Things Others Could Only Dream Of
Avrohom Bartzuker merited to see his sons, Mordechai Yoel and his
brother Zalman (both later adopting the surname Duchman), become
Chassidim of stature. The two boys had suffered a difficult
childhood. Poverty was their daily fare — their father was
terribly poor, and their mother’s small bakery barely managed to
support the family.
for their upbringing was primarily due to Reb Eizik of Homil. The
two boys grew up in awe of Reb Eizik. They saw him as the proper
figure to emulate, and tried to spend time with him. Recognizing
their desire, Reb Eizik approached their father and made an offer.
“Send the boys to live with me,” he said. “They will stay in
my home; I will teach them nigleh and Chassidus.”
Although it entailed self-sacrifice on his part, Reb Avrohom
then on began a rewarding period for the two boys. Reb Eizik gave
them individual attention, studying with each boy on his level
until they became learned young men. In fact, when Reb Eizik’s
granddaughter was married, Reb Eizik asked the young groom also to
show attention to these youngsters.
Eizik maintained a cheider sheini, a room adjoining
and opening to the main synagogue. Great Chassidim davened
in this room every day for lengthy periods of time, as prescribed
by the Alter Rebbe and the following Rebbeim. Their prayer was
accompanied by sweet singing and soulful contemplation.
Chassidim, including Reb Sholom Sender, Reb Shimon Laizer Tumarkin,
and Reb Dovid Nechomkin, used this special cheider sheini
for their daily prayers. Yet among them all, there was none
who could compare to Reb Mordechai Yoel. The beauty of his prayers
was simply exceptional.
heartache came from the community elders. In those days it was
customary for gentile soldiers to forcibly recruit young Jewish
men into the Czar’s army. To fill the quota, the elders
sometimes sent teenagers who lacked special lineage or financial
background. Their eye fell on Mordechai Yoel, a young pauper
living with the elderly Reb Eizik, but they had not the audacity
to drag him off in Reb Eizik’s presence.
Eizik somehow got wind of their plans. So he took Mordechai Yoel
with him wherever he went, even when he went to Lubavitch to see
the Tzemach Tzedek. Mordechai Yoel stayed in Lubavitch for a year,
during which time he merited special affection from the Rebbe. The
Tzemach Tzedek instructed Mordechai Yoel to sleep close to his
room and many times gave him food from his very own plate (shirayim).
had his sons learn with Mordechai Yoel; they taught him the
Tzemach Tzedek’s Chassidus, and he taught them Reb Eizik’s
teachings. Within a short time, Mordechai Yoel won grace in the
eyes of the Rebbe’s children and the Chassidim, young and old
alike. They called him “the bachur from Homil.” He also
maintained his special connection with Reb Eizik.
Yoel grew so close to the Rebbe that he merited to see things
others could only dream of — how the Rebbe davened, how
he said the morning blessings, how he recited the Grace after
Meals, as well as how he would go about his general daily conduct.
Yoel later related an incident he witnessed when the Rebbe recited
the blessings preceding the Sh’ma. Once during the
description of the glorious praise of the angels — “all are
beloved, all are pure, all are mighty, all are holy” — the
Rebbe’s fervor suddenly gave way to spirited melody as he
clapped and sang, “the Angel Michael sings on the right, the
Angel Gavriel praises on the left.”)
Mordechai Yoel’s prayer and daily service of G-d inspired awe in
those who saw it. His morning prayers lasted at least four hours,
often more. His mode of prayer was so sincere, so inspiring, so
beautiful, that whoever listened became aroused to repentance.
times he shouted during his prayers, at times he cried. Soulful
singing accompanied his davening and sometimes he repeated
a certain stanza of the niggun until he burst into bitter
his farbrengens — they were animated, full of
warmth and light. It only took a minute amount of mashkeh
to make Reb Mordechai Yoel tipsy, yet he continued drinking strong
liquor throughout the farbrengen, as his heartfelt words
were well received by his audience.
farbrenged often. His farbrengens were words of
Chassidus, peppered with sayings of our Rebbeim. Whenever he
mentioned the name of a Rebbe, it was accompanied by a stream of
tears. During the short winter nights, he could finish a farbrengen
at three in the morning, take his woolen winter hat and visit the ohel
of Reb Eizik. It didn’t matter that several feet of hardened
snow lay on the ground, that the biting wind was especially
ferocious in those predawn hours, that the cemetery was such a far
walk from Homil — nothing could deter Reb Mordechai Yoel from
visiting his Rebbe.
someone asked Reb Mordechai Yoel, “Aren’t you afraid? You go
alone across the mountain between us and the cemetery, and, in
total darkness, you stay among the graves for hours.”
G-d, I never felt the slightest fear,” he responded. “I feel
secure the whole time on the mountain and in the cemetery, and I
actually feel Reb Eizik’s presence in the ohel as if he
were alive, sitting at home.”
words of Tanya were especially dear to Reb Mordechai Yoel.
Every day between Mincha and Maariv he could be
found reciting Tanya. So strong was Reb Mordechai Yoel’s
connection to this special book that during his final illness he
instructed the Burial Society to bury a Tanya with him in
his final resting place.
Reb Mordechai Yoel fell gravely ill, Professor Fishel Schneerson
was summoned to treat his condition. However, the Chassid
worsened, and little could be done to alleviate his suffering.
Imagine how shocked the professor was to hear the invalid murmur,
“Come, Shimon Laizer (Tumarkin), come with me. Let’s go
together and hear a new teaching from Reb Hillel. How long will
you linger down here, just come already…”
Mordechai Yoel passed away shortly after. In deference to the
wishes of this saintly Chassid, the title page of Tanya was
buried along with him, but not the actual book.