Friday, April 20, 2007

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The Tzadik, R' Mendel Vitebsker

by Chabakuk Elisha at Mystical Paths

I read this story to my children every year on Rebbe Mendele Vitebskers Yohrzeit, which is today (Rosh Chodesh Iyar). In case you havent seen it, I figured I'd share it with you:

In Lubavitch the practice was that after all the candles in the Beis Medrash (the religious study hall) would burn out, the chassidim would close their seforim (the holy books), gather around and repeat words of, and stories of, tzaddikim (the saintly). At one such occasion, it is written that the Tzemach Tzedek, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe – himself was named after R' Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk), overheard Chassidim telling a story of Reb Mendel anight in the dark, to which he said: "When speaking of Reb Mendele you should be sure to light a candle in his honor."

He then lit a candle and repeated this story of R' Mendel's holiness:

Reb Mendel had a disciple that would often travel together with him, especially to attend circumcisions. It happened once that Reb Mendel was notified of a circumcision far away – but since he was unable to attend, he sent this disciple in his stead. On the road this disciple took a wrong turn and got lost. He traveled aimlessly for hours, deep into the night, until he suddenly saw a light in the distance. Since there was no better option, he decided to head for the light. As he came closer, he saw that this was no ordinary house – the light was coming from a genuine palace.

With his heart full of fear and trepidation he approached the entrance and was allowed in. Upon entering he came to a great hall where he saw a gathering of stately looking men sitting around an impressive table, and what looked to be a great and prestigious elderly Tzaddik seated at the head.

The elderly man was discussing awesome things. He was astounded to hear great secrets of creation revealed, and Torah knowledge the like of which boggled his mind. Little by little, he drew closer to the group until he approached the elderly leader. The stately man extended his hand in welcome and with the greeting of "Shamom Aleichem (Peace unto you)," and warmly asked the disciple a number of questions, why he had come, to where he was going, etc.

The disciple answered his questions and remained for quite a while listening to words of Torah so amazing, that he began to think that this Tzaddik surpassed even his Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel. His rapture was so great that he could not bear to tear himself away from this place, until his exhaustion began to take its toll, and the disciple began to struggle to stay awake.

The elderly man noticed this and said that this disciple was surely hungry and tired, and they prepared for him a fine meal, as well as a room with a candelabra and a bed in which to sleep. It was arranged and agreed that in the morning they would escort him back to the main road, show him the proper way, and the disciple would set back off on his journey – after which, he ate, drank and went to sleep in great comfort.

He awoke refreshed the next morning, and when parting from the elderly man he agreed to return to visit whenever possible. He left them amid friendship and affection, and with a joyous heart he set off on his way home.

On the way home he decided to stop-off once again at the home of Reb Mendel to tell him all that happened on his journey. However, his joy faded quickly when Reb Mendel gave a strict order that this disciple was not to be given entry to see him. Out of desperation the man finally decided to force his way in without permission – but his confusion only worsened when Reb Mendel would not even show him his face. In the past when he would return from a trip, Reb Mendel would greet him with a warm embrace, but after these incredible revelations he was completely shut out! Was this his reward? Had he done something so terrible as to deserve this? Without any choice he was forced to leave his Rebbe's room with a broken heart and full of dismay.

After returning home he could find no peace. He decided that he must return to Reb Mendel and do everything possible – he would not rest until he got to the bottom of the matter. When he came back to Reb Mendel he threw himself at his feet and cried out:

"Rebbe! How have I sinned? What have I done that you have distanced yourself from me? And if I erred in some way, I assure you that it was in no way intentional – please tell me what I have done and direct me as to how I can rectify it! Have I done something so terrible that it cannot be rectified?"

Reb Mendel's replied, "Know that the palace you stayed at was the place of evil, may G-d have mercy; and as such, your enjoyment there has defiled your soul and attached it to the forces of evil. Now, I know of no other remedy other than for you to return there, endangering yourself, and to state clearly that you have no part with them – since their Torah, their words, are rooted in evil. If you will manage to stand up to them, then there is hope for you. But if not, G-d forbid, than your lot is with them."

The man was overjoyed to have an opportunity to rectify his situation, and he immediately sent word to his family that he had to leave on an important trip and that they should pray for his success and for help from Above.

He managed to find his way back to the palace, and this time the entire group came out to greet him joyfully and escort him inside. They gathered around the table as before, and the elderly man began to speak words of Torah. This time Reb Mendel's disciple called out, "The words are beautiful, but know – nothing he says is from the side of Holiness!" This statement created chaos in the room, and all the men gathered there began shouting at once, with the intent to do away with the disciple immediately. But the elderly leader ordered them to be silent, and said: "Retract your words and all will be well; I will even reveal to you new things beyond anything you have heard before."

With that he began to expound words of Torah, and asked if he had ever heard anything comparable in awesomeness – but the disciple maintained his position saying, "Your words are indeed beautiful, but they don't come from holiness."

The group was outraged at the disciple's impudence, and they decided not to allow the man to leave alive. Again the elderly leader stopped them, saying: Who told you this? Who revealed this to you?" To which the disciple replied, "My Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, told me this upon my return from this place."

The elderly man said, "You life is in grave peril; however, in order not to spill innocent blood we must check my book. Inside my book are all the Torah lessons ever taught that contained evil – if your Rebbe's name is not found in here, then you will be free; but if not, than your life has been forfeited."

Immediately the book was brought forth and with palpable fear in the room the elderly man began to turn the pages. The disciple was able to see the names of people he was familiar with – some living and some no longer alive – but with each page turned, Reb Mendel's name was not to be found. When they came to the last page, and Reb Mendel's name had never appeared in the book, the elderly man turned and said, "Since his Rebbe is so pure of ulterior motives, so pure of sin and all his words are truth, then we have no power to harm this man." With that he ordered that the disciple be released and sent on his way.

The man headed home in a state of ecstasy; with thanks to Heaven he raced home and arrived safely in his town. As he entered, Reb Mendel ran to him with joy, embracing his student and kissing him on the forehead, sating: "Happy is he that stands up to the test; how great is your lot that you have severed your connection to evil, and from now on beware of them."

So, said the Tzemach Tzedek to his chassidim, when speaking of a Tzaddik such as this it is only fitting to light an additional candle in his memory. And that is precisely what he did.

(Sefer Pri Eitz)

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.

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