The Wings of Morning - A Torah Review

Yaacov Dovid Shulman

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Parshas Achrei Mos - Kedoshim 5758 / May 9, 1998


* Erasing Lack of Understanding -by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
* The Student Who Wanted to Convert and the Maggid of Mezeritch -A Yiddish Tale
* Four Types of Love -by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
* A Tunnel (poem) -by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Once, Rabbi Nachman told his student, Rabbi Nosson, to learn the sefer, Eitz Hachaim (the mystical teachings of the Ari). Rabbi Nosson asked him, "And if I do not understand?" Rabbi Nachman told him, "You just learn! And wherever you do not understand, make a mark. And later, when you learn the material a second time, you will see that you can erase some of those marks. And when you learn it again, you will be able to erase more--and so forth, until you will understand it all." Siach Sarfei Kodesh, Vol. II

A Yiddish Tale

Amidst the students in the beis medrash of Mezeritch who shone with their diligence and breadth of knowledge was one young student, the son of a poor widow.

This student was really a genius who impressed everyone, and whose logic astonished even great scholars. Everyone honored him greatly and placed great hopes in him.

One day, toward the end of the summer, this student took a walk outside the town. He wandered amidst the trees of the forest, submerged in his thoughts, and he didn't notice an old priest walking nearby, a professor from the Catholic seminary that stood outside Mezeritch.

Seeing this fine young man walking deep in thought, the priest was very impressed. The priest interrupted him and engaged him in a deep discussion regarding matters of faith. The two were so immersed in their talk that they did not even notice that it was growing late.

The priest was so taken with this student that he decided to win him over to Catholicism. And as for the student, the priest's intelligence and learning made a strong impression on him, and the student had great pleasure from their talk. When the two took leave of each other, the priest expressed his thanks for the intellectual pleasure that the conversation had given him, and asked the student to come back the next evening to continue the conversation.

The student did not realize that the priest had an ulterior motive, and so he promised that he would come back for another discussion.

From then on, the student met quite often in the forest with the priest. Naturally, no one knew of this. And slowly, the priest began to win the confidence of the young, naive student, until all manner of doubts began to enter his heart, God have mercy.

And in this way, the influence of the priest on the young genius, who was still sitting in the beis medrash over his Gemara, grew ever greater. At last, one day the town was shocked to learn the dreadful news that the young genius had run away to the Catholic seminary, for he had decided to convert, God have mercy.

It is hard to describe what took place then. People ran to the priests and tried whatever they could. But nothing helped.

As for the poor widow, who had hoped to gain comfort from her only son, this painful news was a terrible blow. She was completely broken. Day after day, she stood before the seminary door, hoping that she would be able to get in and speak with her son, and beg him not to cause her this shame. But she was unable to do so.

And meanwhile, the student sat in a closed room in the seminary tower. And there, he prepared himself to abandon his faith, God have mercy, filling his mind with thoughts of the great career that lay before him.

That Friday morning, the distressed widow ran to the house of the Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch. There, she poured out her bitter heart to the great maggid.

The maggid shook his head sadly and consoled her that this was not yet over, that her son is still a Jew and that she should therefore pray to God that his heart will be moved to repent.

When the woman left, the maggid summoned his students and gave a profound talk on the verse: "When a person will sin...."

His students didn't understand the meaning of this: Why should he should deliver such a profound Torah talk on a regular Friday? But still, they listened with great attention.

An hour later, the maggid again summoned his students, again quoted the verse, "When a person sins," and began to discuss it from another aspect.

Then, two hours later, the maggid gave another talk on the same verse: a deep talk that not all of his students could understand.

And then, just an hour before candle-lighting, he again summoned everyone and gave yet another talk on the verse, "When a person sins."

And the same thing took place during all the Shabbos meals: and all on that one verse: "When a person sins."

Particularly striking was the seventh talk, which the maggid delivered during shalosh seudos--the third Shabbos meal, at the very end of Shabbos. That talk was filled with reproof and rebuke, and all the students felt broken inside. Tears flowed from everyone's eyes, and every individual was certain that he is the sinner to whom the maggid is referring.

Suddenly, in the middle of the talk, a strong wind blew frightfully and shook the little house so strongly that it seemed that an earthquake was taking place.

The commotion grew even stronger, and the wind wailed so loudly that the maggid's voice could no longer be heard.

Suddenly, the maggid cried out: "Light the candles!"

At the very moment that lit candles were brought to the beis medrash, the door burst open and the student rushed in. And running to the maggid, he cried out:
"Chatasi, avisi, pashati! I have sinned, I have gone astray, I have rebelled!"

