Monday, June 19, 2017

99999 or 100000?

Yesterday, my car went from


For some reason, the former was more exciting to me than the latter. Not sure why.

Either way, I brought the car in for the Check Engine light this morning, to find out this car isn't going to make it much further...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

And here's the derashah... (Behaalotcha 5777)

... from the aquarium billboard:

A couple of years ago, the Nova Scotia board of tourism posted a giant billboard on Bathurst. It featured a monster-sized, awesome picture of a diving whale off the Nova Scotia coast, and it said in tall letters, “We heard you have an aquarium. That’s nice.”[1]

I give the ad campaign a 10 for snark, and a 10 for content – it reminded me that I really, really want to see Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, I have a problem: minyan. Other than in Halifax, there aren’t too many minyan options in the Maritimes. Is a Jew – and especially a male, who has extra obligations – allowed to go to a cottage, to go on vacation, without a minyan?

Of course, going to Nova Scotia can have religious value. We can appreciate Divine creation, declaring מה רבו מעשיך ד'! Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote, “I almost believe that all you homebodies would one day have to atone for your staying indoors, and when you would desire entrance to see the marvels of heaven, they would ask you, ‘Did you see the marvels of Gd on earth?’ Then, ashamed, you would mumble, ‘We missed that opportunity.’”[2]

There is also religious value in charging our batteries, absorbing energy for future mitzvos. The Shulchan Aruch writes, “Eating or drinking for your own pleasure is אינו משובח, not praiseworthy. One should intend to eat and drink in order to live, to serve the Creator.[3]

But I’m not talking about going to Nova Scotia in order to appreciate Hashem’s creation, or to recharge for spiritual service. Yes! Admiring nature can be a spiritual experience, but I’m just talking about going as a human being. Human beings love to experience the new and different, we relish natural beauty, we dance to music, we expand our souls through literature and art. Is being human justification for missing minyan, or not learning another page of gemara, or not volunteering for an organization?

Of course, I’m not going to pasken here. First, because psak rightfully belongs solely with shul rabbis. Second, this is a simple, perhaps even a bit oversimplified, derashah; it’s not a shiur. So instead I’m going to focus on the underlying philosophical question: How do we look at sacrificing a mitzvah for the sake of being human?

Let’s review two stories from our parshah: The lashon hara about Moshe, and Pesach Sheni.

First, the lashon hara: As the Talmud[4] tells it, Moshe separated from his wife Tzipporah because he expected to speak with Gd at any time and he needed to be available, just as Jewish men and women separated from each other temporarily at Har Sinai. His siblings, Miriam and Aharon, were scandalized; after all, they were prophets too, but they had families! Hashem decisively declared Miriam and Aharon wrong about Moshe, and they were both punished with tzaraas.[5]

But here’s what people often miss in the story! Miriam and Aharon were right about everyone not named Moshe, everyone who did not speak to Gd “face to face”. Normal human beings are meant to pursue normal human life, with families! And as the sage Ben Azzai noted,[6] does not family life impose obligations which necessarily obstruct total commitment to the omnipresent mitzvah opportunity? Will not a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, a neighbour, an organization lay ineluctable claim to your hours, directly and indirectly? Will not participating in a family involve diapers and carpools, cameraderie and sympathy – in short, being human?

If Miriam and Aharon are correct, does that not mean that the Jew is supposed to be a human being, to recognize the limits of Covenant and honour human need?[7]

Rabbi Alex Israel of Yeshivat Eretz haTzvi eulogized Rav Yehudah Amital z”l, former Rosh Yeshiva in the Gush. He reported on the time when Rav Amital saw someone straining to fulfill the minutia of a ruling in the Mishneh Berurah. Rabbi Israel wrote, “Rav Amital saw him and gently said to him: “Danny. Be normal!” He believed that strict and full accordance with the Halakha was a way of life that demanded effort and work, but that it should not take a person away from the orbit of normal people, or regular living.[8]

So far, then, it seems that Miriam and Aharon are right, and it’s fine and appropriate to relax and take a few days in Nova Scotia. Be normal!

But there is another story in our parshah: Pesach Sheni.

At the start of their second year in the wilderness, the Jewish people brought the korban Pesach, but a small community was denied participation because they were tamei, ritually impure. According to the Talmud,[9] they were ineligible for the best of reasons – they were the chevra kadisha, carrying the bones of Yosef and his brothers. So they were exempt. They could relax. They were required to relax! While the rest of the nation went about their duties.

