Chassidic Story #228

(s5762-#228 / 14 Adar 5762)
At the brit mila, the Chassam Sofer was glowing with “light, happiness, joy and honor.” Whether it was the joy of Purim,
happiness for his ex-student or a combination of both, nobody knew.


R. Nissan was a wealthy man who lived in Yargin, a small town near Pressburg, the capital city of Czechoslovakia. When younger, he had been a student at the famous Pressburg Yeshiva. He and his wife were already married for many years, but still had not been blessed with children. When, finally, a son was born to him in 5583 (1823), it was no surprise, that he honored his former Rosh Yeshiva, the world-renowned scholar known as the Chassam Sofer, to perform the circumcision. Unfortunately, the bris mila had to be postponed because of the weak health of the baby. It wasn't till several weeks later that it was announced that it would take place on...Purim!

At the bris, the Chassam Sofer was glowing with "light, happiness, joy and honor." Whether it was the joy of Purim Day, happiness for his ex-student or a combination of both, nobody knew. After completing the circumcision, when he dipped his finger in the wine and then in the baby's mouth (following custom), he raised his voice and called out very loudly the Talmudic expression, "When wine goes in, secrets come out."

The baby was given an appropriate name for a Purim bris: Boruch Mordechai, which means "blessed be Mordechai," from the paragraph recited after the Megillah readings.

The child grew. At an early age he was already outstanding in character and religious observance. However, much to the distress of his parents, his ability to understand Torah was not at a par. As a boy, he didn't seem any different than his age-mates, but after his bar-mitzvah, when he entered the famous Pressburg Yeshiva, it was noticeable that he was having major difficulties in his studies.

In truth, he was very diligent. He would sit absorbed in the holy books from morning to evening. But whenever he was asked to repeat or explain anything he was unable to respond, and could only sit silently.

His less sensitive classmates liked to make fun of him because of this. Once, when he left his place for a few minutes, they switched his volume of Gemora for one of another subject entirely, leaving it open to the same number page he had been on. When he resumed his seat, he didn't seem to notice the difference at all.

When he turned eighteen, The Ksav Sofer (who had replaced his recently departed father as the head of the yeshiva) advised his parents to send him to the Land of Israel. Perhaps there, where "the air of the Holy Land makes wise," his studies would prosper.

His parents decided to do it. They hoped it would also enable him to make a good match.

Boruch Mordechai arrived in Jerusalem with a letter of recommendation from Rabbi Shraga Feldheim, mashgiach (study-supervisor) at Pressburg, which said that he "is truly pious, prays with great devotion, and that his desire to learn Torah is sincere and enormous."

One of the scholarly leaders of the Jerusalem community then, Rabbi Yeshaya Bardaki, 'adopted' Boruch Mordechai, concerning himself for all of his needs. His was impressed with the young man's sterling character and piousness, but he could not fathom how someone who had done nothing but study Torah diligently all his life could have retained so little.

When Boruch Mordechai reached age twenty, Rabbi Bardaki found a bride for him: a simple girl from a good family in Jerusalem who wouldn't mind that her husband was an ignoramus.

Several years after the wedding, Boruch Mordechai began to work as a water carrier. He was honest to an extreme, and as a result quickly became very popular. Every Rosh Chodesh, he would deliver water to his regular customers for free; he worried that over the course of the previous month water may have spilled, whereas he had charged for full buckets.

For more than forty years Boruch Mordechai toiled at his chosen profession, the whole time in joyous spirit and with gratitude to G-d for his lot. He took special satisfaction from servicing the many Torah scholars within the walls of Jerusalem; he considered this a great merit and refused to accept payment from them. It anguished him that the great scholar, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Diskin, refused to take water from him. "I cannot allow myself to be served by the likes of Reb Boruch Mordechai," he would say-but refused to explain his words.

On Purim Day 5653 (1893), at the time of the festive meal, most of the chassidim and notables of Old City Jerusalem crowded, as every year, into the home of Rabbi Schneur Zalman Fradkin of Lublin, the celebrated author of the scholarly book, Toras Chesed. The atmosphere was exceptionally joyous, even for a Purim celebration. The men were constantly erupting into lively song and dance, and there was a complimentary flow of wine and wise words.

All of a sudden, Boruch Mordechai called out to the host in a loud voice from the midst of the swaying Chassidim, "Rebbe! Today is seventy years exactly since my bris mila."

Everyone smiled tolerantly, figuring such an outburst from the simple water carier could only be a result of all the Purim wine he had imbibed.

"If so," responded R. Shneur Zalman, "you deserve an extra-large measure of 'l'chaim'."

Immediately a large tumbler of a special strong wine was poured and passed to Boruch Mordechai, who speedily dispatched it as commanded. It had an immediate effect. The elderly water-carrier began to sing and dance energetically.

The sage's reaction was surprising. He looked up at Boruch Mordechai and shouted over the crowd, "it would be nice if you would stop fooling around already and honor the holy assemblage with some strong words of Jewish law and lore (halacha and agaddah)."

Suddenly there was silence. Everyone's gaze shifted in amused anticipation to the tipsy Boruch Mordechai as he climbed up to stand on the table and began to speak.

But then, all the grins slowly gave way to wide-eyed stares of astonishment as it penetrated their ears that the water-carrier was discoursing enthusiastically on scholarly Purim topics and peppering his words with learned citations from Tractate Megillah and a variety of Midrashim and works of Jewish Law. And he waxed on and on! Indeed, if the strong wine hadn't finally taken its toll, it seemed that he could have continued indefinitely.

Even before the holiday was over, the news of the extraordinary scholarship of the unassuming water-carrier had spread throughout Jerusalem. The community was in an uproar. How had they allowed such an accomplished scholar to be disdained in their midst, and to labor as a mere water-carrier for so many years. And how had his erudition remained hidden for so long?

A few of the elders of the community recalled hearing of the mysterious words of the Chassam Sofar seventy years before. Now, some clever minds were saying they could finally be understood.

"Nichnas yayin, yotzai sod"-"Wine enters, secrets emerge." Yayin (wine), spelled yud-yud-nun, has a numerical value of seventy, and so does samech-vov-dalet, the word for secret!

[Translated and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Sichat HaShavuah #478.]

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Moshe Shreiber
[1762-1839], one of the most important Torah sages in recent Jewish history, was known as the 'Chatam Sofer,' after the title of his volumes of responsa which have been significant to a high degree in the modern development of Jewish law and thought. He founded the Pressberg Yeshiva, which became the largest yeshiva in Europe under his leadership, and subsequently of his son and grandson.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman Fradkin of Lublin (1830-1902), A chasid of the Tzemech Tzedek and Maharash of Lubavitch, was chief rabbi in Polotsk and then Lublin. When he made aliyah to the Holy Land, he became a major rabbinical figure in the Jerusalem community. He is best remembered for his important scholarly book, Toras Chesed.


back to Top   back to Index   Stories home page
Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION