Stands Before Me Now
By E. Lesches
Alter Rebbe spent Pesach of 5637 in a troubled state of mind. His
closest friends, foremost students of the Maggid of Mezritch, had
decided to make the move to Eretz Yisroel with Reb Menachem Mendel of
Horodok, a mentor of the Alter Rebbe, heading the group. The Alter Rebbe
agonized over his options for three months: Should he join the group on
their holy pilgrimage, or stay behind, almost alone, to continue
spreading Chassidus in Russia?
Alter Rebbe held Reb Mendel Horodoker in great esteem. Once, when Reb
Shlomo of Karlin met the Alter Rebbe, the discussion turned to the
greatness of Reb Mendel Horodoker.
“What is it you find so unique about Reb Mendel?” asked Reb
the Alter Rebbe, “When Reb Mendel passes a house, he can instantly
tell the past, present, and future of the people currently living
said Reb Shlomo, implying that he too was capable of such a feat.
the Alter Rebbe, “When Reb Mendel passes a house, he can instantly
tell the past, present, and future of those living there now and of
whoever lived there until that moment.”
Reb Shlomo repeated, apparently unimpressed.
is not all,” concluded the Alter Rebbe. “When Reb Mendel passes a
house, he can divine the past, present, and future of those living there
now, those who lived there earlier, and even of all those who will later
live in that residence.”
said Reb Shlomo. “This, indeed, is a remarkable thing.”
such, it is no wonder that the Alter Rebbe was overcome by desire to
join Reb Mendel in his journey to Eretz Yisroel. The Alter
Rebbe’s brother, the Maharil, would later reveal that the Maggid
appeared to the Alter Rebbe in a vision on several occasions,
instructing him to stay behind in Russia. Despite this, the Alter Rebbe
eventually decided to join the group and informed his household of the
decision immediately after Pesach.
a short while later, the Alter Rebbe, his brother, and their families
traveled to Mohilev and caught up with Reb Mendel. Many of the Alter
Rebbe’s students accompanied him on this trip to try to convince the
Alter Rebbe to stay. Concerned by the Alter Rebbe’s decision to leave
Russia, Reb Mendel Horodoker spoke to him at great length and absolutely
forbade his departure. A few weeks later, the Alter Rebbe decided to
remain; he would continue the Maggid’s work in Russia.
Mendel and his group boarded a ship and made the arduous journey to the
Holy Land. Reb Mendel intended to reside in Tzfas. He ignored the
entreaties of leading dignitaries to take up residence in Yerushalayim
and other cities, traveling directly to Tzfas. Later, when living
conditions there became intolerable, he moved to Tiberius and
established a synagogue.
Noach Lechewitzer was a devoted Chassid of Reb Mendel Horodoker. So
devoted in fact, that he could find no peace living in Russia while his
Rebbe had departed for the Holy Land. It bothered him to no end.
Finally, Reb Noach sold all his possessions, converted them to cash, and
reserved a place on a ship headed for Eretz Yisroel.
is said, “Many designs are in the heart of man, but it is G-d’s
counsel that prevails” (Mishlei 19:21). On board the ship, on
his way to being reunited with Reb Mendel, Reb Noach became terribly
ill. Racked by sickness, Reb Noach soon realized his days were numbered.
He called the captain of the ship, a decent and honest fellow, and
struck a bargain. “I know I am about to die,” said Reb Noach. “I
also know that the corpses of those who die aboard a ship are always
tossed overboard. Please, I will give you all my money, but on the
condition that you guarantee the following stipulations.”
captain nodded in agreement.
my body tightly to a wooden plank before you throw me into the water.
Write my name and the names of my parents on a slip of paper, and insert
the paper into my pockets. Hopefully, I will reach the harbor of a city
where Jews live. They will bring me to a proper Jewish burial.”
so it was. When Reb Noach passed away shortly afterwards, the captain
followed his instructions to the letter. That Friday, Reb Noach’s body
reached the waters of Haifa. The local Jewish residents were shocked to
hear of a Jewish body found off shore, and they quickly arranged a
Noach’s soul ascended to the Heavens. Soon he stood before the
Heavenly Court, watching his entire life in replay. His virtuous actions
were weighed against his shortcomings; nothing had escaped the eyes of
the Court. To his chagrin, they found that one item, one solitary
element, had not been accomplished properly during his life on this
world. “You can choose,” ruled the Heavenly Court. “You must
either spend half an hour in Gehinom [Purgatory] or descend once
more into a physical body.”
