Weekly Chasidic Story #1094
/18 Kislev 5779)
Brazenly Disturbing the Rebbe
Rabbi Shneur Zalman [of Chabad] was confident that the Maggid [of
Mezritch] knew the situation down to the last detail, for righteous people
are not bound by the conventional ways of learning information.
Connection: Sesaonal -- Monday night-Tuesday is the Chasidic celebration,
Story in PDF
format for more convenient printing.
Brazenly Disturbing the Rebbe
When Rabbi Shneur Zalman was still a young student under
the tutelage of the famed Maggid of Mezritch, he boarded at a
house owned by a local widow. One day, the young scholar arrived home to find
his landlady on the floor wailing hysterically. Her only son, she sobbed, had
decided to convert to Christianity, and was being held in a locked room in a
"Don't worry," Rabbi Shneur Zalman comforted her, "with G d's
help, we will bring your son back."
Bringing this woman's plight to the Maggid would be difficult. The Maggid stayed
locked in his room throughout most of the day; this enabled him to quietly contemplate
Torah. And outside his door stood his wary attendant, who was adept at keeping
people away when the master wished to be alone.
"Listen to what I say," Rabbi Shneur Zalman said to the widow. "Tomorrow,
Friday afternoon, while the attendant is away from the door for his pre-Shabbat
bath, I will be able to open the door for you. Do not waste a second. Run inside
and inform the Maggid of your dilemma."
The next day, Rabbi Shneur Zalman took advantage of the attendant's absence
to open the door for the distraught widow. Inside, the Maggid, who was occupied
with his spiritual preparations for the holy day of Shabbat, did not expect
a strange woman to suddenly appear in his doorway, weeping uncontrollably. He
raised his eyes to her, but the poor woman was so shattered that she stood silently
at the threshold, unable to emit a single word. Apparently seeing no use for
the interruption, the Maggid waved his hand, signaling her to leave. The woman
emerged from the brief audience shattered and bitterly disappointed with herself.
But Rabbi Shneur Zalman was confident that the Maggid knew of the widow's misery
down to the last detail. Righteous people, after all, are not bound by the conventional
ways of learning information.
After the widow left, the Maggid did not make any mention of her or the purpose
of her visit. But when the attendant returned from the bathhouse, the Maggid
suddenly instructed all of his students to enter his room to welcome the Shabbat
together. Despite the unusual nature of the request, the group heeded the Maggid's
Immediately after prayers, the attendant rushed to set the table for the evening
meal. Generally lengthy and peppered with mystical Torah insights, the Shabbat
meal was eaten in a hurry, again leaving the students wondering at their master's
unusual behavior. Grace After Meals was recited promptly after the meal.
All this time, the Maggid maintained deep concentration and spoke with a booming
and forceful tone, a marked departure from the calm, unassuming voice the students
usually heard. Torah insights, the likes of which were never heard before, were
expounded upon, his holy words interspersed with the occasional call to "listen,
my brothers, to the Torah's sweetness."
Of all the students, only Rabbi Shneur Zalman knew the reason for the unusual
change in routine. He sensed that from the moment the widow left the Maggid's
office, the Maggid busied himself with reigniting her son's soul.
Then a mighty wind began to roar outside, steadily picking up speed. By this
point, the Maggid's face was shining like a glowing torch. The students listened
with growing trepidation to the wind that howled violently around them.
Boom! Something thudded against one of the walls of the house and the
students, concerned that the roof would collapse from the wind, bolted out of
their seats. Unperturbed, the Maggid stopped his discourse and turned to his
attendant: "Quickly take him to the nearby inn," he ordered.
The attendant hurried out the door and immediately stopped in his tracks. Lying
on the ground outside the house was the widow's son, softly weeping. The attendant
did not waste a second and proceeded to whisk the son away to the inn.
After the attendant left, the Maggid's serious demeanor, which had persisted
throughout the entire evening, transitioned to joy, and he finished the discourse
on a euphoric note. The Maggid then retired to his room, whereupon Rabbi Shneur
Zalman headed for the inn, curious to learn what led to the son's seemingly
impossible release from the second floor of the monastery.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman found the young man sitting on the bed and reading the weekly
Torah portion with large tears streaming down his face.
"How did you escape?" Rabbi Shneur Zalman asked gently.
