Weekly Chasidic Story #743 (s5772-22 / 28 Shvat 5772)

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

Napoleon Bonaparte and his French armies began their invasion of Russia. Napoleon had dreams of conquering the vast Russian army. On the way, he passed through the town of Lelov, where lived the renowned Rabbi Dovid of Lelov. When the monarch heard about the saintly man and his powers of prophetic vision, he decided to visit him. "Let's see what he will tell me about whether or not I shall succeed in my campaign," he thought.

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.


: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "Why the Baal Shem Tov Laughed" by Sterna Citron [Aronson].

Connection: Weekly Reading - The Holy Ark and its coverings.

Biographical note:
Rabbi David Biederman of Lelov (1746 - 7 Shvat 1814) was a close follower of the "Seer" of Lublin. He was known for his extraordinary compassion for, and inability to see faults in, his fellow Jews. His main disciple was Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki, whose son, Yaakov David, was the first Amshinov Rebbe. Two printed collections of stories about him are Migdal David and Kodesh Halulim.

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.


Yerachmiel 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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