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* The Absence of Stone
THE ABSENCE OF STONE by Yaacov Dovid Shulman
An artist was given a block of stone
Everything I say about you
No wonder Jews pray
TO STUDY THE TORAH
I have come to encourage you, who require no encouragement, to study the Torah diligently and to review your learning well. This is the essence of fruitful learning.
In addition, with whatever time you have, learn works of ethical instruction and fear of God. That is the essence of all. Even if your available time to devote to these teachings is a small fraction of the whole, it gives blessed fruits to all other activities and learning. This can be compared to the brain, which though small in size makes the measure a human being.
The first rebbe of Shtifinish, Rabbi Nachum (son of Rabbi Israel of Rizhin) once went to a shtiebl where he found two Hasidim discussing a statement in the Gemara: "Whoever sustains a Jewish soul is considered to have sustained the entire world" (Sanhedrin). (For instance, we see that from just one person-- Adam--the entire world was populated.)
Hearing this, Rabbi Nachum exclaimed, "But not with a whip!" The Hasidim asked him, "What does the rebbe mean?" And he replied: "I will tell you a story."
Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov had a follower who was a village innkeeper. This man's child grew ill, and the doctors could find no cure. The Hasid ran to Sassov to see the rebbe. Hearing the news, Rabbi Moshe Leib gave a deep sigh and wished the child a complete recovery.
The Hasid, who was a great believer in his rebbe, traveled home a happy man. When he arrived that evening, he saw that the child was much worse. But he strengthened himself with faith, believing that the rebbe's blessing would certainly bear fruit and that the child would grow healthy. He reassured his wife and told her to go to sleep for a while. He promised her that he would take care of the child and give him his prescribed medicine at the right times.
Yet as he sat next to the child, he noticed that it grew worse by the minute.
He put away the doctor's prescription and instead gave the child a spoonful of clean water every hour, in order to simply keep it alive.
And to drive away his great anguish, the Hasid took a Gemara and learned as he sat at the child's cradle.
At around twelve midnight, someone knocked on the door and said that he wanted to buy whisky. In his bitterness, the Hasid didn't want to answer. But the customer wouldn't leave, and only knocked harder. The Hasid, fearful that the knocking would awaken his wife and that she would see the dangerous condition of her child, brought the man the whiskey and rebuked him for coming so late to make a purchase, and also for coming at a time when he was so upset because of his child's illness.
The man, who was sitting on his horse, asked him, "Why are you so upset? What is wrong with our child?'
The Hasid told the man everything in hopes that he would leave him in peace and ride away.
But instead the rider took a small bottle out of his breast pocket and handed it to the Hasid. He told him, "Give this to the child. With the first spoonful, the child will improve. With the second, the child will no longer be ill. And with the third, the child will be as healthy as anyone." And with that, he rode away.
The Hasid went back into the house and looked at his sick child. It appeared to him that the child was already in its last moment of life, God forbid. He figured that he had nothing to lose, and so he gave the child the first spoonful from the horseman's bottle. To his great surprise, the child fell peacefully asleep. He waited about half an hour, and then lightly waked the child and gave it the second spoonful.
After letting the child sleep about an hour, he gently woke his wife to tell her the good news about the child's improvement and the horseman's bottle. Both of them believed that this was an extraordinary miracle in the merit of Rabbi Moshe Leib's blessing. They gazed at their child, now sleeping normally like any healthy child. They agreed to give their child the third spoonful, after which it slept peacefully until morning. And in the morning, the child asked to be dressed, got down from bed and walked around.
In great joy, the Hasid's wife baked two large cakes and told her husband to travel straight to Rabbi Moshe Leib for Shabbos and present them to him.
When the Hasid did so, Rabbi Moshe Leib asked in amazement, "Why are you giving this to me?"
The Hasid told him the entire story, and he concluded, "How long will the rebbe hide himself from us? My wife and I believe that the horseman was the rebbe's messenger. Perhaps he was the prophet Elijah himself."
Rabbi Moshe Leib did not respond, but instead went to begin the Sabbath eve prayers.
It was Rabbi Moshe Leib's custom to spend the holy Shabbos joyfully with his students and Hasidim, teaching Torah. They would discuss Hasidic teachings and dance joyfully in honor of Shabbos.
But that Friday night, Rabbi Moshe Leib remained in strict seclusion. He secluded himself during much of the day of Shabbos as well. And none of his students dared ask him about this unusual behavior.
