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 Kadaner*.Before he left home, he called on Reb Yaakov, to say his ‘good-byes’ and receive his blessing for his trip, as is customary among good friends.
Reb Yaakov said to him, “My friend! Even though you do not consider yourself among the chassidic brotherhood, I would still like to ask you to go to pray at the resting place of the renowned tzaddik who is buried in Niezhin, Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch, the son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya.”
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 totally wondrous nature!” And the young man began to recount all that transpired to him on his trip.
“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 to pray at the resting place of the Tzadik. I went to the local mikvah to immerse myself in preparation for my visit to the Tzadik, and from there went to his Ohel. It was a bitter cold day. 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 in all my life. 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. 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. I felt totally at peace, so much so, that I did not want to leave from the presence of the Tzadik, at the holy Ohel. I literally felt there the flavor of the Garden of Eden! In this state I remained there for a full two hours of joyful bliss because it was very difficult for me to leave such a holy place. When I finally left it was with a heart of gladness and peace. That joy accompanied me all the way home. When I arrived, thank G-d in peace to my house, I immediately asked how my wife was doing. I was told the whole story of what my wife had been through, that the doctors had given up hope for her to live (G-d forbid); and the events of that long, long night when she had fainted and was unconscious, and that at ten in the morning, she suddenly began feeling better on her own without any medication nor intervention by the doctors; and slowly slowly, over a period of a month she became completely well. I asked my family if they knew on what date she started to feel better? They told me the date which they remembered well. 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 G-d!”
When the young man completed his story, he added:
“If your holy 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!”
To which Reb Yaakov answered him, “On the contrary, our Sages have taught us: ‘Tzaddikim are greater in their death even more so than in their lifetime.’” (Chulin 7/2)
From: Otzar Sippurei Chabad Volume 16 Pages 142-145 taken from Sippurim Noraim (Pgs 64-66)
With assistance from the English translation by Uri Kaploun – A Treasury of Chassidic Tales by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin.
Biographical note: Rabbi Dovber Schneuri was born on the 9th of Kislev 1773 and passed away on the very same day, 9th of Kislev 1827 at the age of 54. He was the eldest son and successor of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement. He is known as the Mitteler Rebbe. Rabbi Dovber was an extraordinary Rebbe and teacher revealing many esoteric secrets of Chassidism. His ability to speak for hours on end on Chassidut is legendary. When he was ill and bedridden, he would arise with alacrity to share Chassidic teachings. The night of his passing, he continued to teach Torah till the last minute and at the word “Chayim – Life” his holy soul departed.
*Rabbi Yaakov Kadaner was a chassid of the first three Lubavitcher Rebbes, and a prominent Torah personality in his own right. He is the author of two books, Metzaref Hoavoda and Sipurim Noraim. Sipurim Noraim is an extraordinary collection of chassidic stories many of which he witnessed or took part in personally, such as the one above!