Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Story

Once at a Chassidic gathering, Rabbi Avraham Zaltzman told a story about his wild childhood in the Yeshiva in the town of Lubavitch almost one hundred years ago. (Chassidic gatherings, called Farbrengans, often celebrate important occasions; for instance the 12th of Tammuz when the Previous Rebbe was miraculously released from communist imprisonment and certain death).

Rabbi Mendel Futerfass, a well known Chassid who had been imprisoned many years in Siberia was also present at the Farbrengan, and often his comments 'made the evening' as would be the case here. Rabbi Zaltzman began his story:

When he was only twelve years old he was such an uncontrollable child that it was very difficult for him to sit and learn Torah. So he and two other boys in the Yeshiva with similar natures were given various odd jobs to keep them busy in positive ways.

One of these jobs was to milk a few goats in a nearby farm and supply milk to the pupils. But this too became boring and one terrible day, desperate for action, they somehow managed to get one of the goats to drink vodka and then led the intoxicated animal to the entrance large study hall where all the pupils were diligently immersed in Talmudic studies, and pushed it in.

The goat, totally oblivious of the holiness of the place, jumped on tables, knocked over several rabbis and scattered books and papers in all directions. It was hours before the studies could be restored and, of course, it was no secret who was to blame.

The three boys were summoned to the supervisor of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (The son of the Rebbe 'Resha'b'; Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad and founder of the Yeshiva), and were told to pack up their belongings and leave.

With no other choice they did as they were told and several hours later were waiting in the train station in the nearby city of Rodna, with their suitcases in hand to return to their homes.

But suddenly Avraham turned to his friends and said, "What are we doing?! We can't leave! We have to go back and plead for mercy!" But the others just shook their heads 'no'.

"It won't work. Did you see the look on the supervisor's face? He doesn't want to see us again. We're finished!" One answered

The other boy agreed. "We were living on mercy as it is. He's not going to take us back this time."

"Yeah, we're out for sure!"

But Avraham didn't give up and before the train arrived he succeeded in convinced one of the boys to come back with him and give it a try.

They said good bye to their friend and trudged back to Lubavitch with no real idea what their next step was but Avraham wouldn't go down without a battle.

They couldn't go back to the Supervisor; he was too angry. And the Rebbe, the supervisor's father, also wasn't the one to approach; he would never override his son's decision… especially here.

Their only chance was the supervisor's grandmother, the Rebbe's mother, Rabbinit Rivka. She had a wonderful warm heart and was a mother for all the boys in the yeshiva; she cooked, sewed and washed for them as well as being there in times of illness and need. Maybe she could help.

They went to her house, knocked on the door and when she answered Avraham poured out his heart. When he was finished, her answer was to the point.

"I can't go against the decision of my grandson; he's the supervisor of the Yeshiva. The only one that might be able to do that is my son, the Rebbe. But I can't talk to him about this either. I simply can't mix in.

"But, what I can do is this: every morning at ten my son, The Rebbe sits in his room and drinks a cup of tea. Come tomorrow morning and I'll show you where the room is ... but you will have to do the talking."

The two boys found some place to sleep that night and the next morning little Avraham reported to Rabbinit Rivka while his friend, who was simply too afraid, waited outside.

She let him in, pointed him to the room where the Rebbe was sitting, whispered 'good luck' and watched as he bravely approached the door.

The door was open and when the Rebbe saw him standing there he looked up, stared at him for a moment and asked him what he wanted.

"I want to learn in Lubavitch." He was almost crying.

"Lubavitch?" smiled the Rebbe as he motioned him to come closer, "But there are so many other good yeshivas! There is Slovadka, Navordak" and he listed all the other Torah academies, about twenty of them, in the area.

"But I want to learn here, in Lubavitch!" The young boy began to whine. When the Rebbe saw this he began to smile and when Avraham saw the smile he began to cry. This, in turn, caused the Rebbe to laugh, which made Avraham cry even harder.

Suddenly the Rebbe became serious and said, "We will think about it… come back later today."

Avraham backed out of the office, sniffling and wiping his eyes with his sleeve but suddenly he stopped, took two steps forward, which put him back in entrance of the room, and just stood there looking sheepishly at the ground.

"Nu? What do you want now?" The Rebbe asked.

"Err, I have a friend." Avraham answered. "He's waiting outside."

"A friend is it? Well, we will think about him also." The Rebbe replied. "Come back in a few hours."

"Well, the story has a happy ending" Rabbi Avraham concluded to his listeners. "We returned to the Rebbe a few hours later, the Rebbe took us into his son; Yosef Yitzchak's office, said a few words and left.

"His son imposed a stiff fine on us; we had to learn tens of pages of Talmud and Chassidut by heart. But he accepted us back in! And that's the story! How my broken heart got me back into yeshiva."

Rabbi Mendel Futerfass who had been listening with interest was the first to comment.

"Tell me, Reb Avraham, why do you think he did that? What made him accept you back into the yeshiva?"

"Like I said," He replied "That's the point of the story. Because I wanted so much to learn in Lubavitch that I actually wept! That's how much a person should want Chassidut; that his heart is breaking!!

"Nope!" Said Reb Mendel. "You're wrong. Your broken heart is not what got you into Lubavitch.

"The reason the Rebbe took you back was because you worried for your friend! You thought of another Jew! That's why he took you back!! Because of your Ahavat Yisroel!