The holy R’ Shmelke of Nikolsburg* conducted himself in the path of Chassidut.
The townsfolk of Nikolsburg were not Chassidim and they disapproved of the seemingly odd behavior of their community rabbi, Reb Shmelke, who was a Chassidic Rebbe. The most prominent members of the community, therefore, called a meeting and decided to dismiss him. They instructed the Shammash (beadle) to inform the rabbi of their decision. This Shammash was a simple fellow, though honest and upright. He asked them why they had suddenly decided to do such a thing?
“It’s none of your business,” they told him brusquely. “Your job is to do as you are told.”
The Shammash did not give up. He pleaded for an answer to his question, until they told him that Reb Shmelke’s odd behavior made him unfit for the post of rabbi of their city.
The Shammash was insistent – “I know for a fact that our rabbi is a perfect tzaddik!” he exclaimed.
The important members of the community knew that their Shammash was a truthful man and would not utter a lie so they asked him, “How do you know that he is a tzaddik?”
“Very well,” he answered, “I will tell you. You know as well as I do that it is the custom in this city for someone to knock on the doors of all the Jewish townsfolk before dawn, to wake everyone up for the morning service of the Creator. Every night, as I go knocking on my rounds, I come to the rabbi’s house and I go in. I always find him sitting and studying Torah and next to him sits another man, whom I don’t know. One day, I asked him who this was. He told me that it was Eliyahu the Prophet.
“Once it happened that, for some reason, I came around later than usual, and saw the rabbi at the door of his house holding two candlesticks. Two men were with him; one was the one I see there always and the other wore a golden crown. The two men left and went on their way and the rabbi went back inside his house. I asked him who was the visitor with the crown of gold? He told me that it was Menashe the son of Chizkiyahu, king of Judah. I asked the rabbi what business brought Menashe ben Chizkiyahu to his home? He explained to me that he came to weigh in in reference to a question of Jewish law which our rabbi received that very day from a certain rabbi from a different city.
“In the city of that other rabbi, there lived a chassid who had taken it upon himself to smash all the statues and images in the local church. He was handed over to the court and sentenced to death. Now in that city there is a welfare brotherhood whose task is to give financial support to poor widows whose husbands passed away and left them penniless. But when the widow of this poor chassid came to them and asked them for sustenance, they refused. They claimed that their regulations only allow them to support the widows of men who have died a natural death, not the widows of men who take their own lives. They told her that her husband, by doing what he did, was such a man. Their dispute was brought before their local rabbi and he referred the inquiry to our Reb Shmelke here in Nikolsburg. Our rabbi saw the possibility in both arguments and was not sure which way to respond. Then along came Menashe ben Chizkiyahu and told him that he had been reincarnated in that very chassid in order that he should be able to rectify the evil that he had done in his earlier life, when he had set up an image of an idol in the Temple. And now he had come to ask our rabbi to see that the poor widow of that chassid should get her rightful help.”
Understandably, after hearing these words from the Shammash, the idea of the prominent men (to relieve the rabbi of his post as rabbi of their community) was totally shelved.**
This story was told by Reb Simcha Bunem of Pshischah, who concluded in these words:
“How great is the humility of that Shammash! Night after night, Eliyahu the Prophet stood revealed before his eyes. Yet, it never occurred to him that he had any reason to be proud. All he did was to speak in praise of his rabbi, telling the men, how Eliyahu came to their rabbi and revealed to him the secrets of the Torah.”
Adapted from A Treasury of Chassidic Tales on the Torah by Uri Kaploun for Parshat Noach – story originally from Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi S.Y. Zevin, a’h (Noach #18)
*Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg – 1726-1778 a student of the Maggid of Mezeritch. He was a Levite who traced his lineage to Shmuel haNavi and passed away at the young age of 54 (exactly like Shmuel the Prophet). Though he was rabbi in Nikolsburg for a few short years, he made a powerful impact there. The Yeshiva he opened there included his disciples who later became some of the most famous Chassidic Rebbes, such as the Chozeh of Lublin, Reb Menachem Mendel of Rymanov, Reb Yisrael of Koznitz, Reb Mordechai Banet and Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov. His published Torah insights can be found in Divrei Shmuel, Imrei Shmuel, Nazir Hashem, and Shemen Hatov.
**In another story it is Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk who came to the city of Nikolsburg and helped to successfully quell the opposition to his colleague and friend, Reb Shmelke.