It was the first night of Chanukah. Outside
a snowstorm raged, but inside it was tranquil and warm. The Rebbe
Reb Boruch of Mezhibuz, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, stood
in front of the menorah, surrounded by a crowd of his chassidim.
He recited the blessing with great devotion, lit the single mitzvah
candle, set the shamus candle in its designated place, and
began to sing "HaNairos Halalu." His face radiated
holiness and joy; the awed chassidim stared intently at him.
The flame of the candle was burning strongly. Rebbe and chassidim
sat nearby and sang "Maoz Tsur" and other Chanukah
songs. All of a sudden, the candle began to flicker and leap wildly,
even though there wasn't the slightest breeze in the house. It was
as if it were dancing. Or struggling. And then, it disappeared!
It didn't blow out-there was no smoke - it just was not there anymore.
It was as if it flew off somewhere else. The Rebbe himself seemed
lost in thought. His attendant went over to re-light the wick, but
the Rebbe waved him off.
He motioned to the chassidim to continue singing. Several times,
between tunes, The Rebbe spoke inspiring words of Torah. The evening
passed delightfully, and the chassidim present had all but forgotten
the disappearing Chanukah candle.
It was nearly midnight when the harsh screech of carriage wheels
grating on the snow and ice exploded the tranquility. The door burst
open and in came a chassid who hailed from a distant village. His
appearance was shocking. His clothes were ripped and filthy, and his
face was puffy and bleeding. And yet, in stark contrast to his physical
state, his eyes were sparkling and his features shone with great joy.
He sat down at the table, and with all eyes upon him, began to speak
excitedly. "This isn't the first time I came to Mezhibuz by the
forest route, and I know the way very well. But there was a terrible
snow storm this week, which greatly slowed my progress. I began to
worry that I wouldn't get here to be with the Rebbe for the first
night of Chanukah. The thought disturbed me so much, I decided not
to wait out the storm, but to plod ahead and travel day and night,
in the hope that I could reach my destination on time.
"That was a foolish idea, I must admit, but I didn't realize
that until too late. Last night, I ran into a gang of bandits, who
were quite pleased to encounter me. They figured if I was out in this
weather, at night, alone, I must be a wealthy merchant whose business
could not brook delay. They demanded I surrender to them all of my
"I endeavored to explain, I pleaded with them, but they absolutely
refused to believe I had no money. They seized the reins of my horses,
and leapt on my wagon. They sat themselves on either side of me to
keep me under close surveillance, and then drove me and my wagon off
to meet their chief to decide my fate.
"While they waited for their leader to arrive, they questioned
and cross-examined me in great detail, searched me and the wagon,
and beat me, trying to elicit the secret of where I had hidden my
money. I had nothing to tell them except the truth, and that they
weren't prepared to accept.
"After hours of this torture, they bound me and threw me, injured
and exhausted, into a dark cellar. I was bleeding from the wounds
they inflicted, and my whole body ached in pain. I lay there until
the evening, when the gang leader came to speak with me.
"I tried to the best of my ability to describe to him the great
joy of being in the Rebbe's presence, and how it was so important
to me to get to the Rebbe by the start of the holiday that it was
worth it to endanger myself by traveling at night.
"It seems that my words made an impression in him, or else he
was persuaded by my adamancy even under torture. But whichever it
was, thank G-d he released me from the handcuffs, saying:
" 'I sense that your faith in G-d is strong and your longing
to be with your Rebbe is genuine and intense. Now we shall see if
this is the truth. I shall let you go, but you should know that the
way is extremely dangerous. Even the most rugged people never venture
into the heart of the forest alone, only in groups, and especially
not in a storm and at night. You can leave and try your luck. And
I am telling you, if you get through the forest and the other terrible
conditions safely, unharmed by the ferocious wild beasts or anything
else, then I will break up my gang and reform my ways.
" 'If you actually reach the outskirts of the city, then throw
your handkerchief into the ditch next to the road, behind the signpost
there. One of my men will be waiting, and that is how I will know
that you made it.'
"I then became terrified all over again. The hardships I had
already endured were seared into my soul, and now even more frightening
nightmares awaited me. But when I thought about how wonderful it is
to be with the Rebbe at the menorah lighting, I shook off all
my apprehensions and resolved not to delay another moment. My horse
was returned to me and I set off on my way.
"There was total darkness all around. I could hear the cries
of the forest animals, and they sounded close. I feared that I was
surrounded by a pack of vicious wolves.
"I crouched down over my horse's neck and spurred him on. He
refused to move in the pitch blackness. I lashed him. He didn't budge.
"I had no idea what to do. At that moment, a small light flickered
in front of the carriage. The horse stepped eagerly towards it. The
light advanced. The horse followed. All along the way, the wild animals
fled from us, as if the tiny dancing flame was driving them away.
"We followed that flame all the way here. I kept my end of the
bargain and threw my handkerchief at the designated place. Who knows?
Perhaps those cruel bandits will change their ways, all in the merit
of that little light."
It was only then that the chassidim noticed the Rebbe's Chanukah
candle had returned! There it was, burning in the elaborate menorah,
its flame as strongly and pure as if it had just been lit.
With the conclusion of their comrade's story, the chassidim were
finally able to understand the mysterious disappearance of the Chanukah
light of the Rebbe Reb Boruch.
[Translated and retold by Yrachmiel Tilles from Sichos HaShavuah
#53 (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine).
Rabbi Boruch [1753 - 18 Kislev, 1811] of Mezhibuz, the town of
the Baal Shem Tov, was the son of R. Yechiel Ashkenazi and Adel, the
daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. He was one of the pre-eminent Rebbes
in the generation of the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch and had
thousands of Chassidim.