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From Inspiration to Action

R’ Eliezer Lippa was a simple but devout Jew who lived in the town of Taranow in Galicia. He was not well versed and didn’t know the meaning of most of his daily prayers, but he always davened with the minyan and he was scrupulous to say Amen, after every blessing of the Chazzan, and to respond Amen, Yehey Shemi Rabboh in the Kaddish, and to respond to the Borchu. He never conversed about worldly matters in the Shul and he accorded the sages and Rabbi their due honor.

R’ Eliezer Lippa was a laborer who knew many trades, but he is most well know to us as a water carrier. He worked hard, and managed to make a decent living, as he had four steady customers, who were well-to-do merchants and paid him above the average rate for his services.

Once, the Baal ShemTov, before he had revealed himself to he world, arrived in Taranow. For all practical purposes he was as he appeared, a simple itinerant, but with a gift for telling stories. He used to congregate with the other laborers and tell them stories from the Talmud and he also related to them how much Hashem was pleased with the sincere prayers and straightforward faith of ordinary Jews.

One day, R’ Eliezer Lippa was guiding his wagon with its full barrel of water through the center of town when he spotted his friend and fellow water carrier R’ Zalman Dov along with some other men, gathered around a ragged itinerant (the Baal ShemTov) and listening intently with heads inclined to catch his every word.

R’ Eliezer Lippa, his interest sparked, went over to join the circle of listeners. The Baal ShemTov was telling the story of a wealthy man who lived in the days when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem still stood.

“The wealthy man was taking a fattened ox to the Temple for a sacrifice. It was a massive beast, and when it decided, for reasons of its own, to stop still in its tracks, nobody was able to convince it to walk further towards their destination. No amount of pushing and whipping could make that animal budge”

“A poor man, who was on his way home was watching the scene. In his hand was a bunch of freshly pulled up carrots, with the green stalks still attached to the bright orange roots. Wanting to be of help to the hapless ox owner, he held to carrots to the muzzle of the ox and when it began to nibble, he pulled them away and thereby led to animal to their destination at the Holy Temple.”

“That night the owner of the ox had a dream. In his dream he heard a voice which called out, ‘The sacrifice of the poor man, who gave up the carrots which he was bringing to his impoverished family, was a more desirable sacrifice than your fattened ox.'”

“The wealthy man brought a large fattened ox for a burnt offering. He was so joyful at being able to bring such an animal that he also brought a sheep for a peace offering an made a huge feast for him family and friends. He also distributing the proper gifts from his sacrifices to the priests. His joy was so intense that he held back nothing.”

“The poor man on the other hand, in his poverty had only a few carrots to bring home for his family. What were his carrots compared to the fatted animal of the wealthy man?”

“Nevertheless”, said the Baal ShemTov, “Hashem desires the heart. Any Mitzvoh a person may do, whether great or small, simple or difficult, is judged by how it is performed. A Mitzvoh done for Hashem’s sake, with great simchah and purity of heart, is very precious to the Creator. Hashem cries out to the angels, ‘Look at the mitzvoh my son/daughter has done!’ Hashem, from his place in the heavens saw that although the wealthy man had offered much, the poor man had offered much more.”

R’ Eliezer Lippa’s mind knew no rest. How he longed to be able to do a mitzvoh like the poor man in the story; with pure intention and a joyful overflowing heart. The weeks passed and still R’ Eliezer Lippa knew no peace for the desire to be able to do such a mitzvah tortured his heart.

One day, as R’ Eliezer Lippa was delivering water to one of his wealthy customers, he had an idea, an idea so perfect, so that his whole being became flushed with a great sense of pleasure and relief. R’ Eliezer Lippa’s four wealthy customers provided him with half of his livelihood since they paid him far more than the going rate for a barrel of water. On the other hand, his friend R’ Zalman Dov supplied the town’s four shuls which paid him half price for their water. “I can switch four of my customers for four of his”, thought R’ Eliezer Lippa. “Four wealthy homes for four synagogues.” He was anxious to serve Hashem by providing the water for that the congregants would wash their hands with. Certainly the mitzvoh was of more value than the profits he would give up.

He went home and told his wife about the story of the Baal ShemTov, and how doing a mitzvoh with joy is like bringing a sacrifice in the Holy Temple even though it no longer stands. His wife readily agreed to the idea, as did R’ Zalman Dov who sorely nethe extra income. The deal was stuck and the transfer of customers was made. No one but R’ Eliezer Lippa and his wife knew what had happened and they were overjoyed at the prospects for their new “business”. There were days when even R’ Eliezer Lippa’s wife went to the river to participate in the mitzvoh of “drawing the water for the synagogues”.

