PILLAR OF KINDNESS
A simple storekeeper named Yisrael used to
drive his wagon regularly from Polotsk to Lubavitch to see his Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch [1789-1866], the third in
the Chabad dynasty, known as the Tsemech Tsedek. Once,
he went for the Shabbat of the weekly reading, Vayera. The Rebbe delivered
a lengthy maimar (chassidic discourse), wherein he stated that the
patriarch Avraham was extraordinarily generous with his time and energy,
his money, and his spiritual powers. He quoted Pardes Rimonim,
by R. Moshe Kordevero, where it cites one of the earliest known
books of Kabbalah, entitled Sefer Bahir: "Said the divine
attribute of Chessed (kindness) to The Holy One, Blessed Be
He, 'There is no work for me to do in the world; Avraham is fulfilling
To this the Rebbe added, "Our forefather, Avraham, through serving
G-d in this world with his deeds of kindness, replaced the divine
attribute of Kindness as it is in the sublime World of Atzilut
('Emanation'). This shows that Avraham was at an even higher level
than this divine attribute Chessed d'Atzilut, because if that
attribute were here, in the lower world, it would not be able to enclose
itself in corporeality, whereas Avraham was able to manifest this
quality even in the physicality of the world. This accomplishment
is made possible by the special power of the Jewish soul, involving
the mystical secret of 'elevation of the sparks.'"
R. Yisrael was not an accomplished scholar. This was about as much
of the discourse as he was able to retain. But these few sentences
had made a strong impact on him, so he repeated them and reviewed
them many times.
In those days, it was already a long-standing custom among Chabad
Chassidim that when someone returned from Lubavitch, from the Rebbe,
his community would organize a gathering in honor of the occasion,
and he would tell them about what he had seen and heard. When R. Yisrael
arrived back in Polotsk, he too found himself the center of such an
event. During the farbrengen, the other chassidim duly asked
him to repeat the discourse that the Rebbe had delivered on the Shabbat
of his visit. R. Yisrael said he was not capable, but he did review
for them the short passage that he had been able to absorb.
After that, it was time to return to everyday life. The next morning
he went to his place of business at the marketplace. There, Yisrael
had two good friends, Nachman and Yosef, both storekeepers like himself.
Yisrael decided to approach Nachman for a loan-an interest-free one,
of course, as the Torah commands Jews to do for each other. The truth
was he didn't even need the money right then, but having heard from
the Rebbe how the performance of such good deeds is precious in the
eyes of Heaven, he wanted to enable his friend to attain this exalted
Indeed, after he explained to Nachman and Yosef all that he had learned
in Lubavitch about deeds of kindness, the three of them made a practice
of constantly lending and borrowing money to and from each other.
Time passed, and R. Yisrael had another opportunity to travel to
Lubavitch. Shortly after he arrived there, the Tsemech Tsaedek came
into the beis midrash and asked one of the gabbai'im (shul
trustees), "Where is Yisrael the shopkeeper?"
The gabbai was unable to answer. He had never heard of such
a person. Certainly it was not one of the prominent chassidim. He
turned to the shammus (caretaker), R. Chayim Ber, and asked
him. The latter looked around and said, "Perhaps the Rebbe is
referring to R. Yisrael, the storekeeper from Polotsk."
R. Yisrael was ushered into the Tsemech Tsedek's study. The Rebbe
asked him to describe a typical day in his life.
Yisrael told him that he gets up every day at 5:00, reads some Psalms,
drinks a glass of tea, cuts firewood for the day, and then goes to
shul for the Morning Prayer. After that he reads a chapter of Mishna,
goes home and eats breakfast, and then sets out for work. At the end
of the day he goes back to shul for the Afternoon Prayer, sits with
the other men to listen to the explanation of a passage from Ein
Yaakov--an anthology of the non-legalistic sections of the Talmud,
and after the Evening Prayer goes home. Then he goes home.
"And what about giving charity?" the Rebbe asked.
"I am so poor I am unable to give," R. Yisrael answered
The Rebbe continued to probe until finally he heard from the poor
shopkeeper about his unique style of gemilat chassadim (deeds
of kindness). After that he blessed him and the bewildered chassid
took his leave.
The Rebbe's youngest son, Shmuel--later to be known as the Rebbe
Maharash--asked his father why he had showered such attention
on that simple shopkeeper, conversing with him at length, and even
inviting him into his private room.
Answered the Tsemech Tsedek, "I saw he was enveloped by a pillar
of divine light, the sublime light of Chessed d'Atzilut.
[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Peninei HaKeser II,
pp.122-123 (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine).]
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [29 Elul 1789-13 Nissan 1866],
the Third Rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tsemech Tzedek,
after his books of Halachic 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
Rabbi Moshe Kordevero (1522-23 Tammuz 1570), known by the
anacronym of his name: Remak, was considered the head
of the Zefat Kabbalists until his death shortly after the arrival
of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. Author of many major works of Kabbalah,
including Pardes Rimonim ("Orchard of Pomegranates"),
in which he systematized all kabbalistic knowledge that had been revealed