Chassidic Story # 254

#254 (s5762-50/ 20 Elul)


All heads turned towards him, and a few approached him menacingly. Who are you to dare to

speak thus? I am a follower of the holy Rebbe, R. Zeev Wolf of Zhitomir.


Once, the Tsemach Tsedek (the 3rd Chabad rebbe) emerged from his room and entered the Study Hall, and found one of the young men looking at a small book in his lap instead of the large tome of Talmud on his desk.

"What is this book," the Rebbe asked gently.

"Pri HaAretz, from the Vitebsker" was the asnswer.
"Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok!"** the Rebbe shouted; "Quick! Light more candles. Light! More light!"

When someone finally worked up the nerve to ask the Rebbe for an explanation of his seemingly bizarre behavior, he offered to tell them a story, much to the delight of the young men and everyone else there.

In Vitebsk lived a mohel (one who performs circumcision) and shochet (kosher slaughterer) who was a close follower of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok. Once he was invited to be the mohel at a brit milah (circumcision ceremony) in a nearby village. Since the brit was scheduled to take place early on Sunday morning, he decided to travel there on Saturday night. On the way, however, he got lost when the path went through a dark forest.

After a long time wandering about, he saw in the distance a shining light. Immediately he set out in that direction, and as he got closer, he saw a house. He went in, and there was a crowd of men sitting around a long table, with a distinguished-looking old man at the head. The latter was expounding Torah, and everyone was listening intently. The chasid listened too, and was quite impressed by the brilliant insights. Shortly after, several of the listeners came over to him and said, "Nu? How do you like our Rabbi's words of Torah? Do you approve?"

"Yes!" answered the chasid enthusiastically. Several times now they approached him, and the same dialogue was repeated. Finally, he left and found his way.

The mohel's custom was to go to his Rebbe's house every day, in order to gaze at his holy face. That Sunday, upon his return, he went directly there. This time, however, the Rebbe's attendant did not allow him to enter. Then, on Monday and Tuesday, he again refused to let him in. Surprised, the chasid finally asked him, "What is going on? Why won't you allow me to see the Rebbe?"

"Because the Rebbe told me not to," replied the attendant.

"Oh, no!" exclaimed the Chassid in dismay. "Why not? Surely there is a reason. Please, have mercy on me! Ask the Rebbe what I did. What is my sin to deserve such a terrible punishment, to be denied access to the Rebbe?"

The attendant went on, and soon returned with a reply. "The Rebbe said to tell you that house in the forest belongs to the Evil Forces. Since you approved and accepted their words, you became connected to them. Therefore, he cannot admit you in his presence."

The chasid was crushed. "But the Rebbe must know how I can rectify this," he said to the attendant. "Please, please go in again and ask him what I should do."

Back came the answer, "You have to go again on a Saturday night to that forest and find that house. Then, each time they expound Torah, respond "feh, feh, feh" and spit. That is how you can escape their clutches."

The chasid set out that very Saturday night. He found the house in the forest, and the same people were sitting around the same table with the same elder again saying amazing words of Torah. Again, the students approached him to ask what he thought. Although the depth and creativity of the Torah was overwhelming, he thought of his beloved Rebbe and his wretched exile from him and regained control of himself. "Feh, feh, feh! Impure, impure, impure!" he screamed and spat emphatically.

Everyone froze. There was absolute silence. All heads turned towards him, and a few approached him menacingly.

"Wait," their leader said to them. He addressed the chasid, "Who are you to dare to speak thus?"

"I am a follower of the holy Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok."

The leader turned again to his ranks. "Bring the books of our Torah teachings," he exclaimed. "All the Torah expanations that were spoken and written with improper, self-serving intentions are contained there. If his Rebbe's name appears in our books, this follower of his is ours to do with as we wish. If not, we have to let him go."

Two huge tomes were brought out. Every page was turned and examined. Nowhere appeared the name of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok. Incredibly, he had never once wavered from learning Torah purely for the sake of G-d and His commandments.

The mohel left the house in the forest in peace, trembling in excited anticipation of his return to Horodok, and to once again be privileged to see the rebbe's holy face.

"Now," concluded the Tsemek Tsedek with a smile, "you can understand that when the name of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok is mentioned, it is synonymous with great light."

[Translated mainly from Rishimat Devorim I. But there the rebbe is Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf of Zhitomir, a different disciple of the Magid. However, I first heard this story from my first Torah teacher and Chasidic story master, Rabbi Akiva Greenberg of blessed memory, who says he heard it from the Vizhnitz Rebbe about Menachem Mendel of Horodok. I added many other details from his lengthier version too. -Y.T.]


Biographical notes:

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk/Horodok** [1730 - 1 Iyar 1788] was an elder disciple of the Magid of Mizritch and one of the earliest Chasidic rebbes. He led the first modern aliyah to Israel, in 1777, where he and three hundred Chasidim and others settled in Tsefat (Safed). After a few years they moved to Tiberias, where he is buried in the "students of the Baal Shem Tov" section of the Old Cemetery. His works include Pri HaAretz and Likutei Amarim.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [29 Elul 1789-13 Nissan 1866], the third Rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tzemach 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.

Editor's note:
He was originally from Minsk, but after he became a disxiple of the Maggid of Mezritch, he moved to Vitebsk, a regional capital in White Russia. However, after less than a year there, the Maggid instructed him to move to Horodok, where he lived for over ten years until he led the Chasidic aliyah to Israel.

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