The whole while they would concentrate on the mitzvoh of preparing the water for the congregants to wash their hands with before prayers, and their joy was boundless. For they understood that Hashem desires the heart.

According to some, the story continues. In the merit of the mitzvoh which R’ Eliezer Lippa and his wife performed, they were blessed with children, for she had formerly been barren. Those children grew to be luminaries who lit up the Jewish world and inspired tens of thousand to return to Hashem in Teshuva and to serve Him with joy.

Those two sons were R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk and R’ Zusia of Anipoli, two of the principal students of the Baal Shem Tov’s successor, the Maggid of Mezeritch.

The Service of the Ba’al Shem Tov

Trembling in the Divine Presence
Once, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the main disciple and the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, related how once the Baal Shem Tov was leading the prayers on the first day of Pesach. The Baal Shem Tov was praying with great desire and fervor and his voice was booming like thunder.Just before the Mussaf service which include the sublime prayer for dew, the Maggid stepped out to seclude himself in meditation for a few moments in a side room. Without notice Baal Shem Tov came in to the room to put on his Kittel (special white robe prayer robe) for the Mussaf sevice.

The Maggid observed that the Divine Presence of Hashem had descended upon his master, and he did not seem to be at all in this world. The Baal Shem Tov put his Kittel on, and the Maggid saw that it was wrinkled on the shoulder. He put out his hand to smooth the wrinkle and the moment it touched the shoulder of the Baal Shem Tov, his whole body began to tremble. (The Baal Shem Tov was already trembling due to the Divine prescence resting on him). Even after the Baal Shem Tov had left his presence, the Maggid continued to tremble uncontrollably until he beseeched Hashem in prayer to stop it since was clearly not yet prepared to have such an experience of the Divine Presence.

Torah from Another World
R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya related that he heard from his master, the Great Maggid of Mezeritch, that once the Baal ShemTov was teaching a group of his close disciples. He began to reveal to them secrets and hidden mysteries of the Torah that had never before been heard by human ears. One must keep in mind as well, said the Baal HaTanya, that the Maggid, even before he met the Baal ShemTov was a tremendous sage in his own right. He was a master of Halacha and Talmud and there was not a tome of Jewish mysticism that he had not learned at least 101 times!Yet, the Maggid was incredulous, how could a man born of woman could actually be privy to such esoteric wisdom. He was sure that the soul of the Baal ShemTov had broken loose from its moorings in his body and it alone was now expounding to them the secrets of the Torah.

Finally, with great trepidation and wonderment, two of the disciples approached the Baal ShemTov and began to pat him on the arms and shoulder in utter disbelief to find that a flesh and blood man was standing before them.

The Faith of the Ba’al Shem Tov

Once, the Ba’al Shem Tov was thinking about how great his faith in Hashem was. A heavenly voice called out, “Reb Yisroel, don’t become proud. Yankel the Innkeper has more faith than you.”The Ba’al Shem Tov decided to go to visit Yankel the Innkeper. He stayed there several weeks but there didn’t seem to be anything special about Yankel. . .until one Shabbos.

In the middle the evening meal, a local peasant came in and banged three times on the table with his stick, and then left. Reb Yankel explained that it is a sign that he must soon pay the rent; 5000 rubles and Reb Yankel admitted that he doesn’t have the money, nor is he planning on borrowing any. Hashem will help, as He always has.

The next Shabbos, the peasant returned issueing the same warning. Reb Yankel yelled at him, “Don’t come back until tomorrow.” The peasant yelled back, “Jew, if you don’t get the money, we are going to feed you to the dogs!”

The next day, Reb Yankel went about his business. In the morning, three businessmen came by and asked him if he could act as their agent to buy wheat for them for the Czar, and they will pay him 2000 rubles for the effort. Yankel demanded 5000 rubles. They offered 2500, then 3000, but Yankel refused. They didn’t come to an agreement, and the men left.

Around 2:00 in the same afternoon, the peasant came back. He banged on the door and screamed, “Jew, pay up!” “Get out, cried Yankel”, I have until nightfall”.

