#132 (s5760-32/14 Nissan)

AT THE REBBES SEDER TABLE

He wanted to be with the Maggid of Koznitz for Pesach night, but he knew the Rebbe   preferred to not host chassidim at his Seder.

AT THE REBBES SEDER TABLE


A foremost desire of all Chassidim since the days of the Baal Shem Tov has been to participate in the Passover Seder of their Rebbe. How else can one experience the true meaning of freedom in this "Festival of our Freedom?" However, while the chassidim are unanimous in this matter, the Rebbes themselves are far from being so. Some encourage their Chassidim to join them, while others are adamant that the appropriate place to be for Seder is with one's family.

The "Holy Yid" of Peshischa was one of those who chose to be surrounded by Chassidim on Seder night. One year, his guest list included Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh of Vorki, then living in Rychivol. Although he was barely twenty years old and not nearly yet as learned or sharp as some of the senior disciples such as Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa or Rabbi Mendele of Kotzk, The Rebbe saw in him a special innocence and purity, especially when he poured out his heart in lengthy prayer.

Several days before the festival, the fortunate chassidim gathered in the large Beit Midrash to prepare themselves to spend the holiday in close proximity to their great Rebbe. Their joy was matched only by the distress and apprehension of the Rebbetzin, who try as she might could not begin to imagine where they could possibly obtain the funds for the mounting expenses of the holiday, and especially with the voluminous crowd of guests. Many times already she had tried to discuss the problem with her husband, but he always managed to push her off. Finally, unable to bear the tension and pressure any longer, she strode into the Beit Midrash, walked over to R. Yaakov, and said to him, "I'm sorry, but you can't be our guest this Pesach. The house is empty; if you stay here you will have to fast!"

R. Yaakov got the message. He rose, mustered his courage and entered the Rebbe's holy room. The Rebbe looked up at him quizzically. R. Yaakov explained as meekly as he could that the Rebbetzin was greatly disturbed by their impoverished situation, and there was a real need for much money for all the necessary purchases.

"Yankele," "responded the Rebbe, "lift the right leg of my table and pick up the gold dinar that is there."

R. Yaakov did so. Amazed, he hurried to the Rebbetzin to give her the precious coin.

The Rebbetzin, for her part, was troubled by the episode. "If the gold dinar was there the whole time," she said to herself, "why didn't he give it to me already a long time ago when I first started going to him about the money-for-Pesach problem. And if it is a miraculous present from Heaven, why didn't he arrange this wonder before - is this Yankele's merit really greater than mine?"

The more she thought about it the angrier she became. In the end, she stormed into the Rebbe's room and demanded an explanation. Her husband calmed her and then said, "Lift the left table leg and take the dinar that is there." Wonderingly, she did so, and lo, another gold coin! She took it, added it to its mate in her purse, and went off happily to the market where she bought everything she could think of that they could possibly need for the Passover Festival.

That Pesach was forever engraved in R. Yaakov's memory. In addition to the spiritual pleasure of spending it at the Rebbe's table, it had become clear that a miracle had been done through him: for sure the Holy Yid never had in his possession even one gold dinar, never mind two!

Tragically, the Holy Yid went to his heavenly reward in 1813 at the young age of 48. R. Yaakov, who in the future would become a famous Rebbe in his own right, the "Sabba Kadisha" (holy grandfather) of Radzmin, continued to try to be close to other leading tzadikim of the generation in Poland and Galicia.

Passover was again approaching. R. Yaakov very much wanted to be with the Maggid of Koznitz for Seder, but he also knew that the Rebbe was one of those who preferred to not host chassidim that night. Still, he was determined to try; maybe he would be one of the few that merited to sit at the Rebbe's table.

Actually, R. Yaakov had a plan. For the three weeks from before Parshat Shekalim till after Purim he remained in Koznitz. During that time he was constantly in and out of the Rebbe's house, running errands and making himself useful however he could. He became almost like a member of the household.

As Passover approached, he went into stage two. He asked various members of the Rebbe's household with whom he had become friendly to get him invited for the Seder. The Maggid didn't say yes or no. R. Yaakov felt certain that he would eventually relent, but he decided to avoid the Rebbe's house and shul for the last few days until Erev Pesach. Then, when he would suddenly appear, the Maggid would surely instruct him to stay, because there would no longer be time for him to travel home.

By late morning on Erev Pesach crowds of chassidim had arrived to participate in the Maggid's matzah-baking and to hear him sing Hallel throughout the work. At precisely midday the Maggid entered the room, checked the tables and all the rolling pins, and distributed the various tasks among the chassidim present.

The work began. The Maggid himself ran back and forth between the different stations to observe and instruct, and to exhort and enthuse everyone with the call of "l'shem matzot mitzvah." When intermittently he would sing Hallel, everyone would join in. The room hummed with activity and reverberated with song.

At that moment, R. Yaakov came in and busied himself among the workers. He was in a great mood. Surely his plan had worked. The Rebbe would have no choice but to invite him - he would merit to see the Rebbe's holy face as he conducted the seder.

