Weekly Chasidic Story #1315 (5783-22) 29 Shvat 5783 (Feb.20, 2023)

"Carrying a Beard"

The main synagogue of Gur in Jerusalem was packed wall to wall, but they determinedly pushed themselves through the surging crowd, trying to get as close as possible to the Rebbe, the Beis Yisroel.

Connection: The 2nd day of the Jewish month of Adar (2023: Feb. 23) is the yahrzeit of the Beis Yisroel

Story in PDF format for more convenient printing



The time for the lighting of the candles is near. The city of Jerusalem is finishing the last preparations for the Shabbat. The latecomers hurry to immerse in the mikvah (ritual bath). People are running to find time for the last tasks. Suddenly the voice of the town crier is heard.

Every Jerusalemite is familiar with the phenomenon. When the crier passes by everyone listens intently. This time he doesn't announce a death (May we not experience misfortune); instead he called out information that affected the lives of all the residents.

"An important message from the Beit Din (Rabbinical Court)," he exclaimed loudly. "The Eruv[1] of our city is pasul (faulty). The coming Shabbat it will be forbidden to carry in the city!"

It turned out that not long before Shabbat was to begin a defect was found in the Eruv which surrounds the city. There was no time before the entry of Shabbat to fix it.

The announcement immediately changed the regular patterns of behavior in the city. Those people who arranged kidushim quickly transferred all the equipment and edibles to the shul (synagogue). Seniors sent their grandchildren to shul to put their reading glasses by the place where they were accustomed to pray. Everyone carefully checked the pockets of their clothes to make sure they were completely empty, no handkerchief, folded note or box of tabak (tobacco for smelling) should be left in them.

Fathers explained what was happening to their children, although the smaller ones couldn't understand what the fuss was about.

A guest, the rabbi of an esteemed community in New York, who was visiting at the home of an acquaintance in Jerusalem, wasn't disturbed by the announcement. He was used to not carrying on Shabbat because outside of Israel many Jewish communities do not use or are unable to establish an Eruv.

He asked his host about the amazing sites that one can see in Jerusalem. His host advised him to first of all see the city at dusk, when the sun sets and Shabbat spreads her wings over the houses of the city.

After that, he suggested, the place to go is the "tish' (table) of the "Beis Yisroel", Rabbi Yisrael Alter, the fifth admor (Rebbe) of the Gurer dynasty. He promised him that whoever was present at such an occasion would never forget it.

The host came from a Chasidic family, but the changes in the world had influenced him away from a chasidic life style. He was clean shaven and wore modern clothes, although he still was a G-d fearing Jew who kept the mitzvot and the Torah.

He decided with his host that they would finish the Shabbat night meal quickly, thus enabling them to set out immediately to the Gurer beit midrash (synagogue/study hall) in the Geulah neighborhood, and find a place close to where the Rebbe sat.

After the lighting of the Shabbat candles the host and his guest walked to shul to pray Kabbalat Shabbat (the prayer greeting the Shabbat). From there they returned home to hurriedly eat the Shabbat evening meal. The host apologized that he cannot honor his guest as is usual on Shabbat, with words of Torah and songs, because they have to hasten to the beit midrash of the Beit Yisroel, so that the guest would be able to have this extraordinary experience.

Arriving at Ralbach Street they found the beit midrash crowded with people, despite its large size. It was not easy to make their way inside. They pushed themselves among the throng, trying to get to the rows closest to the Rebbe.

They didn't even consider finding a place to sit. They pushed in between the excited boys and young men and watched what was happening.

Even just standing wasn't simple. Here and there they would be shoved when more people tried to enter. They were willing though to suffer the discomfort with love as long as they could experience this special occasion.

Silence fell in the hall as the Rebbe entered. His routine was to scan those present with a penetrating glance, after which he would focus on a certain spot. Immediately a path would be formed in the midst of the crush of people through which the Rebbe would pass. Sometimes he would make a sharp remark to one of the people near where he walked.

That Shabbat evening the glance of the Rebbe went straight to the place where the two guests were standing, so the opening that formed left them standing exactly in the path of the Rebbe. The Rebbe paused close to the host and said to him directly, "Even if there is no Eruv, one is allowed to carry a beard!" (In Yiddish the word tragen, which means 'carrying,' is also the verb used for 'wearing' a beard.)

The Rebbe continued on, leaving the Jew in shock. He was trembling all over. The Rebbe doesn't know him, how does he know about his chasidic roots and the beard that he used to wear?

The Rebbe's words pierced his heart, and he accepted the rebuke with love. Nevertheless, seven years passed and he was still continuing with his same life style, including his outer appearance.

One Friday he felt a strong desire to go to the Gurer Rebbe's tish once more. He decided to go that evening.

He finished the Shabbat meal quickly and hurried to find himself a place in the hall of the beit midrash. Again he 'merited' to receive some shoves from the crowd. Like everyone else, he waited in excited anticipation for the entrance of the Rebbe.

The noise and pushing ended the instant the Rebbe entered. His penetrating eyes immediately found the clean-shaven Jew. A path opened up instantly to where the Jew was standing. Upon reaching him, the Rebbe asked, "Did I hurt your feelings?"

Seven years had gone by. Thousands of Jews had come to see him, yet the Rebbe still remembered clearly this man and worried that he might have caused him pain!

This time the Rebbe didn't continue on his way. He didn't move from there till he heard the man say, embarrassed, that he wasn't insulted at all; he had accepted the rebuke with love and appreciation.

This encounter made an even deeper impression on him than the sharp remark from seven years ago. It didn't take long for him to return to the chasidic appear-ance of his youth. A full beard again adorned his face, till the end of his days.

Source: Freely adapted and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from the excellent first-draft translation by C. R. Benami, long-time editorial assistant for www.AscentOfSafed.com, of an article in Sichat HaShavua #1779, based on the rendition in "Hamevaser"

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yisrael Alter of Ger (1894 - 2 Adar 1977), known as the Bais Yisroel, was the fourth Rebbe in the Gur dynasty. Following the death of his father in 1948, Ger grew under his leadership to be the largest chasidic group in Israel. He lost his wife, children and grandchildren in the Holocaust, and although he married a second time, had no further children. He was succeeded by his brother, Rabbi Simcha-Bunim Alter, and then his youngest brother, Rabbi Pinchas-Menachem Alter. (The son of the latter, Rabbi Yaakov Alter, is the current Rebbe.

Connection: The 2nd day of the Jewish month of Adar (2023: Feb. 23)

Footnote: [1] Which makes carrying permissible outside of one's domain.

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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