Weekly Chasidic Story #1057 (s5778-26/ 25 Adar 5778)

A Swimming Tip for Life

He was a sensitive boy and often felt homesick. Also, he found the yeshiva lacking in cleanliness and he didn't like the food. All this led him to become quite depressed.

Connection: Rosh Chodesh Nissan (which falls on this Shabbat) is almost exactly in between the yahrzeits of the two Rebbes in the story.

A Swimming Tip for Life


During the 1960's, when Reb Avraham (not his real name) was a yeshiva student, he learned at the Vizhnitzer Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Young Avraham had been orphaned at an early age, and his not having a father weighed heavily on him. As a result, he was a sensitive boy and often felt very homesick. Also, he found the yeshiva lacking in cleanliness and he didn't like the food and he became depressed as a result.

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe at the time, Rabbi Chaim-Meir Hager, author of Imrei Chaim, noticed that the boy was discomforted and unhappy. He took the boy under his wing and suggested that perhaps a little vacation from yeshiva would be a good idea. The Imrei Chaim arranged for Avraham to travel to Netanya, where he would spend a few days in the seaside town and visit the separate beach there [secluded, with separate half-day shifts for women and men].

Avraham went to the beach and walked around on the sand, but didn't enter the water. Others at the beach were swimming, but Avraham hung back and just watched wistfully.

It so happened that the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Pinchas-Menachem Alter, known as the Pnei Menachem, was also at the beach. At that time, he was not rebbe, but rather rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Sefas Emes, the flagship yeshiva of Ger in Jerusalem, a position that he was appointed to in 1957 and held for 35 years before assuming the mantle of leadership of Ger in 1992.

He noticed the somewhat forlorn-looking yeshiva boy and went over to greet him. During the conversation, he asked Avraham why he wasn't going into the water like everyone else. Avraham answered truthfully, "I am an orphan. My father passed away when I was young before he was able to teach me how to swim. I am afraid to go into the water because I cannot swim."

The Pnei Menachem smiled and said, "Don't worry! I will teach you how to swim."

The Rosh Yeshiva then waded into the Mediterranean together with the orphaned boy and taught him how to swim. Once Avraham got the hang of it and he had sufficiently mastered the art of swimming, the Pnei Menachem felt that he could be left on his own. However, before returning to dry land, he gave Avraham one last piece of advice - six words that Reb Avraham says made such an impact on him that it has remained vividly etched in his mind for the fifty years since it was given.

The Pnei Menachem said (in Yiddish), "Just remember one thing:

'Zolstu shtendig halten der kop aroif.' --

'Always hold your head up…'"


Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Rabbi Avraham Birnbaum in the April 28, 2017 email of the Yated Ne'eman, and posted on Shabbos Stories for the Parsha, Ekev 5777 (2017).

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Chaim-Meir Hagar, the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz [ 15 Kislev 5648 - 9 Nissan 5732] (Dec. 1887 - April 1972)], after the Holocaust moved to Bnai Brak in Israel where he established the post-war Vizhnitz community. He also became one of the main rabbinical leaders of Agudat Yisrael in Israel. Upon his passing, his two sons, Moshe-Yehoshua and Mordechai, became the Vizhnitz Rebbes in Bnai Brak and Monsey, NY respectively. Three of his Bnai Brak granddaughters are married to the current Rebbes of Skver, Belz, and Satmar.

Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter [Sivan 5686 - 16 Adar B, 5756 (June 1926 - March 1996)], also known as the Pnei Menachem after the works he authored, was the sixth Rebbe of Ger, a position he held for the last four years of his life. He was the only offspring of the second marriage of his father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the third Rebbe of Ger. The fourth Rebbe of Ger, Rabbi Yisroel Alter, and the fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, were his much older half-brothers. In the 1950s, he was appointed rosh yeshiva of Sefas Emmes, the flagship yeshiva of Ger in Jerusalem. After his passing, he was succeeded as Rebbe by his nephew, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter (the current Rebbe as of this writing), son of Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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