Taking the High Road
By E. Lesches

Kvitzas ha’derech, the miraculous "shortening of the road," is normally associated with the wonders of the Baal Shem Tov. Stories abound of the Baal Shem Tov and his circle of disciples boarding a carriage, the gentile driver loosens the reins, countryside and villages flash by as the carriage leaves all boundaries of space and time. Within an incredibly short period of time, the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples find themselves in a distant location, and proceed to do what they set out to accomplish. At times, kvitzas ha’derech appears in stories concerning select disciples of the Baal Shem Tov acting on instructions of their Rebbe.

Our Rebbeim also used this method in times of need. Early one morning, the Rebbe Maharash once took his nephew Reb Mordechai by the hand and led him to the room of Reb Leib, personal attendant to the Tzemach Tzedek. They found Reb Leib in bed. "So," the Maharash addressed the attendant, "where were you last night?"

Reb Leib sat up in bed and stared back at them with bloodshot eyes. He looked bewildered, as though their question had not registered; his confused state of mind would not permit a response. The pair left Reb Leib alone and the Rebbe Maharash related to his nephew what had so shaken the faithful attendant.

Many, many miles away, in the city of Vitebsk, a crucial issue in halacha arose. It was a matter of life-and-death, an issue that warranted immediate attention. Those concerned wrote their questions to the Tzemach Tzedek and quickly dispatched a messenger to the village of Lubavitch. "Every minute counts!" they exhorted. "Rush!"

The messenger set off with a sinking heart. Bad enough that Lubavitch was so far from Vitebsk; now the rainy season had just made things worse. The roads were one big soggy mess and even the fastest horses had difficulty maneuvering the roads. The messenger did his best under the conditions, pushing himself and the horses to the limit, finally reaching Lubavitch. After delivering the letter to the Rebbe, the messenger returned to his lodgings and tried to recuperate from the ordeal of the journey.

The Tzemach Tzedek read the letter and immediately realized what an urgent matter it was. He composed a reply clearly outlining the stipulations of halacha, and summoned Reb Leib the attendant. It was ten at night on Motzaei Shabbos when Reb Leib entered the Tzemach Tzedek’s room. "Do you want to drink some vodka?" asked the Tzemach Tzedek.

A look of surprise crossed Reb Leib’s face. "If the Rebbe gives, I won’t refuse," he said.

The Tzemach Tzedek poured a full cup of the strong spirit and handed it to Reb Leib. "L’chaim!" said the Rebbe.

"L’chaim!" responded Reb Leib. He downed the vodka and placed the empty cup on the table. "Will you have a second cup?" offered the Rebbe.

"If the Rebbe gives, I won’t refuse," repeated the attendant.

The Tzemach Tzedek poured more vodka into the cup and filled it entirely. Again the two said "L’chaim!" and a large glassful of strong vodka emptied into the attendant’s mouth.

Reb Leib stumbled and barely managed to put down the cup. The room was spinning. He could make out the Rebbe’s voice, seemingly from a distance, asking something about a third cup. "What on earth could a third cup be?" he wondered dizzily. He felt light, weightless.

The Tzemach Tzedek tied a belt around Reb Leib’s waist. He then took the letter he had just composed and placed it just inside the lapels of Reb Leib’s jacket, leaving enough of the envelope jutting outside to make it conspicuous. He took his drunken attendant by the hand, led him outside, and pointed him in the direction of Vitebsk. "Go!" he said. "Go quickly."

Reb Leib walked unevenly out of Lubavitch. The roads seemed meaningless, the forest seemed to spin by. Barely had a few minutes passed and he could make out city lights. He walked on for a couple of minutes and found himself in front of an imposing house.

"Why, it’s Reb Leib!" said a man standing in the doorway. It was Yudke Kerlin, the famous philanthropist and community officer of Vitebsk. "You must have been here over Shabbos," he said warmly, shaking Reb Leib’s hand.