The baking completed, all who took part lined up to receive three matzot from the Maggid's holy hand, and his blessing for the holiday. When the turn came of Reb Chaim, a wealthy, much respected chassid from a neighboring village, the Maggid added a blessing that they should merit to bake matzah together the following year, and then added, "I also want to honor you with a special guest for Pesach," and pointed to R. Yaakov, who the whole time had been standing nearby closely observing the Rebbe's manner of distribution.

With a crash like thunder, the Rebbe's words toppled R. Yaakov's plans and dreams. He tried to muffle his disappointment in the face of Reb Chaim's excitement. The latter was thrilled speechless at the present the tzadik had bestowed upon him. A talmid chacham to grace his table with deep words of Torah and Chassidut! How impressed everyone in his village would be that the Rebbe felt he, Reb Chaim, merited this blessing. His face beaming, he beckoned R. Yaakov to climb up into the fancy carriage that awaited them.

Reluctantly, R. Yaakov got in. He still hadn't fully accepted the Rebbe's sudden decree. His mind was busy, conceiving and weighing plans how to change the Rebbe's mind. His new host whipped up the horses and they sped off in the direction of their village. R. Yaakov sat dejected, facing backwards, towards Koznitz.

His inner turmoil didn't last long. At the first crossroads he jumped off the wagon and started walking determinedly back to Koznitz. By the time he reached town, it was already dark - the holiday had begun Stopping at the first shul, he quickly davenned Maariv and recited Hallel, and then hurried on to the Beit Midrash of the Maggid. By the time he arrived, not a soul was there, the prayers were long over.

The holiness of the room was overwhelming. It was said that whoever entered it full of sins, did not leave until he was fully repentant. R. Yaakov paced back and forth the length of the building for a long time, alone, reflecting deeply. He was troubled that he had entered like a sneak thief in the night. Finally he emerged, and headed for the Rebbe's house. He was prepared for the Rebbe's displeasure, that he had disobeyed a specific instruction.

It was already long past Maariv. The Maggid still sat isolated in his room, exalted, his face aflame, preparing himself for the Seder. On the way to her husband's room to see if perhaps he was ready to come to the table, the Rebbetzin glanced out the window. She thought she felt a presence that disturbed the absolute quiet that reigned in the courtyard. Peering closer, she saw R. Yaakov standing immobile in the shadows, immersed in thought. Instantly, she empathized that the young man had endangered himself by his rebelliousness, solely because of his need to to be at her husband's Seder. She decided to intercede for him; to ask her husband to allow him to stay.

The Rebbetzin tiptoed up to her husband's door. When he looked up, she entered and said, "I must tell you that Yankele from Rychivol is standing about in the courtyard."

The Rebbe didn't react especially. He simply said, "If so, tell him to go in and find himself a place at the table."

The Rebbetzin went quickly to inform the gabbai and then to tell R. Yaakov the good news that he was invited. R. Yaakov lit up, outside and in. He ran into the Beit Midrash were the long table had been set up. The gabbai showed him his place and whispered in his ear that the matzot and wine had been sent for him from the Rebbe's house.

Sparkling candelabras and gleaming oil bowls filled the room with bright light. The long heavy table on which the chassidim studied Torah the whole year was now covered with a shining embroidered white cloth, and graced with vessels and utensils of silver, crystal and gold. The Maggid's place was set with a couch piled with pillows and cushions to a distinctive height. The few guests rose to their feet with baited anticipation as they heard the measured steps of the Maggid approach.

The door opened. The Maggid entered. Dressed in white from head to toe, his face shone with heavenly splendor. Of short stature and frail, he now seemed to be tall and majestic like an angel of G-d. The guests froze in their places, paralyzed with awe at the startling apparition. With surprising agility the Maggid sprang onto his cushions and a powerful voice that reverberated through the room called out, "Kadesh!" to inaugurate the Seder.

As he arranged his kiddush cup next to his silver Seder platter with the familiar symbolic foods, the guests started to relax. Fear transmuted into inspiration as an aroma of holiness, of Gan Eden, seemed to emanate from the Maggid's place and permeate the entire Beit Midrash. Everyone concentrated mightily so as to not miss a word or a nuance of the Maggid's recital of the emergence from Egypt.

No one present was so effected by the awesome atmosphere as R. Yaakov. He anyway felt himself to be an intruder who had forced his way in. He couldn't stop trembling. Beads of sweat dotted his frightened visage. He felt so weak he thought he might faint.

The Maggid rose to begin kiddush. Everyone immediately rose after him, but R. Yaakov didn't know if he could. With his last remaining strength he forced himself to stand straight and focus on the Rebbe at the head of the table.

After saying kiddush, the Maggid reclined and drank. So did everyone else. The tzadik called out "maggid!"-"Let us tell"; and R. Yaakov fell into a deep sleep.

