Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Ohev Yisroel Apta Rav and Mosdos Kopishnitz Yerushalayim

A good friend and colleague of mine, HaRav Binyamin Flintenstein son of the Kopishnitzer Rebbe and Rav of Congregation Ohev Yisroel here in the Ramat Bet Shemesh neighborhood of Ramat Shilo called me today.
He has encouraged me expressing great interest in having the Apta Rav's sefer Ohev Yisroel translated by me into English.
There is a deep connection between the Noam Elimelech, the Apta Rav and Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev based on the following story: (there is a second tradition which I hope to send out next time)

In the city of Zavanitz there were smugglers who would smuggle goods without paying the levied taxes and there was rampant desecration of the Shabbos. The Apta Rav, Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel was greatly upset by their behavior and sharply rebuked them.

Rav Shmelka, the son of Rav Moshe Leib of Sassov wished to travel and visit the Apter however since he hailed from Zavanitz he was worried that the Apter would ask him from where he was from and upon hearing that he was from Zavanitz he would not let him even cross his threshold!

His friends advised him to completely ignore any questions about where he was from and simply to introduce himself as Rav Moshe Leib Sassover's son. And so it was that when the shamash asked him who he was he told him the son of the Sassover. When the Apter heard this he ran over to Reb Shmelka and greeted him warmly shaking his hand with both hands, he lit candles in his honor, donned fner clothes in his honor and seated him in a special chair reserved for honored guests shrugging off all protests saying "Why, but you are my rebbe's son!"

While Rav Shmelka was thus seated the Apter Rav told him, "let me tell you a story about when I was the Rabbi of Kolbesov. I was back then a young man, an avrech and I lived in the house set aside for the Rav. Now this house was vey large and my small family occupied only one wing. The winters were freezing and my salary was barely enough to feed us and certainly not enough to squander on heating such a large home. So though it was furnished we lived in only one wing.

I sat and learned lishma, sincerely for the sake of heaven and I had plenty of free time since it was a small city with few affairs that needed my attention or intervention. I often studied together with my son and as we were immersed in our studies lishma nothing disturbed us. We were not chassidim, and since our primary avodah was Torah study we even looked upon their ways with disdain and counted ourselves as misnagdim or opponents to chassidus.

One day two anonymous travelers passed by and knocked at my window and asked if I had room for lodgers and guests. Why, yes I answered, the entire second wing is at your disposal. They unloaded their luggage and made themselves at home. I noticed that they seemed like holy individuals and whatever conversations they had among themselves always sounded lofty and that they spoke about things pertaining to Avodas Hashem, yet I was too busy with my studies to take their "idle chatter," seriously. I thought that my derech and path was correct and shrugged them off.

They were my guests for some three days and on the third day as they prepared to continue on their way they came to take their customary leave of me. One of them began to engage me in conversation and to tell me some story. I was greatly troubled since they were detracting from my learning and from my sincere Torah study, yet it would have been rude and ill mannered for me to just interrupt him and so I listened politely as I could. When he finished the first story he began to tell me another one! At this point my hair stood on end as I was so disturbed at this waste of my precious time. When he finished the other guest began to tell me a tale as well and the pain I felt was death itself! Finally they finished the third story and left on their way.

Some three months passed and I found that I understood the meaning of the first story and that I had needed it. Some three more months passed and I found that I understood the need I had for the second story, and three months later for the third story. I was shocked to see how they were able to understand what I would need and what would befall me over the course of this entire year, I understood that this must be through ruach hakodesh and I hoped that Hashem would merit me another opportunity to reunite with these two holy individuals. Two years later I looked up out the window and I saw them both travelling in their carriage past my window. I could not miss such an opportunity! I ran outside to catch them and draw their attention. I was in such a rush I did not dress myself in my coat or my spudek (the fur hat worn by important personages such as the town Rabbi) and I ran in my shirt after their coach chasing it across town. When I finally caught up with them near the inn I asked them in between catching my breath as to their destination. "We are headed to Lizhensk, to the Rebbe Reb Elimelech," they explained. "Can I join you?," I asked. They agreed on the condition that I go to the market while they prayed and get some provisions for the journey such as some rolls, bagels and butter. I completely forgot myself, town rabbi or not and in just my shirt I went and bought the bread and the butter. When I returned they had finished their prayers and told me to hurry and get ready. I quickly ran home, got dressed and grabbed my tallis and tefillin and jumped on their carriage. "We are taking you to the Rebbe Elimelech," they explained, "since we can tell that your soul's root is bound to his." And so they did. The Rebbe Elimelech became my mentor and I became a disciple. Those two holy tzadikim were your father, Rav Moshe Leib Sassover and Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.

Afterwards Rav Moshe Leib would say often that he should get shidduch gelt – a broker's fee for making the match between the Apter and the Rebbe Elimelech.

To this the Berditchever responded, "and I should get double your fee since I also brought the Rebbe Reb Elimelech and the Rebbe Reb Zisha to the Maggid of Mezritch!"  [and that is a story for a different time. . .]

(Kisvei Rav Yoshe #11 p116; Devarim Areivim II #2 p53-54)

The 5th of Nissan is the Yorzeit of the Holy Rav of Apta and Mezibuz the Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel - the author of Ohev Yisroel
My Rebbe once told me that the Apta Rav would sign his letters Ohev Yisroel, once while he wrote this signature the quill bled and the ink blotted out this appellation. Once again, he rewrote and signed and again the quill split and the ink bled and blotched the words lover of israel! After this occured a third time, the Apta Rav said that this must not be a coincidence.

Perhaps my Ahavas Yisroel and love of other Jews is lacking in some way! Using his faculty of ruach hakodesh he discovered that he did indeed bear some small feeling against a certain Jew and went immediately to him to make amends and beg his indulgence and forgiveness. After having done this he sat back down to sign the letter. This time he succeeded in signing Ohev Yisroel because now it was the truth! May his holy merit shield us!
Kol Tuv,
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim
Chassidic Classics in the English Language
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