But that’s not what these Jews did; they came to Moshe in protest, למה נגרע, why should we lose out on this mitzvah? We don’t want an exemption! We don’t want to relax! We want to do the mitzvah! And although they did not receive exactly what they wanted, they are unquestionably admired for seeking greater duties, greater obligations![10]

And if I quote Rav Amital on one side, I must also quote Rav Asher Weiss, the posek of Shaare Zedek Hospital, on the other. He was asked about a thoroughly exhausted person, awake all night for a particular mitzvah, going to sleep at the end of the night, shortly before the time for Shacharis. Since he would be out cold come morning, our Sleeping Beauty would be exempt from davening when the time came. Rav Weiss replied, in part, “One who keeps himself from becoming obligated in a mitzvah, before its time arrives, has not ‘failed’ in the mitzvah. However, the desire of the Torah – רצון התורה – places an expectation upon people to make certain they will be able to fulfill mitzvot, and indeed pursue their fulfillment.[11]” The desire of Torah is that the exhausted individual push past his boundaries and achieve more!

So who is right, Rav Amital or Rav Weiss? Is rest and relaxation in Nova Scotia a fulfillment of the message of Miriam and Aharon, or a violation of Pesach Sheni?

Let’s go back to a problem at the start of Bereishis.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik noted[12] that plants, fish, birds, animals and human beings were created with shared language in the 10 Declarations of Creation:
·         אמירה, עשייה, בריאה – the same verbs create all of us.
·         We were all brought forth as miraculous life from dead matter.
·         Gd expressed a desire for all of us to bear fruit and multiply.
·         Both animal and human are vegetarian at the outset.
·         Adam was even named for the mud from which he and the plants and beasts were taken.
At first blush, to be human is to be a mobile plant, a fish with lungs, an earth-bound bird, a two-legged animal with opposable thumbs.

But first subtly, and then explicitly, Hashem differentiates the human being from all else by communicating with us:
·         The fish and birds are blessed with procreation, פרו ורבו, but humans are told פרו ורבו.
·         Gd tells the reader that animals are to eat plants, but Gd tells the human being directly to eat plants.
·         And then, most powerfully, ויצו! Gd commands us! As Rav Soloveitchik wrote, “Gd takes man-animal into His confidence, addresses him and reveals to him His moral will.”[13]
Once Gd gives us not instinct but instruction, not physicality but spirituality, we enter into a relationship with Gd, our first and primary commitment, in which we must strive to prioritize that instruction above all else.

And to me, this is the big question of Bereishis, and our parshah, and I think of Nova Scotia as well:
·         When human beings “enter Gd’s confidence”, are we meant to shed our animal skin, to transcend the plant, fish, bird and beast, to bond with Gd and never look back?
·         Or is our spirituality meant to co-exist with our original, animal character, so that we are both human and pursuers of the Divine?

And I would suggest that the answer also appears right there in Bereishis. Right after ויצו charges Adam with spirituality, Gd charges Adam with sociality. Hashem declares לא טוב היות האדם לבדו – it is not good for the human being to be alone. And Gd searches the kingdoms of beasts and birds, who could have been mates of animalistic humanity prior to ויצו but who are now inadequate for the Commanded personality. And Gd finally separates the souls of Adam and Chavah into different bodies, to join with each other socially.

If ויצו meant that we were only to bond with Gd, then there would be no role for a mate and the demands of family. We would spend our lives seeking to grow out of our desires and become as superhuman as possible. No sports, no hobbies, no literature, no tourism, no artwork, no gourmet dining.

Of course, when Gd seeks a mate for Adam, when Gd creates the concept of community, Gd is undoubtedly looking for that mate to help Adam become a better spiritual person, become a better citizen of that ויצו mandate – but here’s the thing: Gd also implies a parallel mandate: Be a mensch! Be normal! You are to have spouses and children, and therefore you shall have parents and siblings and communities, and you will need those most human experiences and sympathies and goals. Live the life of a human being, feel the emotions of a human being, experience the pain and joy of the people around you!

If Gd desires for human beings to exist in the company of others, then ויצו must not supercede our humanity. We are charged with two competing and complementary aspirations: ויצו, to bond with Gd, and לא טוב היות האדם לבדו, to bond with man. We must aspire to be godlike and we must aspire to be human.

The challenge is for a human being, over the course of a lifetime, to feed both of these drives[14] – to excel in both arenas. To produce a mosaic of ten thousand occasions, a million instants when we learn a page of gemara or give tzedakah or go for a walk in the woods, we become ideal servants of Gd, fulfilling every mitzvah and spending our every moment in search of ways to grow closer to the Shechinah, and we become ideal human beings, living life, reading books, seeing Nova Scotia, playing games, visiting art museums, viewing plays, growing in our ability to be sympathetic, productive members of society.

