The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 10 September 2005

TALES

1. Asking with Verses

Hacham (sage) Menahem Menasha was a Turkish-Jewish Sephardic sage who passed away in Israel in 1968. He was in many ways a hidden tzaddik, who dressed like a working man, but was considered by great rabbis to be holy of holies. At a certain time of his life he became gravely ill and fell into a coma for eight days. During that time he lay still like a stone and did not speak, but he occasionally mumbled words of Torah. And, astonishingly, when he needed something from someone, he expressed his need by uttering a Torah verse that referred to what he needed. When he returned to consciousness, his irreligious doctor, Dr. Yisraeli, who was so impressed by the behavior of his patient, asked him, "After being in a coma for eight days, I'm sure your soul ascended to heaven and saw things there. What did you see?" Hacham Menahem Menasha said, "If you agree to put on tefillin every day and become a religious person, I'll tell you." The doctor agreed, and Hacham Menahem Menasha told him what he told him. (Hacham Menahem Menasha, p.57)

2. Lest

Once, after Rabbi Shlomo, the first Bobover rebbe, gave a generous donation to a beggar who went door-to-door, the head of the Jewish community of Vishnitza told him that this person actually made a good living and was a fraud. The Rebbe replied, “One person doesn’t give to a hundred beggars because maybe there’s one phony among them. I give to a hundred beggars lest perhaps there’s one real desperate poor man among them, who we’re obligated to help.” (Beit Tzaddikim Ya’amod, vol. 1, p. 37)

3. A Lesson

The first Bobover rebbe once called over his two little sons, Hayim Yehoshua and Yehezkel David. He took Hayim Yehoshua’s finger, pressed it, and asked him if it hurt. Hayim Yehoshua said Yes. He then asked Yehezkel David if it hurt, and he said No. The father then said, “Is it possible that your brother’s in pain and you don’t feel anything?” He thus taught them both a lesson about love for the other person. (Beit Tzaddikim Ya’amod, vol. 1, p. 63)

4. Truth-telling

Rebbe Rafael of Bershad so often and so strongly condemned lying and speaking falsely that truth-telling became ingrained even in the children of his community. Once, three children were sitting talking about how Rebbe Rafael said it was forbidden to lie. One child asked, “But didn’t Abraham say about Sarah, ‘She’s my sister.’?” His friend answered, “Because of that he was punished by having a son like Ishmael.” The second one asked, “Didn’t Isaac say about Rebecca, ‘She’s my sister.’?” His friend answered, “He was punished by having a son like Esau.” The third boy asked, “Jacob too said, ‘I am Esau your first-born’?” “Oh,” said his friend, “that’s because he never met Rebbe Rafael. If he’d met Rebbe Rafael he never would have said that!” (Ma’amar Mordechai, vol.3, p. 17, #6)

5. The Power of a Guest

A hasid was once traveling to his rebbe, Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz, and on the way he stopped to rest at the home of a certain Jew; and he heard his host crying. He asked the man why he was crying and he said that his son had been sick for a long time; and no medicine or treatment was helping. The hasid felt great compassion for the man and began to think how he could help him. By prayer? Was it conceivable that the prayer of an ordinary person like him could effect a supernatural healing? But then the thought occurred to him: Wasn’t his host fulfilling with him the mitzvah of hospitality? He was, then, so to speak, an “object being used for a mitzvah.” And every hefetz mitzvah has the sanctity of holy objects like tefillin or tzitzit. So he too had a special sanctity that could make his prayer powerful and effective. With this kavvanah, he stood up and prayed, and in a short while the sick boy was healed! (Beit Tzaddikim Ya’amod, vol. 3, p. 104)

We too can pray for our hosts.

6. The Power of Undisturbed Study

Rebbe Mordechai of Neshkiz once complained, “Why do people keep coming to me and disturbing me with so many requests– to pray for parnoseh, to have a baby, that their sick child get well and so on! It would be better if they’d leave me alone to study mishnayos, because when we studied undisturbed in Berditchev [with his master, Rebbe Levi Yitzhak], nothing bad happened for forty miles around the town!” (Maamar Mordechai, vol. 3, p. 60 # 1)

Holiness helps even without leaving its borders.

