Honor Or In Chains
By Shlomo HaYitzchaki
compilation of stories depicting the hiskashrus and bittul of Chassidim
to their Rebbeim, and the precision of every word a Rebbe utters – in
honor of Chai Elul
You Tell Me to Move to Town?"
Alter Rebbe related: I was once traveling home after visiting my Rebbe,
the Maggid of Mezritch. It was the wintertime, and it was so cold that
my feet froze. We arrived at an inn owned by a Jew, and the wagon driver
carried me into the inn. The innkeeper was an elderly, G-d-fearing man.
He rubbed my feet with snow and spirits until the blood began to flow
there once more. I asked him, "How many years have you been
here?" He answered that he had been living there for over fifty
years. When asked whether he had a minyan for davening,
the innkeeper said he had no minyan and that he traveled to the
nearby town for the Yomim Nora’im.
it right for an old man like you to daven all your life without a
minyan and without a shul, without hearing Kedusha
and Barchu? Why don’t you move to the town?"
the old man, "How will I support myself?"
many people live in the town?" I asked.
a hundred," he replied.
said, "If Hashem can support a hundred Jews, couldn’t He support
you, too?" I also told him, "You should know sir, that I am
the student of our great Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch."
man turned and left. Within half an hour, I saw wagons laden with boxes,
household goods and a variety of personal effects near the inn.
"What is all that?" I asked him.
you tell me to move to town?" he stated simply.
now, concluded the Alter Rebbe, look at the faith of that old man.
Although I was a young man at the time, and the old man had supported
himself comfortably at that inn for fifty years, he threw it all away
and picked up and left.
Grasp the Doorknob
Alter Rebbe once said, "Ver es hot gehalten mein klamke,
vet nisht shtarben un teshuva." (Whoever [so much as] held
on to my doorknob, will not die without doing teshuva.)
Rebbe Rayatz is quoted as saying that this refers to someone who davens
Lubavitch I heard the following explanation from the famous Chassid, R’
Meshulam Kuras. He said that "holding on to the doorknob" even
refers to someone who did not yet enter the Rebbe’s room, one who
merely wishes to enter.
was a Jew in Liozna who was completely non-religious. Once, he held on
to the doorknob of the Alter Rebbe’s room. He prided himself on that,
saying, "I won’t die without doing teshuva, for I held on
to the Rebbe’s doorknob!"
Shabbos he went to shul and was honored with an aliya l’Torah.
After making the bracha on the Torah he broke into intense
sobbing and then died, having done true teshuva.
of the Alter Rebbe’s Chassidim was walking down the street when he
found a letter written by the Alter Rebbe to one of the Chassidim. Upon
reading it he was shocked to learn of a terrible secret regarding one of
his fellow Chassidim. He was even more shaken when he read in the margin
that after reading the page, the person should tear up the letter and
burn it at once.
Chassid was upset over his friend’s rashness in evidently not
fulfilling what the Rebbe had told him to do, namely to destroy the
note, so he rushed over to admonish him. When his friend heard what had
happened, he too was greatly taken aback since as soon as he had
finished reading the letter he had gone over to the stove and had thrown
in the letter. Before the paper had had a chance to catch fire, a draft
of hot air must have lifted it up and blown it out the chimney!
how precise the Rebbe’s words are," said the mashpia R’
Shmuel Grunem, who related the story. "If the Rebbe said to tear
the letter up and burn it, he should have done just that, and not relied
only on burning it. If the Chassid had followed the Rebbe’s directions
to the letter, this would never have happened!"
Early Chassidim are Oleh Regel
Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe would walk to the Rebbe for Yom Tov,
accompanied by a wagonload of their belongings pulled by oxen. They
walked the entire way, and as they passed through towns and villages,
more Chassidim joined them. The group grew and grew until it was quite
were in extremely high spirits, as is typical of Chassidim en route
to their Rebbe, and a babble of sounds could be heard, including
melodies of Chassidic joy and longing. Thus they walked, step by step,
until they arrived in Liozna.
they approached the town, their excitement grew and they sang and danced
with all their might, and even adorned the horns of the oxen with
foliage to increase the joy and honor of the occasion.
the Rebbe came out to greet them, he nodded and said, "This causes
great pleasure Above, pleasure akin to when the first fruits were
brought [to the Holy Temple]."
one of the trips the Maggid made accompanied by his holy brotherhood,
the Maggid decided to stop at an inn to sleep that night. The innkeeper
greeted them warmly and happily, prepared a bountiful repast for them,
as well as comfortable beds for them all.
going to sleep, the innkeeper approached the Maggid and told him that he
had wanted for a long time to go to Mezritch in order to ask the Rebbe’s
advice about an urgent matter. Now that the Rebbe himself had come to
him, he wanted to ask his counsel, for certainly the Rebbe would give
him good advice.
Maggid referred the host to his student, the Alter Rebbe, and said,
"He is wondrously wise. The soul of the Rambam lies within him, and
he will merit to have a son like me – do what he says!"
innkeeper dutifully approached the Alter Rebbe and said, "I have
earned a livelihood from this inn for many years, but they have just
taxed me tremendously and are now demanding a very high rent. I want to
know whether I should leave this inn and move to a different inn, a
better one on the other side of the river."
Rebbe agreed that he should move to the other inn, in the spirit of the
dictum, "meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazal l’tova u’livracha"
(a change of place bring about a change in one’s fortune to one of
goodness and blessing).
next morning, when the Alter Rebbe awoke, he saw that the innkeeper was
standing and waiting in the middle of a bare inn. There were no people,
no tables, chairs, or anything else! The innkeeper explained: he had
learned that according to the Sages, mimenu eitza (get advice
from him) means that as soon as one receives advice it should be carried
out without delay. Therefore, as soon as he heard the Rebbe’s counsel,
he packed everything up and moved it all across the river. The other
members of the brotherhood had crossed the river already, and he was
waiting to take the Rebbe across.