Then, in the middle of the Shalosh Seudas meal toward the end of Shabbos, Rabbi Moshe Leib announced, "You have not asked me about my unusual behavior this Shabbos, and so I will tell you myself. It was all because of this Hasid, the innkeeper. In the middle of the week, he came to me requesting a cure for his child. When I read his note, I saw that I would not be able to help him at all. But because of my great love for every Jew, I couldn't bring myself to break a bitter Jewish heart by remaining silent. I had to bless the child that it be cured. But he"--and here the rebbe pointed at the innkeeper--"with his great faith drew down this great miracle.
"And so when he brought me a present on Friday and told me everything that had happened, I asked in heaven who the horseman was. And over Shabbos, I did everything I could to find out, in accordance with the mystical teachings I have received from my own rebbes, until this moment, when the secret was revealed to me."
from Chasidishe Maasiyos, story 17
RABBI NACHMAN'S EARLY TEACHINGS AND IDEAS
Rabbi Nachman addressed many serious and important topics in his Sefer Hamidos. To most of these he devoted thirty or forty statements, and to some, a little over a hundred. But in his chapter on the tzaddik--the holy Jewish leader--he wrote 209 statements. We see here clearly the future Rabbi Nachman, who exalts the tzaddik over everything else in the world, who holds that no human actions can be correct nor any soul rectified without the true tzaddik.
I would like to here quote from that chapter a few examples, which are remarkably radical and sharp, and which sound paradoxical in the ears of a Jew who is not a Hasid of Rabbi Nachman.
[Translator's note: Although many of these statements seem excessive, they are very often based on clear sources in normative Judaism--e.g., Talmud and Midrash--as is made clear by the extensive footnotes added by later rabbis, among them Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen.]
"With his word, the tzaddik can decree that one person will enter Gan Eden and another Gehinnom."
"It is good to spend a great deal of time in order to come close to the tzaddik for even one hour."
"The words of wise tzaddikim are more beloved than the words of Torah and words of the prophets. One must hear and obey them, even though the tzaddikim show you no miracle."
"There are students who are in essence dependent on the merit of the tzaddik. When the tzaddik passes away, they too either pass away or receive punishment."
"At times, a person dies prematurely because the tzaddik complained against him."
"Even through a light word of the tzaddik, a great light is opened easily so that people can attain exalted levels of wisdom."
"The tzaddik is his generation's image of God."
"The tzaddik bears those who support him in their time of trouble."
"At times, it is decreed above that a certain number of people should die, and one of them is beloved by the tzaddik. The tzaddik has the power to pray for that person and save him, and place another in his place."
"The tzaddik has the power to take from one person and give to another."
"In his teachings, the tzaddik teaches God how to treat us."
"A town that obeys the tzaddik will not suffer war, commotion or bad news."
"The coming of the Messiah depends on people's closeness to tzaddikim."
It is certain that among these, as well as other radical teachings in Sefer Hamidos regarding the tzaddik, are statements that belong to the later, post-land of Israel teachings of Rabbi Nachman. However, a great part of these were taught by the early Rabbi Nachman.
This shows us that when Rabbi Nachman was still living in his small shtetl of Medvedevka, surrounded by the Hasidim of the first generation, wandering in the fields, honing his inner ear to hear voices from heaven and developing his inner sight to see things that others do not see, he looked upon himself as a person who is the center of a Jewish life of holiness, as a person who bears responsibility for all Israel and whose word all Jews must therefore heed.
[Translator's note: It seems that Rabbi Nachman distinguished between the tzaddik ha-emes, the true tzaddik, and other tzaddikim. Although there is only one true tzaddik per generation, there are other tzaddikim as well. For instance, the teaching paraphrased in the following paragraph refers to two contemporaneous tzaddikim. Therefore, it is not clear that in the teachings quoted above, Rabbi Nachman was referring to himself.]
One pre-land of Israel teaching (Likutei Moharan 96) paints a portrait of the tzaddik's inner struggle, as he must lift up the "strange thoughts" he encounters to his level. At times, the tzaddik receives a "strange thought" that fell from a level so high that he is not yet sufficiently developed to rectify and lift it. What can the tzaddik accomplish, since he lacks the power to raise that thought? This "strange thought" was created by antagonism to another tzaddik. When this tzaddik tries to rectify and elevate the "strange thought," his powerful desire to do so nullifies the antagonism to that other tzaddik.
In the statements that Rabbi Nachman wrote in his youth under the heading, "Groans," he also occupies himself with the problem of the tzaddik and the great spiritual powers that strive to break him if he will not break them. The tzaddik must engage in that battle with wisdom and care, in order not to arouse evil forces against him before he possesses the full power to overcome them and sweep them away. This list of teachings is very developed and deep, and can be understood only after one has studied various concepts in the writings of the Ari and the later teachings of Rabbi Nachman.
TO TRAVEL EAST
You put me on the train going West
The rain kept falling the entire night.
All translations and original material. Copyright 1998