Days Of Light
By Menachem Ziegelboim
Suddenly he was overtaken by a strong yearning. He remembered how he pushed
among the young Chassidim facing the shining visage of the Alter Rebbe, and
would hear Chassidus. * Presented for Chai Elul, the birthday of the Alter
Chaim was quite
young when he married Fraida, the second daughter of Shlomo the lumber merchant.
Since Chaim was considered a top bachur, his well-to-do father-in-law
promised to support him for seven years. During this time, Chaim sat and learned
diligently, completing many tractates in depth. Since he was a Chassid, he also
learned much Chassidus, primarily the Chassidic manuscripts that came from
Liadi, from the court of the Alter Rebbe.
Chaim merited to be
by the Alter Rebbe for many years. He could still envision all those good years
that he had spent in Liadi. As a bachur he had come to Liadi in order to
get a taste of Chassidus. Once captivated, he remained in Liadi for many more
years, working on Torah and avoda, in nigleh and Chassidus, under
the guidance of the Alter Rebbe’s brother.
When Chaim married
he had to move from Liadi and live near his wealthy father-in-law. Leaving Liadi
was extremely difficult for him. Do you know what it means to sit in the Rebbe’s
court with no worldly concerns, studiously learning?
Chaim would often
tell his wife about the good old days. His eyes would sparkle, and seeing this,
his wife would allow him to visit the Rebbe from time to time.
Shlomo had fallen on
hard times. The lumber business, from which he comfortably earned a living for
many years, had faltered in a relatively short time. This affected his health,
and he fell sick. The burden of supporting the family fell on Chaim. He had
experience in Torah study, but none whatsoever in business. Yet his
father-in-law’s condition forced him to leave the warmth of Torah and Chassidus
and to try his hand at the textile business.
talents, charm, and his father-in-law’s good name helped pave the way for him in
the business world, and within a few months he succeeded in forging the right
connections. The wholesalers extended him credit, which enabled him to buy many
bolts of fabric which he would sell in the small markets in his area. He did not
become rich, but he made a nice living.
It was mid-summer,
and Chaim was completely involved in the business world. He was at one of the
large fairs, where he bought a large quantity of both expensive as well as
cheaper fabric, loaded it all up on his wagon, and headed for home.
He found a spot
among the bolts of fabric while the wagon driver drove the horses. They had a
three-day journey ahead of them, and Chaim was well prepared. During his waking
hours on the trip, Chaim would sit and learn Gemara or delve into some Chassidic
manuscript, devoting himself to these endeavors for which he had no time during
the busy week.
At a certain point
along the way, the wagon driver felt ill and asked Chaim’s permission to stop at
an inn to rest up. Chaim agreed, thinking he would rest a while and gather his
strength to complete the trip. Within a few hours though, the wagon driver’s
temperature rose. It was clear that he could not continue traveling, yet it was
Erev Shavuos and Chaim was hurrying home in order to get there before Yom Tov.
Furthermore, the local fair would open right after Yom Tov, where he could sell
much of the merchandise he had just bought. He knew that if he was delayed, he
stood to lose quite a bit of money.
The wagon driver
knew this too, and he begged Chaim not to wait for him, but to continue on home
in order to get there before Yom Tov. Upon his recovery he would get home some
Chaim took the
reins, and despite his inexperience as a wagon driver, he directed the horses up
mountains, down valleys, and across endless fields. Even upon reaching the thick
forest he found his way.
Chaim had plenty of
time to think, and his thoughts wandered far afield. At first he thought about
his merchandise, and how much profit he could hope to make from the deals he had
just made. Then his thoughts turned to the business which occupied him day and
night, and how he had gotten into it in the first place.
His mind took him
back a few years, to when he had married, and even before that, when he had been
with the Rebbe. He saw himself, a sweet young bachur, sitting at the
splintered wooden table, together with a few dozen other talmidim of the
chadarim, sitting and learning diligently, with no worries. They heard
Chassidus from the Rebbe every so often, and although this wasn’t exceptionally
rare, when it happened they transformed that day into a holiday. Joy and emotion
enveloped them all.
He looked back on
those days as “days of light.” He remembered how he had pushed among the young
Chassidim in front of the Alter Rebbe and had heard Chassidus. Chaim was
suddenly overcome with yearning. He felt choked up and he tried to swallow, but
he knew that the choking sensation came from within, from the heart, from the
‘It’s Erev Shavuos
today,’ reflected Chaim. He pictured Shavuos by the Rebbe, a Yom Tov which he
had enjoyed a number of years in a row until his marriage; the maamer
Chassidus he had heard; the “thunder and lightning” he had seen and heard
despite the gadlus ha’mochin of Chabad... Tears streamed down his face.
It was a like a
Heavenly light suddenly rested upon him. ‘I’ll go to the Rebbe right now!’ he
decided on the spot. ‘I’ll leave the laden wagon here and go to the Rebbe on
foot. It’s just a few hours’ walk. What will happen to the merchandise? Hashem
is omnipotent – He will surely help!’
