Weekly Chasidic Story #1031 (s5777-50/ 20 Elul 5777)

"Time for You to Change"

At that time, the town of Lubavitch happened to be under the jurisdiction of a particularly savage 'Poritz' (Baron)

Connections: 1) Weekly Reading-Tshuvah; 2) Seasonal-End of Elul month: Tshuvah; 3) Seasonal-Erev Rosh Hashana (next week) marks 228 years since the birth of the Tzemach Tzedek.

"Time for You to Change"

In the days of the third Rebbe of Chabad, the Tzemach Tzedek, the lands in Russia were controlled by the 'nobility'.

The town of Lubavitch happened to be under the jurisdiction of a particularly savage one; a 'Poritz' (Baron) that from time to time revealed a sadistic pleasure for issuing cruel decrees on 'his' serfs… especially the Jewish ones.

The decrees would come like lighting on a clear day sometimes because he needed money, sometimes from boredom, but most often from pure meanness.

All of his serfs, Jew and gentile alike, hated and feared him and secretly hoped that he die and leave them alone permanently (although the other Nobles weren't much better). But to even dream that he have a change of heart and treat them more kindly was unthinkable.

Once it so happened that the Poritz came out with a new decree that was so severe that the gentiles went to the Chabad chasidim in the Poritz's domain and asked them to request their leader to do something to help.

But Just as the chasidim were preparing a delegation to visit the Rebbe, one of the Rebbe's most faithful followers received a message from the Rebbe to come see him immediately.

The chasid entered the Rebbe's room and stood in awe before him waiting for the Rebbe to speak.

"Go to the Poritz and tell him, in my name, 'It's time you changed!'"

The chasid looked with disbelief at the Rebbe. Suddenly he felt faint. It was difficult for him to breathe, his knees began knocking and he felt dizzy.

Perhaps he had heard incorrectly. But no. It was no mistake. Just the thought of the Poritz was overwhelming. The man was simply not human! To actually visit him would be suicide!

"But Rebbe! How can …? There are guards…with dogs!…at the castle door. I'll be killed before I can say a….!"

He stopped. He knew that the Rebbe never made a mistake.

"Don't worry," The Tzemach Tzedek continued, "I will teach you a special holy 'Name' (a Kabbalistic word) that will protect you from all evil. You have absolutely nothing to worry about."

The Rebbe taught the chasid how to pronounce this word and what to think when he said it. Finally, when he was sure that the chasid understood and would remember, he told him to set off as soon as possible.

The Chassid returned home (for what he hoped would not be the last time) told his wife he would be gone for a day or so, kissed his children and set off in the direction of the Poritz's castle.

After an hour he began to see the huge building looming in the distance through the forest trees and mist. A cold fear filled his soul. He tried to muster up courage but he just couldn't. So he pictured the Rebbe's face and although he was still frightened, he continued walking.

Suddenly he got a glimpse of the guards with their dogs. Thank G-d they were far away and he was downwind, so the dogs didn't smell him. He stepped behind a tree, peeked out, composed his thoughts and said the 'name' the Rebbe taught him.

They came closer and closer, the dogs sniffing the ground before them. But they passed some fifty yards away and didn't notice him at all.

Nevertheless, he wasn't taking any chances. He waited till they were sufficiently distant and again proceeded to the castle, trying to be as quiet and quick as possible, repeating the name over and over as he went. When he reached the steps before the massive castle door he said it with even more fervor.

Standing there at attention were two huge guards armed with spears and swords, each with a jumbo fierce dog at his side.

But strangely, the guards suddenly turned to one another and began a lively conversation, while the dogs just lay there panting as though they sensed nothing.

The chasid stepped gingerly by them, pushed the door open and entered. There sitting on a plush chair, drinking a glass of vodka with a smoking cigar dangling from his fingertips and one foot on the table, sat the dreaded Poritz.

He turned toward the door to see who entered.

"What the…? Who are you? You, Jew! How did you get into my castle?" He screamed with fury and disbelief as he rose to his feet and put his hand on the handle of his gun in his belt. But the chasid, having become accustomed to miracles, calmly straightened himself and said,

"My Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch, sent me. He told me to tell you that…."

He cleared his throat and spoke slowly and clearly, "It is time for you to change!"

It was as though someone threw a bucket of cold water on the Poritz. He took one step back and his body shook as though awakened from a dream.

He lowered his head for an instant, then looked up directly into the eyes of the Chassid and said ….. "Yes".

The chasid, realizing his mission was complete, turned on his heels, and being careful to saying the 'name' the Rebbe had given him, walked quietly out the door past the guards and exited the Castle grounds.

Interestingly, the instant he didn't need the name, it simply slipped out of his mind. No matter how he tried he could not remember even one letter of it!

Several months later, a rumor spread that the Poritz went on a hunting excursion alone and his horse returned a few days later without him. A search was made with no results. All trace of him had been lost as though the ground had swallowed him up.

But the chasid knew that it must have been because of the Rebbe's message to him. Probably a partial punishment for the suffering he had caused to others.

Months afterward, a disheveled, long-haired beggar appeared in the town of Lubavitch, chose a seat in the main shul, opened a book of Psalms and didn't leave.

Someone got the idea of asking him if perhaps he knew the Poritz and what happened to him. The beggar answered that in fact he did know, and then revealed that he was none other than the evil Poritz himself! He told his story:

He had been born into a Jewish family but somewhere down the line had fallen into the hands of the Church, and once in their clutches he not only changed his religion but transformed into a sworn anti-Semite. In time he rose in power and riches until he was virtually a king.

But when he heard the message the chasid gave him it somehow awakened his Jewish soul and he changed totally, like a man awakening from a dream.

When the elder Chassidim saw what happened they discussed it with the other followers of the Rebbe and decided to appeared as a group before the Rebbe and demand that he do the same miracle for them.

"If the Rebbe has the ability to completely change the stone-heart of someone such as the Poritz, then please do the same with us. Open our hearts as well so we can have true love and fear of the Creator!"

The Rebbe smiled. "When a shepherd tends his flocks he can't personally run after every animal that strays a bit. That would deplete all his energy. Rather he whistles and throws small stones or sends his dogs so they will return on their own. But if occasionally one sheep happens to fall into a deep pit then the shepherd has no other choice than to do the job himself. That is why I did what I did with the Poritz.'

Source: Adapted and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on //ohrtmimim.org/torah (submitted by Daniel Keren).

Biographical note:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [of blessed memory: 29 Elul 5549 - 13 Nissan 5626 (Sept. 1789 - April 1866)], the third Rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tzemach Tzedek, after his books of Jewish Law responsa and Talmudic commentary called by that name. He was renowned not only as a Rebbe, but also as a leading scholar in his generation in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah. (Photo from chabad.org)
1) Weekly Reading-Tshuvah
2) Seasonal-End of Elul month: Tshuvah
3) Seasonal-Erev Rosh Hashana (next week) marks 151 hundred years since the birth of the Tzemach Tzedek.


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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