#132 (s5760-32/14 Nissan)
THE REBBE’S 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.
THE REBBE’S 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.
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!"
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
and retold by Yrachmiel Tilles, mainly from Si'ach Tsaddikim, pp. 42-48
(and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine.]
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.
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.
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.back
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