The lesson of ויצו is that we must aspire to defy human weakness and draw close to Gd.
The lesson of לא טוב היות האדם לבדו is that we must aspire to be human.

Those aspirations must never be separated. The Jew who tours Nova Scotia or reads a novel must also make a siyum haShas. And the Jew who makes a siyum haShas must also go to Nova Scotia – or at least the Toronto Aquarium, nebach. The Jew who schmoozes with friends on Shabbos afternoon must also make time to learn. And the Jew who learns must also make time to schmooze. We can satisfy both, if we look at our lives not moment by moment, analyzing each decision in a vacuum, but as a whole, to gauge whether we are satisfying our duties in both areas.

These are our grand aspirations. The poet Cordelia Ray wrote of human aspiration,[15] “We climb the slopes of life with throbbing heart, and eager pulse, like children toward a star.” May our twin goals, spirituality and sociality, be the binary stars that make our hearts throb. We can never fully achieve either one while we yet stand on the slopes of life – but may our mission, and our passion, be to make that climb.

[2] Collected Writings Vol 8 pg. 259 “From the notebook of a Wandering Jew”
[3] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 231:1
[4] Shabbat 87a
[5] Shabbat 97a
[6] Yevamos 63b
[7] Indeed, when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son came out of their cave after 12 years of non-stop study in hiding from the Romans, they could not deal with human beings; shocked to find people spending time plowing, they turned their gaze upon the fields and those fields were incinerated. Hashem rebuked them, “Did you emerge to destroy My world? Go back into your cave!” They observed a year of mourning in the cave, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai emerged much chastened. (Shabbat 33b) Human beings are expected to live as human beings do.
אבא, בזמן השואה הכנת את עצמך למות על קידוש השם, ולאחר השואה המניע העיקרי של הרבה פעולות שעשית היה למנוע חילול השם; רצית למות על קידוש השם – אבל קידוש השם היה המניע העיקרי שלך בכל חייך, קידוש השם כפי שמגדיר אותו הרמב"ם בהלכות יסודי התורה: "עושה בכל מעשיו לפנים משורת הדין, והוא שלא יתרחק הרבה ולא ישתומם". המקור לענין שדברת עליו הרבה פעמים על הצורך להיות "יהודי נורמלי", לא להתנהג בצורה משונה וחריגה אלא דווקא כ"יהודי פשוט", גם הוא נמצא בדברי הרמב"ם הללו: "שלא יתרחק ולא ישתומם".
[9] Succah 25a-b
[10] It is as the Talmud (Sotah 14a) states regarding Moshe, that he longed to enter Israel not to enjoy the produce, but to fulfill mitzvot from which he was exempt!
[11] Minchat Asher II 9. Ditto Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on tiyulim and exemption from Succah, at the end of
[12] The Emergence of Ethical Man
[13] We are also צלם אלקים, and it fits, but I didn’t want to go into that here.
[14] חציו לכם וחציו לד' of Shavuos – Beitzah 15b

Thursday, June 8, 2017

We heard you have an aquarium

I saw this ad a couple of years in Toronto, and fell in love with the sheer snark of it...

... and it's the topic of my derashah this Shabbos. Writing it now.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pesach Seder Companion 5777!

My Beit Midrash began publishing a Seder Companion two years ago, with our 5775 version, and continued last year with the 5776 edition.

This year, with 18 Seder-related Divrei Torah which have not appeared in the previous editions, I am glad to present our Pesach Seder Companion 5777! Click the image to be taken to it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Purim Torah 5777: Jewsplaining

For whoever still comes by to read my very occasional posts, here's my contribution to Toronto Purim Torah 5777: The Torah's 618th mitzvah, Jewsplaining:

In Bamidbar 20:8, G-d instructs Moshe, “And you shall speak to the stone,” from which Rabbi Abba bar Eban derived a commandment to lecture the United Nations on behalf of G-d. (Eduyot 3:7) Rabbi Abba’s protégés expanded the mitzvah to include lecturing all ignorant people, and Rabba Caroline Glick expanded it further to include talking to actual rocks. (Shabbat, Perek Rabbi Elazar d’Milah) Sefer HaChinuch lists this as the Torah’s 618th mitzvah: Jewsplaining. Israelis prefer to call it Hasbara, meaning “condescension”.

