Reb Meir Refoels becomes a Chassid (story #2)

It happened one day that a poor man who lived close to Vilna, came to the city of Vilna. He was a very learned person and a Chasid and was walking to Liozna to the Alter Rebbe. Passing through Vilna, he decided to remain there for Shabbat. He made himself comfortable in the synagogue, took out a Gemara (book of the Oral Torah) from the bookcase and sat down to learn.

The shamash (synagogue caretaker) realized that this passerby was not like the usual poor people.

He did not ask for a handout, ate a piece of dry bread from his satchel with some herring, and sat down once again to learn. The whole night the man was engrossed in learning Torah. On Friday, before the onset of the holy Shabbat, the shamash approached the guest and asked him, “Where will you be for Shabbat?” The guest responded that he was planning to remain in synagogue. The shamash said to him, “Why should you do this? We have, thank G-d, many wealthy folks who are particular to keep the mitzvah of inviting guests to their home, especially when the guest is a Torah scholar, as I see you are. Why should you stay in the synagogue and subsist on dry bread and herring for Shabbat; why would you not enjoy the mitzvah of Shabbat properly?!

The guest answered him that he does not want to go to anyone for Shabbat. He has all he needs right here with him.

The shamash told this to one of the wealthy householders who was also a Torah scholar. This person was meticulous to have a guest for Shabbat. When the rich man heard that the guest was a big Torah scholar, yet he refuses to come, he asked the rabbi of the synagogue to accompany him and help influence the guest to come to his house for Shabbat.  After much persuasion, the guest finally agreed to go on the condition that he would not be required to sleep over.  He desired to sleep only in the synagogue.

During the evening Shabbat meal, the rich man greatly enjoyed speaking with his extinguished guest words of Torah.  He saw that his guest was indeed a very learned person. He thanked G-d for sending him such a Torah scholar for a guest. When the Friday evening Shabbat meal was finished and just before the bentching (thanking G-d for the food), the rich man sighed a deep sigh, without uttering a word. The guest was very surprised by this but did not ask anything. After the meal the guest went back to synagogue and returned to his studies.

The next day, by the Shabbat afternoon meal, the rich man and the guest again became absorbed in holy words of Torah and before bentching, the host again gave a deep and mysterious sigh. This was repeated again by the third Shabbat meal and again by the Melava Malka meal after Shabbat. The guest could not hold himself in any longer. He turned to his host and asked him for the reason for his heartbreaking sigh?

The rich man told him that he was in big trouble. He and his partner were victims of a libel suit which came before the court. Both were found guilty and given a verdict of three years exile in faraway Siberia. They put forth an appeal to the higher court, and also there the verdict was upheld. Now their case was going before the Senate in Petersburg to be decided upon once and for all.  “Only G-d knows what the final results will be!” he exclaimed.

When the guest heard all this, he said to the rich man: “I have something secret to tell you. Please can we step into a private room?”

They went into a room and closed the door. The guest said to the rich man:

“I have an earnest suggestion for you, that you travel immediately to Liozna and ask the Alter Rebbe for his advice and blessing.  I am one of the disciples of the Rebbe, and I, too, am on the way to Liozna to see the Rebbe. Without a doubt, salvation will come your way from there!”

The rich man answered: “About something like this, I must consult with my partner. I will send right away to call my partner and we will decide on your suggestion.”

The rich man sent for his partner and told him what the guest had said. The partner said: “I am afraid that not only will we not be saved there, but we will fall into new trouble on the home front. When the word gets out in the city of Vilna, that we went to the Chassidic Rebbe, we will be persecuted until they destroy us.”

The partners went back and forth between themselves, and finally they decided to go to their mutual friend, Reb Meir Refoel (the community head) and ask what he would advise them to do.

When they came to Reb Meir and before they asked him their question, they made him promise to utter secrecy no matter what advice he gives them.

Reb Meir agreed to keep the secret. They told him about the guest and his suggestion for them to go to the Alter Rebbe to get a blessing about their impending case.  Reb Meir, who was still under the influence of the story with the aguna, answered them on the spot.

“I agree that you should travel to Liozna.”

The partners did not waste any time. Right away they prepared the wagon and took with them the guest and traveled straight away to Liozna.

When they came to Liozna, they requested and received a private audience called yechidut with the Rebbe. They poured out their hearts revealing to the Rebbe the terrible plight they were in and the uncertainty of what will be.

The Rebbe said to them: “I can see that you are learned men, Torah scholars. Please tell me what do our sages mean in the verse: ‘Malchuta d’aroh k’ein Malchusa d’Rokeeah’ – the kingdom of earth is similar to the Kingdom of Heaven – How are they similar?”

Not knowing what to answer, the partners remained silent.

The Rebbe continued:

“I will tell you the meaning. The Talmud is explaining the verse in the Torah in Parshat Shemot: “Zeh Shemi l’olom….“ – This is my name forever” (Shemot 3/15). The Talmud writes:  “I am not called by the same name with which I am written; I am written with the name, ‘Yud – Hey – Vov- Hey’;  and I am called with the name ‘Ad-nai’ (Hashem – G-d).” So, we see that G-d is not called by His Essence name. This is so also by the kingdom of earth. The Czar has his individual name, his personal name; but it is forbidden to call him by this name, only by the name Czar or Your Highness.”

