In Anger And In Joy
By E. Lesches
In his youth, the Chassid Reb
Nachman — later to become the rabbi of Ushatz — had the unusual merit of
learning with the Alter Rebbe’s son, Reb Dov Ber, later known as the Mitteler
Rebbe. The two boys were some sixteen years of age when they began learning
together. Their learning partnership lasted a year, after which Reb Nachman
traveled back home and entered the world of business.
Three years passed before Reb
Nachman decided it was high time to visit the Alter Rebbe. Off he traveled to
Liadi, where he used the opportunity to visit his old learning partner — Reb
Dov Ber. He found Reb Dov Ber at home, poring over an open Gemara, and the two
spent some time discussing various matters.
The next day, Reb Nachman
resolved to visit Reb Dov Ber once more. Finding his friend learning Gemara
again, Reb Nachman glanced at the open seifer and grinned broadly.
"You expect me to believe you learned thirty-six folios of Gemara in one
day?" he laughed. "Yesterday I saw you learning the fourth page in the
Gemara, and now you are studying the fortieth page already! How come you never
learned this fast when we studied together?"
The Mitteler Rebbe did not
respond. The conversation turned to other matters and Reb Nachman put the
incident out of his mind. He returned home a few days later and barely recovered
from his journey when tragedy struck. Fire suddenly broke out in his home,
burning the entire structure to the ground. Aside from losing his house, Reb
Nachman also lost many valuable and important objects — close to half of his
wealth. Devastated, he traveled back to the Alter Rebbe.
Upon his arrival in Liadi, Reb
Nachman was granted yechidus with the Rebbe. He related his misfortunes
and asked the Rebbe to arouse Heavenly mercy on his soul to ensure that no
further tragedy follow.
The Alter Rebbe listened
closely. "From what I perceive, the matter has nothing to do with me,"
he said, surprise registering on his holy face. "Apparently, you offended
someone and aroused his wrath. Could it be, perhaps, that I once became upset
countered Reb Nachman. "In fact, the contrary is true: the Rebbe has been
very gracious to me and befriends me in many ways."
"If so," continued
the Rebbe, "perhaps you angered my son, Dov Ber."
Replied Reb Nachman,
"This, too, is very unlikely. We are very good friends, like true
brothers." The Alter Rebbe was silent.
Reb Nachman left yechidus,
his head swirling with confused thoughts. The Rebbe had implied that these
tragedies were the outcome of someone’s wrath, either the Rebbe or Reb Dov Ber
— but how could that be? He reviewed events of his recent visits to Liadi and
realized that, perhaps, Reb Dov Ber had taken offence over the jibe aimed at his
speed of learning.
Reb Nachman quickly made his
way to the home of Reb Dov Ber. He related all that had transpired and of the
Alter Rebbe’s assertion that his misfortunes were caused by the anger of Reb
Dov Ber. "Correct," Reb Dov Ber admitted. "I was very upset at
you. What nerve do you have to poke fun at my method of learning? True, you know
firsthand that I normally learn slowly, plumbing the depths of every word I
learn. But in the past three years I have sat and learned constantly while you
spent time managing your business. Thank G-d, my learning was blessedly
Mortified, Reb Nachman felt
overawed at the saintliness of his former learning partner. Just look at the
far-reaching ramifications caused by his wrath! And at the young age of
the young Rebbe, "I am truly grieved at your misfortune, especially that
this great loss was caused by my thoughts. I forgive entirely with a true
forgiveness and I bless you that Hashem — the All Merciful — repay your loss
Reb Nachman returned home and
watched the wheel of fortune turn once more, this time for the better. He
regained all his former losses and made more than double his ordinary profits in
his business dealings.
* * *
Though the Mitteler Rebbe
certainly displayed a measure of wrath in the above-mentioned incident, he was
actually known for his unusual fondness for activities promoting joy. He had a kapelya
— a choir of musically gifted individuals who sang various melodies for the
Rebbe’s enjoyment. Moreover, some of his Chassidim excelled in horse riding
stunts and, during times of joy, they performed tricks and stunts for the Rebbe.
Reb Nochum, one of the Mitteler Rebbe’s sons, was part of this horse riding
group and was particularly agile in his horse riding.
And so, whenever the Rebbe was
particularly joyful, he gave instructions for the kapelya and the horse
riding group to appear before him. He would stand by the window, listen to the
choir singing niggunim, and watch the Chassidim ride wildly in the
Once, on an ordinary weekday,
the Rebbe suddenly called for his kapelya and horse experts and
instructed them to begin their mode of entertainment. This was extremely
unusual, for the Rebbe only used them on holidays and other special dates. The
Rebbe gazed out of the window at the Chassidim performing all kinds of dangerous
antics when suddenly a horse reared and threw off its rider. A cry went up from
the other riders: "Reb Nochum has fallen!"
A group of Chassidim dismounted
and rushed in to the Rebbe’s room. "Your son has fallen off his
horse," they said. "He seems to be in critical condition."
The Rebbe remained at his place
at the window, totally unperturbed. He motioned for them to continue their
singing and the horse riding. Confused, the Chassidim dashed back outside,
jumped onto their horses, and continued with their tricks. Reb Nochum lay
motionless on the floor. The Rebbe watched a while longer, abruptly commanded
them to stop, and returned quickly to his room.
Members of the family quickly
called for a doctor to examine the motionless body, all the while wondering at
the Rebbe’s strange behavior and his seemingly uncaring attitude. "It’s
nothing so serious," the doctor proclaimed after examining Reb Nochum.
"His foot is broken. He’ll need plenty of rest and he’ll be fine in a
couple of weeks." The doctor prescribed some medicines, straightened the
injured foot, and left.
Meanwhile, members of the
family approached the Mitteler Rebbe to voice their wonder at the Rebbe’s
actions. "Is it right to totally ignore the plight of your beloved
son?" they asked. "And even command the Chassidim to continue with
their horse tricks?"
"Have you nothing better
to ask?" retorted the Rebbe. "Why don’t you inquire about my strange
instructions – calling upon my kapelya and asking my Chassidim to ride
their horses on an ordinary weekday?"
"Today was meant to be a
harsh day for my son," explained the Rebbe. "I saw grave accusation
leveled against him in the Heavenly Court. The prosecution was very powerful; I
could see no way out. However, joy sweetens the attribute of severity. I,
therefore, called upon my kapelya, instructed them to sing. I also asked
that the horse riders gladden everyone with their antics."
"The joy created by the
singers and horse riders tempered the strict decree against my son, but a small
portion of the decree remained. That is why he fell off his horse and hurt his
leg, because this became the physical manifestation of the remaining decree.
However, I continued with the happy activities to lessen even this lesser decree
and, G-d willing, Nochum will recover in the very near future."
(See Sippurim Nora’im p. 61;
R’shimas Dvarim I:94.)