The Maggid explained each paragraph of the Hagaddah with holy inspiration, accompanied with wondrous stories and parables. The enchanted guests felt themselves among those privileged to leave Egypt amongst wonders and miracles. Not one was aware of the soundly sleeping R. Yaakov.

After many hours the Maggid finally reached the concluding blessing. As he intoned the words "go'el yisroel," R. Yaakov awoke. His disappointment was unbearable. All those months of careful planning and hard effort! He knew he had been totally exhausted, but he also understood quite well that the real reason he missed out was that he had rebelled against the Rebbe's stated wish for him to be the guest of the villager.

A true chassid, R. Yaakov refused to be depressed. Instead he looked forward to the Seder of the second night. After all, his falling asleep this night could be attributed to his exhaustion from walking all the way back to Koznitz, toiling at matzah baking, and not having eaten anything the whole day. By tomorrow night he would have eaten well, caught up on his sleep, prayed and recited Hallel properly, and prepared himself to be transported out of Egypt by the inspired words of the Maggid.

The awesome vision of the first night repeated itself again for all those who merited to be present at the second Seder. With the Maggid's entrance, the room was filled with light and the guests dumbstruck with fear. The holiness was palpable. The higher chassidim used to explain that this was because of all the angels crowding in who wanted to hear the Maggid's seder.

R. Yaakov was excited and optimistic. This time he didn't feel sleepy at all. He looked forward with all his being to watching and listening to the Maggid.

The tzadik's face shone and dazzled like the sun. "Kadash"-"Urchatz"-"Karpas"- "Yachatz" all passed with R. Yaakov in a maximum state of alertness. The Rebbe called out "maggid." At last! R. Yaakov concentrated mightily. "Ha lachma anya..." read the Maggid, and R. Yaakov was sound asleep.

Several hours passed of extraordinary revelations and spiritual unifications. "...Go'el yisroel" blessed the Maggid, and R. Yaakov woke up. Finally he was forced to acknowledge that the stubborness of a chassid is no match for the will of a tzadik. Still, he could not understand why he was not allowed to witness the Maggid's holy seder while, for example, the guest seated opposite him in the coarse uniform of a Russian Cantonist (a young Jew kidnapped and forced to serve in the army) got to see and hear everything. What was he even doing there anyway?

At least the explanation for that mystery was unveiled that same evening. After the meal, as the second part of the seder progressed, the boundless joy of the Maggid seemed to accelerate even further. After the fourth cup of wine, he began to sing the hymn "Chasal Sidur Pesach" in happy excitement and ecstatic devotion. Yet, as his singing increasingly louder and stronger, he was matched and even surpassed by the soldier, whose enthusiatic efforts nearly drowned out the Maggid's holy voice!

When they reached the last line, ending with the words "peduyim l'tsion b'rina ("...redeemed for Zion with joyous song"), the soldier leaped out of his seat and began dancing mightily while emphasizing the final two syllables of the word "peduyim"-redeemed, but pronouncing it like the Russian word "duyon" which means "let's go." Over and over again innumerable times the soldier and the rebbe repeated the phrase "peduyim l'tsion b'rina" with Russian accents, until finally the frail Maggid jumped up and yelled "Come let us go to Zion with joyous song" in a mighty voice, crossed the room, and joined the soldier for a few steps of ecstatic dance until they reached the door. The soldier exited and immediately disappeared from sight. No one ever saw him again. " 'Fortunate is he who sees him while awake,' " mused R. Yaakov to himself.

Years later, the chassidim who participated in the Passover Seders of the Sabba Kadisha of Radzmin also reported many wondrous happenings. Nevertheless, R. Yaakov Aryeh was fond of saying, "Nowhere else in this world can one hope to find the kind of sedarim that I enjoyed in Koznitz. Perhaps in the World to Come it will be possible to repeat such experiences."

May the merit of the holy tzadikim protect us until "like the days of our going out of Egypt, we see extraordinary wonders" and the full Messianic redemption.


[Translated and retold by Yrachmiel Tilles, mainly from Si'ach Tsaddikim, pp. 42-48 (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine.]

Biographical notes:
R. Yaakov Yitzchak
, 1766-1813, The "Holy Jew"of Peshischa was the leading disciple of the "Seer" of Lublin, but subsequently split off to form the famous Peshischa movement of Chassidus. Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk were among his many disciples who became great Rebbes in their own right.

R. Yisroel Haupstein
, 1737-1814, the "Maggid" (preacher) of Koznitz (the son of Shabsai the bookbinder, whose miraculous birth is the subject of a famous Baal Shem Tov story),was a major disciple of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lyzhensk and the author of the chassidic-kabbalistic work, 'Avodas Yisrael' and other books.

R. Yaakov Aryeh Guterman,
1792-1874, the "Sabba Kadisha" (holy grandfather) of Radzmin, was a disciple of Rabbis Yaakov Yitzchak and Simcha Bunim of Peshischa and of Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki, who he succeeded as Rebbe in 1848. He was famed as a miracle maker.


Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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