.e., a special tzaddik, capable of serving Hashem properly]."
This, then, was what Rebbe Yechezkel of Kuzmir was referring to - for he, too, was at this Chasuna, and saw all of this. His queries to Chaim Zev revealed all this to him, through Ruach HaKodesh!
(1) Adapted from Chasidic Masters, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.
(2) From an article in HaModia, 14 Shvat 5763.
(3) From the sefer, Likkutei Divrei Torah v’Sippurei Niflaos MiHaSaba Kadisha MiKuzmir.
(4) Chassidim are accustomed to bring a kvittel [a note; plural, kvitlach] to their Rebbe with their names [and requests] on it, so that the Rebbe would bless and/or pray for them.
(5) For the record and to understand the rest of this story, the Radomsker was approximately ten years old by the time the Chozeh and the Yid HaKodesh both passed away.
Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael - May the Rebbe Reb Elimelech's merits protect us all!!!
I heard the story of how it was composed and wanted to hear it. do you know where it can be heard on the web? alternatly could you recommend a good rendition of the song on CD?