Chaim stopped the
horses before he could change his mind, took his tallis and t’fillin,
jumped from the wagon and without looking back he began walking quickly towards
Liadi. He had to leave the forest, cross two villages, and after some more quick
walking Liadi was there before him. Although Liadi was small, to Chaim it was
the capitol city!
He arrived in Liadi
minutes before Yom Tov. The earlybirds were already making their way to the
beis midrash, so he rushed to the mikva in order to immerse himself
before the holiday.
When he entered the
beis midrash the congregation was in the middle of the davening.
The Alter Rebbe stood at his place. He glanced around and noticed a few familiar
faces he remembered from his youth, people who were fortunate enough to be able
to stay with the Rebbe year-round.
When the Alter Rebbe
turned around after the davening, he took note of Chaim’s presence with a
penetrating look. He whispered in his son Dov Ber’s ear, “That young man is a
true Chassid and a tremendous baal mesirus nefesh.”
It was unclear why
this Chassid deserved such outstanding praise from the Alter Rebbe. It was only
when people heard what it had taken to get to Liadi that they understood that
the Alter Rebbe had seen it all with his ruach ha’kodesh. Despite the
danger and great monetary loss, Chaim had left all the merchandise behind in
order to be with the Rebbe for Yom Tov.
Chaim enjoyed two
days of elevation and spirituality, two days of “thunder and lightning” on the
holiday of Mattan Torah. For forty-eight hours, Chaim reverted back to a young
bachur with no worries. As he had once done, he pushed among the young
bachurim. There was no limit to his joy when he merited to hear a maamer
from the Rebbe. He even managed to stand in the same spot he had stood in as
a young bachur.
After Yom Tov, Chaim
had a private audience with the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked him to relate everything
that had happened on his way to Liadi for Yom Tov, and Chaim told him
everything. Suddenly the Rebbe’s face became enflamed and he entered a state of
dveikus for a few minutes. Then he said, “Return to the place where you
left your wagon because it is still there waiting for you. Even the merchandise
is all there.”
Throughout Yom Tov
Chaim had tried to push thoughts about his wagon aside, for he knew there was no
chance he could return and find it there intact. One would think that Chaim
would have been overjoyed upon hearing this good news, but Chaim was not happy.
His head was not in textiles nor in the upcoming fair. He burst into tears.
“Rebbe, I want to
return to a life of study, to return to my former life of Chassidus, but what
can I do when the burden of support lies on me and business matters consume
The Rebbe patiently
heard Chaim out, thought for a moment, and advised him to rent an inn which
would serve as a hostel to wayfarers and a liquor concession. His wife could run
the inn while he could sit and work on Torah and avoda and devote just a
few hours to managing the inn.
nodded his head. Without saying another word he stepped back and left the
Rebbe’s room. His heart felt lighter. He had unburdened his bitter heart to the
Rebbe along with his deeply felt yearning, and the Rebbe, like a good father,
had listened to him. Now he knew he was in the Rebbe’s hands.
He headed back for
the forest, confident in the Rebbe’s assurance, knowing with certainty that the
merchandise was still there, intact. When he reached the wagon he was surprised
to see a Russian nobleman standing there. The man was smoking calmly, apparently
waiting there for some time. As Chaim approached, the man said, “Are you the
owner of this wagon?”
Chaim indicated that
he was and the nobleman continued, “I’ve been waiting here for some time now. I
passed by this morning and saw the wagon. When I got closer I saw it was full of
valuable merchandise. I was amazed that nobody was watching it, and I waited to
see who was the insane individual who had left costly merchandise unattended.”
Chaim smiled. “The
wagon has been here for three days,” and he explained what had happened.
The nobleman gazed
at him for a while and then said, “You’ve impressed me. I have an offer for you.
In my district there is an inn but I don’t have anybody to manage it properly.
Since I see you are an upstanding individual, I suggest you rent the inn.”
remembered what the Alter Rebbe had told him about the advisability of renting
an inn. He wondered whether this was what the Rebbe had had in mind, but felt
inclined to turn down the offer: “It’s a good idea, but I don’t have the money
to lease the inn and to prepare it for customers.”
The nobleman smiled
and motioned with his hand to indicate it made no difference. “I will lend you
the money and I am sure the inn will turn a profit and within a short time you
will be able to repay me.”
Now Chaim realized
the offer was meant for him and that the Rebbe had certainly been referring to
this. He shook the nobleman’s hand, they arranged the final details, and then
each went on his way.
This was the first
Shabbos Chaim was spending in his new home. He was slowly familiarizing himself
with the roads and now he headed towards the local shul. He had just
spent two difficult weeks packing up his belongings, loading them on a number of
wagons, and together with his family, moving to the nobleman’s district. The
nobleman welcomed him with open arms, helped him out, and kept his word by
loaning him the money he needed to prepare the inn for guests.
