Wednesday, January 23, 2008
WHY ARE YOU STARING AT ME?
You can find out more about him here, in our previous post: Rebbe Yechezkel of Kuzmir, founder of the Modzitz Dynasty. The following story is reprinted here with permission of the Modzitz website.
One Friday night in Kuzmir, a man arrived at Rebbe Yechezkel's Tish whom none of the hundreds of Chassidim that were present recognized. For the duration of the entire Tish, this man stood opposite the Rebbe and stared directly at him. The Rebbe continued in his usual way with Shabbos zemiros. At the end of the Tish, the Rebbe wished his guests "Good Shabbos," and went off to his room. The strange man left as well. No one asked about his unusual behavior; in fact, no one spoke to him.
This strange behavior repeated itself at the Tish on Shabbos morning, with the man again standing opposite the Kuzmirer and staring at him for the entire time. And at Shalosh Seudos [the third meal, held close to sunset], again this man came and stared at the Rebbe. At nightfall, the custom was to have candles brought to the table [either by a non-Jewish attendant, or by one of the Chassidim who was prepared in advance to daven Ma'ariv immediately at nightfall, and then is permitted to light a fire]. This unusual guest then positioned himself where he could see the Rebbe's face directly from the light of the candles, and stared at him once again.
The Rebbe then said divrei Torah, accompanied by cries of dveykus [clinging or attaching oneself to Hashem]. His lofty words, said in a very sweet and pleasant voice, caused everyone present to forget his own problems and to be davuk in [attached to] Hashem.
But suddenly, the Rebbe's voice rang out: "Why are you staring at me so much? Don't you recognize me?" Immediately thereafter, the Rebbe asked for mayim achronim ["final waters" used to wash one's hands at the end of a meal] to be brought, bentched [said the Grace after Meals], davened Ma'ariv and made Havdala.
There was one Chassid present who was really curious about what the Rebbe intended with his words to this strange man that nobody knew. Surely there was "more than meets the eye" going on here. He was so intent in finding out that he followed this man out of the Beis Medrash after Havdala, and when they reached an isolated spot, a dark alley way, he asked him what this encounter with the Rebbe was all about.
"Oh, this is an old story," replied the man, trying to avoid a full answer. But the Chassid wasn't satisfied with this, and insisted on hearing all the details. "In that case," replied the man, "you'll have to come with me to my place of lodging, and I'll tell you the whole story."
Over a cup of tea, the man began: "I left Olam HaZeh [this world] for the Olam HaEmes [the World of Truth, where the neshama (soul) goes after death] some twenty-two years ago." The Chassid began to tremble, seized with a terrible fright - could it be that he's speaking to some kind of spirit or ghost? Reassuring him, the man said, "Allow me to speak, and then you'll understand everything."
"Twenty-two years ago, I was a melamed [a teacher of young children]. Even though my livelihood only allowed us to have some black coffee and dry black bread, but no meat, fish or fancy clothes, my wife, our two children and I were happy with our lot and never complained. We accepted our lot in life with love.
"Around that time, I contracted a severe case of pneumonia. The doctors attempted to treat it with medicine, but I could tell by the look on their faces that they didn't hold out too much hope for me - my days on earth were limited. Nevertheless, they informed my family that I was improving and that I would be able to return home in a few days. You can just imagine what it's like for a young man of twenty-two years to leave this world and leave behind a young widow and two small children!
The man continued, "You know, when a person departs from Olam HaZeh, he still thinks he's alive. So it was with me - I merely thought that I didn't have the strength to get up. I thought my family didn't want to hear what I wanted to say to them. They invited the Chevra Kadisha [Jewish burial society] to begin their holy work on me [preparing the body for burial]. My wife and children were crying. It was then that I realized that I had left this world, and I thought: what a tragedy, a young man leaves behind young orphans - who's going to care for their welfare, that they should receive a proper Torah chinuch [education] and in such a society - where they kidnap people, etc.? Who is going to care for my little children???
"Perhaps I should have been concerned over what is happening to my neshama, but maybe because I was a melamed, all I could think about was the chinuch of my children - and I was broken-hearted thinking about their future. My soul began to feel the absence of the body, and it began to rise, higher and higher, turning and rising, and I was thinking: 'What will happen now, who knows me, and how will I end up?'
"Suddenly, I felt different than before, and didn't understand why I had risen so high. I saw thousands upon thousands of souls, and tried to stop myself, when suddenly - the soul of another young man came up to me and asked, 'Who are you, and where are you going?' I felt as if I knew him, and asked, 'Perhaps you can tell me where I can find out why my soul was taken from Olam HaZeh at such a young age, and who's going to watch over my children that they should go in the ways of Hashem?'
