Love of Torah and Love of Israel
The Life of Rav Moshe Leib of Sassov: 2
Brod, Poland, Rav Moshe Leib’s birthplace, was known as a city of intense Torah scholarship. The term “Ziknei Brod”, elders of Brod, was synonymous with wise and elderly Torah sages of the highest order. Yet even the Ziknei Brod were impressed by Rav Moshe Leib’s Torah knowledge, and asked him what his secret is. How did he get to be such a great talmid chakham?
He answered with a story.
“When I was a young student of Rav Shmelke of Nikolsburg,” he told, “I would always want to accompany him when he went to visit his rebbe, the great Maggid of Mezeritch. Every time I would beg him to take me along he would always push me off. I’m too young. I’m not ready. Finally, I heard that the Maggid of Mezeritch was on his deathbed. I decided, that’s it. I’m packing a bag and going to Mezeritch to see the great tzaddik.
When I got to Mezeritch I saw throngs surrounding a little house. People told me that that the Maggid is inside and that no one is able to enter to see him. The one exception is that he will reply in writing to someone who writes in a halakhic question. I quickly made my way to the house, came up with a halakhic question and sent it inside. Not long afterwards, my piece of paper came out with an answer on it. I thought a little and then wrote in a question on the Maggid’s psak (halakhic ruling) and sent the paper back in. I got a reply from the Maggid refuting my problem. Against that also I had an objection, wrote down my question, and sent in the paper. The Maggid once again replied, but, of course, I had a question on that too. But this time, the Maggid said to his atttendants, “Send this fellow in. What does he want from me?”
I entered the Maggid’s little house, where he was lying on his bed, and he asked me, “Young man, how exactly can I help you?” I replied, “Rebbe, please teach me; how does one attain ‘mochin’ (the highest level of Torah understanding and connection with G-d)?”
He said to me as follows: “I’m going to tell you a story. If you don’t understand well enough I’ll tell it to you again. If you still don’t, I’ll tell it a third time. But I don’t have the strength for more than three times.” And this was the story: ”
There were once two very close friends, young men living in Eastern Europe who did everything together and shared everything. Their friendship was so close that they made a pact that each would always stick out his neck for the other, through thick and thin. Each was willing to give up his life for the other. As life goes, as the years went on they eventually parted paths. One remained in Eastern Europe while the other moved to Italy, becoming an important minister in the Italian king’s government.
The one who remained in Eastern Europe fell on hard times and eventually reached a level where he realized he would have to beg in order to get together enough money to support his family. He decided to try one last thing. Maybe the friend of his youth would remember him and help him out. His plan was to approach him as a common beggar. If he recognizes him, wonderful; if not, his will be the first small donation of his stint as a beggar. He took leave of his wife and family, and began his journey to Italy. When he reached the Italian capitol it was near evening already so he took refuge with the rest of the beggars in a room they had for them in the thick city wall.
Well that night, the Maggid continued the story, someone stole a gem from the king’s crown, a treasonous crime with a death penalty attached to it. The king’s police searched all throughout the city but the gem was nowhere to be found. Because he was the only foreigner in town at that time the poor Eastern European was arrested and accused of the crime. Despite all of his protests, he was swiftly sentenced to death and a public hanging was scheduled for the following day. A gallows was set up on a platform in the town square, and near it a dais was a throne for the king and places for dignitaries. Word got around and early in the morning people gathered for the public execution. In the middle of the town square, prominently displayed on the platform, was the accused.
The accused’s friend, the Italian minister, left his estate to his daily activities and noticed the crowds that had gathered in the town square and asked what all the excitement was. “Haven’t you heard,” people said to him, “That foreign beggar stole one of the gems off the king’s crown! There he is in the middle,” and they pointed to his boyhood friend — who he recognized instantly. Right away the minister rode his horse through the square and the crowds parted for him until he reached the king’s throne.
“I must admit!” he told the king. “I stole the gem! I cannot let an innocent man be killed.” The king was shocked at this admission, but was shocked even more when he heard the accused — until now claiming innocence – shout out, “OK, I admit. I did it! I stole the gem.” Until now the one accused prisoner had denied any guilt, and now both his trusty minister and the prisoner each claimed to have stolen the gem.
“What’s going on?” asked the king to his minister. The minister replied, “The man you’re accusing of treason is the dearest friend of my youth. We were so close, that we made a pact that each would be willing to give his life for the other. We’ve been separated for years, but when I saw him ready to be hung I did whatever I could to try and save his life. I know him and am sure that he could not possibly have committed the crime.” “And you?” asked the king to the accused. “When I heard my friend call out his admission, the only way I could think of saving his life was to falsely admit the crime myself.”
The king was overcome by emotion and looked at the two. “Is there room for a third member in the pact between you. I too would like to become part of this pact of deep friendship.”
The Maggid finished telling the story and turned to me. “Did you understand it or will I have to repeat it again?” I asked in the affirmative and he mustered up his strength and repeated the story for me. I would have asked him for a third time but I had rachmanus (mercy) on him because of his health. But I’ll tell you, had he told it over to me a third time I would be a much greater talmid chakham today.
The Rebbe of Bohosh (of the Rizhiner dynasty) explained: “Love your neighbor as yourself, I am Hashem your G-d,” says the Torah (Vayikra 19:18). Where there is real love between people, there My Presence will be found, says G-d. Knowledge of G-d, understanding His revelation through the Torah, is only possible where there is deep love of people. The King wants to join with those who are willing to sacrifice for their friends. Where there is real love of Israel, there is real Torah knowledge. (Heard from R. Yirmiyahu Friedman of Yerushalayim, who heard it from his uncle, the Rebbe of Bohosh)
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