Rebbe went with him on the ferry. Crossing the river, they saw a giant
bolt of lightening followed by a tremendous clap of thunder, and watched
the old inn go up in flames.
Honor or in Chains
the city of Chernigov lived a famous Jew, who was wise, learned, and
distinguished. He lived in a beautiful mansion in wealth and honor, yet
he was quite punctilious when it came to mitzva observance.
day, people heard that one of the noblemen had slandered the rich Jew as
well as another wealthy man, saying that they had cheated on their taxes
to the tune of some very large sums, and would be facing serious
charges. The Jews of the city did what they could, but to no avail. The
two were arrested, and despite the efforts of their defense team, they
were sentenced to several years of exile in Siberia.
being exiled, the rich man sent a messenger to Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Chein,
then rav of the city, and asked to meet with him. When the rav
came to visit him in jail, the man wept bitterly and said, "I admit
I did wrong. I am called a Chassid because I use a Chabad siddur,
but the time I have spent in jail has opened my eyes to see that a
Chassid is someone who has faith in the Rebbe.
three years ago, when I traveled to Petersburg first class, as I usually
do, one of the conductors who knows me came over and told me that the
famous Rabbi Schneerson was also traveling first class. He offered to
open the door so that I could meet with him.
trembled upon seeing the Rebbe’s holy face, and stood there in fear.
The Rebbe sensed this and immediately looked at me with a look of warmth
and affection. He indicated that I should come closer and sit down, and
he opened a golden box of cigarettes and said, ‘You smoke – take a
cigarette.’ His smiling face and warm gaze calmed me.
Rebbe spoke to me as one speaks to a friend. He asked for details about
my spiritual and material circumstances, how I conducted my household,
and about my frequent trips. He asked about my friends and acquaintances
and questioned me about so many details that I nearly forgot with whom I
in the middle of talking, the Rebbe stopped for a few moments and then
said, ‘You find yourself in the palaces of ministers, and you
certainly know that the government is planning to build iron railroad
tracks in Siberia. By consulting with your friends, the ministers, you
can get the job of constructing the railroad on good terms.’
Rebbe stopped speaking. I nodded my head; the Rebbe did too, as though
saying goodbye, and I returned to my seat. The truth is that I sat there
stunned for a long time, since I did not understand the last thing he
had said to me. I couldn’t understand why he would tell a wealthy man
to move to Siberia and do hard work which I wasn’t accustomed to
to my great sins I did not take his words seriously, and now look at me!
Fool that I am! I was so dense! I had the privilege and honor to meet
with the Rebbe and receive his warning. If only I had had simple faith
in the tzaddik, I would have had the Midrash about Yaakov
fulfilled in me. The Midrash says that Yaakov Avinu was destined to go
down to Mitzrayim in iron chains, but Yosef HaTzaddik preceded
him and he made his way there instead with honor. I was such a fool for
not paying attention to what the tzaddik saw. He knew I would go
to Siberia and he had pity on me and wanted me to go with honor. Now, I
am going in chains."
V’Sippurim, Vol. 3)
You Were Once Connected To Me
to the horror of the Chassidim who witnessed the fated scene, the Alter
Rebbe was arrested and taken away in a black wagon by armed soldiers, as
one who is sentenced to death. A Chassid from Stadov saw and fainted on
the spot, and although people tried to revive him by rubbing him,
calling his name, and pouring water on him, they could not arouse him.
He was in great danger.
one Chassid had an idea. He suggested screaming into his ear that the
Rebbe had been released and had gone home. Perhaps this would wake him
up out of his faint. This they did — and it worked.
he came to and discovered that the Rebbe was still under arrest, he did
not faint again although he was very broken by the news. He determined
to fast every day. (One of the enactments of the Chassidim at that time
was for everyone except the sick and halachically exempt to fast
every Monday and Thursday, but he decided to fast every day.)
the 18th of Kislev, the day before Yud-Tes Kislev (when the Rebbe was
released), the Chassid was fasting as he usually did. Towards evening,
the night of Yud-Tes Kislev and the yahrtzeit of the Maggid of
Mezritch, the Chassidim held a farbrengen and drank mashke.
The Chassid was very tired and didn’t have the strength to farbreng
with the Chassidim, and fell asleep in shul.
dreamed about R’ Menachem Mendel of Horodok, who said to him,
"Although you are mekushar to the Alter Rebbe and not to me,
since you were once mekushar to me, I will tell you a secret.
Only Chassidim who are truly mekushar to their Rebbe, merit the
Rebbe coming to them and revealing what is going on up Above.
is the yom hilula of the Rav HaMaggid, and on his yom hilula,
the tzaddik says divrei Torah and all the neshamos come
from their respective chambers to listen to him."
Mendel listed the various neshamos who came to hear Torah from
the Maggid, describing the order in which they sat. The Baal Shem Tov
sat to the right of the Maggid, and the Arizal on his left, etc. The
Maggid spoke, then concluding his talk, burst into tears and said,
"My student, R’ Zalman, is sitting in jail, and all of Chassidus
is in danger. I am asking all of you for a favor."
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai came and arranged a beis din which
concluded that the Alter Rebbe would be freed. All this was told to the
Chassid by R’ Menachem Mendel Horodoker in his dream.
of the Alter Rebbe’s release first reached Stadov a week later, for in
those days there were no telegrams or telephones; the mail was
transported by horse. That is why it took a week until the news from
Petersburg came to Stadov. The Rebbe was released on Tuesday, and the
news arrived the following Tuesday. Although the official news was
delayed by a week, they fasted that week b’simcha.
V’Sippurim, Vol. 3)