Of A Chassid
Alter Rebbe had Chassidim who were giants of spirit, men who – though only
Chassidim – were of a very lofty level indeed. It’s not surprising then that
when the Alter Rebbe was taken to Petersburg to prison, he asked that a minyan
of Chassidim not convene in Petersburg, for he knew that ten of his
Chassidim could bring down the walls of the Petropavelsky fortress.
the Alter Rebbe remained in Russia after Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk went
to Eretz Yisroel, the Rebbe began to spread his net over the vastness of Russia,
sending rays of the light of Chassidus to every city and town. At first he had
very few Chassidim, and the Chassidic movement was quite limited in scope, but
day by day its light was revealed and people came to Liozna to investigate for
is the story of one who became a great Chassid of the Alter Rebbe, how he came
to hear of the Rebbe, had his curiosity aroused, came to Liozna, and remained
there for years.
had shabby clothes and a persistent smell of vodka about him. He was tall and
skinny, and had prominent cheekbones, but his most distinguished feature was the
sparkle in his eyes. Very few people knew him. He was known as the Volper;
nobody knew his first name. The few who did know him also knew that the Volper
was a prodigious Torah scholar who used to be a student of the Maggid. He had
shared a bench with the great Chassidic luminaries, such as Rabbi Levi Yitzchok
of Berditchev, Rabbi Pinchas the author of the Haflaa and his brother R’
Shmelke, R’ Zushe of Anipol and his brother R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk, and
even with the youngest of the group, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Together they
had absorbed Torah and Chassidus from the great Maggid.
Volper however, had unique qualities which set him aside from the others. He was
the best chozer of the Maggid’s teachings, which is why – after the
Maggid finished speaking – they would go over to the Volper to hear him repeat
the Maggid’s teachings. When he spoke, everything was crystal clear and his
audience would comprehend and be completely overcome.
knew what led to the Volper’s downfall. The Maggid’s talmidim said a
worm ate away at him. At some point, he began drinking excessively. He even
began to frequent bars.
did not speak about himself. Wherever he went on his wanderings, his mouth would
spew forth pearls of Torah and wisdom, even the deepest secrets of Torah. The
more he drank, the more the "secret came out," the secrets of Torah.
People who did not understand him mocked him.
day the Volper arrived in Liozna in White Russia, where he went to the local beis
midrash. The Alter Rebbe was there with his Chassidim and outstanding lamdanim,
and he was saying a drush Chassidus. The Volper sat in a corner, and in a
rare moment of seriousness and lucidity, he rested his head on his hands and
listened closely to the Rebbe’s teachings. Nobody paid him any attention at
the Alter Rebbe had concluded, he left the beis midrash and went home.
The Volper also left the beis midrash, backpack on his shoulders, to
continue his wanderings. Before leaving though, he hiccupped loudly and
proclaimed with a peculiar smile, maybe one of pain or longing, "Ah, we all
ate from one bowl, but he got all the gedichte (the thick portion of the
talmidim who stood nearby reviewing their Rebbe’s teachings, heard what
he said and were most amazed. But before they could question him, they could see
that he was already on his way.
got around, until the Alter Rebbe was told what had been said. "That was
the Volper," the Rebbe said. "If I knew he was here, I would have
tried to get him to stay with us so that he wouldn’t wander any more."
Volper continued his wanderings. This was the desire and decree from Above, and
it certainly was a quest of the soul. The Volper arrived in Vilna, a large city
full of Torah scholars, rabbanim, and dayanim. Nobody paid him any
attention. He entered a beis ha’hekdesh (hostel) where he got a warm
meal. Then he removed a bottle of vodka from his worn satchel and poured himself
a big glass.
poor drunkard settled down in his place and went to sleep by the warm oven,
while mumbling secrets of Torah. He quoted from works of Kabbala and concepts
from pnimiyus ha’Torah, and every so often he burst into drunken
Yudel stood nearby and listened closely to the drunk. R’ Yudel was a Torah
scholar and he was highly esteemed. He was a close talmid of the Vilna
Gaon, and merited a seat of honor in the beis midrash, near the eastern
wall. He had gone to the beis ha’hekdesh for something, where he
noticed a drunk warming himself by the oven and mumbling. At first he thought
his ears were deceiving him, but then his surprise and amazement continued to
grow. He realized that this pauper was no "empty vessel" but an
outstanding scholar, conversant in nigleh and Kabbala.
Yudel stood there and listened until the drunkard let forth a drunken snore and
nearly fell asleep. R’ Yudel went over to him and shook him by the shoulder.
"Tell me dear brother," he said in his ear, "where did you get
all this from?"
Volper cocked an eye at him, and Yudel suddenly saw the mysterious sparkle in
his eyes. It scared him a bit and he edged away. "Ah, ah... You want to
know where I got this from?"
Yudel nodded his head silently. He was too shocked to utter a word.
whispered the drunk. "I can’t tell you now. But if you want divrei
Torah such as this, go to Liozna where you will find peace for your
Yudel reeled backward in dismay. He knew good and well who was in Liozna, for he
was one of the greatest opponents of Chassidus and its proponents. Yet the
drunkard’s words entered his heart, and a fierce battle was waged therein.
"If this drunk knows so much, what does the Rebbe himself know?!" he
wondered. A few days passed until he resolved to travel to Liozna to learn from
the Alter Rebbe. He knew he had a lot to learn.
other gedolei Torah, R’ Yudel finally arrived in Liozna, where he
became an outstanding Chassid of the Alter Rebbe, and a great maskil in
Chassidus. The Rebbe eventually sent him to Liepelei in order to serve as rav
of the city and to bring the light of Chassidus to the people living there.