The Rebbe completed the Yechidut and bade them farewell, without even mentioning a word about what they had spoken about.

The partners left the room of the Rebbe most disappointed. They let it out on the Rebbe, the Chassidim and their guest, all together. They harnessed their horse and wagon and left in deep anguish back to Vilna. When they returned, they went straight away to Reb Meir Refoels and told him that the Rebbe of the Chassidim does not speak properly. You ask him one thing and he answers with something totally unrelated. When Reb Meir heard this, he decided that it must be so, and that the story with the agunah was just a coincidence.

A few months passed and the time for the judgement in Petersburg was coming close. The partners traveled to the capitol city. They went from lawyer to lawyer to figure out what could be done. It was all very tiring, and yet there was little hope of vindication. One lawyer finally suggested to them that they should try to fall to the feet of the justice minister and beg him for mercy. Maybe he will have pity on them. They made inquiries and found out that the justice minister goes every day at a certain time, to walk in a certain garden. They went to the guard at the entrance of the garden and bribed him handsomely to allow them to enter the garden before the minister would come. When the minister would arrive, he would hint to them which one he was in order that they put their request before him.

Now on this particular day when the guard allowed them to come, the justice minister took ill, and did not come for his regular constitutional. But the minister of culture did come to the garden.  The guard accompanied the minister to show him around. Fearing that when the Jews will see him walking next to him, they would think that this is the minister of justice, he motioned with his hands in a negative sign meaning this is NOT the one. The Jews mistakenly thought that he was hinting that they should come forth with their request. They came out of their hiding place and going over to the minister, fell to his feet, telling him their whole troubled story and begging him to help them out.

The minister said to them: “Gentlemen, you are mistaken. What you are requesting belongs to the minister of justice. I am the minister of culture.”

The Jews began to leave the garden totally dejected. After just a few minutes, the minister said to the guard, “Quick, run and return the two Jews who just left here to me.”

The guard became frightened. Perhaps because he allowed them to enter the garden without permission, he is being asked to call them back. But there was no choice. He ran and caught up with them. He told them that the minister of culture asked that they return immediately. They too became frightened and returned with great trepidation to the minister.

The minister said to them, “I can see from your that appearance that you are learned Jews. Now the Czar asked me a few days ago a question. If you are able to answer the question favorably, then I will offer your answer to the Czar and I will also ask him that he order an annulment of your case which is before the Senate.“

“This is the question: In your Talmud, there is a saying: ‘Malchuta d’aroh k’ein Malchuta d’Rokeeah’.” (the kingdom of earth is similar to the Kingdom of Heaven)

“The Czar had trouble understanding how are these similar, the kingdom of earth and the Kingdom of Heaven? The Czar asked me this question and I, too, did not know what the answer is. Perhaps you would know an answer to this question?”

In a flash, the hearts of the Jews turned from fear to rejoicing, when they heard this question. Now they understood well what the words of the Rebbe hinted at when they were in Yechidut in Liozna. Right away they answered the minister the exact answer which they heard from the Rebbe. The answer found favor in the eyes of the minister. The minister promised them that he will advocate on their behalf with the Czar and ask him to command to annul the decree against them.

And so, it was. The minister told the Czar that he met two Jews. From their appearance he saw that they were learned men. He put forth before them the question of the Czar and they answered him wisely. The answer found favor in the eyes of the Czar. The minister then told the Czar about the impending judgement the two Jewish scholars were facing. Only the Czar could help them, he said, as he told him the whole story and that he believed them to be innocent of any wrongdoing. The Czar ordered the Senate to annul the case and the partners were set free.

With great rejoicing they returned to Vilna. When they arrived in their hometown, once again, they went straight to the home of Reb Meir Refoels and told him all that had transpired with them.

Reb Meir Refoels did not waste any time. Immediately he traveled to Liozna where he connected himself with all his heart and soul to the Alter Rebbe and became a great Chasid of the Alter Rebbe!

From Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi Zevin

In a Chassidic farbrengen, the Rebbe Rashab – 5th Chabad Rebbe who lived in the city of Lubavitch in White Russia, told this story how the well-known Chasid, Reb Meir Refoels, who was a very respected and important member of his community in Vilna, became a vibrant Chasid of the Alter Rebbe. This took place during the era when the Mitnagdim, primarily from the city of Vilna, were extremely antagonistic to the Chassidim. It took the two personal stories above to show Reb Meir the error in his thinking and for him to make a complete turnaround becoming a fervent Chasid!

From Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi ZevinIn a Chassidic farbrengen, the Rebbe Rashab – 5th Chabad Rebbe who lived in the city of Lubavitch in White Russia, told this story how the well-known Chasid, Reb Meir Refoels, who was a very respected and important member of his community in Vilna, became a vibrant Chasid of the Alter Rebbe. This took place during the era when the Mitnagdim, primarily from the city of Vilna, were extremely antagonistic to the Chassidim. It took the two personal stories above to show Reb Meir the error in his thinking and for him to make a complete turnaround becoming a fervent Chasid!

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