Chassidic Story #195

(s5761-42 / 19 Tammuz 5761)


The Tsemech Tsedek asked him to describe a typical day in his life.


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 my role.'"

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 level.

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 humbly.

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).]

Biographical notes:
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 of Torah.

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 until then.

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