R’ Pinchas of Koretz once compared himself to R’ Yaacov Yosef of Polnoye, the “Toldos”. “The Toldos loves “truth””, he said. “In fact he loves it so much that he speaks great quantities of truth everyday. And if a little bit of falsehood should creep in, it would be worth it for the great amount of truth that would have been spoken.” “I on the other hand abhor falsehood.” “Therefore I barely speak at all lest I utter a bit of falsehood.” Here is a story about the power of words.Part One
Reb Moshe was the son of the contemporary/disciple of the Baal ShemTov, Reb Pinchas of Koretz. Reb Moshe was a very talented individual. Reb Moshe especially was very artistically inclined, and in his younger years learned the scribal arts. Later he turned his attention to the printing industry and even developed a new type of printing process.
When he founded his own printing press, his work soon became the industry standard for accuracy, quality and beauty. Even today, books from the famous Slovita press are sought after by book lovers and collectors. A set of the Talmud from the Slovita press will bring its seller tens of thousands of dollars.
Reb Moshe became very wealthy from the printing business. The business later was turned over to his two sons, Reb Pinchas and Reb Avraham Abba, and it continued to thrive.
The Slovita Shas became the finest in the industry. Nevertheless at the same time, there was a printing of the Shas in Vilna, and the competiton for what was a very limited market became heated. Vilna, was the home of the Misnagdim, the opponents of the new Chassidic path. There were those in Vilna who used the competition as an opportunity to fan the flames of contention.
There was at this time a man who worked for the two brothers who was an alcoholic and a wife beater. She complained regularly to Reb Pinchas and Reb Avraham Abba and they reprimand him with threats of terminating his employment. Once, in a drunken stupor he had an accident in the press and struck his head so hard on a piece of machinery that he died. He was found by some of the workers and they, fearing what the local police might conclude, hid his body until they could bury him secretly, but the plan was found out.
A man called Shimshon Finkelman used this opportunity to vent his hatred against the Chassidim and reported to the authorities that the Slovita Press was involved in anti-government activities and about to print literature for a mass anti-government campaign. He claimed that this worker knew about it and had decided to report the information to the proper authorities. When the brothers found out about it, they decided to have him killed.
An investigator was appointed to find out what had happened. The brothers, knowing what kind of anti-semitism was prevelant in the country, reasoned that a handsome bribe would close the matter and terminate the frivolous charges against them.
The investigator however, took the money and understanding it to be further evidence of the guilt of the brothers, turned it over to the authorities.
The two brothers were immediately arrested and sentenced to receive 1500 blows in the gauntlet. The gauntlet was made up of two long rows of brutal soldiers holding a club in each hand. The victim would have to pass between the two rows absorbing the brutal blows as he struggled to reach the end. One in a thousand survived. Most barely made it a third of the way through. Surviving was not necessarily desirable since the survivor would be sent to Siberia. The two brothers actually made it through, but they were disfigured and mutilated in the process.
It is told of the legendary Yiras Shamayim of Reb Pinchas. As he was passing through, one of the blows sent his yarmulke flying. Not wanting to go on without it, he backtracked to retrieve it absorbing many extra blows as a result.
They survived and were sent to Siberia. They got only as far as Moscow and were not able to travel any further because of their injuries. They were admitted to a goverment hospital where they stayed for a number of months until the Czar died and they were granted pardons.
They returned to Slovita as heroes, mutilated in body but elevated in spirit. Many Jews were drawn to them and they acquired large followings of Chassidim inspired by the Yiras Shamayim of Reb Pinchas and Reb Avraham Abba.
This a story that was first told by R’ Yisrael of Ruzhin. The comments of the Rizhiner are crucial to the understanding of the events.
Reb Aryeh Leib was known as the Shpoler Zeide (grandfather) since he emulated the ways of our grandfather, Avraham Avinu. His home was always open to guests and he loved his fellow Jew with a genuine and encompassing love. In fact, within a short time after he arrived in Shpole, every Jew in town had become a dedicated and pious individual.
The Shpoler Zeide had a chassid who was very devoted. Tragically, this individual was married for many years and still had not been blessed with children. On numerous ocassions he came to beseech his Rebbe (who was quite fond of him), for a blessing for offspring, yet the Shpoler Zeide rejected his requst every time.
One day, the Chassid and his wife decided that enough was enough. They decided that he would go to beseech the Rebbe once more. This time he resolved that no matter what, he would not take no for an answer.
He arrived in Shpole and found the Rebbe absorbed in a private tefillah. He interrupted the Zeide gently and told him the reason for his appearance. The Shploer Zeide told him that he was involved in a matter of great importance having to do with the welfare of the entire Jewish people, and now was not the time to accept individual petitions.
