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Seeing Things Others Could Only Dream Of
By E. Lesches

Reb 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.

Credit 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 readily agreed.

From 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.

Reb 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.

Many 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.

However, 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.

Reb 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).

He 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.

Mordechai 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.

(Mordechai 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.”)

Reb 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.

At 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 tears.

And 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.

He 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.

Once 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.”

“Thank 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.”

The 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.

When 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…”

Reb 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.


Mordechai 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.


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