The widow's son paused his tearful reading and began to tell his story.
"The beginning of my escape started two hours before nightfall. I was lying
on my bed in a small cell on the monastery's second floor, determined to follow
through with my choice. No amount of convincing would have made me change my
mind. But then I had an overwhelming bout of longing for the G d of my people,
an urgent need to leave and reestablish my connection with the Jewish faith.
"I bolted from my bed and quickly strode to the cell door, intending to
break it down. But the door remained steadfastly bolted from the outside. Discouraged,
I collapsed back on my bed for about half an hour. But the pangs of yearning
and love toward Judaism continued to intensify until I sensed my materialistic
desires give away. This is how a dead person must feel, I thought; none of the
things that had mattered so much to me seemed to have any consequence anymore.
"Lying there in bed, becoming more restless by the moment, I understood
that this love could not have developed from myself. G d was actively trying
to protect my Jewish soul from self-destruction.
"Again, I unsuccessfully struggled to break down the door. There was no
way out. I slumped on the bed, tears streaking my cheeks, and began to deliberate
with myself. If G d allowed me to experience this indescribable arousal of G
dly love, I had no doubt that He would surely come to my aid. I had to continue
"I walked over to the cell's small window. I pushed it and, to my relief,
it swung open. However, peering over the precarious ledge in the failing light,
I was greeted by the sight of the hard flagstones far below. To jump from this
height would leave all of my bones shattered, and even the prospect of a Jewish
funeral was nonexistent. I was unsure what to do next.
"I rethought my decision several time, and made my way to the window, only
to be discouraged again and again by the sheer drop.
"Darkness had already set in when I suddenly felt my legs dash across the
room, leap onto the windowsill and carry me through the open window. I landed
miraculously intact, aside from some minor pain in my feet.
"Despite this, my excitement was short lived. During my brief stay in the
monastery, I had learned of the vicious dogs who guarded the premises. Chained
away during the day, the dogs were set loose on the monastery grounds at night.
Even if I managed to fend them off, their barking could easily alert the priests,
who would surely take me back, and who knew what they would do to me then?
"G d will help, I thought, and fearlessly strode towards the pack of dogs.
They bounded towards me excitedly and circled around me eagerly, as though reuniting
with one of their masters. Thankfully, they also kept silent, and I was able
to slink cautiously across the monastery grounds.
"But then my heart fell. A towering stone wall separated me from my freedom.
Topped with sharp spikes and the height of two men, the wall surrounded the
monastery, its smooth surface providing no grip. It was impossible to scale.
"Raising my eyes once more, I pleadingly explained to G d that I had tried
everything that was humanly possible to escape, risking my life in the process.
Now, standing beside the wall, I had nothing more to do.
"I was answered in the most incredible way. A strong gale immediately swept
me off my feet and lifted me into the air. I was tossed over the unpassable
wall and into the sky, tumbling over the countryside until I landed right beside
the Maggid's house."
Displaying a zeal and aptitude that he had never known before, the young man
applied himself to Torah study and the performance of good deeds for the rest
of his days.
Years later, when Rabbi Shneur Zalman already had his own followers, he recounted
this story on numerous occasions (noting that the young man's change of heart
happened right around the time the Maggid began his devotions), testifying to
the Maggid's greatness.
Source: Translated by Asharon Baltazar for //Chabad.org
from Sippurim Nora'im, by Yaakov Kadanir, p. 38; lightly edited and also
supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles. [Rabbi Yaakov Kaidaner was a chasid
of the first three Lubavitcher Rebbes and a prominent Torah personality in his
own right. Today he is primarily known for his extraordinary collection of chassidic
stories, Sipurim Noraim, a number of which he witnessed or took part
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 stem 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
Rabbi Shneur Zalman [of blessed memory: 18 Elul 5505 - 24 Tevet 5573
(1745 - Dec. 1812 C.E.)], was one of the main disciples of the Maggid of
Mezritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov. He is the founder of the Chabad-Chassidic
movement and the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya as well
as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.
Connection: Seasonal -- Monday night-Tuesday is the Chasidic celebration,
Yud-Tes Kislev - the date on which the Magid passed away in 1772,
and Rabbi Shneur Zalman was miraculously liberated from Russian prison in 1798
after nearly being sentenced to death. Check out the festivities at the Chabad
House nearest you.)
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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