A half hour before nightfall, the peasant returned. He just opened the door and walked right in. Reb Yankel is completely unperturbed. He says, “Just a minute”, takes his hat and walking stick and walks out to the road. At that moment, the three wheat merchants came riding over the hill. They agreed to his price, and they all went inside and closed the deal.

That, the Ba’al Shem Tov later remarked, is true Faith in Hashem.

You Are Not Who You Think You Are

willowOnce, when Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, the son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a young man, he was visiting with his father-in-law in Yanovitch. There he met with one of his father’s chassidim. The chassid noticed that the young rebbe’s son was all too aware of his achievements in scholarship and meditative prayer and felt that some cutting down to size was in order.

Said the chassid to Rabbi DovBer, “Considering who you are and how you’ve lived, what’s the big deal? Your father – well, we all know who your father is. You were certainly conceived under the holiest of circumstances, and I’m sure that your father secured a most lofty soul to bring down into the world. Then you were raised in a rebbe’s home and great care was taken to mold your character and safeguard you from any negative influences. All your life you’ve been exposed to scholarship and sanctity and to this very day you’re preoccupied only with the study of Torah and the teachings of Chassidism. So you’ve amassed a certain amount of knowledge and you pray with fervor and devotion. Big deal!””Now, take me for example. My father was a simple man, and we can well imagine what was on his mind when he scraped out some dreg of a soul out the bottom of the barrel. My upbringing? I was raised as a goat and basically left to my own devices.

And do you know what I do with my life? Let me tell you how I earn my living. I loan money to the peasants during the planting season and then, during the winter months, I make my rounds of their villages and farms to collect the debts before they have a chance to squander their entire harvest on vodka. This means setting out several hours before sunrise, well before the permissible time for prayer, equipped with a flask, for without a drink one cannot begin to talk business with a peasant. After drinking to his health, one must share a `l’chayim’ with the woman in the house as well, otherwise she can ruin the whole deal for you. Only then can you sit down to settle part of the account.” “After three or four such stops I make my way home, immerse myself in the mikveh and prepare for prayer. But after such preliminaries, what sort of prayer would you expect…?”

The words of this chassid, who was, in truth, renowned for his refined nature and soulful prayers, made a deep impression on Rabbi DovBer. The young man immediately travelled home to his father and poured out his heart. He bewailed his spiritual state, saying that his service of G-d is worthless, falling so short of what is expected from him.

The next time the chassid from Yanovitch came to Rabbi Schneur Zalman,the Rebbe said to him: “I am most grateful to you – you have made a chassid out of my Berel.”

From Awe to Awesome Love

56It is brought down that the month of Elul, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are designated for doing Teshuva. A Jew is inspired and cajoled into teshuva as he comtemplates the awesomeness of the Creator and how we are obligated to Him. It is a teshuva based on fear and awe.

When Sukkos, the season of our rejoicing comes, the process of teshuva takes a new course. In this Festive time the teshuva is based on love.

In the poem “Yedid Nefesh” which is sung on Shabbos at night and at the third meal (many Chassidim also recite it everyday as a prelude to the morning prayers), we find an allusion to this idea.

The second verse says, “Glorious, resplendent One, Light of the world, my soul is lovesick for you; I beseech you, Oh G-d, pray heal it by showing it the sweetness of your splendor. At that moment it (the soul) will be strengthened and healed and will experience everlasting joy”.

The Belzer Rav, R’ Aharon zt”l commented, that the operative factor here is, that at the moment when one has an exalted spiritual experience, he must hold fast to the essence of it and learn from it. The result is everlasting joy. That is what is expressed here. “I beseech you, Oh G-d, pray heal it by showing it the sweetness of your splendor”. This is the moment when G-d reveals Himself in a special way to a person. If he grabs hold of the moment and internalizes its essence, then, “At that moment it (the soul) will be strengthened and healed and will experience everlasting joy”. If one lets it go, and relates to the moment as just another “high”, then the experience is squandered.

I have heard the above idea applied to Yom Kippur. If one grabs hold of the spiritual awakening, inspiration and resolve experienced on Yom Kippur and brings it into the following days, then he will certainly fully experience the joy of the Sukkos season. This is the transition from Teshuva with awe to Teshuva with love.

Once, on the eve of Yom Kippur, a young Torah scholar (avrech) arrived in the town of Yaroslav. It was just before the start of Kol Nidre and suddenly the young avrech appeared in the Shul. Without any words or introductions he went up to the reader’s stand and began to chant the Kol Nidre prayer in frightening and hauntingly beautiful melody. Not one of the members present in the Shul could identify the stranger or explain his behavior, but since he was clearly a person of considerable spiritual stature, they allowed him to continue uninterrupted.

