The Rebbe Maharash And The Old Men

The Rebbe Maharash would travel for health purposes, using the opportunity to visit and consult with overseas rabbinic and communal leaders on matters of public concern. At this particular trip he traveled incognito, accompanied only by his assistant, the gabbai Pinchas Leib. The Rebbe Maharash relates:

“When I was in Marienbad, (a renowned health spa), I decided to travel home via Vienna and Warsaw, visiting the city of Berditchev on the way, though without anyone’s knowing.

“Arriving in Berditchev very early in the morning, I went to a hotel, where I davened Shacharis (morning prayers) before heading to the resting place of the Berditchever Rav.

“Leaving the Ohel (resting place) of the Berditchever, I went to see the shtiblech (small synagogues) of the local Polish Chassidim. In the first small shul I visited I found many people sitting and studying, while others were exchanging stories in the manner of Chassidim. From there I went on to a second and a third shtible. In each one I found old and young alike studying and spending their time in positive talk. This continued for quite some time, as I wandered from one place to the next. In some of the shuls, I engaged a few individuals in conversation, some of them older Chasssidim, some of them younger ones. From time to time, I asked them questions about what they were learning. In each, the answers evidenced a firm grasp of their subject.

“I was about to return to my hotel to rest as there remained a few hours until the train was due to depart, when I caught sight of several elderly Chassidim with white beards. Though it was not a warm day, their long coats were tucked up and on their feet they wore nothing more than shoes and socks. They were carrying a big bucket of water and talking excitedly. This scene attracted my attention. I could tell that these were not common water carriers. Moreover, as they walked, the younger people who accompanied them kept on offering to carry the bucket instead of them, but they refused.

“After quite a long walk, they turned into an alley where after a few houses down the way, I saw several elderly folk who had taken off the long black coats that usually covered their tallis katan. They had rolled up their sleeves and were busy washing the floor and the walls of the house at which we had arrived. 

“I found out after a moment’s wonderment that this was a shtible of Tolna Chassidim. Speaking with a couple of those who had brought the water there, I saw at once that these were real Torah scholars and Chassidim through and through. I asked them what was going on and they told me that since their Rebbe was due to visit their town the next day, they wanted to put their shul in order and make it fit to receive such an honored guest.

“’So why are you doing all of this yourselves,’” I asked them, “’instead of giving the younger men a turn? After all, young people do need to be brought up in the ways of Chassidim, don’t they?  And for this, older Chassidim ought to have mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice).’”

“’The reason we are doing this ourselves,’” they answered, “’and not through hired laborers, is that we want to have healthy angels to help out the angles who come out of the blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashana.’”

“One of them explained: “’You know the special prayer of yehi ratzon which is said after each set of shofar blasts, which mentions the angels that are formed from the blowing of the shofar and from each of its’ sounds? About these blasts, called ‘kashrak’ (the initials of the four Hebrew names of the various kinds of sounds of the shofar), the holy Berditchever Rav was wont to say: ‘Sweet Father in Heaven, Compassionate Father! Just in case the angels that proceed from the shofar that Levi Yitzchak the son of Sarah (referring to himself humbly) has just blown are weak angels, then let their place be taken by the holy healthy angels that were created by the toil of Your people in preparation for Pesach when they cleaned their kitchen utensils to fulfill Your mitzvah as perfectly as possible – kratzenshobbenreiben, and kasheren (these four Yiddish words mean scouring, scraping, rubbing, and making them kosher, and are the same initials as the sounds of the shofar – ‘kashrak’).’

“’As for us,’” the old Chasid concluded, “’we are doing all of this for the sake of G-d’s holy Name and for the sake of His servant, our Rebbe!’”

“As I contemplated these Chassidim, the whole scene before me left a remarkably favorable impression. But when I was about to leave, I noticed that right next to their shtible there was a well.

“Why did you have to bring the water from so far?” I asked them. “You have water right here.”

“The same old man answered me, “’Reb Baruch Yossel, one of our well-to-do Chassidim asked us to use his well. He promised that if we would do so, both in preparation for the Rebbe’s arrival and on the morrow, the first day of the Rebbe’s visit, then in honor of the Rebbe he would prepare a big festive meal for all the Chassidim at his expense.’”

When the Rebbe Rashab finished recounting this story, as he heard it from his father, he turned to his son and said. “We can see the impression that this encounter made upon my father from the fact that he related it in all its details. Moreover, when he finished telling it to me, he added: “Here we can plainly see what spiritual forces the Baal Shem Tov drew down into this world, both for the mentor – the Rebbe and for his students – the Chassidim, so that both the recipient and their mentor should ready the world for the coming of Moshiach – May it be speedily in in our days, Amein!”

The Frierdiker Rebbe concluded: “For a long while my father remained silent, deep in thought. Then he said to me: “’The old man’s answer as to why they did everything themselves instead of through hired workers was good; but when it comes to the question as to why they did not let the young men take a turn, they gave no answer.

For, such mesirus nefesh (self sacrifice), of setting oneself aside for the sake of some young man, is the distinctive contribution of Chabad Chassidus, as expounded by the Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad Rebbe.’”

From Teaching the Young, selections from Likutei Dibburim by the Previous Rebbe, adapted from translation by Uri Kaploun and seen in Chayenu – Chassidic story Pg 197 for Parshas Shemos 5781.

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