Napoleon's Red Velvet Robe
When Napoleon heard about the saintlliness and powers of prophetic vision of Rabbi Dovid of Lelov, he decided to visit him.
Connection: Weekly Reading - special high garments
Napoleon's Red Velvet Robe
He covered up his royal garments with a soldier's winter overcoat, and thus disguised as a plain soldier, he entered the humble abode of the Lelover rebbe.
"What can I do for you?" asked the rebbe.
Napoleon unbuttoned his soldier's coat and revealed his kingly robe. "I am Napoleon Bonaparte," he declared. "They say that you can see into the future. What is my future? Will I succeed in conquering Russia?"
"What if my answer displeased Your Majesty - will I be punished?" Reb Dovid first had to be reassured.
"You have my word that I shall not punish you, no matter what you say," the emperor promised.
"Then I don't have good news. You will suffer total defeat," replied the Lelover rebbe.
The emperor's face burned red with rage. Clenching his first tightly, he hissed, "Rabbi, if you turn out to be wrong, you'll be in deep trouble."
Napoleon and his armies continued on toward the heart of Russia - the capital city of Moscow. They won one victory after another. They captured Moscow. But when they turned back toward France, they found that the Russian winter had set in. The soldiers suffered from lack of food and from the bitter cold. Their morale was low. Now when the Russian soldiers attacked them, Napoleon's troops were too weak and dispirited to fight back. They were forced to retreat. Subsequently they were attacked by the armies of Austria and Prussia.
Napoleon was forced to run for his life. The once glorious monarch fled from one city to the next. Soon he neared the town of Lelov. He remembered the rebbe and what he had foreseen. "That rabbi - he turned out to be a holy man after all," Napoleon mused. "I must stop by and concede to him that he had seen accurately." He found Rabbi Dovid Lelover's house.
"Rabbi," he admitted, "you were right after all. I would like to leave you my royal velvet mantle to remember me by."
Reb Dovid thanked Napoleon for his gracious gift and the monarch continued his flight. Eventually his enemies caught him, captured him, and sent him into exile.
The Lelover kept the cloak. It was a rich, soft, bright red velvet cloak -altogether magnificent. Reb Dovid was not interested in beautiful garments and material possessions. He treasured the mantle because it represented something else to him: the fact that the Gentile nations of the world and their monarchs recognize that the Jews are a G-dly nation. To him it meant that the following verse had come true: "And all the nations of the world will see that G-d's name is upon you and they shall fear you" [Deut. 28:10].
When Rabbi Dovid passed away, the mantle was inherited by his son and successor, Moshe. Rabbi Moshe Lelover took the royal mantle with him when he and his chasidim moved to Israel. There he built a synagogue and yeshiva. For the curtain on the holy ark, Reb Moshe had Napoleon's majestic cloak cut and sewn to fit on the Aron Kodesh.
Connection: Weekly Reading - The Holy Ark and its coverings.
Rabbi Moshe Biederman of Lelov [? - 13 Tevet 1851] was the son of R. David of Lelov and the son-in-law of "the Holy Yid" of Pshischah. He declined to officially succeed his father as rebbe, considering himself unworthy of the position. He moved to Israel in 1851, where he helped to strengthen the Chassidic community in Jerusalem, although he passed away soon after his arrival. He is buried on the Mount of Olives, near the prophet Zacharia.
To receive the Story by e-mail every Wednesday--sign up here!
A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.
back to Top back
to this year's Story Index Stories
home page Stories Archives
Ascent of Safed | 2 Ha-Ari Street P.O. Box 296 | Safed 13102, Israel | Phone 04.692.1364 | Fax 04.692.1942 | firstname.lastname@example.org