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He Stands Before Me Now
By E. Lesches

The 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?

The 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 Shlomo.

Said the Alter Rebbe, “When Reb Mendel passes a house, he can instantly tell the past, present, and future of the people currently living there.”

Nu,” said Reb Shlomo, implying that he too was capable of such a feat.

Continued 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.”

Nu,” Reb Shlomo repeated, apparently unimpressed.

“That 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.”

“Ah!” said Reb Shlomo. “This, indeed, is a remarkable thing.”

* * *

As 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.

Thus, 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.

Reb 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.

* * *

Reb 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.

 It 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.”

The captain nodded in agreement.

“Secure 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.”

And 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 proper burial.

* * *

Reb 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.”

Reb 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.”

The 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.

* * *

The 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.

The 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.”

Bedlam 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 paupers.”

You 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?

The merchant blushed in embarrassment. “You’re right,” he said. “It was totally irresponsible of me to make such a demand. We proceed to Leipzig!”

The 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.

Not 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.”

* * *

Dusk 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.”

Dark 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?”

A 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.”

The 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 source.

(See HaTamim, choveres beis; Reshimos Dvarim, Chitrik, pp. 203-206)


The Tiberias Shul of Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok
The 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.


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