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 Rebbe. 




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.


Chaim’s innate 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 other way.


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 soul…


‘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 me?!”


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.


Chaim silently 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.”


Chaim immediately 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 hurry.”


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 Liadi.


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 around him.


Suddenly, someone 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 him?


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 amongst Yisroel).


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 promise.


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, too.


(From Sippurim Noraim; Pninei HaKeser)


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.




“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…”




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.



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