by Rabbi Sholom Avtzon
While I endeavor to bring to you stories that are not well-known, there are some classics that are important to repeat, in order to refresh our memory and for our children who perhaps didn’t hear it (in all of its details).
In 1954, Rabbi Leib Friedman was invited to the wedding of Rav Chaim Chaikel’s youngest child. The wedding was well attended, as Rav Chaim was the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Chayei Olam in Yerushalayim, and the multitudes of his students of many decades came to participate in his happiness.
However, the happiness was bitter sweet, as their beloved Rosh Hayeshiva who had difficulties in walking for many years, had now lost all movement and sensation in his feet, and he was brought to the wedding in his special “hospital” bed.
At one point in the wedding, he requested that it be quiet as he would like to say something, however, his weakened state of health does not allow him to talk too loud.
Immediately there was complete silence as everyone wanted to hear what the Rosh HaYeshiva has to say; and he began saying:
Some may ask, is this the just reward for a Jew who has dedicated his entire life to learning and teaching Torah?! However, I want you to know, that Hashem is just, and therefore I will share with you the reason Hashem took away my ability to walk.
When I was a young teenager, I together with around thirty other young men learned in a beis hamidrash in our home town of Stutzein, Poland. The beis hamidrash was frequented by a Jew Yitzchok who was a drunkard. He would come to the Beis hamidrash, take out his bottle of vodka and fall asleep on one of the benches. After he would awake, he would take another large drink and go back to sleep, thus spending most of the day sleeping in the beis hamidrash.
Everyone in the town called him, Itchke the drunkard.
One winter evening, while we were learning a wagon driver rushed into the beis hamidrash and it was noticeable that he was in agony and distress. He pleaded with us, “Please help me save my horse. I was transporting a large load of goods and for some unknown reason the wagon flipped over and the straps are pulling strongly on the horses’ neck. Please help me right the wagon and save my horse!! I can’t do it by myself.”
While this was an important mitzvah, we questioned if it takes precedence over the mitzvah of learning Torah. After discussing it amongst ourselves we came to the conclusion that learning is more important and we advised him to find others that could help him.
The wagon driver was aghast but he saw we were resolute in our decision, and left the beis hamidrash desperate to find someone else. We returned to our studies but then suddenly Itchke the drunkard “awoke” and he stated:
“Young Men, you shall immediately go to assist that Jew, and make sure that the ropes don’t strangle his horse. And if you don’t go, [I am afraid that your punishment will be, that] you will not be able to walk on your own feet!”
I jokingly replied, Itchke, since when did you become a Rov and pasken halachos?! However, he didn’t reply or say anything.
A half hour later, the wagon driver came in a second time and begged us to help save his horse, as he was not able to get anyone to help him. Once again we discussed he halachic ramifications and this time we decided that since there is no one else available to do the mitzvah, we should help him. However, by the time we arrived, it was too late; the horse had been strangled by the reins and was dead.
The following morning when Itchke entered the beis hamidrash, he asked if I was around. When the other students replied in the negative he went to his regular place on the bench. When I arrived shortly afterwards and my friends informed me that he was looking for me, I went over to his place and asked, Itchke, you wanted me?
He replied, “Listen, I have a request of you. Being that my neshoma is going to leave the body tonight, I am requesting of you that you come to my house and be present, when the neshoma departs from the body.”
I took this as another one of his humorous jokes, [Dovid Hamelech requested that Hashem informs him of the time he will pass away, but Itchke the drunkard knows it on his own!] But he ignored my comments and just repeated his request again. So I decided to play along and I asked him, Itchke, where do you live?
He replied at the edge of the town is a dilapidated hut and that serves my needs perfectly.
In the evening I said to myself, I have to learn a few hours this evening anyways, so what is the difference where I learn, and I proceeded to his hut. I will go to him and humor him.
When I arrived there, I saw that he was lying on boards and sleeping. I noticed a broken crate which evidently served as his chair and sat down. I then opened up my gemora and began learning. After learning for many hours and I saw he was still alive, and not demonstrating any signs of weakness or distress, I thought to myself, what do I need this for, the whole thing doesn’t make sense. So I stood up to leave.
At that moment, Itchke said to me, “Don’t leave! Sit here! Exactly at four in the morning my soul will depart. And my request of you is, that afterwards you should inform the Rov and the chevra kadisha (burial society) that my request is that I be buried adjacent to the great sage…., mentioning a tzaddik that passed away over a hundred years earlier and is buried in the old cemetery.
I said to him, “Why are you saying such foolish things? Itchke, you don’t even put on tefillin, [no one ever saw you in shul davenning] and you request that they place you right next to the great tzaddik?!”
He replied in astonishment, “Why do you say I don’t put on tefillin? There in the corner is a box, open it and you will see the tefillin I use every day.”
Opening the box I stared in bewilderment, there in front of me was the most mehudardike pair of tefillin I have ever seen. I was astonished because if I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.
So I then said with much respect, And if I will inform the chevra kadisha of your request, to be placed next to the tzaddik, they won’t listen to me.
