Weekly Chasidic Story #1079 (s5778-48/ 2 Elul 5778)

The Sash and the Cloak

When they gave him the overcoat of the Maggid of Mezritch (great-grandfather of the Holy Rhiziner), he immediately acquiesced to their request

Connection: Wekly Reading -- Deut. 17:15 is cited in the story.

The Sash and the Cloak

The "holy Ruzhiner" Rebbe, on the lofty occasion of the bar-mitzvah of his youngest son, Mordechai Shraga-Feivish, just before personally girding the thirteen-year-old with his first gartel (a black silk woven prayer sash), recounted the following episode:

He began by saying, children in that area was unfortunately not the best. Attributing this grave situation to their own spiritual failings, the populace there gathered and voted to send two representatives to the Maggid to ask his instruction and his prayers for divine assistance.

They said to him, "Please recommend to us a man to act as our preacher, shield and shelter." The Maggid's response was to hand the two men his overcoat and dispatch them to [the Belarus city of] Vitebsk saying, "Travel there and inquire about Reb Mendele. He will be your preacher, shield and shelter."

They joyfully took the overcoat, and immediately journeyed to Vitebsk. When they arrived in the city, they asked where they could find Reb Mendele. People told them that there are many Mendeles here but no Reb [a distinguishing honorific] Mendele. The representatives repeated their inquiry to various other people, but they all replied with a similar response.

Later, they encountered a venerable old man and asked him as well where could they find Reb Mendele? He too responded that there are many Mendeles here but no Reb Mendele. In desperation they implored him, "But the Maggid of Mezeritch sent us to Reb Mendele!" When he heard the Maggid was involved, he said, "Perhaps he had in mind my son-in-law. He frequently travels to the Maggid, and also, I notice that all the Mendeles regularly gather by him. So maybe he is the one whom the Maggid intended you to meet."

The two went to the son-in-law's home but he was not there. So they asked his wife his whereabouts. She told them that he was in the study hall and would definitely not return home until he finished his studies. However, when they told her that the Maggid had sent them to her husband, she answered that if so, certainly she would go to call him home.

When he arrived home, he was accompanied by all of his Mendele companions. The Lithuanian representatives said to him, "The Maggid sent us to you for you to become our preacher, shield and shelter."

"I will not be a preacher nor a shield nor a shelter," he retorted.

But when they gave him the [Maggid's] overcoat, he immediately acquiesced to their request.

As soon as he put on the overcoat, a sudden great awe fell upon his friends, the other Mendeles. They accepted him as their leader, called him by the distinctive high title of "Rebbe" and shuddered in his presence.

The Holy Ruzhiner concluded, "This episode illustrates the meaning of the verse [Deuteronomy 17:15], 'You shall set a king over you […from among your brothers.]' One moment he was a regular peer and the next moment, through simply donning a single garment he became a [leader likened to a] king."

Having said all this, he dressed his son in a bekesheh [traditional long jacket], and belted his gartel [thereby coronating and symbolically transforming his son from a youth into a full-fledged Jewish adult destined for greatness as a communal leader].

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from a translation with annotations by Refoel Leitner from the book Irin Kadishin, where the complier, Naftali-Hertz Flintenstein, states, "I heard this story from several trustworthy individuals, some of whom heard it from Reb Yitzchak Toster, who himself was present during the proceedings described."

Biographical notes [in order of birth]:
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 Yisrael Friedmann of Ruzhin [of blessed memory: 5557 - 3 Cheshvan 5611 (1797 - Oct. 1850 C.E.)] was a great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov. At a young age was already a charismatic leader with a large following of chasidim. Greatly respected by the other rebbes and Jewish leaders of his generation, he was -and still is-referred to as "The Holy Rhyzhiner Rabbi" Six of his sons established Chassidic dynasties, several of which --Sadigora, Chortkov, Bianna, etc-- are still thriving today.

Mordecai-Shraga ("Feivish") Friedman, (1835-1894), youngest son of the holy Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin, became the first Rebbe of the Husiatyn dynasty. His thousands of chasidim included many prominent scholars.

Connection: Weekly Reading of Shoftim - the verse Deut. 17:15 is mentioned in the story.


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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