After the Maariv prayer the avrech chanted all of the Shirei Yichud (Songs of Unity) and then began to recite Tehillim (Psalms) all the while standing. When the members of the shul arrived back in the morning, they found the arech still standing on his feet absorbed in prayer. As soon as a minyan assembled he began with Adon Olam and continued to lead Shacharis prayer. He himself read from the Torah and chanted the Haftorah. He said Yizhkor and then began the arduous Mussaf prayer. At this point the members were suspicious if he was indeed a mortal human being or some kind of angel that had descended on this awesome day; for his voice and his stamina were other worldly. Then there were times when the avrech was silent and the congregation sang. They themselves reached such heights of exultation that they were sure that he was indeed a mortal and they were his equals. But as the Neilah prayer drew to a close, the congregation, thoroughly swept up by his singing and roaring as he stormed the gates of prayer to bring in Klal Yisrael in Teshuva, felt certain that he could indeed be only an angel.

One of those present that special Yom Kippur, was R’ Yaakov Meshullam Orenstein, the author of the work Yeshuos Yaacov. It from him that we know of this whole story. R’ Yaacov Meshullam decided to follow the young man after the completion of the services. He went after him to his lodgings to see if he would eat now or not. He saw how he heard the havdalah ceremony from others and then asked his host for some kvickenish (a tasty morsel) to refresh his soul since he was hungry.

They immediately brought him some cake and fruit, but he thundered, “No this is not what I need, bring me a volume of (the Talmudic) tractate Sukkah. With that he retired to his room claiming that he wanted to rest. R’ Yaacov Meshullam peeked in the key hole and saw that he opened up his book and started to learn with extraordinary exuberance, not pausing for a minute. R’ Yaacov Meshullam could already not stay awake himself, so he left to break his fast and to rest. In the early morning he returned to find that the avrech was still learning and about to complete the final page of the tractate. Only after that did he proffer a sheepish request for a glass of coffee and a bit of cake.

This young avrech was none other than R’ Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, the Kedushas Levi. He is the same R’ Levi Yitzchok whose son writes about him in the introduction to his own book Keser Torah, that “. . . he raised up thousands upon thousands of disciples . . . and ignited within them a passion for learning Torah and serving the Creator with love. His own divine service was such that even the angels above were envious of him!”

The Soul of the Ba’al Shem Tov

In the city of Tzfas in Eretz Yisroel, once lived a simple Jew who only knew how to pray. Nevertheless he was extremely modest and straight-forward. One night, as he was saying the Tikun Chatzos, (the midnight lamentation over the destruction of the Holy Temple), there was a knock at the door. A man entered and introduced himself as Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet). He came to reveal to this simple Jew when the Moshiach (messiah) will come. But first, the man must reveal to him what he did on the day of his bar-mitzvah earned him the privilege of receiving this information. The man declined to tell. Even though it was Eliyahu HaNavi asking, what he did was completely l’shem shamayim, (for the sake of Hashem alone), and therefore a secret between him and the creator. Then he agreed not to receieve the information.Eliyahu HaNavi went back up to heaven where there was a tremendous tumult over this man’s purity. They ordered Eliyahu to return and to teach this man deep secrets of Torah. The man became a great tzaddik nistar (hidden righteous man). When he died, the Heavenly Court decided that his reward would be to return to earth and reveal a new path in Torah that would renew souls, purify the world and hasten the redemption. This was the soul of the Baal Shem Tov.


Learning to Love Shabbos – A Modern Tale

310I heard it from a man I met almost twenty years ago.Some ten years before I met the man who told me his story, the Ultra Orthodox were first attempting to close Meah Shearim Street to traffic on Shabbos. There were trash bins set up across the street and there was anger and indignation all around.

There was a committee formed to oppose the closure of the street, called by a name which declared their opposition to “religious coercion”. They saw it as coercive against the secular that the Ultra Orthodox wanted to close the street which runs through their completely Orthodox neighborhood. This committee against religious coercion used to bus ruffians into Jerusalem from kibbutzim and other places, to attack and beat up Ultra Orthodox.

This man was one of those ruffians who went up to Jerusalem to fight religious coercion by beating up the Ultra Orthodox in order to force them to open the street in their neighborhood to traffic.

