The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 4 Dec. 1999


If Gehinnom is This Good ... !

After the passing of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, the Maggid of Koznitz said with a smile, "When the Rebbe appeared before the Heavenly Court, they asked him about his deeds. He replied, 'I didn't pray. I didn't study Torah.' They decreed, 'If so, let him go to Gehinnom.' But really they led him to the Garden of Eden. When he arrived there, he began to joyously clap his hands, saying, 'If Gehinnom is this good, how much more wonderful and beautiful must the Garden of Eden be!'-- because he thought he was in Gehinnom." (Yud-gimel Orot, vol.2, p.59)

This anecdote helps clarify a problem. One may suppose that some tzaddikim who are excessively humble and consider themselves of little worth are depressed and miserable. This anecdote suggests that "although they think they are in Gehinnom" so to speak, they are really joyful and in the Garden of Eden, even in this world.

Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz said on his deathbed: "Until now, the Satan thought I was one of his men." (Yud-gimel Orot, vol.2, p.164)


Rabbi Reuven Miletsky used to travel and visit the great rabbis of Israel in his youth. Once, he arrived at the home of the well known tzaddik, Rabbi Leib Hasid. He knocked lightly on the door, and stood waiting with great reverence and awe. "Who's there?" he heard from within. Along with the voice, he heard feet running to the door. "Yes, yes, I'm here! Please come in!" and the door was open wide before him. "Shalom Aleichem! How are you! Maybe you'd like a cup of tea?" Immediately, Rabbi Leib put his arm around the young man's shoulder and was walking around the room with him, his face shining with joy. "Oh! Oh! I'm so glad you've come to visit! It's so wonderful you're here. I'm thrilled!" and so on and so on. Finally, after this amazing welcome, that went on for a few minutes, Rabbi Leib stopped and said, "Who are you? What's your name? Where are you from?" First, he fulfilled the teaching of the Sages: "Receive everyone with a warm greeting and a shining face. Only afterward would he inquire who had come to visit." (Kol Chotzaiv [the life of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, the Maggid of Jerusalem], p.224)

Coffee in Bed

Rabbi Moshe Kalirs, the rabbi of Tiberias [last century], used to serve his wife coffee in bed every morning. When asked why, he explained, "The Rabbis say that before morning prayers, one should commit oneself to fulfill the mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself. But how should one do this-- just mentally, in your heart? No, one has to act! But why should I run around looking to fulfill the mitzvah elsewhere, when I can do it in my own home, with my wife?" (Sippur l'Shabbat, pp.297-304)

Take Good Care of Yourself!

Rabbi Netta Tzainvirt, a Rizhiner hasid of the last generation in Israel, was once standing at a corner waiting for a red light to change, when he began to whirl his arms around, rub his hands together, and stroke his beard and peyot. Somebody standing nearby who saw this was surprised to see these gestures that Rabbi Netta often made due to his enthusiasm and devotion while praying. The other man asked Rabbi Netta about these signs of devotion standing at a street corner! "Imagine how wonderful it is," said Rabbi Netta, his eyes flashing, "to fulfill the mitzvah of 'you shall diligently care for yourselves!' Fulfilling this mitzvah, which the Rabbis usually say means diligently caring for your body and health, was as important to him as waving a lulav or eating matzah. What is the difference? This too is doing God's will." (Hayim sh'Yesh Bahem, p.113)

The Rebbes and mystics teach that we should have God-awareness every moment of the day. The trick is to discover how to connect every moment and every action to God. Rabbi Netta gave us a lesson not only in caring for ourselves, "when we walk on the way," but also when driving, when exercising, when eating healthy food and so on... to act with awareness and devotion.

Falling From a Ladder

Rebbe Yisrael of Ger was so gentle and loving to those who had strayed from Judaism that his hasidim were actually somewhat confounded. He once explained by a parable: "A child climbed up a ladder and fell down. His father slapped him and warned him never to do that again, lest he break his leg. But if the child falls from a ladder and breaks his leg, then his father runs to help and comfort him; he doesn't punish him. He rushes to take him to the doctor and hospital." (Paraphrased from Pe'er Yisrael, p.356)


A hasid once rebuked someone in the synagogue for talking loudly during the service. When the Rebbe heard of it, he said, "A person suffers in the world and runs to the house of God for comfort and consolation. One should never rebuke someone in the synagogue, because if a person will also be afflicted here too, where will he be able to go for comfort?"

Faith helps one to meet God, but vain arguments lead one astray.

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