Weekly Chasidic Story #1008 (s5777-26 / 29 Adar 5777)

The Rabbi with the Extra-Large Salary

His mother (grandmother of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua of Apt) said, 'A rare mitzva has come your way. You should not accept any money for your role in its fulfillment.'

Connection: Seasonal--the 192nd yahrzeit of the Apta Rebbe

The Rabbi with the Extra-Large Salary

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel
served as a Rav (qualified authority in Jewish law) as well as chasidic Rebbe, and in 5560 [1800], he accepted the position of Rav in the city of Apta, one of the oldest and most important Jewish communities in Poland. In honor of their new Rav, the venerable shul in the city changed its nusach [order and slight textual distinctions of prayer] from Ashkenaz to Sfarad. It was in Apta that thousands of people began to flock to him for blessings, and he soon became famous as a miracle worker, in addition to being a posek [Halachic decisor].

For nine years, he served as Rav in Apta, and then to the astonishment and consternation of its townspeople, he accepted the position of Rav in the distant town of Yassy, Romania. The people of Apta had formed a close and strong bond with their Rav, and he too had a special affection for them. He promised the residents that he would always be referred to as the ''Apta Rav'' and for the rest of his life, when he signed his name, he added, "of Apta." To this day, the Jews of Apta have the eternal merit that the name of this great tzadik is forever linked with their town.

Why did he leave? According to the Munkatcher Rebbe, author of Darkei Teshuva, when the Apta Rav agreed to take the position in Apta, he insisted on a large salary. When he left, he told them the following story:

"My father, Reb Shmuel, was a poor melamed [teacher-tutor] in a small town. His older brother, a very wealthy man, lived in Apta. Due to various calamities, my father and his brother had been separated from each other when they were eight and ten years old, and had no knowledge of each other's whereabouts. My uncle died childless, and left his young widow with very little information about his brother. Being childless, she was required to get chalitza [ceremony demonstrating the brother-in-law's refusal to marry the widow] from this unknown brother - but how was she to find him?

"The Rav of Apta at that time suggested that she send the letters to all the major rabbis in all the neighboring countries, telling them that there was a widow in Apta searching for so-and-so to give her chalitza. She should also announce that when the brother comes and fulfills his obligation, she would give him half of what she inherited from her husband.

"She followed his suggestion, and one such letter arrived at the town where my father lived. The Rav called him in and said, 'I know you don't have money to make the trip to Apta, but seeing that you stand to return home a very wealthy man, I will lend you the money for the trip. Pay me back when you return.'

"My father went home, and told my mother the story. She said, 'A great mitzvah has come your way. This is one mitzvah that most people never get a chance to fulfill, and indeed, no one wishes for such an opportunity. Now that you have the chance to do this singular mitzvah, you should do it for its own sake, and not for the sake of the money involved. In fact, you should not accept any money for it.'

"My father agreed, but my mother wasn't satisfied. 'The desire for money is very powerful. You may agree with me now, but when you are faced with that huge sum of money, who knows if you will be able to overcome this desire? Therefore, lift up my Korban Mincha prayer-book, and promise that you will not take even a single penny.'

"He then returned to the Rav and told him that he did not want to borrow the money from him. 'Who says I'm the real person?' he explained. 'Perhaps I only seem to match the description, so how will I be able to repay you? I will go there by foot and see what happens.'

"My father took his bag and walking stick and set out for Apta. He came to the Rav of Apta, and it turned out that he was the person they had sought. When the chalitza was completed, the woman insisted that my father take half of his brother's inheritance, but my father insisted on keeping the promise he had made to my mother and steadfastly refused to take any money.

"The widow insisted that she had no wish to keep this money, and if he would not accept it, it should remain in the community's possession.

"My parents actions caused a great tumult in Heaven. It was decided to reward them; and so, although my parents were very old, they were blessed with a son. I am that son," concluded the Rebbe. "Now you know why I consented to come here and be the Rav, but only for a large salary. I was only taking back the money that had been due my father, but was left in the hands of the community. Now that I have received the full amount, I can leave here and go to Yassy." *

For four years, the Apta Rav served as Rav and Rebbe in Yassy. Then, on 18 Kislev 5572 [1811], the Rebbe Reb Baruch of Medzibuzh passed away. The Jews of Medzibuzh had become accustomed to having a venerable tzadik in their midst. Only half a century earlier, the Baal Shem Tov had resided there. For the past twelve years, it had been his grandson, the Rebbe Reb Baruch, and for the twelve years before that his older brother, Rebbe Moshe-Chaim-Efraim of Sudylkov, the author of Degel Machaneh Efraim, had served as their Rebbe.
The community decided to invite the Apta Rav to relocate to Medzibuzh, and in 5573, he left Romania and became Rebbe in the city of the Baal Shem Tov.

Two years later his close friends, the other three main "inheritors" of the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhinsk: the Chozeh of Lublin, the Kozhnitzer Maggid and Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Riminov, all passed away within months of each other [see story #303** in this series]. The Apta Rav was then considered the oldest chasidic rebbe of the generation. All major decisions were sent to him for arbitration, and his word was accepted throughout Eastern Europe and even as far away as Eretz Yisrael.

Like the two previous tzadikim who lived in Medzibuzh, the Rebbe Reb Baruch and the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, the Apta Rav lived and served there for twelve years and then passed away. Shortly before his final days, he bade farewell to the table at which he had studied, the bookcase full of holy books, and to the mezuza on the doorpost. He returned to his bed and began to say [the first line of a hymn recited in the Shabbat morning prayers], "Ha'aderes vha'emuna, l'Chai Olamim" - Strength and faithfulness are His, who lives Eternally," and it was with these words that he departed this world.
* Original author's note:
A different Chasidic rebbe gave a second explanation. According to Rebbe Yissachar Dov of Belz, the Apta Rav heard a voice from Heaven proclaiming that Rabbi Meir ben Shmuel, the author of Ohr LaShamayim, was to become the Rav of Apta. Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel realized that since the town could only have one Rav, it meant that either he would move to another town, or pass away from this world. It was then that he decided to move to Yassy. Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Meir became the Rav in Apta.

** Editor's note:
Subsequently revised and expanded significantly and published in my Festivals of the Full Moon (Koren Publ.).

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from //heichalhanegina.blogspot.co.il, as excerpted and adapted there by "Dorfy" from an article written by Shia Ellen in a March 2007 edition of the English HaModia magazine.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel [of blessed memory: 5515 - 5 Nissan 5585 (1755 -March 1825 C.E.)], the Apta Rebbe, was a main disciple of the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhinsk. He is also often referred to as "the Ohev Yisrael," both after the title of the famous book of his teachings, and also because its meaning ("Lover of Jews") fits him so aptly. The Kapishnitzer Chasidic dynasty descends from him.

Connection: Seasonal-the 192nd yahrzeit of the Apta Rebbe, this Shabbat.


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.

To receive the Story by e-mail every Wednesday--sign up here!

"Festivals of the Full Moon"
(Under the Full Moon" vol 2 - holiday stories)
is now available for purchase from ASCENT
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Book 1 of Yerachmiel Tilles's 3-volume set, "Saturday Night, Full Moon",
is also available for
purchase on our KabbalaOnline-shop site.

Important notice: Due to a change in publishers, both books will no longer be available online or in stores
until November --


back to Top   back to this year's Story Index   Stories home page   Stories Archives
Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION