Weekly Chasidic Story #1058 (s5778-27/ 3 Nissan 5778)

Honoring the Young

When Reb Shmelke, the son of Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov, was still a young man he set out to study at the feet of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Apter Rebbe.

Connection: Seasonal -- Nissan 5 is the 193rd yahrzeit of the Apter Rebbe.

Honoring the Young


When Reb Shmelke, the son of Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov, was still a young man he set out once for Mezhibuzh. There he wished to study at the feet of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the "Ohev Yisrael", who was later renowned as the rav and rebbe of Apta.

As soon as his attendant informed the tzadik that the son of Reb Moshe Leib had arrived, he was instructed to bring a chair next to that of the rebbe, to light extra candles in the suspended candelabrum, and to bring the tzadik the coat which he usually wore only in honor of Rosh Chodesh. When the young guest was admitted to the rebbe's presence, the tzaddik approached him and, after extending a cordial welcome, invited him to sit next to himself.

Reb Shmelke was embarrassed by the honor being shown him. He could hardly decline though, so he carried out the wish of his illustrious host.

The tzadik explained himself: "I am under obligation to how you respect because it was your father Reb Moshe Leib who brought me to the true service of G-d. Let me tell you how it all came about.

"I was once the rav of a small town called Kolbasov where my life consisted of the uninterrupted study of the Torah. One day when I was sitting with my books, I observed two men approaching my house, one short and thin and the other quite large. I saw at once that they were men of stature. But so intense was my thirst for increasing my knowledge of the Torah that I did not take the time even to ask them who they were. I only greeted them, offered them a drop of vodka and some light refreshments, and returned to my books.

"They stayed on after they had partaken of what was on the table and continued talking to each other. Their conversation of course distracted me a little from my studies, but since they were clearly no common folk I said nothing, and simply concentrated harder. I gained the impression that they were speaking of lofty matters, but I told myself: 'What's all that to do with me: For this isn't my accustomed path in the service of the Creator.'

"Late in the afternoon it was time to go off to the synagogue for Minchah prayers and then for the Maariv service. I went, and they went too. They then asked me if there was a place to sleep. I certainly had no free space but somehow we managed to find them a nook. When I rose at midnight for the lament of Tikkun Chatzos they rose too. We then continued as on the previous day: I sat and studied alone, and they resumed their discussion. At daybreak they took their leave and took to the road.

"Just before it was time for morning prayers I spent a few quiet minutes on my veranda, reflecting on this strange visit. I then recalled snippets of their conversation that I had overheard while I was studying. These were sublime thoughts indeed. 'Whatever came over me?' I asked myself. 'Why didn't I ask them who they were and what brought them to my home?'

Day by day more of their conversation came to mind. The ideas they spoke of were as sweet as honey, and enabled me to pray more earnestly. I regretted intensely my not having made their acquaintance.

"Two weeks later, likewise before my morning prayers, when I had just taken off my hat and was wearing only my yarmulke, I was again relaxing on the veranda deep in thought. Suddenly I saw a wagon trundling past with those same two men seated in it! I never go out of doors with my head covered only by a skullcap, but I was at once so overjoyed and overawed that I quite forgot that I wasn't wearing my hat. I ran after them to greet them.

"They returned my greeting - but very coolly. They said they were in a hurry, I asked them what I could do for them; they said I could buy them some bagels. Forgetting everything, I ran down the street myself to buy them, and while running I saw that they had already resumed their journey.

"I called out towards my home, asking that someone should quickly bring me my hat and my tefillin. Then I ran after them, calling them to draw their reins. But they didn't want to stop, and the wagon lurched straight ahead. The horses continued to gallop. I was drawn after them, running as fast as I could behind them, for quite a long distance - until at long last they had pity on me. They drew to a halt and waited till I caught up to them and then helped me to climb up to join them.

"When we reached a nearby village we first stopped there to pray, and then they wanted to send me back home. 'No' I said, 'wherever you go I shall go.'

They refused my request, and said: 'Although we were sent by the Maggid of Mezritch, your place is not with us but with the saintly Rebbe Elimelech in Lyzhinsk. Make your way there, seek him out, and find peace in his protective shadow. We came here only in order to show you the path which you should follow.'

"I followed their advice and eventually found my place in the circle led by the tzadik of Lyzhinsk."

R. Abraham Yehoshua Heschel now concluded his story: "Those two men were Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sossov. And now, my dear Reb Shmelke, since your father was one of those who guided me to the Chasidic path in the service of G-d, I am under obligation to show his sons every possible mark of respect."

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by R. Uri Kaploun from Sipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.

Biographical notes (in order of appearance):
Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sossov [of blessed memory: 5502-4 Shvat 5567 (1745- Jan. 1807 C.E.)] was the leading disciple of Reb Shmelke of Nicholsburg. He also received from the Maggid of Mezritch and from Elimelech of Lyzhinsk. Subsequently a Rebbe in his own right with many followers, he was famous primarily for his love of his fellow Jews and his creative musical talent. His teachings are contained in the books, Likutei RaMal, Toras ReMaL Hashalem, and Chidushei RaMal.

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel [of blessed memory: 5515 - 5 Nissan 5585 (1755 -March 1825 C.E.)], the Apter Rebbe, was a main disciple of the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhinsk. He is also often referred to as "the Ohev Yisrael," both after the title of the famous book of his teachings, and also because its meaning ("Lover of Jews") fits him so aptly. The Kapishnitzer Chasidic dynasty descends from him.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk [of blessed memory:5477 - 21 Adar 5547 (1717 - March 1787 C.E.)], was a leading disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov, and the leading Rebbe of the subsequent generation in Poland-Galitzia. Most of the great Chassidic dynasties stem from his disciples. His book, Noam Elimelech, is one of the most popular of all Chassidic works.

Rabbi Dov Ber [of blessed memory: c.5460 - 19 Kislev 5533 (c.1700- Dec. 1772 C.E.)], the son of Avraham and Chava, known as the Maggid of Mezritch, succeeded his master, the Baal Shem Tov, as the head of the Chasidic movement. Most of the leading Chasidic dynasties originate from his disciples and his descendents. The classic anthologies of his teachings are Likutei Amarim and Torah Ohr (combined by Kehas Publishing as Maggid Devorav l'Yaakov), and Ohr HaEmmes.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak (Deberamdiger) of Berditchev [of blessed memory: 5500 - 25 Tishrei 5571 (1740 - Oct. 1810)] is one of the more popular rebbes in chasidic history. He was a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov. He is best known for his love for every Jew and his perpetual intercession before Heaven on their behalf. Many of his teachings are contained in the posthumously published Kedushat Levi.

Connection: Wednesday, Nissan 5, is the 193rd yahrzeit of the Apter Rebbe.

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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