An upright young man once set out from his home in Vilkomir to buy up merchandise in Niezhin. Though not a chassid himself, he was on very friendly terms with a celebrated chassid by the name of Reb Yaakov Kaidaner*.
Before he left home, he called on Reb Yaakov, to say his ‘good-byes’. Reb Yaakov said to him, “My friend! Even though you are not one of our chassidic brotherhood, I would still ask you to visit the grave of a renowned tzaddik who is buried in Niezhin, Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, the son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.”
The young man gave his promise, said farewell, and set out for a journey that was to take six months, for in those days there was not yet any railway train that could clatter its way all the distance from Vilkomir in Lithuania to Niezhin in White Russia. While he was far away trying to do business, his wife became so desperately ill that the doctors despaired of her life. One evening she lost consciousness, and though three expert physicians sat by her bedside all night, there was nothing they could do to help her. Then at ten in the morning her illness loosened its hold on her, she began to regain her strength, and within a month, without the aid of doctors or medication, she returned to her full strength. Her friends were amazed, but not nearly so much as were her doctors.
When her husband finally came home, without so much as stopping to take off his overcoat, he ran off in excitement to the home of his friend Reb Yaakov.
“Now I ask you,” said Reb Yaakov, “is this the way to do things? After you have been away from home for over half a year, you don’t even stay there a little while to gladden the hearts of your wife and little ones, but off you run to say hello to me? There must be something behind your behavior, something remarkable.”
“And indeed,” affirmed his friend, “something remarkable did bring me to you, something of a miracle. You see, my business dealings during my travels fell through, and not only did I lose everything I owned, but I also got myself deep into debt through all kinds of unfortunate circumstances that befell me on the way. To make things worse, throughout all that time I was in a state of fear: I seemed to imagine that my wife was desperately ill. When I arrived in Niezhin, I recalled my promise to you, and went to the local mikvah to immerse myself in preparation for my visit to the holy resting place of the Tzadik.
“Though all the way there, my warm clothes had sufficed to keep out the bitter cold, as soon as I entered the resting place of the Tzadik, I was overcome by a terrible fear, the like of which I have never experienced. My hair stood on end, and despite my warm clothes I trembled in a feverish cold. It even occurred to me to flee from that awesome place, but then I thought: ‘No evil is going to befall me on account of the Tzadik who rests here. Why should I flee from the presence of the Tzadik?’ So, I began instead to read the quotations from the Zohar, and the chapters from Psalms, and other passages from Maavar Yabok, which are inscribed there on a tablet, on the wall of the enclosure which is built around the grave. At once I felt at peace.
As I read the heartfelt prayers, I wept rivers of tears.
“Then I wrote out two ‘soul redemption’ notes which expressed my special requests—one bearing a prayer for the welfare of my family and myself, and the other especially for my wife, for my heart was uneasy. The moment I put those two notes on the grave, I was overcome with a most exquisite joy, the like of which I had never known before. It was just as I imagine the flavor of the Garden of Eden to be. It took me two full hours to tear myself away from that bliss, and to depart from there with a heart of gladness and peace.
“That joy accompanied me all the way home, and when I arrived, I was told the whole story of what my wife had been through, including the events of that long, long night that ended only at ten in the morning. I asked what date this had been. Sure enough, it was the very day on which, at ten o’clock in the morning, I had placed the notes on the resting place of the Tzadik!
You cannot be surprised, therefore, that when I heard all of this, I did not even take off my overcoat, but ran as fast as I could to tell you, my friend, of the wondrous ways of Heaven.
“I have only one thing to add. If your Rebbes are so alive and luminous after they have departed from this world, then they must be even greater and even holier in their lifetime!”
“Not so,” answered Reb Yaakov. “For our Sages have taught: ‘Tzaddikim are greater in their death than in their lifetime.’”
Slightly adapted from A Treasury of Chassidic Tales by Uri Kaploun translated from Hebrew Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi Zevinas seen in Sippurei Tzaddikim and Chabad.org/ Yerachmiel Tilles.
Biographical note: Rabbi DovBer Schneuri was born 9th of Kislev 1773 and passed away also on the 9th of Kislev 1827. He was the eldest son and successor of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement. Rabbi DovBer was wrongly accused and was held in confinement by the Czarist Russian government. On the 10th of Kislev, Sunday, Parshat Vayishlach, he was exonerated and released. This day has become a day of great celebration among Chassidim and is known as ‘the birth of a Chassid’ followed by the awesome holiday of Yud Tet Kislev which is called ‘the brit of a Chassid. For more on this please visit: www.chabad.org.
Rabbi Yaakov Kaidaner was a chassid of the first three Lubavitcher Rebbes, and a prominent Torah personality in his own right. Today he is primarily known for his extraordinary collection of chassidic stories, Sipurim Noraim, many of which he witnessed or took part in personally, such as the one above.