" 'You are in the World of Souls [Olam HaNeshamos],' the man answered. Pointing off into the distance, he said, 'Over there, the Heavenly Tribunal [Beis Din shel Ma'alah] sits, and judges who is fit to be cleansed from Olam HaZeh, and who is fit to enter Olam Haba [the heavenly world]. I will tell you something that can be very helpful to you. You should go to that distant place where the judges are. Among them is one of the Tzaddikei HaDor [most righteous in his generation], a man of Olam HaZeh. He was chosen to be on the tribunal because he is so righteous; in fact, he is the only one from Olam HaZeh - with a body and soul - that is on the tribunal. Since he is still involved with Olam HaZeh, he can find merits for your case, and fully understand it.' Upon finishing his advice, the soul of this man vanished.
"So I went to the place which the man had told me about, and tried to find the Tzaddik HaDor. Not before long, the judge who was sitting in the middle called me and asked in a very pleasant and sensitive voice, 'What do you want?'
"I began to cry profusely, and was so overcome with emotion that I could not utter a word. The tzaddik reassured me, in the same voice, that he would listen carefully to every word of mine. It took all my strength to rein in my emotions, and I was finally able to cry out to the heavenly court: 'How could it be that I was taken away at such a young age from Olam HaZeh, and left behind young orphaned children without any guidance?'
"The tzaddik then asked me, 'Do you mean that your only concern is for your children, that they should grow up to be ehrlich [spiritually refined; not coarse]?'
"And I responded, 'Of course! My whole life was dedicated to chinuch; we lived in abject poverty only so that I could give the proper chinuch to my children.'
"I watched as the judges discussed my case, and then the tzaddik called me over to give their decision: 'The clear and pure words that you have uttered before us indicate that they are completely true, and we have decided to allow you to remain in Olam HaZeh for another twenty-two years.'
"Back at my funeral, the Chevra Kadisha, my family and all those who attended were astonished to see me sit up suddenly, and in their extreme fear, they all fled from the cemetery. I was left alone in the cemetery with hundreds of graves, but I remembered everything that had happened. At nightfall, I got up and walked home. Of course, there was a great tumult throughout Galicia about this awesome techias haMeisim [revival of the dead], but over time, things quieted down and it was forgotten.
"But I never forgot! I always wanted to know who this tzaddik from Olam HaZeh was, who was part of the Heavenly Tribunal, and in whose merit I was granted more years of life. I wanted to see his face and thank him personally. I began to travel throughout Galicia and Hungary in search of the tzaddik, whose image was always before my eyes. But I didn't find him! I gave up my search and returned home, but whenever someone from out of town came to our town, I told him my story and described the tzaddik, perhaps someone would know where I could find him.
"Over the course of time, I began to forget exactly what the tzaddik looked like. When I reached my forty-fourth birthday, I realized that the additional time allotted to me by the Beis Din was soon to expire. It upset me very much that I still hadn't found him in order to thank him. So I began again to inquire in all the shuls and Batei Midrashos [study halls], until I found a Polish Jew who had come to my town. I told him the story, and he asked for a description of the tzaddik. I remembered that his most distinguishing feature was that he was extremely tall; in fact, he was a 'head taller' than the other judges. 'It must be Rebbe Yechezkel of Kuzmir, who is indeed very tall,' he told me. 'In fact, when he needed a new hat, they needed to make a special order for it; and also for his walking stick.' [This walking stick has been passed down from father to son in the Kuzmir-Zvolin-Modzitz dynasty, and is indeed very large - much more than normal height].
"I left everything and went to Kuzmir, Poland. At the Tish on Friday night, I couldn't remember if the Rebbe's face was the same as the judge who was on that Heavenly Tribunal. However, his pleasant voice was somewhat familiar. Similarly at the second meal, I still wasn't sure if this tzaddik was the judge who had helped me. But at Shalosh Seudos, when I heard his awesome divrei Torah, I remembered clearly that this was exactly how his voice sounded when he was discussing my case in the Heavenly Court.
"It was at that very moment, when I was certain that he was the Tzaddik HaDor who told me that I could live for another twenty-two years, that he finished his divrei Torah, and said to me: 'Why are you staring at me so much? Don't you recognize me?' "
Zechuso yagein aleinu v'al kol Yisrael – May Rebbe Yechezkel’s merits protect us all!