The Wings of Morning -
A Torah Review

Yaacov Dovid Shulman

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Chukas 5758 / July 4, 1998


* Far from Words of Torah
-by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
* The Mirror
-a Yiddish story
* The Youth of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
-by Hillel Zeitlin

by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

There are a number of causes that can keep us far from words of Torah and prevent them from entering our hearts. We must always know the cause of such an obstacle when we feel it, so that we may know how to remove it and allow our heart to be open to a clear connection with the Torah's words.

If we do not know the correct cause, we might busy ourselves in extensive work to remove some other cause, which is not presently impeding us. Then the real cause that keeps us from clinging to Torah will remain in place, and we will stay confused.

Some of these causes are spiritual; others physical. Some stem from inadequate preparation of the holy; others from inadequate preparation of the this-worldly.

Oros Hatorah 7:1

a Yiddish story

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov once heard that there was a school-teacher named Reb Velvele in a nearby shtetl who was outstanding for his hospitality.

Rabbi Moshe Leib thought very highly of such exceptional traits. Being a tireless person, he put on some ordinary clothes and quickly made his way by foot to that shtetl.

Coming to Reb Velvele like any other traveller, Rabbi Moshe Leib greeted him, "A good morning to you, Reb Velvele. May I stay with you?"

"Yes, dear Jew," Reb Velvel answered immediately--"with the greatest of pleasure."

That night, when Reb Velvele served each guest a bowl of potatoes with sauce, Rabbi Moshe Leib heard him recite a new "yehi ratzon": "Master of the world, You know my heart. Had I the means, I would certainly give Your Jewish children a supper fit for a king. But what can I do if it is Your will that I can give them no more than potatoes and brown sauce? May You consider this as if I had served them a king's delicacies."

And Rabbi Moshe Leib heard him make another such "yehi ratzon" when he prepared the bedding for his guests: a pillow filled with straw and an old garment as a blanket. He said, "Master of the entire world, You know the truth that I would like to give Your Jews fine bedding, with two thick pillows and a fine, silken blanket, as is fitting for Your children. But what can I say? May it be Your will that You consider this straw pillow and old garment as though I were serving them as in the finest hotel."

Hearing this new "yehi ratzon," Rabbi Moshe Leib said to himself, "Master of the world, You have such Jews in Your world! What I have been told is true. You have not been misleading in praise of Your Jews. Moshe Leib says, You should indeed make Reb Velvele a wealthy man, and he should in fact be hospitable for Your sake, as he desires. And may his "yehi ratzon" be fulfilled--not only his desire to fulfill it--may he in fact be able to fulfill this mitzvah generously, as it should be done and as is fitting before You."

Rabbi Moshe Leib's request was immediately accepted in heaven.

The next morning, Rabbi Moshe Leib took leave of Reb Velvele and wished him wealth and comfort, so that he might merit to keep the mitzvah out of untroubled wealth. And he went home.

A few years passed. One day, a Jew from Reb Velvele's shtetl came to Rabbi Moshe Leib.

As soon as the Jew introduced himself, Rabbi Moshe Leib asked, "How is Reb Velvele makhnis oreakh--the hospitable Reb Velvel?"

The Jew replied, "In our shtetl, there is no one called Reb Velvele makhnis oreakh."

"I mean the Rev Velvele who was also called Reb Velvele Melamed--the school-teacher--or also Reb Velvele Parick, because he had a skin condition on his head."

"Yes, Rebbe," the Jew answered, "I know him. But today he is no longer called what he used to be called. When he was called Velvele Parick and was a poor Jew, he was very hospitable. But in the last few years, he has gone into business and become very successful. Now he calls himself Herr Wilhelm Blitz, and he is very elegant. He doesn't even give a Jew a piece of bread, and he certainly doesn't take in guests."

Hearing this report, Rabbi Moshe Leib almost fainted. He said to himself, "Moshe Leib, Moshe Leib! What have you done? God had a Jew who was a rarity, precious and priceless, hospitable with no equal. And you, Moshe Leib, mixed in with your blessings. And because of you, such a precious Jew, such a shining diamond, has become such a dark stone."