Noach did not flinch for a moment. “I must consult with my Rebbe,”
he said. “Since I reached a mature age, I never made any decisions
without asking the Rebbe, Reb Mendel. This decision is no different.”
Heavenly Court had never heard such a claim before. They reviewed Reb
Noach’s life and, to their astonishment, found Reb Noach to be
correct. He had indeed never done anything without consulting Reb Mendel
Horodoker. Permission was granted and Reb Noach’s soul left the
Heavenly Court, plummeting downwards towards this earth.
merchant sat comfortably atop the carriage leading the procession. He
was on the way to the market in Leipzig. Dozens of his carriages trailed
closely behind, carrying bundles of wares and merchandise. The wagons
bumped and rattled on the bumpy trail. Workers talked and joked as they
handled the horses.
merchant looked back at his many servants and wagon drivers sitting
contentedly, watching the countryside roll by. And yet, the merchant
felt an overpowering urge to see his Rebbe, Reb Mendel. He called a halt
to the procession and descended from his wagon. “We will all stop here
now,” he addressed his workers. “I am traveling to the Rebbe.”
erupted. Servants, drivers, their wives and children scrambled off the
wagons. “How can you do such a crazy thing?” they demanded. “We
number almost a hundred families here; will you leave us to fend for
ourselves on the road? The fair will be over by the time you return and
no one will be interested in our merchandise. How do you expect us to
earn profits and provide for our families? You are turning us into
see, dear reader, it was an illusion no earthly eye could see. The
merchant was Reb Noach, his soul clothed in a different body, his
surroundings altered to confuse his desire. Leipzig now seemed to be his
true destination — would he succeed in diverting that desire and meet
instead with his Rebbe?
merchant blushed in embarrassment. “You’re right,” he said. “It
was totally irresponsible of me to make such a demand. We proceed to
crowd gave a roar of approval and boarded the wagons once more. The
merchant’s driver cracked his whip, the horses trotted forward, and
soon the procession continued on its way. After covering many miles, the
merchant felt an even stronger urge to meet the Rebbe. The spectacle
repeated itself once more: The wagons were stopped; the merchant
expressed his desire; the crowd responded with screams and threats; and
finally, the merchant capitulated.
much time passed before the longing returned. This time it was a force,
a drive that would not be stilled. It was not a mere desire that
remained open to debate, but an immovable resolve. Nothing, but nothing,
could change the merchant’s mind and he made it quite clear to his
workers. “None of your screaming will help any more,” he shouted.
“I must see the Rebbe; I am leaving right now.”
was falling as Reb Mendel Horodoker sat in his Tiberius synagogue,
surrounded by students. It was late Shabbos afternoon and they had
gathered for Seuda Shlishis, the third meal of the Shabbos, a
time when Reb Mendel normally expounded Torah. Suddenly Reb Mendel began
telling the tale of his devoted Chassid, Reb Noach; of his desire to
join his Rebbe in the Holy Land, his demise at sea, his troubles in the
Heavenly Court and finally, of the decision to consult with his Rebbe,
Reb Mendel. “He stands before me now,” concluded Reb Mendel, “and
asks for advice.”
shadows lengthened on the synagogue walls as Reb Mendel finished. His
face burned with Heavenly fire. “And I?” he roared. “I say it is
far better to spend half an hour in Gehinom than to descend once
more to this world. And what do my Chassidim say?”
ripple of awe passed through the room. They shouted in one voice, “We
all agree: Far better to spend a half-hour in Gehinom than to
live again in this world.”
Chassidim suddenly heard a bloodcurdling cry from outside the synagogue.
“Ay, Rebbe!” an anguished voice said. They ran outside, only
to find no one there. They searched around the synagogue and stopped in
dread at the sight that met their eyes. There, near the window frame,
was the singed imprint of a hand. Reb Noach had returned to his Heavenly
HaTamim, choveres beis; Reshimos Dvarim, Chitrik, pp. 203-206)