#541 (s5768-31 / 3 Nissan 5768)
The International Funeral Procession
Before his passing, the Ohev Yisrael of Apta cried out to heaven in bitter protest over the length of the exile.
International Funeral Procession
It was in Mezhibuzh, on the night of the 5th of Nissan, 1829, that Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Herschel, the Ohev Yisrael of Apta, departed this world. On the very same night, in the holy city of Tiberias, people heard a knocking on the windows of Kollel Vohlin. The synagogue attendant inside, alone, was the one who held the keys to the gates of the cemetery. The voice from outside said: "go outside, go outside, and follow the bier (a wooden frame for carrying a corpse) of the Grand Rabbi of Apta!"
He ventured outside and was chilled by terror, for the bier was being followed by a grim retinue of myriad human forms from the Other World. One of these followers intimated to him that this was the funeral procession of the tzadik of Apta; he had died in Mezhibuzh, and angels from Above had borne his coffin here for entombment in the soil of the Holy Land.
The beadle repeated his story in the morning. Of course, people refused to believe him. But then, on the suggestion of an elderly sage, they went together to the cemetery, where they found a newly-covered grave.
Letters from Apta later confirmed that the tzadik had indeed passed away on that very day. Before his passing he had cried out to heaven in bitter protest over the length of the exile. Why was the Mashiach tarrying so long? And in his heartache he had wept and said: "Before Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev left This World he promised that he would not rest, until his insistent pleas would bring about the Messianic Redemption. But when he arrived there, the saintly souls in the Garden of Eden found spiritual delight in his company, and ascended with him to the palaces of supernal bliss - until he forgot his own promise. But I will not forget!"
When Rabbi Chaim Eleazar of Munkatsch visited the holy sites in the land of Israel in 1930, he asked about among the oldest citizens of Tiberias as to whether any of them knew where the tzadik of Apta was buried. They led him to a certain stone slab in the old cemetery which their hoary elders, who were now on the World of Truth, had shown them - the place where the Ohev Yisrael had been brought to rest. Today it is a well-known pilgrimage site of stature.
[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.]
Yerachmiel 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, and many have been translated into other languages.
A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.
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