One Shabbos, he was in Jerusalem with his own automobile and decided to show those Ultra Orthodox a thing or two. He drove his car down Meah Shearim Street “like a Roman charioteer”, as he described it, with pedestrians scattering in panic; pregnant women sprinting from the street, women with baby carriages bouncing across the uneven pavement. All to show them that they can’t impose their “Shabbos” on him.

One man a local teacher had the presence of mind to memorize the number of his license plate and look him up the next day at the motor vehicle Licensing Bureau. Then he found the driver’s telephone number. Then he called the driver up and invited him home for Shabbos, explaining that he wanted him to see what Shabbos is and “why it means so much to us.”

The driver declined, explaining that he would not want to spend the whole of Shabbos. The teacher said “I am inviting you to be my guest, not my prisoner. You are free to leave whenever you want. Just do me the courtesy of parking your car outside the neighborhood.”

He could find no honorable way of refusing a challenge so reasonably presented so he went Shabbos evening for Kiddush and the meal. They talked somewhat and he left. When he left, his host invited him to return another Shabbos and, to reinforce the invitation, called him during the week.

Eventually, he came again for Shabbos. And again. And again. Over the next year or so, he became first an occasional Shabbos guest, then a frequent Shabbos guest and finally a regular Shabbos guest. Over period of two to three years, he became a ba’al teshuvah. (newly religious)

A motorcade of secular Jews driving down Bar Ilan Boulevard on Shabbos is an opportunity to talk to them. They are in your neighborhood on Shabbos. Invite them for Kiddush. They have never seen you in a positive, sympathetic way before. Great good can come of it. Amen.

A Slow Wagon to Shabbos

Once the two Tzaddikim, R’ Yaacov Yosef of Polonye, the “Toldos”, and Reb Nachman of Horodenka, were travelling to Mezhibuzh to spend Shabbos with their Rebbe, the Ba’al ShemTov. It was Friday, and they set out from Polnoye with their horse and wagon in time to arrive in Mezhibuzh by midday.They hadn’t even travelled half the distance, when they saw ahead of them a broad regal carriage, trimmed with gold and ivory, and drawn by four white horses. Obviously it was the carriage a wealthy and important individual. It was making its way along the road leisurely, as if Shabbos wasn’t to be expected later in the day. Passing was impossible at this time of year due to the mountainous snowdrifts piled high along the both sides of the road. They had no choice but to slow down and to follow along behind.

The “Toldos” became very agitated and began to bewail the situation, predicting that they would surely have to profane the Shabbos if they wanted to spend Shabbos in Mezhibuzh. Reb Nachman however, kept calm, reminding his companion that everything would be okay, that all that Hashem does is for the best. Moreover, as disciples of the Baal ShemTov, they had learned that Hashem guides everything that occurs in the world, and therefore their situation was certainly Hashem’s hand at work.

Less than an hour passed before they had to come to a complete halt. Spread out on the road ahead as far as the eye could see was a company of Russian soldiers, and they were marching at pace that confirmed that their job this morning was to compact the mud of the road with their feet.

Now the “Toldos” became doubly agitated, not knowing who to lash out against first. But Reb Nachman assured him that everything in Hashem’s plans are for the ultimate good.

The commander of the company, seeing the regal looking coach coming his way, obviously recognized that a personage of some importance was inside and gave orders for the entire company to thin out and make passage for the dignitary and his “entourage”. In moments the two Tzaddikim, following close behind the carriage of the dignitary, were beyond the sea of soldiers, continuing on the road to Mezhibuzh.

Not more than a few more minutes passed until they came to a fork in the road. The dignitary in his coach went one direction, the Toldos and Reb Nachman the other. Regaining speed, they arrived in Mezhibuzh with ample time to prepare for Shabbos.


All Yisroel Together

The stature of the leader is the measure of the people. Without a unified nation, there is no King.
Once the Holy Ba’al Shem Tov was praying with a minyan of his closest disciples. The Ba’al Shem Tov used to pray at great length with intense dvekus, longing and yearning for his Creator. His disciple would finish their prayers much earlier and then wait, sometimes for hours, for the Rebbe to finish.

Once the Ba’al Shem Tov extended his prayers even longer than usual and the disciples grew weary of waiting. They decided each one to attend to whatever he had to do and then to gather again in the Shul an hour later. After an hour, they had all returned and they waited some more until the Ba’al Shem Tov had finished his prayer.

