Chassidic Story #226

(s5762-# 22 / 1 Adar 5762)
As the regular driver for the tzaddik, Reb Leib Sarah's, he had experience in these miraculous-seeming journeys,
but this time he could barely believe the evidence of his eyes.


Shabbat had ended. Silver stars twinkled in the black sky. The Chassidim had all returned to their homes, and their Rebbe, Leib Sarah's (called such because of the extraordinary deeds of his mother and the exceptional circumstances surrounding his birth, but that's a story for another time) left his shul for home to make havdalah for his family.

Shortly after, he returned to the shul. Agitated, he paced back and forth, muttering "Oy, Oy" over and over again. Suddenly he stood still, and after tremoring slightly, stated with finality: "Whatever happens, I must do something."

Stepping outside, he summoned his driver. In a short time they were off. The tzaddik whispered something in the driver's ear, and then switched places with him, taking over the reins while the driver went to sleep inside the carriage. When he woke, the sun had already risen on Sunday morning, and he was amazed to hear from the tzaddik in the outside driver's seat how far they had come. Even though, being the regular driver for the tzaddik, he had experience in these miraculous-seeming journeys, this time they had actually crossed the border and were deep into Hungary. He could barely believe the evidence of his eyes.

* * *

Little Isaac was only ten years old, but was already the man of the house. His father, Yusseleh, had recently passed away, and his mother Reizel desperately needed him to help support the family. She took whatever meager work was available to her, while little Isaac took care of their tiny gaggle of geese.

Actually, Isaac liked his job. Every morning he rose early to pray with the minyan in shul and say Kaddish for his father. He would then lead the geese to one of the fields outside of town. He loved the quiet and peacefulness there. After carefully counting his meager charges, he would sit against the trunk of a tree and enjoy the cool shade under its big, leafy branches.

Many thoughts would race through his little head-some joyous, some sad. In those moments when his young soul was bursting with a variety of different feelings, he would open his knapsack and seek the soothing comfort provided by his beloved flute. Quickly he would extract from it a medley of folk tunes, passed down from generation to generation in the Hungarian countryside, all learned from the other shepherds that he knew. Of his whole repertoire, he liked best the song whose words went:

Forest, forest, how vast you are.
Rose, oh rose, how far you are.
If the forest were but smaller,
Then the rose would be closer.
If you would take me from this forest,
Then we could be, the two of us, together.

Whenever he played the notes of this tune, he would close his eyes and allow the lyrics and the music to carry him off to a world of distant pleasurable visions.

* * *

Little Isaac was momentarily startled in the midst of his song, by the regal appearance of the bearded Jew who appeared suddenly from behind him. "What are you doing here, little boy?" the man asked gently. "Helping my mother by tending to our geese," Isaac answered. "But what about learning Torah in school like the other boys?" the man continued.

Isaac looked away. "Not so long ago, I was still a student. And I was doing pretty well too. But ever since my father died, I've had to help my poor mother support our family, so I had to drop out of school."

The tzaddik, Leib Sarah's, immediately went to visit the poor widow, Reizel. After introducing himself, he asked her for permission to take her Isaac away with him. "Know that your son has a very lofty soul," he explained, "and he can become very great. But for that he must be brought up in the right way, and that means he has to study Torah intensively." He promised her a monthly stipend to more than make up for any loss of income that the boy's departure would entail.

It took a lot of entreating, but finally his mother agreed. Leib Sarah's took little Isaac to Nicholsberg, to the Yeshiva of the great rabbinical authority and Chassidic Rebbe, Reb Shmelke, a friend of Leib Sarah's and one of the inner circle of disciples of the Magid of Mezritch. He said to him: "I have brought you a special soul from the Chamber of Melody. I hope you will help it to realize its full potential in this world."

The boy remained in the yeshiva for many years, and thrived and grew great in Torah and Chassidut.

* * *

Years later, when throngs of Chassidim would crowd into the shul of the holy rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Kaliv, he would sometimes relate to them the long path of his development from a goose-tending childhood to the present. He would also tell them about his favorite tune when he played the shepherd's flute: the Ballad of the Forest and the Rose.

On these occasions, he always mentioned his great debt to the tzaddik Leib Sarah's, who went to such trouble to "discover" him and to redeem the holy melody which had been "held captive" for centuries.

"Now, however," he would always conclude, "the words are different." The chassidim would listen intently, for the Rebbe's musical talents were well-known.

Exile, exile, how long you are.
Divine Presence, how far you are.
If only the exile were shorter,
Then Your Presence could be closer.
If You would take us out of exile,
Then we could be, the two of us, together.

This song is still sung by Kaliver chassidim, in Hungarian, till this very day.


[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Sichat HaShavua #528. You may pass on this email rendition to whomever you wish as long as you give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet addresses.]

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Leib Sarah's (1730-4 Adar 1796) was held in high esteem by the Baal Shem Tov. One of the "hidden tzaddikim," he spent his life wandering from place to place to raise money for the ransoming of imprisoned Jews and the support of other hidden tzaddikim.

Rabbi Yitzchak-Isaac Taub of Kaliv (1744-7 Adar II 1821) was a leader in the dissemination of chassidism in Hungary. He was known as "The Sweet Singer of Israel."

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