Immediately, the maggid and his students recited the grace and then the evening prayers. And afterwards, the maggid went into his room.

Everyone circled the student and asked him to tell them what had happened to him.

With great, broken sobs, the young man told about his meetings with the priest, how the priest had slowly led him to doubts, and how he had been increasingly constantly drawn to him, until he was glad when the priest at last made his dreadful offer.

"The entire time I was in the seminary," the student said, "I felt special. I didn't lack a thing. The priest visited me a few times a day and taught me the basics of Christianity, and I began to prepare to become a student at the seminary.

"But yesterday morning--I don't know why--I suddenly began to think, that I am terribly ungrateful to my poor mother, who more than once gave me the last piece of bread in the house and herself lay down to sleep hungry. I began to look around the little room, where I was held like a prisoner. I remembered that today is Friday. Soon Shabbos would come. In the beis medrash, the lesson is coming to a close, people are reviewing the parshah. Everyone is getting ready for the holy Shabbos--and here I am amidst priests, preparing to betray my people.

"A terrible longing began to torment me: a longing for the Gemara, for the beis medrash, for my mother, who must be lying sick with worry. It seemed to me that my father had leaped up from the grave and is tearing worlds apart so that his son should not be allowed to take such a terrible step.

"With every moment, that feeling in me grew stronger. I was filled with a dreadful fright. How did I dare to take such a step, to deny the God of Israel--I, the best beis medrash student, who had astonished everyone with his knowledge? Woe to me and what had happened to me!

"I began to feel the little room closing in about me. Statements of the sages about repentance came into my thoughts. I knew that I am a sinner, a great sinner. Still, I am not yet lost! But how does one get out of here, when the door is locked?

"And Shabbos is approaching. I began to feel the holiness of the day. Yes, in the lonely seminary room, I began to feel the holiness of Shabbos, and a terrible pity awoke in me: I began to feel how unfortunate I am, how oppressed, how cast away. It seemed to me that I am swimming in the depths, in quicksand, that I am falling deeper and deeper, and that I will soon no longer be able to rise--never!

"In anguish, I threw myself to the floor and began to tear at my clothes, to tear my hair from my head. I grew hot and cold. I lost all consciousness. Only one thought remained, filling my mind: the verse, 'When a person sins,' and the knowledge that I am that sinner.

"This was how I spent the entire night and the next morning. When my meal was brought, I didn't even come close to it. At least, to my relief, all this time the priest didn't show up. And I began to think how I would carry out my determination to run away and come back to my people, the Jewish people, and to my mother.

"It is easy to say 'run away'--but there was no way to get out, unless I were to throw myself from the window and die. But is it not also a sin to take one's own life?

"But later on, this thought, from which I had at first recoiled, began to attract me very strongly. I decided that for a person like me, who had wanted to betray my Judaism, there could be no other atonement than to throw myself from the tower and die. And besides, this would be a sanctification of God's name.

"And so I began to prepare myself for death. I spent the entire day in repentance. I wept and poured out my heart before the Master of the world. Then, as soon as it began to grow dark, I opened the window. I murmured, 'Master of the world, may my death be an atonement for my sin.' And I leaped from the window.

"When I came to, I looked around and saw that I am outside the town, far from the Catholic seminary. I realized that a miracle, a great miracle, had taken place, and that I had been saved from death and apostasy, God have mercy.

"My first thought was to immediately run to the holy Maggid, so that he should save my soul, which was so soiled with sin. And so I came here. And I confess and announce before the entire congregation: Chatasi, avisi, pashati!"

Now the other students understood for the first time that with his many talks on the verse "When a person sins," the Maggid of Mezeritch had saved a Jewish soul from apostasy, God have mercy.

from In Der Velt fun Chasidus, Vol. I (Warsaw, 5698; 1937)

by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

The love of all beings precedes everything else.

Afterwards comes the love of all humanity.

After that comes the love of the people of Israel, who encompass everything, for it is the people of Israel who will one day rectify all creation.

All these types of love express themselves in activity:
loving others to do good for them and to improve them.

But higher than all these is the love of God. This is love complete in itself, which does not in itself cause an effect-- except that it fills the heart with the most exalted contentment.

Musar Avicha, Ahavah II

by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

There are some charismas so grat,
They blend into truth.
There are some truths so powerful,
They gleam.

Only in a certain realm
Are such descriptions meaningful.
Repetition of the truth
Digs a tunnel out of falsehood.

All translations and original material. Copyright 1998

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