It was only now that
he began to become aware of the new community he had joined. He took his
siddur and joined the davening, but it seemed to him that people were
staring at him. He assumed it was because he was new in the area, but when the
strange stares continued the next day too, he felt uncomfortable. He sensed
there was a secret lurking, but he had no idea what it could be.
The ice finally
broke and some Jews gathered round him and asked him where he had come from and
about his family. Finally someone spoke up and said, “You’ve leased a nice inn
from the goodhearted nobleman. It can turn a nice profit, but there’s a problem
in that... “
Chaim wondered what
that could mean and finally somebody else continued to explain. “A gentile
couple lives near the inn. They earn money by grinding wheat. They are both
witches, and until now, whoever leased the inn did not live out the year –
either he or a member of his household…”
It was silent as
Chaim thought over this astonishing information. The others nodded their heads.
One of them advised him, “I guess the nobleman didn’t tell you about that. You
can still leave the inn without causing any harm to yourself, that is, if you
Chaim was deep in
thought. He immediately thought of Liadi, and he saw himself standing before the
Alter Rebbe who had counseled him to lease an inn. Then he thought of the
meeting with the Russian nobleman in the thick of the forest, which had seemed
to him what the Rebbe had been referring to. After contemplating this for some
time he relaxed somewhat. He realized he was in good hands, and knew he had
leased the inn solely because the Rebbe had told him to, which was why he was
sure he would not come to harm.
Chaim went home and
without saying a word about this to his wife, he began the Shabbos meal.
A half a year went
by. Chaim began to feel sick. His head felt heavy and a weariness began to take
hold of him. At first he attributed it to work. Although he spent most of the
day on Torah study as the Rebbe had advised him, he still thought perhaps the
unaccustomed task of taking care of the accounts was tiring him out.
His weakness grew
from day to day and he realized something more serious was afoot. He dragged
himself around with difficulty and lost his appetite. He realized his wicked
neighbors were responsible. “Now’s the time to travel to the Rebbe, before it’s
too late!” Without telling his wife the real reason for his trip, he set off for
He arrived in Liadi
on Erev Shabbos Balak. He spent Friday night in bed in one of the inns. He felt
he just could not go on. The next day, after a difficult night, he dragged
himself to the Alter Rebbe’s beis midrash. Despite his youth he was
unable to grab a good spot, and he fell into a chair near the doorway like an
old man. His head was heavy and he felt as though he was choking. His head
slipped down to rest on his hand, and he was barely aware of what was going on
shook him. It was the gabbai calling him up to the Torah. As he dragged
himself up to the bima, he didn’t understand why all eyes were upon him.
Only afterwards did
he discover that in the middle of krias ha’Torah, the Alter Rebbe took
over the gabbai’s role and called Chaim up to the Torah for the fifth
aliya. This was most unusual, and furthermore – how had the Rebbe noticed
Chaim made an effort
to clear his mind. He said the bracha and tried to concentrate on the
letters of the Torah in front of him, but everything was spinning and the
letters jumped around. Only the Alter Rebbe’s voice was clear and loud. The
Rebbe’s face shone, and his voice rent the heavens as he said, “Ki lo nachash
b’Yaakov, v’lo kesem b’Yisroel, k’eis yomar l’Yaakov u’l’Yisroel ma poal Keil.
Hein am k’lavi yakum, u’k’ari yisnasa...”
He wasn’t certain,
but it seemed as though the Rebbe repeated the words, “ki lo nachash b’Yaakov,
v’lo kesem b’Yisroel” (there is no divination in Yaakov and no magic
Later he learned
that the Rebbe had indeed repeated those words again and again, each time his
voice getting louder. A dread fell upon the congregation.
Chaim began feeling
better and his strength slowly returned. He still felt weak, but he could stand
on his feet normally in his private audience with the Rebbe after Shabbos. Just
standing like that was an impressive accomplishment for him.
Without his opening
his mouth, the Rebbe wished him a refua shleima. Chaim nearly wept with
emotion. He briefly described the chain of events and described his neighbors.
The Rebbe nodded to show that he knew all about it and calmed him, saying
nothing bad would happen to him.
Before he left, the
Rebbe repeated the verse, “Ki lo nachash b’Yaakov, v’lo kesem b’Yisroel.”
This time his voice was soft and conciliatory, as though promising him a sweet
Chaim was not
surprised when he returned home fully recovered.
His Jewish neighbors
told him of the sudden death of the couple on Shabbos afternoon. He figured out
the timing, and realized the couple had died exactly at the time that the Rebbe
was reading the section that applied to him.
He recalled his
youth once again, when he and his friends heard miracle stories from various
guests who came to Liadi. As a bachur he had dismissed these stories
saying that the Rebbe’s greatness was not in miracles. Now that he was a
baalabus, he understood the need and significance for this form of avoda,
Sippurim Noraim; Pninei HaKeser)