#105 (s5760-#05 / posted 3 MarCheshvan 5760)

Forthy Days and Forty Nights

He was astonished to see that Rabbi Yisrael, the Rhyzhiner Rebbe, lived in extraordinary luxury! 
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He was a noted scholar who had accomplished much in his Torah-study career.

Now he had discovered in an obscure tome of Kabbalah that if a suitable person were to pass forty days and forty nights without uttering a single unnecessary word, he would merit the exalted spiritual state of ruach hakodesh ("divine inspiration").

Excited, he decided to attempt it. He spent as much of the time as he could studying Torah, and avoided social contact as much as he was able. The required time period passed without mishap, and he exhaled deeply in relief. But then he became short of breath again, as he began to tremble in anticipation of the blessed revelation.

After the Evening Prayer, he isolated himself in his room and waited. And waited. And waited.

He couldn't understand. What had gone wrong? He knew with certainty that he hadn't failed the requirement. Perhaps he had miscounted the days?

But another day and night went by, and another, and another, and still the blessed bestowal did not happen. How could this possibly be?

He decided to journey to consult the chassidic rebbe he had heard so much about, Rabbi Yisrael of Rhyzhin. When he arrived at the Rebbe's court, he was astonished at what he saw. The Rebbe lived in extraordinary luxury! Home, furnishings, clothing and appurtenances were all made of the most expensive materials and were of a quality fit for the highest level of aristocratic decadence. Was this any way for a spiritual leader to live, a chassidic rebbe no less?

He wondered if he had made a mistake in coming here, and as the days passed he became convinced of it. How could a person who lived in such opulent style possibly have anything to tell him about divine inspiration? He decided to leave for home without even speaking to the so-called holy master.

As he passed by the Rhyzhiner's house, he saw the Rebbe emerge. Four magnificent white steeds had been harnessed to a carriage worthy of royalty. As the Rebbe was about to mount to his seat, he paused, and then patted one of the horses on the head, three times.

This was too much for the frustrated scholar to bear. He dashed over to the Rebbe and challenged, "Explain to me, please, exalted sir, what spiritual work is a chassidic master engaged in during the time he is petting a horse?"

The Rhyzhiner gazed at him a moment before answering benignly, "Ah, but you do not understand. This special horse just completed forty days and nights without uttering an unnecessary word!"


Source: Retold by Yrachmiel Tilles based on oral sources and Sippurei Chassidim--Torah #12.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yisrael Friedmann of Ruzhin [1797 - 3 Cheshvan 1850] was a great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch, at a young age was already a charismatic leader with an large following of chassidim. Greatly respected by the other rebbes and Jewish leaders of his generation, he was -and still is-referred to as "The Holy Rhyzhiner." Six of his sons established Chassidic dynasties, several of which -Sadigora, Chortkov, Bianna, etc- are still thriving today.

Editor's note:
A variant of this story has the man consulting the Baal Shem Tov, who asks him, "During the forty days and nights, did you pray all the daily prayers? Did you recite Psalms?"

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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