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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

 

The International Funeral Procession

Tonight is Heh [5th of] Nisan, the yahrzeit of Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, also known by the name of his sefer, the Ohev Yisrael. Be sure to check out my earlier posts: Why Did the Ohev Yisrael Leave Apta? and The Joy of the Ohev Yisrael. In the latter one we mentioned, "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 [Tiberias] 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."

We now bring you, courtesy of our good friend Yrachmiel Tilles of Ascent, the story of the 'transport.'
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Illuminated pages from the pinkas (minutes) books of the Mishna Society of the Apter Rebbe, Medzibuzh, circa 1840. [from Wikipedia]

The International Funeral Procession
Story #541 - 3 Nissan 5768

It was in Medzibuzh, on the night of the 5th of Nisan, 1829, that Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Ohev Yisrael of Apta, departed this world. On the very same night, in the holy city of Tiveria [Tiberias], people heard a knocking on the windows of Kollel Volhyn. The synagogue attendant inside, alone, was the one who held the keys to the gates of the cemetery. The voice from outside said: "Go outside, go outside, and follow the bier (a wooden frame for carrying a corpse) of the Grand Rabbi of Apta!"

He ventured outside and was chilled by terror, for the bier was being followed by a grim retinue of human forms from the Other World. One of these followers intimated to him that this was the funeral procession of the tzaddik of Apta; he had died in Medzibuzh, and angels from Above had borne his coffin here for entombment in the soil of the Holy Land.

The beadle repeated his story in the morning. Of course, people refused to believe him. But then, on the suggestion of an elderly sage, they went together to the cemetery, where, surely enough, they found a newly-covered grave.

Letters from Apta later confirmed that the tzaddik had indeed passed away on that very day. Before his passing he had cried out to heaven in bitter protest over the length of the exile - why was Moshiach tarrying so long? And in his heartache he had wept and said, "Before Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev left this world, he promised that he would not rest until his insistent pleas would bring about the Redemption. But when he arrived there, the saintly souls in the Garden of Eden found spiritual delight in his company, and ascended with him to the palaces of supernal bliss - until he forgot his own promise. But I will not forget!"

When Rabbi Chaim Elazar of Munkatch visited the holy sites in the land of Israel in 1930, he asked about among the oldest citizens of Tiveria as to whether any of them knew where the tzaddik of Apta was buried. They led him to a certain stone slab in the old cemetery which their hoary elders, who were now on the World of Truth [the next world], had shown them - the place where the Ohev Yisrael had been brought to rest. Today it is a well-known pilgrimage site of stature.

(Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (ArtScroll), as translated by Uri Kaploun from Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin).
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Zechuso yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael, May the Ohev Yisrael's merits protect us all!

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