Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Story Behind the Story, Part 1

Here is Part 1 of a translation I'm working on for A Simple Jew. It's an article written by his Rebbe, the Sudilkover Rebbe. It concerns stories about Tzadikim, and those disputes that sometimes exist between those stories and between Tzadikim. There will probably be 4 or 5 parts total to this translation.


What is the purpose of stories about Tzadikim? Does every story need to be told? How do the traditions of various Chassidic Dynasties complement one another? What is the meaning of a dispute between Tzadikim? These topics and more will be discussed in the following essay. (Rav Areye Wohl (the Sudilkover Rebbe) - July 19, 2005 - 4:36)

Our holy sages have already revealed to us the great value in telling over the praises and wonders of Tzadikim. Many purposes are given for this. One is to show their greatness and praise them, which is a mitzva. And a second reason is to become inspired by their actions and to learn from them how to ascend the path going up to the house of Hashem. Another purpose stands right before our eyes; to increase our emunah in Hashem and in His servants, the Tzadikim, in order that all people should know that there exists a G-d who judges the world.

My great-grandfather, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, zy”a, brought down another purpose for telling over stories [of Tzadikim]. “According to what I heard from my father, my master, the BeShT, zt”l, who would tell over stories and secular observations, and with these he would serve Hashem with his clear, pure wisdom…” (Degel Machaneh Ephraim, parshas Vayeshev, “Od Yesh Lomar Sherimeiz”) And similarly, I saw in many of the seforim of the students of the holy BeShT; [regarding] the greatness of the avodah and the sweetening of judgment [that take place in telling] holy stories.

Story as Educational Tool

For these reasons, stories of Tzadikim have taken a place of honor, both at the holy tables of great men of Yisroel and in the holy sichos of the Baalei Musar, as well as on Jewish bookshelves, which greatly enrich [us] with the stories of the generations and holy ways of Tzadikim.

In general, stories of Tzadikim are used as an unending wellspring in the field of Chinuch. It is well know that the Rebbe Reb Itzik’l from Pshevorsk, z”tl, told over [the following story]; One time he asked the holy Rebbe, the Divrei Chaim of Tzantz, who taught young children, [the following question] “Do you learn words of Musar and Yiras Shamayim with the children?” After thinking about his words, he clarified: “I am referring to the stories about Reb Elimelech [of Lizensk] and the Rebbe Reb Zusha [of Anapoli].”

All generations have made generous use of stories of Tzadikim as an inseparable part of raising the youth of our flock. Every Jewish mother has a sack full of Midrashim and stories of Tzadikim, which have passed from generation to generation, and have remained a constant escort to the activites and bedtime comforts of Jewish children. Similarly, stories of Tzadikim have been a powerful tool in the hands of Magidim and great men of Chassidus, to pass over a clear message to their listeners by telling over a great story, [and thereby] giving over wisdom along with it.

As an example of a story like this, there is a story about a Chassid who went to see the holy Rebbe Reb Yisroel from Ruzhin, z”tl. This Jew had descended a little too much into the curse of “b’zeyas apecha tochal lechem.” The Tzadik told this Chassid about a Jew who was very particular not to engage in any business before noon. Until then, he sat and toiled in Torah, and he didn’t let anyone interrupt him, or distract him from this practice. After a while, he had various difficulties with is parnasa, and his store had a lot of excess merchandise worth a large amount of money, but he couldn’t find any buyers…

One day has he was heading to the Beis Hamedrash, a carriage stopped beside him, and inside was an important Poritz. He turned to the Jew and asked him if he knows a certain Jewish merchant in the town. “I’m that man,” answered the Jewish merchant. “If so, I want to buy the merchandise sitting in your store,” answered the Poritz. The Jew refused, claiming that it was his inviolate rule to only learn Torah until noon. The Poritz offered him higher than market price, but the merchant still refused. It got to the point where the Goy finally named a price twice the value of the merchandise he had in the store. However the Jew stood by his refusal, and did not agree to sell, until he finished his regular daily learning schedule. He then turned, and went to the Beis Medresh…

And with these words, the holy Rebbe from Ruzhin ended the story. The Chassid asked the Rebbe, “And what happened at the end of the story?!” The Rebbe answered him with a rebuking gaze, “The merchant in the story is not interested in how the story ends. But you [who isn’t even a Baal Davar in the story] cares how the story ends!?”

Trustworthy Stories

Sometimes we stumble upon stories that, even though they perhaps give us something to learn about the greatness of Tzadikim, raise various types of questions. It is written in the holy sefer, the Noam Elimelech (Parshas Bo “Oh Yomar Dabru”) “One should constantly tell [stories] of great Tzadikim, and always count their straight midos… But the Torah warns one who wants to cling to this midah, not to exaggerate the middos of a Tzadik…”

The holy Rebbe from Munkach, the “Minchas Elazar,” in his sefer “Divrei Torah,” and the holy Gaon, the “Divrei Yoel,” from Satmar z”tl, did much work to uproot stories that are not compatible with halacha, or are likely to cause weakness in Avodas Hashem, chas veshalom.

In the courtyards of many Chassidic Dynasties they were very careful, especially on the day of the Hillulah [of a certain Tzadik], to only tell over his good practices and his ways in Avodas Hashem, and not stories of his wonders. And I heard from one of the Tzadikim of our generation, Shlita, who heard from one of the elder Mashpi’im of Chabad in the previous generation [an explanation of the following] pasuk; “And he will give you a sign (Ose) or a wonder…” If there is a Tzadik from whom it is possible to learn even one letter (Ose) of Torah, you do not need to tell over wonders about him…

Click here for Part 2.