He then turned to them and accused, “You’ve created a great disunification in that you went out to attend to your private needs and left me here alone!” Then he told them the following parable.

It is know that the nature of birds is to migrate to the warm countries during the winter months. Once, the inhabitants of one of those countries spotted an unusually beautiful and unusual bird with feathers of every color in the universe, and he was perched at the crest of a very high and mighty tree that was impossible to climb. When the King of the land heard about the bird, he decided that he must capture it. He ordered many, many people to be brought to the forest where the tree was located. One was to stand on the shoulders of the other until they were able to reach the perch of the beautiful bird, and then to bring it to the King.

The procedure of reaching the heights of the tree was very arduous and time consuming. Some of those at the bottom of the human ladder lost sight of the task at hand. Weary and disgruntled with the amount of time it was taking, they began to disperse. It goes without saying that the whole ladder toppled to the ground, injuring those on the highest sections. The King wanted that his people should be banded together with a common purpose, but this time nothing was gained.

“It was good”, concluded the Ba’al Shem Tov, “when you were bound together with me in my prayer. But when you disbanded, each going his own his own separate way, everything fell. What I had hoped to achieve, was lost.”

A Kiddush Hashem

48The Rebbe, R’ Yisroel of Rizhin, a great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezeritch, had a unique form of service which was remarkably different than that of his ancestors.

The father of the Rizhiner, R. Shalom Shachna of Prohobisht blazed a new trail in Chassidus, which was broadened by his son, R. Yisroel, and followed by many of the Rebbes of the Rizhin-Sadigora dynasty. He conducted himself in a most regal fashion. Instead of the white, silken bekeshe (long Chassidic topcoat) of his forebears, he preferred a stylish woolen outfit, even though the chassidim shunned woolen garments for fear of sha’atnez (a forbidden admixture of wool and linen). He dressed before a mirror, an act permitted by the Talmud only to the descendants of Rabban Gamliel. His hair was styled, his peyos (sidecars) short, and instead of the old-fashioned pipe, he smoked expensive cigarettes. He lived in a beautiful, exquisitely furnished house and insisted that his wife dress fashionably.

Even his Avodas Hashem defied the norm. During the month of Elul, when everyone prayed and studied with unusual intensity in anticipation of judgment on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, R. Shalom Shachna spent much of the day in the forest. Only toward evening did he return home for Minchah.

For anyone else, such behavior might have been suspect, but his grandfather, R. Nachum of Chernobyl, understood who R. Shalom Shachna was, even if he didn’t know why he adopted such practices.

Nevertheless, his conduct aroused the wrath of R. Nachum’s chassidim. After several complaints, R. Nachum warned him, “Son, your path is a dangerous one, which your forefathers did not follow. You are treading on a razor’s edge, and one misstep could spell tragedy.”

R. Shalom Shachna responded with the following parable: “Once a chicken sat on some duck eggs. After they hatched, the ducklings thought they were chickens and followed their ‘mother’ around. When they came to a river, they jumped in and began to swim.

“‘Children,’ the mother hen screamed, ‘you could drown!’

“‘Don’t be afraid Mama,’ the ducklings answered. ‘This is where we belong.'”

Satisfied with this answer, R. Nachum told his chassidim to stop criticizing R. Shalom Shachna, for he was acting for the sake of Heaven.

The Chassidic movement grew ever stronger. Once the task of founding the Chassidic movement had been completed, with tens of thousands of faithful adherents following the tenets of the movement, R. Shalom Shachna paved the way for a national revival by restoring the crown of the exilarchs. In those troubled times, R. Shalom Shachna single-handedly built a royal house.

On another level, R. Shalom Shachna himself wrote: “When one dons fine clothes, he should do so only to fulfill the verse, ‘Prepare [yourself] to greet your God, Israel’ [Amos 4:1]. When one appears before a flesh and blood king, he must be certain that his appearance befits the honor due to royalty. How much more so before the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. Heaven forbid he should become haughty.”

Asked why his father, R. Shalom Shachna, chose such a perilous path of pomp and ostentation, R. Yisroel of Rizhin replied, “The Ba’al Shem Tov gave our holy grandfather, the Maggid of Mezeritch, a precious jewel – the path of true Chassidus. The Maggid hid it in a fortress of Torah and prayer, but the thieves from Above, the Yetzer Hara, broke into the fortress to pilfer the gem. My grandfather, R’ Avraham the Malach (angel), polished it and built it into a fortress of holiness and purity, by means of fasting and mortification. But the thieves were relentless. So my father devised a new strategy – he hid the stone in a rubbish bin of pride, glory, and honor. This hiding place proved much safer, for the thieves never expected to find a precious treasure there.”

