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
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 , 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 , 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
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.
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.
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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