7. There is No Speech but Their Power Extends throughout the World

Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin once sat silently at his pure table in great d’vekut, as was his holy custom, and a Jew there was surprised to see a rebbe sit with his hasidim, and although he doesn’t utter any words of Torah they all sat before him in great awe. Suddenly, the rebbe spoke up and said, “It’s written [about those about to head out to war]: ‘Whoever is afraid and soft-hearted shall return home and not melt the heart of his brothers like his heart.’ This shows,” said the rebbe, “that if a Jew sits with his heart melting within him, he affects those around him, and this is what happens with tzaddikim who don’t teach Torah, yet the heart of those sitting near them melts.” (Maamar Mordechai, vol. 3, p. 104 # 18)

8. Learning from Other’s Holy Ways

Rebbe Michal of Zlotchov once sent his son Rabbi Yitzhak of Radevill to be with Rebbe Avraham the Angel (the son of the Mezritcher Maggid) to learn from his holy ways. He was there also on Tisha b’Av and saw that as Tisha b’Av arrived the Angel sat on the ground, put his head between his legs and let out a deep groan. He sat that way without moving or uttering a sound until Tisha b’Av was over. He then broke the fast by eating an onion and some other food. Rabbi Yitzhak was able to discern the kavannot the Angel had when eating the onion. When he returned home he also ate a piece of onion with those kavannot. And that night he dreamed that an angel was imitating all his movements– the way he prayed and ate and so on. “Chutzpah!” he yelled at the angel, who answered, “Why did you imitate Rebbe Avraham the Angel?” (Maamar Mordechai, vol. 3, p. 19 # 1)

Learning doesn’t mean imitating.

9. The Chain of Incarnations

A group of gentile university students once passed by the house of Rebbe Tzvi Hirsh of Rimanov. He said, “In their previous incarnation (gilgul) they were simple, coarse gentiles. Now they’re educated gentiles. Afterward, they’ll be educated Jews. After that, they’ll be pious Jews with long beards and payot who’ll run to purify themselves in cold mikvahs.” (Maamar Mordechai, vol. 3, p. 110 # 4)

I’ve never seen anything like this teaching!

10. Two Related Tales about the Prohobitcher

In the Palace

Rabbi Shalom Shachna of Prohobitch (the grandson of the Rizhiner Rebbe) was the son-in-law of Rebbe Nahum of Tchernobil and lived with the Tchernobiler. He was very hidden in his ways and no one knew him. Once the Tchernobiler saw him walking around before the morning prayers, seemingly just wasting time, so he reprimanded him, saying, “Is that the way to prepare for prayer, by idling away your time? “What should I be doing before prayers?” asked Rabbi Shalom. The Tchernobiler answered that a young man such as he should study a page of the kabbalistic book Eitz Hayim by the Ari, etc. Rabbi Shalom responded with a parable, saying, “There was a painter who painted all manner of scenes from the king’s palace, how the king sat on his throne with his ministers around him, etc. and people were impressed by his work and bought his paintings. Once, he met one of the king’s ministers who was always at the court and offered to sell him paintings of the king and his ministers, not knowing that the man was himself one of the king’s ministers. The minister said, “I’m not impressed by your paintings and have no interest in buying them.” The painter was surprised and said, “Aren’t my paintings beautiful and wonderfully lifelike portrayals of the royal palace?” The minister gave a little laugh and said, “I’m always in the king’s presence, so I don’t need pictures of what happens there.” Rabbi Shalom concluded, “It’s the same with me. The whole of the Eitz Hayim describes the great beauty of the palace of the King of Kings, blessed be He. But I’m there all the time and don’t need descriptions ...” (Maamar Mordechai, vol. 3, p. 64 # 1)

Horseback

Rebbe Nahum of Tchernobil once told one of his elderly hasidim, “Go and find out if my son-in-law conducts himself like a good Jew who gets up early and says psalms or studies Torah before the morning prayers.” The hasid went and saw that Rabbi Shalom’s servant polished his boots and prepared his horse for riding. When everything was ready, Rabbi Shalom got up on the horse and galloped into the forest. The hasid returned to Rebbe Nahum and said, “I wish I had the fear of heaven that he has when he climbs up on his horse, during Nei’lah of Yom Kippur!” (Maamar Mordechai, vol. 3, p. 65 # 2)

11. A Lack of Self-Esteem

After the death of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk, his son, Rabbi Eleazar, went to Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz and asked for a letter of recommendation because he needed to marry off one of his children and had no money for the wedding, so was traveling around to collect donations for the wedding expenses. The Ropshitzer Rebbe said, “Why give you a letter? I’ll go with you myself!”

While they were on the road, Rabbi Eleazer began to apologize to the Ropshitzer, saying he was full of faults, how could he ask other people for money? He went on and on apologizing in this vein the whole trip. And as they came to the town, Rabbi Eleazar asked the Ropshitzer to please not tell in the town what he had said on the road.

When Rebbe Mordechai Hayim of Slonim used to tell this story, he would add, “We see from this how lowly he held himself and his great innocence [temimut], because his holy father said about him that if he only knew his power in heaven, he could bring the Messiah.”

If most of us knew our true greatness, what could we not do? (Maamar Mordechai, vol. 3, p. 66 # 1)

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Copyright 2004-2005, Yitzhak Buxbaum. All rights reserved.