The Rizhiner himself all but shunned the Beis Merash and could be found in his court surrounded by musicians, strolling in the fields or orchards, or riding in his golden coach drawn by six white steeds.

While his divine service was appreciated by the Chassidim and many non-chassidim, it was not appreciated by the Russian authorities. They eventually accused him of plotting to depose the Czar; his regal way of life proof in point.

The Rizhiner was imprisoned for 22 months, 16 in the notorious Kiev dungeons in a dark and damp cell and then another 6 months in Kamenetz. No charges were ever brought against him and he was never placed on trial. The Rizhiner, undaunted continued to lead his Chassidim even while incarcerated, despite the fact that he was allowed almost no visitors.

The way he fully accepted upon himself this decree and sanctified Hashem’s name while in prison, can be comprehended by the way he left his imprisonment. When, on Shushan Purim, March 20, 1840, the iron cell door creaked open to release the Rizhiner, he walked out, paused, turned around and stepped back in the cell. To the wonderment of those present, he remained inside for a few moments before finally stepping out to freedom. Everybody understood that the time he had spent in prison were holy days; to learn from and to be remembered — not forgotten. Days later, after receiving information that the authorities were planning on re-arresting him, and a sentence of lifetime exile in Siberia in store for him, he made a miraculous flight to the town of Sadigora where the Austrian government declared him a citizen and granted him a safe haven. The Rizhiner spent the rest of his days in Sadigora, and even now that name is synonymous with Rizhiner chassidus.

One of the admirers of the Rizhiner was the tzaddik, R’ Chaim of Tzanz,the Divrei Chaim. R’ Chaim had an illustrious Rabbinic career and in his later years was the Rav of the area of Tzanz and presided over its Beis Din. (rabbinical court) When he retired, his son R’ Aharon assumed his position.

Once, when R’ Aharon was presiding over the Beis Din, he rendered a certain decision that displeased the guilty litigant. Not only did he not accept the verdict against him, but demanded that the results be reversed insisting that he would not take “no” for an answer. R’ Aharon, unmoved, refused to be influenced and called the case closed.

At that point the unfortunate litigant, desperate for things to go his way, claimed that if the Rav would not reverse the results he would report him to the local authorities on some trumped up charge which carried the risk of imprisonment. After R’ Aharon again refused to reverse the decision of the Beis Din, the fellow followed through on his threat by fabricating some story in the eager ears of the local authorities. They arrived promptly at the home of R’ Aharon, arrested him and threw him into prison without any investigation.

His family and students came running to his father R’ Chaim to report the news, but to their great astonishment, he was calm and surprisingly unconcerned. “If my son were sitting in jail because of some crime or indiscretion that he committed, that would certainly bother me,” he told them. “But that he was thrown into jail because rendered an honest and fair judgment upholding the sanctity of the Torah. . .it should only be so!”

When the family saw that they were getting nowhere with R’ Chaim, they went to see his mechutan (the father of a son or daughter’s spouse) R’ Yehoshua of Belz, and asked him to intervene; perhaps he would be able to convince R’ Chaim to use his influence to get his son out of jail.

R’ Yehoshua agreed to take on the mission and went immediately to speak with R’ Chayim. He related to him all that had transpired; from the case that had come before the Beis Din until the current tragic outcome. He explained how difficult it must be for a refined person like R’ Aharon to be in a Hungarian jail, and how important it was for his family as well as for the community to have him back. And last but not least, there was a Chilul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s name) involved.

At that R’ Chaim ignited, and he turned full force to R’ Yehoshua. “Do you really believe that if one is put into prison because he upheld the Kedushah (holiness) of the Torah by rendering an honest and true judgment, that it is the cause of a Chilul Hashem?! Would you label Yosef’s sentence in the prison of Pharaoah a Chilul Hashem?! Were the twenty-two months that R’ Yisroel’tche (the Rizhiner) spent in prison a Chilul Hashem?! No! Just the opposite! It was a Kiddush Hashem! Both Yosef HaTzaddik and R’ Yisroel’tche sanctified the name of Hashem until the highest heights. My dear mechutan, listen to me! Anybody who calls himself a Jew and is not attached body and soul to his Creator every hour of the day – that is Chilul Hashem!