Reb Leib felt a wave of confusion sweep over him. Shabbos? He remembered spending Shabbos in Lubavitch. What was Yudke talking about? Reb Yudke continued beaming at the Rebbe’s attendant and suddenly noticed an envelope sticking out of his jacket. "Aha!" he said excitedly, plucking the envelope out of Reb Leib’s jacket. "This must be for us, though I can’t understand how the Rebbe answered so quickly."

Reb Leib continued standing stupidly on the outside steps as Reb Yudke read the letter carefully, memorizing every word the Rebbe wrote. "It’s truly remarkable that the Rebbe responded so quickly," said Reb Yudke. "It was an urgent situation." He placed the envelope back into Reb Leib’s jacket pocket, wished him a good week, and returned inside his home.

For his part, Reb Leib sensed it was time to return to Lubavitch. He turned and began walking out of Vitebsk. He felt dizzy and sick. The road swayed under his feet, the trees and houses rushed by in a blur. It was if he stood suspended between heaven an earth. He soon found himself again in Lubavitch, in the courtyard of the Tzemach Tzedek, and the Rebbe was standing there waiting for him. The Rebbe took the letter from Reb Leib’s pocket and sent the attendant to rest up in his room.

"Now do you understand?" the Rebbe Maharash said to his nephew, Reb Mordechai. "When we visited Reb Leib, he was recuperating from his journey. He has no idea where exactly he spent the night, and can make no sense of being in Vitebsk and back!"

* * *

There was another occasion in which the Tzemach Tzedek used this method of miraculously shortening the road.

Lubavitch – small village that it was – did not have a drugstore. If there was a need for medication, the prescription would be sent to the closest city, Dubrovno, and the medicine brought back to Lubavitch.

It once so happened that a member of the Rebbe’s family became gravely ill and urgently needed a certain medication. The Tzemach Tzedek immediately summoned his gentile wagon driver and ushered the driver into his study. "Open my money chest," instructed the Tzemach Tzedek. "Take the first coin you see."

The wagon driver opened the box and pulled out a coin worth five rubles. "Take the money and go to the drugstore," said the Rebbe. "Come back as soon as they fill the prescription; don’t accept any change."

The driver scratched his head in confusion. Though it was barely midday now, night would fall around five in the afternoon, and a good steed could not make it to Dubrovno in less than seven, eight hours. It would be well into nighttime when he arrived – what was the point of rushing back in the dark?

The driver harnessed the horses and set out for Dubrovno. Barely had he left Lubavitch when a feeling of heavy exhaustion enveloped him. He struggled, unsuccessfully, before falling asleep at the reins. No one knew what exactly the horses did, but when the wagon driver awoke he found his carriage rattling into Dubrovno. He directed the horses to the drug store, had the prescription filled and – without even waiting for the change – turned back for Lubavitch, precisely as the Rebbe had requested.

Once again the driver felt his eyelids droop just as the horses left the city limits. A wiser person, this time he resolved not to resist the temptation to sleep. A calm, relaxed feeling spread through his body. He felt the reins slip out off his hands and he drifted off to sleep.

A sudden bump jolted the driver out of his deep sleep. They were back in Lubavitch, and the horses were headed for the courtyard of the Tzemach Tzedek. Here and there, Chassidim were making their way to shul to daven Mincha. The horses turned into the Rebbe’s yard, the driver jumped off the wagon, straightened his clothes and clutched the medicine. He had fulfilled his mission.

(See L’sheima Oizen, pp. 59-60; Likkutei Sippurim, Rashag, p. 101.)


They found Reb Leib in bed. "So," the Maharash addressed the attendant, "where were you last night?"







Reb Leib sat up in bed and stared back at them with bloodshot eyes...






A sudden bump jolted the driver out of his deep sleep. They were back in Lubavitch, and the horses were headed for the courtyard of the Tzemach Tzedek.


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