Rabbi Moshe Leib beat his heart and cried out, "Master of the world, I have transgressed, I have done wrong, I have sinned! Help me rectify this."

Quickly, Rabbi Moshe Leib packed a small bundle and hurried to the shtetl. He arrived very early in the morning and came to Reb Velvele, who had once been so hospitable.

And he addressed him in a Germanicized Yiddish, fitting with Reb Velvele's new reputation. "Good morning, Herr Blitz."

"What do you want, my dear friend?" Reb Velvele replied in the same Germanicized Yiddish.

"I would like to ask Herr Blitz for a cup of coffee. I have not slept the entire night and my throat is very dry," Rabbi Moshe Leib told him.

"No, my dear Jew," Herr Blitz immediately replied, "you have not found a place here. By me, it is already past coffee time. Go in health, my dear Jew. There are enough Jews in town who will give you coffee."

Crushed, Rabbi Moshe made his way down the steps.

A few hours later, at noon, Rabbi Moshe Leib returned and asked, "I was late for coffee, but perhaps I could get some lunch?"

"No," Herr Blitz replied. "You have already missed lunch." And he turned away from Rabbi Moshe Leib and turned to a large mirror and began grooming himself.

"Tell me, my dear Herr Blitz," Rabbi Moshe Leib asked him from the doorway, "why are you looking in the mirror? Whom do you see there?"

"What are you asking, foolish Jew?" Herr Blitz replied. "Whom does one see in a mirror if not for oneself?"

"It is precisely that which I want to understand. Please explain why in a mirror one can only see oneself and no one else."

"If you want to know that, my dear Jew," Herr Blitz replied, "I will explain it to you. If the glass of the mirror would not have a silver coating, one could see other people through it. But because the glass is coated with silver, one sees oneself and no one else."

Hearing this, Rabbi Moshe Leib cried out, "Thank God, everything is explained. And now Moshe Leib knows how to repair his sin.

"Herr Blitz, I had a difficult question: Why was it that before Moshe Leib blessed you to become wealthy, when you were called Velvele Parikh and you were very poor, you were very hospitable--yet when Moshe Leib's blessing was successful, you want to look at no one but yourself? Now I know the answer: When a person is coated with a little silver, he can see no one but oneself.

"But Moshe Leib knows what to do. He will scratch the little bit of silver off you, and you will again be able to look at other people."

When Reb Velvele heard Rabbi Moshe Leib's words of truth, he grew very frightened. He resolved from that day onwards to return to his previous generous hospitality. And he repented wholeheartedly for the rest of his life.

Shivchei Ramal (Meshivas Nefesh), pp. 44-47

by Hillel Zeitlin

When Nachman became bar mitzvah, his parents arranged a marriage with a girl from the shtetl of Medvedivke (not far from Mezhibozh). His father-in-law, Rabbi Ephraim, was a learned, God-fearing Jew, an important community leader who came from a fine family. At the time that he took Rabbi Nachman as his son- in-law, Rabbi Ephraim didn't live in the shtetl itself but in the village Usatin (also known as Husatin), as well as in other villages near Medvedivke, which he leased.

And in the fields and forests that surrounded Husatin and these other villages, the poetic spirit of Rabbi Nachman awoke.

Rabbi Shimon, son of Reb Ber--the childhood friend and first disciple of Rabbi Nachman--tells that later on, when Rabbi Nachman was famous and living in large towns, he once travelled with Rabbi Shimon in the vicinity of Husatin. He pointed at the fields and forests with great longing, and said, "How good it was for me here! With every step, I could taste Gan Eden!"

And he added, "Here on these paths, I would walk about in prayer to God. What good does my fame do me now?"

Rabbi Nachman also once related, "When I was young and engaged in prayer to God in a forest or field, I would see a new world when I would return. The previous world had entirely disappeared, and its place was taken by a world that was completely different."

Here, in the fields and forests, Rabbi Nachman heard the song of every blade of grass and every bird. Everything spoke to him, blooming, growing and climbing to the heights, about the mercy of God, about His bounty and generosity--whether the sun in the distant heights or the smallest insects on the ground. They all spoke to him of the splendor that embraces worlds, and of the divine rose, God's immanent Presence.

