Part Four – Rabbi Yosef meets Shlomo Leib

Now, the Chassid, Rabbi Yosef of Beshenkovitch also longed to go to Lubavitch. However, for various reasons he was unable to do so. Thus, much time passed and he had still not gone to Lubavitch. During the winter of the year 5576 (1816), he made preparations for a trip to Lubavitch, however, the winter passed and he still had not gone. One day, sometime between Passover and Shavuos of the year 5576 (1816) Rabbi Yosef was hauling a load to the town of Senna. On the way, towards day’s end, he stopped at an inn. This inn was situated at an intersection of highways.

That evening, the count of Batchaikov came to this inn. When news that the count was staying at the Jewish inn reached the nearby village, the village priest along with the village dignitaries came to the inn to invite the count to come and stay in their village.

The count could not refuse their hospitality and went with them. However, one of his entourage stayed at the Jewish inn, since he had to go to Senna on an important mission for the count. During all this Rabbi Yosef had been sitting outside under a bush near a threshing floor studying Torah. When he finished his studies he came into the inn. The innkeeper introduced him to the member of the count’s entourage and asked him if he could take him to Senna. “Good”, said Rabbi Yosef, “Tomorrow we will, G-d willing, make our way to Senna.” “At what time?” the guest asked. “After Prayers” answered Rabbi Yosef. “At what time?” the guest repeated, this time with a tinge of anger in his voice and a condescending look in his eyes. “I could care less if you pray or not. I need to know when we will start on our way so that I’ll know when to get up, wash, eat and drink.” “And Pray” continued Rabbi Yosef, as if to finish the other’s sentence. “I will leave the praying to you,” The guest answered, “I need not pray.” “How could it be,” Rabbi Yosef said, wide eyed, “That a Jew does not need to pray? In the morning services, besides praying, there is also the obligation to put on Tefillin. Furthermore, according to one opinion, the arm Tefillin and the head Tefillin are two separate Mitzvos (commandments). How is it possible for a Jew to not put on Tefillin or pray!?!”

Instead of answering, the guest turned to the inn keeper and asked him to wake him about an hour before the wagon leaves. The inn keeper answered that he can sleep to his heart’s content and he will still have plenty of time to wash, eat and drink to his satisfaction. “I’m sure you will not leave before ten in the morning.”

Upon hearing this, the guest became very agitated and commanded the innkeeper to hire a wagon from the village at any cost, as long as they do not leave later than five in the morning. He then went to his room to sleep. Rabbi Yosef ate his supper and then went to his room. He slept for one hour and then got up to recite the midnight prayers (Tikkun Chatzot) as was his custom.

The guest was suddenly jarred awake and frightened by the sound of weeping outside his room. He got up out of bed, opened the door and beheld the wagon driver sitting on the ground and reading from a book by the light of a candle, and crying.

The sound of Rabbi Yosef’s sobbing entered the guest’s heart, and brought back long forgotten memories of his youth and childhood. He remembered how he was brought up in his father’s house and by his teachers. He remembered his wife and children whom he had abandoned years earlier when he went off on his wild and wanton ways. This brought to mind the Christian woman that he had married and that she had given birth to three children, two sons and a daughter. The eldest son and his sister had died but the youngest son still lived. He was gripped with intense bitterness by these thoughts.

Rabbi Yosef concluded the midnight service and then recited the morning blessings with great emotional arousal. He then went to immerse in the river. When he returned he donned his Tallis and Tefillin and prayed with great Dveikus (adhesion to HaShem).

During these prayers Rabbi Yosef recalled the private audience he had with the Alter Rebbe in the year 5564 (1804). He beheld the Alter Rebbe as if before his very eyes, and he heard his voice saying, “For the good of your soul it is better for you to be a wagon driver than to take a rabbinical post.” He compared his situation then, when he sat and studied Torah, either alone or with his students, to his present situation, and he wept greatly.

Rabbi Yosef’s voice reminded the guest of his own father’s voice. He too used to pray with much feeling and fiery emotion. He had heard from his father many times that his Rebbe, the Tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo, was accustomed to doing this too. “Who knows?” he thought to himself, “Maybe this wagon driver is a student of some Tzaddik.”

He remembered a certain incident which happened in their city. A very serious question on Jewish law developed. The Rabbi, who was the leader of the community, try as he may, could not solve the dilemma and come up with a satisfactory resolution. After much debate all the great Torah scholars of the city, which was the city of Toltchin, in the province of Podolia, finally agreed with the opinion of his father, Rabbi Tzvi Nagar (The Carpenter).

His father, Rabbi Tzvi Nagar, had a good name in the entire district. He was famous as a great Torah scholar and enthusiastic Chasid. Though he had been offered rabbinical posts on several occasionshe had turned them down.

The guest, whose name was Shlomo Leib, recalled the details of the path his life had taken. He remembered his youth, his young adulthood, and the initial steps which caused him to veer from the way of life his father had taught him.

He had a friend, by the name of Avraham Dov, who had extraordinary talents. He was an outstanding Torah scholar and very devout and G-d fearing. However, he suddenly abandoned his previous outlook and became one of the leading proponents of the enlightenment movement. It was the influence of this friend that first caused him to cut himself off from his father’s way of life. He descended lower and lower, after his father’s death, leaving town and abandoning his wife and children in the process.

Once, while staying at an inn, he met a landowner from Chernigov who hired him to manage his estate. There, he removed the yoke of Judaism from himself altogether and became the close companion of the young lord who owned the estate. When the lord became engaged to the daughter of the count of Bachaikov, he traveled with him to Bachaikov as his private secretary. There he met his non-Jewish wife.

Now, in the meantime, as the guest was contemplating all this the innkeeper knocked on his door. The guest understood that, most likely, the innkeeper wanted to notify him that the teamster which he had hired from the village at his request would soon be arriving. The guest, however, decided not to travel with this teamster. He would rather wait for the Jewish teamster. When he opened the door, the innkeeper informed him that he had hired a good carriage for him, which would be arriving within the hour, and that hot tea was brewed and ready for him.

Shlomo Leib thanked him for his efforts and told him that he was considering staying several more hours. He handed him a silver coin to give to the teamster as compensation for having troubled himself for nothing. As for the hot tea, he would not drink any just yet. Hurriedly, he shut the door. A river of tears had burst from his eyes and a storm was raging in his heart, so affected was he by the prayers of the teamster.

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