Weekly Chasidic Story #1272 (s5782-34)
24 Nissan 5782/April 25, 2022
"The Helpful Prisoner"
Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, one of the greatest students of the Maggdid of Mezritch,
had not the slightest idea what crime he could have committed that caused the
authorities to arrest him as a lowly criminal. He was extensively interrogated,
Connection: Next Monday, 1 IYAR (Rosh Chodesh) is the yahrzeit of
Story in PDF
format for more convenient printing
It was early morning when the police knocked on his door.
In front of the stunned faces of his family the officers arrested him and put
him in handcuffs. Before he could open his mouth he was taken to the police station,
where he soon found himself in a holding cell, already occupied by criminals.
Menachem-Mendel of Horodok/Vitebsk, one of the greatest students of the Maggdid
of Mezritch, had not the slightest idea what crime he could have committed
that caused the authorities to arrest him as a lowly criminal. Yet, he was extensively
interrogated and accused of serious misconduct.
Slowly the situation was
clarified somewhat: someone had invented a false accusation against him and made
him out to be a powerful criminal.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel tried to convince
the interrogators of their mistake. He told them that all the accusations directed
at him were nothing more than slander and lies, that there was no connection between
them and reality.
His explanations fell on deaf ears. The interrogators
wouldn't budge from their position and pressured him to admit to the grave accusations.
When he refused he was thrown back into the crowded cell.
There, on the
hard board, surrounded by coarse thugs, Rabbi Menachem Mendel considered his situation.
He withdrew within himself and began a self-examination to try and discover the
spiritual reason that would explain why he had been thrust in this untenable situation.
it was time for prayer he went to a corner, faced the wall, closed his eyes and
concentrated deeply on his prayer, ignoring the noise around him and immersing
himself in the words, in which he found support and consolation.
around after finishing his prayers he noticed one of the other prisoners watching
him attentively. At first he ignored the man, but the next time he prayed he noticed
that the other man again watched him carefully. The prisoner didn't take his eyes
of him, from the beginning of his prayer till the end.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel
studied the man who looked like any other gentile just like all the rest of the
prisoners. Soon after, the man approached him, offering him help and concerning
himself with Rabbi Menachem Mendel's well-being and comfort. It was obvious that
he was going out of his way to be of service to the holy-looking Jew.
in the following days the prisoner sought Rabbi Menachem Mendel's company. He
humbly did his utmost to be of service to Rabbi Menachem Mendel. The latter decided
to find out more about this helpful prisoner.
It became clear that the man
had been waiting for this. With tears running down his cheeks he began to tell
his life story, interrupted again and again by sobs.
He was a Jew and his
name was Nachum. Life's hardships dragged him down to crime. He sunk lower and
lower till he became a burglar. He would break into houses at nights and steal
everything he could lay his hands on. For a long time he lived this way, always
afraid and every night taking great risks.
And then one day he was caught
and thrown into jail. None of his Jewish brothers came to his assistance. Quite
the opposite, those Jews who knew who he was were secretly glad that they finally
got rid of the damage he caused them. So Nachum found himself alone and deserted
in his distress.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel listened with great attention to
"All of a sudden you arrived, standing there, praying",
continued Nachum, "the sight of which touched my heart and started to melt
the indifference to my Jewishness that has surrounded me for so many years. For
the first time in my life I felt true regret for my evil behavior. Please, help
me find a way of teshuva (return) and atone for my sins."
At that moment
a thought crossed Rabbi Menachem Mendel's mind: here, in front of him, was the
reason why he was incarcerated for a crime he had not committed. A Jewish man,
whose soul is crying out in misery for help, and hoping to be rescued from the
pit in which she is trapped.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel decided to dedicate himself
entirely to help Nachum. He started teaching him Torah and Fear of Heaven, and
guiding him how to repent and to reject his bad tendencies and to attain to a
correct way of living.
Nachum proved to be a serious and devoted student.
He accepted upon himself all the instruction Rabbi Menachem Mendel gave him. He
stopped eating non-kosher food, put on tefilin every morning and his awe of G-d
increased daily until he succeeded in transforming himself to be a genuine observant
"You should know," said his special personal Rabbi, "that
we are still at the beginning of the way. Now G-d will help; we will be released
from imprisonment, and then we will travel together to the Rebbe, the Maggid of
Mezritch, and he will show you a complete way of return."
was still talking to Nachum, the commander of the jail entered to inform Rabbi
Menachem Mendel that he is released. The accusations against him were investigated
and proved to be groundless. The interrogators came to the decision that he was
To the amazement of the officer the prisoner said with finality:
"I am not leaving here unless my friend Nachum is released as well!"
commander thought that he hadn't heard correctly. Never had he came across or
even heard of a prisoner who refused to be released! Looking at Nachum he said:
"This prisoner hasn't completed his sentence; he cannot be released."
Menachem Mendel did not give in. He demanded to speak to the regional judge. When
that was arranged, the rabbi promised him that he would take Nachum under his
suprvision and see to it that he will not steal any more or harm anyone.
judge was impressed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel's personality and gave instructions
to release Nachum immediately.
When they arrived at the house of the Maggid
of Mezritch, even before they entered, the Maggid said to those surrounding him:
"For this soul I have waited." Indeed, Nachum changed his way of life
entirely and became a faithful student of the Maggid.
Translated by C. R. Benami, long-time editorial assistant for www.AscentOfSafed.com,
from the rendition in the popular Israeli weekly, Sichat HaShavua (#1728) based
on Beit Tzadikim Ya'amod," page 3. Edited and supplemented by R. Yerachmiel
Mendel of Vitebsk/Horodok [of blessed memory: 5490 - 1 Iyar 5548 (1730 - May
1788.)] was an elder disciple of the Maggid of Mizritch and one of the
earliest Chasidic rebbes. He led the first modern aliyah to Israel, in 5537 (1777
C.E.), where he and three hundred Chasidim and others settled in Tzefat (Safed).
After a few years most of the group moved to Tiberias, where he is buried in the
"Students of the Baal Shem Tov" section of the Old Cemetery. His works
include Pri HaAretz and Likutei Amarim.
Dov Ber [of blessed memory: c.5460 - 19 Kislev 5533 (c.1700- Dec. 1772)],
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
Connection: Sunday night-Monday,
1 Iyar, is the yahrzeit of R. Menachem Mendel.
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.
To receive the Story by
e-mail every Wednesday--sign
of the Full Moon"
the Full Moon" vol 2 - holiday stories)
now available for purchase
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
1 of Yerachmiel Tilles's 3-volume set, "Saturday
Night, Full Moon",
also available for purchase on
back to Top back
to this year's Story Index Stories
home page Stories Archives