Itchke replied, “At the bottom of that box is a smaller box, open it and you will see what I wrote. Present and show those manuscripts to the Rov and the chevra kadisha and then they will definitely fulfill my request.”
Looking at them I realized that he was writing his thoughts on kabbalah and other thoughts which I had no understanding of. But I then realized, that the individual lying on the boards, was definitely one of the hidden tzaddikim.
Exactly at four in the morning, his holy soul departed, just like he stated will happen. I ran to the Rov’s house and the chevra kadisha was summoned. I related to them the entire story and showed them his writings. However, the problem was that according to their records there was no empty space next to the great tzaddik, to place him there. Furthermore there was no place in the entire old cemetery, as during the past numerous years, all burials were in the new cemetery.
However, the Rov instructed them to go and check the old cemetery, saying if a hidden tzaddik requested this, moments before his holy soul departed, I am positive he knew what he was requesting. So out of respect they went there and to their utter amazement, there was indeed one empty space available and yes it was immediately adjacent to the tzaddik’s eternal; resting place.
The entire community was astounded at how this place suddenly materialized and about the entire story of this tzaddik nistar and out of respect they all accompanied him on his final journry.
As Reb Chaim Chakel concluded the story, he began crying bitterly, and it tore at everyone’s heart. I am positive, beyond any doubt, that the tremendous suffering I have in my feet all these years is a result and outcome from the dire warning that the tzaddik nistar uttered when we refused to help a fellow Jew save his horse. [Since I didn’t go to help a fellow jew, I can no longer go on my feet].
All the assembled cried with him, and the joyous occasion was turned into a time of sadness.
Reb Leib Friedman continued, I too was tremendously impacted by this heart wrenching story, and after I came home that night, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Being that I was then corresponding with the Rebbe about safrus, (as will be related at the end of this story), I decided to include this entire story in my letter, with the request that the Rebbe arouses Hashem’s compassion on behalf of the Rosh Hayeshiva, and his feet should become healthy again.
Some time passed and I received an answer from the Rebbe. He wrote, “Give over to the Rosh HaYeshiva, that he should accept upon himself to fulfill the takanos of my father in law the Rebbe, to learn daily the daily portion of Chumash, tehillim and Tanya, as I noted [in the HaYom yom]. Not only should he personally learn it, but he should inspire all of his friends and students including those who have left the Yeshiva years ago, who respect his words. In the merit of his and their going in the ways of my father in law the Rebbe, Hashem will give him the ability to physically go (walk) once again on his feet.
As soon as I received this reply, I went to the Rosh haYeshiva and related to him what I wrote to the Rebbe and then showed him the Rebbe’s response. As he read it, a spirit of tremendous happiness came upon him, and with tremendous emotion he kissed the letter, requesting that he please be allowed to hold on to it for a short time. He immediately stated that he accepts these conditions.
Six months later I visited Reb Chaim again, and this time he was no longer confined to his bed or even a wheel chair, rather he was sitting by his table. No longer are the doctors discussing about the eventuality of amputating the feet, rather they are discussing how to help his walking.
He stated that whoever visits him he implores of them to do him a personal favor and begin learning Chitas, as through their learning he will heal much faster.
The mashpia who related this story concluded. Not only does learning the daily shiurim of Chitas, have the power to help one regain their health, but it even can remove a kepeida of a tzaddik nistar.
Compilers note: Rabbi Leib Friedman was a sofer in Bnei Brak who wrote tefillin and mezuzos following the script /ksav of the Alter Rebbe. One of the stark differences between this way and the Arizal’s etc, script is by the letter tzaddik. The Alter Rebbe’s opinion is that the top two yuds should be facing opposite directions, while the other opinions hold they should be in the same direction.
A litvishe Rov paskened (ruled) that his tefillin and mezuzos are not kosher, so he wrote to the Rebbe asking what should he do. The Rebbe wrote him a response explaining why it is kosher and he presented the letter to the Rov. After reading it, the Rov replied, I will no longer say it is possul, however, I believe it is only kosher bidieved (if that is how it was written it I acceptable, but that is not how it should really be written).
Rabbi Friedman wrote again to the Rebbe and the Rebbe sent a second letter addresses this issue and then the Rov declared, you are correct, it is 100% kosher and acceptable.
Rabbi Friedman than wrote a booklet titled Tzitkas tzaddik, explaining this concept of the Alter Rebbe’s ksav,
Translated from Shmuos v’sippurim by Rabbi Raphael Kahan, who heard it directly from Reb Leib Friedman (vol. 1 pp. 236-239).
Every year, during the farbrengen on Yud Shevat, the Rebbe would make note of the importance of saying and learning the daily portions of Chitas (Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya). So obviously by the farbrengens that are associated Yud Shevat, this point is stressed, together with the Reebbe’s takanah of learning Rambam. Hearing it, I noticed when this story was being said, some people nodding in recognition, while it was evident that by others it was the first time hearing it, so therefore I felt it will be meaningful to translate and present it here to the readers of this column. Especially as the Hayom Yom for the 25th of Shevat, this Shabbos, the Rebbe emphasizes the importance of learning the shiurim of Chitas.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org