"Don't Be Surprised"


Rosh Chodesh Sivan is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Aharon Yechiel Leifer, the Nadvorner-Bania Rebbe of Zefat.


Shortly before Passover in 1995, when Dr. Riphael Rosen married his wife, Adina, an old friend of his from the States attended his wedding. Noach Bittelman was also a medical practitioner, an acupuncturist, who was visiting Israel at the time. When he first came he didn't know about his friend's wplans, but when he found out, he was happy to participate in the celebration.

At the wedding, Noach had the opportunity to meet Rabbi A. Y. Leifer, the Nadvorna-Bania Rebbe of Tsfat. He was very impressed, but regretted not being able to communicate with him, as he spoke neither Hebrew or Yiddish (or Romanian or Hungarian -yt). It was Rabbi Leifer who had influenced Rosen fifteen years earlier to leave his medical practice in Oklahoma and make aliyah.

Noach stayed on in Zefat for a few days after the wedding, and went together with Riphael to Rebbe Leifer's shul for the last Shabbat before Passover, called Shabbat HaGadol. Rebbe Leifer gave Noach the great honor of being called to the Torah for the Kohein aliyah.

After the conclusion of the prayers, Riphael and Noach stayed on for the Kiddush reception, which of course featured Rebbetzen Leifer's world-famous cholent. The Rebbe made kiddush and passed the cup to Noach, who took a sip. He later reported to Riphael that he had immediately felt a spinning sensation in the area where the third eye is supposed to be.

Rebbe Leifer began asking Noach some questions about his plans, if he was married, where he lived, what his travel plans were. Riphael translated his answers from English to Hebrew.

Rebbe Leifer then proceeded to give Noach three blessings--that he should stay in Israel for Pesach, that he should get married, and that he should live in Zefat. Noach protested that he needed to be back in the States to spend the Pesach Seder with his family, and already had plans to fly back before Pesach.

To his surprise, Riphael refused to translate his protests, saying that either Noach would heed the Rebbe's advice or not, as he chose, but by no means would he help him to oppose the Rebbe's words.

The Rebbe somehow understood anyway. He smiled and said he couldn't argue with that type of a mitzva.

"Man proposes, G-d disposes,"(1) as they say. Just a day or two before his scheduled departure, while in Jerusalem, Noach became engaged to Tamar, z'l, whom he had first met back in California. Since Noach had just gotten engaged and his kallah was going to be in Israel for Pesach, Noach didn't feel right about leaving right away and being separated from his kallah on the holiday. So he delayed his trip, stayed through the Seder nights,(2) and then flew back to the States to be with his family for the rest of the festival.

Some months later Noach and Tamar were married in northern California, and decided to spend the first year of their marriage in Israel. Shortly after they were married, they moved to Israel and tried to find a place to live in Jerusalem, but each time they thought they had found an appropriate place, something happened to cancel the rental.

This happened again and again, so after a month of frustration they decided to take a few days off from house hunting and go to Zefat in order to take off the pressure and consider their next move. But then, all the doors opened for them while they were in Zefat, and they realized that this was where they were supposed to be. They soon rented a place and ended up living in Zefat!

The following Shabbat HaGadol, Noach went to speak to Rabbi Leifer again. By this time he was able to manage in Hebrew by himself. He related to the Rebbe the story of all that had transpired over the course of the year, and expressed his amazement and delight at the series of seeming coincidences that had so quickly and dramatically altered his life, fulfilling the exact details of the Rebbe's three blessings.

"But you had a blessing," Rabbi Leifer responded offhandedly. "Why are you so surprised? Why should a blessing take long to manifest?"


(1) Compare with Proverbs 19:21. See also Psalms 33:10-11.

(2) They celebrated two Seders since they were both just visiting Israel at the time.

Source: Composed by Yerachmiel Tilles after the 1st yahrzeit of Rebbe Leifer in 2001, when his friend Riphael Rosen told him this story, and revised in honor of the 20th yahrzeit with much help from both Rosen and Noach Bittelman.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Aharon Yechiel Leifer, the Nadvorna-Bania Rebbe of Tsfat [born ? - 1 Sivan, 2000], was born in Bania, Rumania, a descendent of the famous Galitzean dynasty of Nodvorna rebbes. He moved to Israel shortly after the war of Liberation in 1948. Previously he had lost an entire family in the Holocaust, but had married his deceased wife's sister and started a whole new family. Legendary in Zefat for his hospitality and kindness to those in need, his home and shul were a center for Jews of all brands for fifty-two years. Beloved equally by Chassidim, Sephardim and Ashkenazism, by Europeans, Israelis and Americans, his death a little before (or after!) the age of ninety marked the end of an era in Zefat.

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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