The Mistress of the Blessings Staff
Rebbetzin Miriam-Chaya was the daughter of the well-known and popular miracle-working rebbe, Rabbi Meir of Primishlan. She lived in Shotz (Sucheava), in the Bukovina region in north-eastern Romania, having married Rabbi Yoel Moscovitz, the first Rebbe of the Shotz dynasty. She remained living there even after her husband's untimely passing in early middle age.
She was referred to as "The Mistress of the Blessings Staff".* This unusual nickname accrued to her when, before he passed away, her holy father transferred to her his silver-handled walking stick. This was understood to mean that he had also transferred to her the power bestowed upon him from Heaven to bless and to help those in need of salvation.
Indeed, it turned out to be true. The salvations and wonders that the Rebbetzin effected were substantial even in comparison to those of the more famous tzadikim [exceptionally holy Jews] and miracles workers of the generation.
Her house was constantly humming with visitors. Women and men, old and young, streamed to her door. Each of them she would bless from the depth of her heart, and with G-d's help her blessings were effective. Barren women became pregnant, the sick were healed, and success attached itself to all those who received her blessing.
Once, Rabbi Yisrael of Vizhnitz [of blessed memory: 5620 - 5697 (1860 -1936 C.E.)], a leading Rebbe in the generation, visited Shotz to spend Shabbat with his younger brother Rabbi Moshe, the Vizhnitz-Sucheava Rebbe. The brother, thrilled by the visit, acted with great respect towards him, and made great efforts to make the Shabbat as enjoyable as possible for his esteemed guest and his attendants. The Rebbe, for his part, was careful to display honor for his brother at every possible opportunity.
While there, the Vizhnitzer thought to try to discover the secret of the Shotz Rebbetzin's great spiritual power. Surely there had to be more to it than being the daughter of Rabbi Meir of Primishlan, great as he was. What other merits did she have?
He decided to visit her and ask her directly. But first he gave thought to a possible problem that might arise.
If he were to make it an "official visit," accompanied by his attendants and other escorts, it could lead his brother to think that this was the real purpose of his Shabbat in Shotz. So he waited for an opportunity when he would be left alone in his room, which happened in the middle of the day. He quietly slipped out of the house, and asked the first boy that he saw on the street with a yarmulka on his head to guide him to the house of the Rebbetzin and to remain there with him.
The elderly widow answered the knock on the door herself, and greeted the Vizhnizer with great respect and delight. She invited them inside and showed them where to sit.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, the Rebbe came right to the point. "Excuse me for perhaps being rude, but I'd like to ask you a personal question."
The Rebbetzin nodded for him to continue.
"It is known that your blessings effect miraculous salvations for people, in the manner of the great tzadikim who draw power from G-d's Torah that they study assiduously. But how did you acquire the power to perform such wonders? My aunt, for example, was an exceptionally righteous woman, and she was the daughter of a tzadik, the "Toras Chayim," but she never acquired the ability to accomplish salvations through her blessings."
The Rebbetzin responded promptly: "How did I? From Leibke the thief,"
She then sat silently without expounding on her mysterious answer. The Rebbe looked up at her in confusion. What could she possibly mean?
Finally she smiled and began to explain.
"My holy father, may his memory be for a blessing, was accustomed on the night following Rosh HaShana each year to open the window of his room and stand by it. All the Jews in the town would file by, and he would extend his hand out the window to them, and bless each one "Shana Tova' - 'a good year.'
"It so happened in that time period, when I was a young woman, that many of the Jews in Primishlan were extremely poor. Some were not able to handle the pressure of their desperate financial situations, and turned to thievery in order to put food on the table for their families. They stole only from the wealthy Jews in the community. These rich men, in turn, hired a few of the town's poor Jews as night watchmen, to protect their property.
"At least a few more Jews were able to support their families honestly," she smiled, and then continued.
"The most able of the thieves, who for an astonishingly long period was never caught, was known as "Leibke HaGonef" - "The thief Leib." Everyone knew as clear as day that he was stealing, but somehow he managed to carry out his operations with such stealth and care that he never left a clue.
"One Rosh HaShana it entered his mind that he too would like to receive a blessing for the new year from my holy father. But each time he would approach closer to the window where my father was standing, the realization became clearer that the Rebbe would refuse to bless him. How could he? A blessing might be understood by others to be a sign of approval of the 'profession' he had mastered.
"So what did Leibke do? He stood aside and bided his time until he was alone in sight of the window and no one was in the room with my father, who at that moment was not facing the window and seemed lost in thought. Then Leibka approached quietly - as only a thief can - to the window from the side in order to silently stick in his hand and touch the Rebbe's sleeve. Perhaps the tzadik would fail to identify him and would bless him too for a "Shana tova" - "a good year'.
"It didn't work. As soon as Leibke touched my father's hand, the Rebbe, without turning to see who was there, raised his voice and rebuked him: 'It is not enough that the whole year you steal the townspeople's property? Now you want to trick me and steal my blessing too?'
"Leibke's heart jumped. In the grip of fear, his first instinct was to run for his life. But then he quickly recovered his composure and responded cleverly, 'G-d forbid, Rebbe, that I would try to fool you. It is just that I want to humbly request your blessing that if it happened to be decreed in Heaven on Rosh HaShana this year that any of the residents of our town will have to suffer a loss of money to thievery, then let me be the thief that they lose it to!'
"The brilliance of this creative response brought a wide smile to the face of the tzadik, my father. He turned to fully face the resourceful thief, extended his holy hand to him and blessed him that he should have a 'Shana Tova - A good year.'
The Rebbetzin paused for a few moments and then continued. "I was in the vicinity then, although not in Leibke's range of vision, and I saw and heard the exchange. It happened quickly, but I took note of the satisfaction that Leibke's words had brought my holy father. Right then it occurred to me to seize the opportunity while the incident was still fresh in father's mind.
"I quickly approached him and said, 'I also have a request. Let it be that if there are Jews upon whom there are such decrees that they need a blessing and salvation, then bless me that their salvation should come through me!'
"Father agreed and blessed me.
Shortly before she passed away, the holy Rebbetzin requested that the staff her father had given her be buried with her, that doing so would protect the town of Shotz. Amazingly, decades later, during World War I, all the towns in that region were burned down by invading armies, with the sole exception of Shotz, which remained whole. Her inhabitants understood very well the reason.
Rebbetzin Miriam-Chaya Moscovitz was the daughter of the well-known chasidic rebbe, Rabbi Meir of Primishlan. She married Rabbi Yoel Moscovitz, who became the first Rebbe of Shotz. Her third son, named Meir after his illustrious maternal grandfather, became the second Rebbe of the dynasty. She herself was known to have the power to bless, and helped countless number of people.
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