Weekly Story: You Merited to Witness It

by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

Reb Mordechai Williger was a talmid chocham (Torah Scholar)[1] and an askan (communal activist) in prewar Europe. In the 1920’s and 1930’s he made over ten trips in order to raise money from American Jewry for various causes and institutions in Europe.

One such trip took place in the mid 30’s and Chabad chassidim in New York, heard that he was shortly returning to Europe. They made a gathering in his honor and then asked him if he would be kind enough to take their letters (pa”n) and deliver it to the Frierdike Rebbe in Otvock Poland.

Being a kind person he readily replied it would be his pleasure to do so, and if your letters are not ready tonight don’t be upset, I am remaining in New York for a few more days and you can bring it to me at your convenience. It would my honor to bring it to him, as this gives me the opportunity to meet this tzaddik.

Numerous chassidim took advantage of this opportunity and wrote letters to the Rebbe. Faithful to his word, as soon as he returned to Europe and took care of his pressing obligations he went to personally deliver the letters to the Rebbe in Otwock.

Coming to the Rebbe’s residence, he was greeted by Reb Chadsha Feigin hy”d, who was one of the Rebbe’s mazkirim (secretaries) and Reb Mordechai informed him that he has a shlichus from the chassidim in America to give over to the Rebbe. Realizing that the Rebbe might be interested in asking Reb Mordechai about his experience in America, as well as discussing with him the level of observance of American Jewry; he informed him that the Rebbe was in the yard in back of the house.

Now Reb Mordechai had met with many tzaddikim, the Rebbeim of various Chasidic groups and he considered this to be an opportunity to meet another tzaddik. So he went to the yard and noticed that the Frierdike Rebbe was sitting by a table learning.

After introducing himself, he handed to the Rebbe the letters that he was given by the chassidim in New York. The Rebbe picked up the letters and Reb Mordechai began trembling. He noticed that the color of the Rebbe’s face was constantly changing from letter to letter. This was a phenomenon that he had never witnessed by any of the other numerous Tzaddikim he had been in contact with and he recognized that this was a different kind of reading that he had witnessed until now by others.

After the Rebbe concluded reading the letters and spoke some words with him, Reb Mordechai left. As he reentered the house, Reb Chadsha met him and noticed his astonishment and awe. So Reb Chadsha asked him, “What happened that you are awe-struck?”

Reb Mordechai replied, I have had countless interactions with numerous tzaddikim and I have never noticed such a thing, that the color in a Rebbe’s face changes from one letter to another.”

Reb Chadsha replied nonchalantly, “Why are you shocked? This happens every day; it is nothing out of the ordinary.”

That began a close connection between Reb Mordechai and the Frierdike Rebbe and subsequently the Rebbe as well.

Once after the war, after he settled in New York, in one of his conversations with the Rebbe, Reb Mordechai repeated this incident.

The Rebbe looked at him and said, in admiration “You were able to sense and notice that.” The Rebbe then said, “Ashrei shezichiseim, (you are worthy that you merited to notice this).”

I heard the above from his son the askan, Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer sheyichye.

With this in mind, that there are numerous hanhagos that the Rebbeim did which were noticed only by some, I would like to share an observation that my father HaRav Hachossid Reb Meir a”h pointed out to me.

One Friday afternoon before my bar mitzvah, my father told me: “Sholom, look at the Rebbe when he says the section of His’oiriri in Lecho Dodi. Tell me if you see him give his entire body a vigorous shake.”

After davening, I told my father that indeed I had noticed this phenomenon for the first time. He then explained:

His’oiriri means ‘awaken.’ In essence, we are praying that the sleep in Heaven should end and a new day should dawn upon Bnei Yisroel, with the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, when we will all be taken out of this final golus.

“It is known that since it is a time of sleep in Heaven, at this exact time a sleep descends upon those tzaddikim whose lives are similar to the conduct in Heaven. For this reason it is noted that on Friday evenings the Alter Rebbe would fall asleep. So during this tefillah the Rebbe shakes his entire body, like a person trying to awaken himself.”

[1] He authored numerous seforim, amongst them are the two volumes called Kuntres Hatosofas, which the Rebbe kept in his room in 770.

Dear reader if you know of  a hanhaga or an interesting story that you would like to share with members of Anash that enjoy this weekly platform, please forward it to me at avtzonbooks@gmail.com.

Rabbi Sholom Avtzon is a veteran mechanech in the United Lubavitch Yeshiva Ocean Parkway and is available to farbreng in your community.