Teshuva, Don’t Leave the World Without It

Once a Chassid from a neighboring town came to Reb Hirsh Riminover and begged him to somehow intercede so that his father-in-law would die. “What!” exclaimed Reb Hirsh, “What are you talking about.””Well, my father-in-law is very old, already more than 100 years” explained the chassid, “And he has to be watched over all the time. He can’t really do much for himself, and he is miserable most of the time.” “He doesn’t learn and doesn’t daven any more. He has had enough of life already, but he just keeps hanging on day after day, week after week, year after year.”

R’ Hirsh didn’t really know what to say, but he reasoned that a Yid who lived to such an age must have some kind of merit. He commanded the chassid to bring in the old man to speak with him. The chassid protested saying that his father was too old and too feeble, but R’ Hirsh wouldn’t relent. “Bring him in anyway as I have requested,” he ordered.

So they picked up the old man and brought him to Riminov. They carried him in on a bed and placed him in front of R’ Hirsh. R’ Hirsh began to ask him questions.. He soon found out that the old man had been a simple, boorish Jew. He had been a Ba’al HaAgaloh (wagon driver) all of his life. He davened in the morning, but his real interest was to get to breakfast. He went to Shul on Shabbos, but the cholent (Sabbath stew) was his goal.

R’ Hirsh peppered him with more questions to find out of the old Jew could remember any reason that might account for his many years. Maybe there was some special mitzvah that he did once or some experience, maybe he had been to a Tzaddik on some special occasion.

Then the old Jew recalled once some Avrechim had asked him to take them for Shabbos to a town about a half a days journey away called Lizhensk. The pleaded with me but I didn’t want to go. I told them that I like Shabbos at home with my bed and my cholent. But they promised me a good wage and the same food that I would eat at home and then some. So I finally agreed and we set off. We got there not long before Shabbos and they set me up in a nice hotel”.

“Sure enough, right after the davening, they showed up with a great meal, everything, just as I like it. They came back a little while later and they asked me I wanted to go with to some kind of gathering, but I told them that I didn’t come for that kind of thing, and they should let me sleep. So, being decent guys they did.”

“In the morning after the davening, they again brought me a good meal with a cholent even better than what I would have gotten at home. I ate my fill and went to sleep.”

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“When I got up from my nap it was close to dark and nobody was around. I waited awhile but none of my passengers showed their faces. So I went to look for them. I came to the Shul and I heard the loudest singing and wildest dancing you can imagine. It sounded like they were all shikker (plastered). I peeked inside and there were empty bottles on the table and these guys were singing and dancing like anything. When I went in I saw that they were in a circle and they were all dancing around with one of them in the middle. He must have been the chief shikker or something because he was tall and his face was red like fire and he was dancing with his eyes closed and they were all singing and dancing around him.”

At this point R’ Hirsh stopped the old man exclaiming that now he understood everything. The tall one in the middle with a face red like fire was none other the Rebbe R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk. He explained that there it is well known that anybody whoever saw the even just glimpsed the face of R’ Elimelech would not be able to leave the world until he had done Teshuva.

Then R’ Hirsh turned towards the old man and started to explain to him in a gentle fatherly way how Hashem created the world, and how everything in it was put there for our benefit. He described the beauty of the creation, how every aspect of it is perfect, existing together in total harmony.

Then he began to explain the nature of the Jewish soul. He described how every Jew is like one Neshama, we are only separated by the physical bodies that we bear. Later, he gave us the Torah and its Mitzvos, specific instruction for serving Hashem and understanding His will.

The old Jew sat and listened but didn’t utter a sound.

So R’ Hirsh continued. He began to describe how we were given the Shabbos to further bring ourselves closer to Hashem. We welcome the Shabbos, and Hashem comes to us and so to speak, sits at our table with us sharing our food and company.

At this point the old Jew turned his head and stared dreamily out the window. A moment passed and he let out a deep sigh. R’ Hirsh (who was a Cohen) quickly ordered all of the Cohanim to immediately leave the room (Cohanim even today are forbidden contact with the dead). The old Jew, heaved one more sigh of remorseful repentance, and left this world for the world to come.