Amidst the trees and grasses, amidst the mountains and valleys, Rabbi Nachman felt as though he were with his closest brothers and friends. With them, he prayed; with them, he gave praise and thanksgiving to God. He once said about these friends of his, "It is good to be pious in their midst."

Not only did he hear the song of the trees and grasses, but he also absorbed their thought. He later taught: "From all created things, from all the trees in the forests and the grasses in the field, we can gain insights and find pathways to serve God."

And: "All grasses send roots out to the tzaddik. All grasses long for the tzaddik, yearn for him, want to be included in his prayer--every height and grass longs for him."

And: "In winter, the ground is pregnant. It carries within itself a great secret. In summer, the secret is revealed."

When Rabbi Nachman had lived with his parents in Mezhibozh, he had often had to content himself with praying in his own words under the roof of his father's house, in the corner where hay and straw were stored. But here in the villages around Medvekevke, there were fields and forests where he could commune to his soul's content with nature and its eternal Creator. He could speak with every flower as a friend; he could hear God's voice not only from books but also from the Great Book of God: the sun and stars, the earth and all that it gives forth.

During Rabbi Nachman's childhood in Mezhibozh, he applied all his energies to the heights, yet thinking that his superhuman service, prayers and pleadings were not succeeding, that he was neither heard not seen--that, to the contrary, he was only being distanced and pushed away. But here, in the free, clean world [of nature], he felt that he is close to God and God is close to him--that his every request could be easily fulfilled.

In later years, Rabbi Nachman told his student, Rabbi Nosson, that at that time he asked God to strengthen his faith by sending him a few signs that God heard his prayers.

The forests in which Rabbi Nachman used to wander, immersed in thought and cleaving to God, encompassed a river. Rabbi Nachman would often go to the river, take a boat and float upon the quiet, sun-drenched water for hours at a time. In the holy silence, he would hear only "the voice of God upon the waters." He would use the river as a mikvah, and he also wanted to catch fish from that river for Shabbos. The concept of eating fish on Shabbos is a mystical one: the fish refers to the tzaddik; it refers to the Moshiach; fish contain reincarnations of souls seeking rectification.

Rabbi Nachman wanted to obtain these fish straight from the river. But could he suddenly become a fisherman? Where would he find nets and other equipment? He asked God that the fish should swim out of the deep river toward the bank and directly into his hand. And so they did.

Another miracle:
He asked to be shown a person who was already long dead. And he should see him not in a vision, but with his every-day, human eyes. This request was also fulfilled. When the dead person appeared to Rabbi Nachman, one of his students tells, he fell faint. The reason was that in his lifetime, the dead person had been an evil person.

"Later," this student adds, "thousands upon thousands of souls of the dead would come to the rebbe seeking a rectification (for, as is known, he was the true master of the field), and he didn't have the slightest fear of them."

In Mezhibozh, Rabbi Nachman had worked on himself to perfect himself. In Medvekivke, he felt so secure that he began to rectify others, to guide young people and to save them from the vanity of desires.

He began to do so on the day of his wedding. Himself a boy of thirteen years, outwardly playful and, as his student often comments, seemingly frivolous, he spoke easily with other boys his age. He presented himself as a boy who wants to enjoy this world and enjoy the pleasures of the day. They confided to him all their "sins of youth," so that he learned their flaws and misbehavior. But when he approached the previously-mentioned Shimon, son of Dov, with his this-worldly persona, Shimon said, "I don't want to know of these things. I want to go on the path of simplicity."

Rabbi Nachman replied, "I see that we shall be very good friends."

Shimon grew up to become the Rabbi Shimon who, in all his thoughts, words and actions was connected to Rabbi Nachman; who lived only in him and who breathed for him; who was at every moment ready to give away his life for the least wish of the rebbe; who accompanied and served Rabbi Nachman on his journey to the land of Israel and who lived with him during all those journeys (Rabbi Nachman travelled to the land of Israel in the midst of the French wars in the East). Until his last breath, Rabbi Shimon didn't want to leave his rebbe; and he too died in the midst of an important mission for Rabbi Nachman.

All translations and original material. Copyright 1998

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