#437 The Winning Interpretation

Rabbi Mordechai of Nadvorna asked him to convey his regards and a few words to Rabbi Zvi Hirsch of Liska.



The Winning Interpretation

"One Friday," recalled Rabbi Zvi Hirsch of Liska, "the famous rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai of Nadvorna arrived in a certain town in order to spend Shabbat there. Since one of the townsmen was about to leave to be my guest here, the Nadvorner asked him to convey his regards, and to repeat to me the following thought.

"In introducing the laws of Pesach in his Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Caro writes: 'Thirty days before Pesach one begins to discuss and expound the laws of the festival.' Commenting on this statement, Rabbi Moshe Iserles (known as Rama) appends the following: 'And it is customary to buy wheat for distribution to the needy for Pesach.' Now this is problematic. Of what relevance is this comment? For we all know that it is not in the style of this sage to introduce a concept that is unconnected with the preceding words; and this case is all the more surprising since he prefaces his comment with the word and, as if to point out just such a connection. Here, then, is what Rama is telling us: 'I really don't care all that much whether you do expound and sermonize or whether you don't expound and sermonize -- so long as you buy wheat for distribution to the needy…' "

Rabbi Zvi Hirsch of Liska resumed his story: "As soon as my guest relayed to me the words of Reb Mordechai, I realized that he must be possessed of divine inspiration, because when sermonizing every year on the Shabbat before Pesach I used to come up against this seeming incongruity in the comment of Rama -- and along he comes and sends me the solution!

"Now just before Shabbat HaGadol that year a poor woman came to me in tatters, weeping bitterly because she still had no matzah. The words of the tzadik of Nadvorna immediately came to mind. The trouble was that everyone was busy with their final preparations for the festival. So I sent off my sons-in-law and my daughters, and I joined in too, and we started baking matzot for that unfortunate woman. Now do you think that any of the local householders who saw us on our way just stood by and did nothing? Not at all! They left off whatever they were doing and joined energetically -- and to my delight we baked her a fine batch of matzot within just half an hour."

[Selected and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by our esteemed colleague Uri Kaploun from Sipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.]

Biographical note:
Rebbe Tzvi-Hirsch (Friedman) of Liska [?-14 Av 1874], was the son of the hidden tzadik, R. Aaron of Ujhely and the disciple of R. Moshe Teitelbaum of Ujhely. He also attended R. Yisrael of Ruzhin, R. Meir of Premishlan, and R. Shalom of Belz. His halachic opinions are often cited in the responsa of his contemporaries. His works on Chassidic thought include Ach Pri Tevuah and HaYashar VehaTov.

Rebbe Mordechai of Nadvorna [?-15 Tishrei 1895], the great grandson of Rabbi Meir "The Great" of Premishlan, was orphaned early and raised by his uncle, the famous Rebbe, Meir of Premishlan. Chasidim from all over Rumania and Hungary visited to receive his blessings. An extraordinarily large number of his descendents became Chassidic leaders and Rebbes, including dozens in the world today. His teachings are collected in Gedulas Mordechai.

Editor's note:
One descendant of R. Mordechai was the beloved Nadvorna Rebbe of Tsfat, Rabbi Aharon Yechiel Leifer, of blessed memory, who passed away on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 2000.

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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