When the Chassid realized the his Rebbe might actually be speaking to the Almighty face to face, he understood that this was an auspicious moment and he redoubled his efforts to gain a blessing from the Shpoler Zeide. He was so relentless that finally, with more than a trace of aggravation in his voice, the Zeide turned on the Chassid with the full force of his presence and assured him that he would never merit to have a child.
Broken, and distressed over his tragic mistake, he went on his way. If there was even a minute chance that he might have a child before, there was certainly no chance now. He absorbed himself in his business and his travel to forget his anguish.
One day he came to the town of Koretz, where Reb Pinchas was still a young man hiding himself in the Beis HaMedrash engaged solely in his Avodas Hashem. The Chassid had spent enough time in Shpole to recognize a person of exemplary qualities when he saw him, so he decided to get to know Reb Pinchas a bit. His further research only confirmed his notion that Reb Pinchas was a man of great spiritual stature. The Chassid, with the hope that maybe one day Reb Pinchas could reverse the curse of the Shpoler Ziede, made a point of visiting Koretz whenever his business took him in the general area.
Once, he arrived in Koretz a few days before Pesach. Reb Pinchas was sitting in the Beis HaMedrash learning and praying, and as usual was destitute. Neverthless, even the approaching holiday did not cause him to waver from his studies.
The wealthy Chassid went to the Rebbitzen and inquired whether or not they had the means with which to celebrate the upcoming Pesach. The Rebbitzen informed him that they had neither meat nor chicken nor fish. Not wine, not candles, not even Matzoh, and no prospects were in sight for obtaining the items. The Chassid turned to the Rebbitzen and offered, “I will provide all the needs for the entire holiday if you will let me be at the seder.” The Rebitzen readily agreed.
When Reb Pinchas left his house the morning before Pesach, he knew that there were none of the provisions needed for the Holiday. He went to his Avodah like on any other day.
As soon as Reb Pinchas left, the Chassid and the Rebitzen went to work. The previously ordered supplies began to arrive. When darkness fell over Koretz and the candles were lit, the home of Reb Pinchas was prepared for royalty. There were meat and fish and chicken. There was Shmura Matzoh and there were wines of every type. Fresh fruits from all over the world were piled high in baskets. All the furniture in the house was replaced. The table was decked with a new snowy white cloth, new porcelain dishes, gleaming silverware, Kiddush cups and a tall candelabra. The children and the Rebbitzen had new outfits, and a white silk Kittel was draped over the back of Reb Pinchas’ chair. The family anxiously awaited the arrival of Reb Pinchas.
But he, knowing that there was nothing to come home to, stayed on at the Beis Medrash for a while after the davening before he finally turned for home. When he walked in the door and saw all that was before him, he was speechless. He immediately, donned the silk Kittel and with great exultation began to make Kiddush and to recite the Haggadah. Reb Pinchas’s exuberance was infectious and the family sang and chanted and discussed the Exodus from Egypt with great passion until they reached Shulchan Orech, the seder meal.
Reb Pinchas turned to the Rebbitzen and asked for an explanation. She motioned to the guest indicating that he had wanted to spend Pesach with them and had provided the bounty.
Reb Pinchas, still in a rapturous state turned to the chassid and asked him if there was anything that he could do for him. The chassid realizing that his chance at last had come, broke down and told the whole story of how he had been a Chassid of the Shpoler Zeide and how he and his wife had been childless for so many years, and how he never merited a blessing from his Rebbe until he bothered him when he shouldn’t have and received a curse instead of a blessing.
Reb Pinchas, being in the exalted state that he was and very moved by the man’s story replied, “If I have any Zechus in the Heavens at all, it is my oath that this year you will be blessed with a son!”
The Rizhiner related that the moment that Reb Pinchas made his oath, a great tumult erupted in the Heavens. Here were two promises, made by two great Rebbes and they contradicted one another. Whose would be upheld? The Heavenly Court finally decided to examine the chronicles of the lives of each Rebbe to see if one of them had been so cautious as to have never before made an oath or promise. Only Reb Pinchas had been so circumspect in his speech that he had never made an unqualified promise or oath. Therefore the Chassid and his wife were indeed blessed with a child within the year. The reknown of Reb Pinchas began to spread.
The Rizhiner concluding his story saying, “Despite the fact that Reb Pinchas’ blessing was upheld, one must nevertheless learn from this an important lesson that one ought not go against the words of another Tzaddik. The grandson of that Chassid was Shimshon Finkelman, the Misnaged who brought about so much trouble for the grandsons of Reb Pinchas.