Within this daily mitzvah, every Jew is obligated to seek out a hostile listener and explain the Middle East to him/her/it for at least eighteen minutes, without convincing him/her/it. Children may also be obligated, because Jewsplaining requires neither intelligence nor maturity, only a willingness to loudly repeat one-sided tropes like “Jordan is the actual Palestinian state” and “Israel invented oxygen, go boycott oxygen” until the other side draws a weapon or walks away.

One does not recite a blessing before Jewsplaining. Per Rashba (1:18), we do not recite a blessing for a mitzvah which depends on another party for its fulfillment; one example is tzedakah, since the intended recipient might decline. Regarding Jewsplaining, the mitzvah is fulfilled only if the listener remains deaf like a stone, and so one’s success depends on the listener being stubborn. Therefore, there is no blessing. [Note, though, that some authorities rule that the Jewsplainer fulfills her obligation so long as she thinks convincing the listener is impossible. Even if the listener changes his mind, it may be assumed that he was already uncertain, and the speaker’s role was only indirect grama.]

I would have written more, such as regarding the Karaites over at the New Israel Fund and their interpretation of this mitzvah, but there was no room in our publication...

Monday, March 6, 2017

Our Troubled History of Righteous Warriors (Pre-Purim Derashah)

I presented this derashah on Shabbos, and it was sufficiently well-received for me to post it here as well:

Children of the 1970’s and 1980’s will remember the movie Wargames, in which Matthew Broderick hacked into the Pentagon’s central computer system – the WOPR – and accidentally started playing a real-world version of a game called Global Thermonuclear War. At the end of the movie, the WOPR computer observed that war is, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

Tanach and Talmud seem to come to the same negative conclusion regarding war:
·         Look at our earliest biblical battles:
o   Avraham battles an alliance of four kings to save his brother-in-law Lot; the Talmud[1] says that Avraham was then punished for drafting his students to fight in the war.
o   Yaakov prepared to fight against Esav, and we are told, ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו, Yaakov was afraid, and he was troubled. Midrashim[2] explain: Yaakov was afraid lest he be killed, but he was also disturbed by the possibility of killing others, apparently even in self-defense.
o   Shortly thereafter, Shimon and Levi smashed the city of Shechem and saved their sister Dinah. Yaakov responded, “You have muddied my name in the eyes of the nations of the land!”
·         Fast-forward to Nach, where we meet Dovid haMelech, who is told by G-d that he cannot build the Beit haMikdash because דמים רבים שפכת ארצה לפני, You have spilled much blood – but Ramban[3] says that this blood was spilled in wars ordered by Gd!
·         Or since Purim is coming, read Megilat Esther – the Jews didn’t want to go to war, even in their own self-defense. Esther and Mordechai pleaded with Achashverosh to rescind the decree against them, and only when he refused were they forced to resort to battle.[4]
·         In this light, it’s no wonder that we are prohibited from using iron to shape the stones of the mizbeiach; כי חרבך הנפת עליה, your sword is an unwanted, unrighteous weapon of death.
It seems that the WOPR is indeed correct about war – the only way to win is not to play!

The problem is that Judaism simultaneously depicts war as a righteous, even glorious pursuit!

The Torah presents war as a mitzvah:
·         וכי תבאו מלחמה בארצכם על הצר הצורר אתכם והרעותם בחצוצרותWhen you go to war, not if you go to war, against the enemies who attack you in your land, blow the trumpets and Gd will save you.[5]
·         כי תצא למלחמה על אויביךWhen you go to war against your enemies
·         לא תכרות להם בריתDo not make peace treaties with the seven Canaanite nations.
·         In the classic catalog of 613 biblical mitzvot, Sefer haChinuch records four separate mitzvot related to war (394, 525,526, 527)

And not only is war a mitzvah, but our Sages teach that war is a religious act pursued by righteous figures, specifically:
·         According to a mishnah, the Sanhedrin, the high religious court, approves all wars;
·         The Talmud describes Shaul’s general Doeg, and Dovid haMelech, and his Shlomo’s general Benayahu ben Yehoyada, as both warriors and Torah scholars;
·         The Talmud teaches that Jewish soldiers were given the opportunity to retreat from the battlefield if they had any sin on their records, however minor, leaving an army of soldiers who would be ideal tzaddikim.
We did not go as far as the Greeks, with Plato’s declaration that one must engage in military service in order to be a complete person – but we seem to have come pretty close!

So how do we reconcile biblical and rabbinic negativity toward war and warriors, with the idea that war is a great mitzvah, waged by our best and brightest? And to apply this today - how should we look at serving in our own IDF?

We could argue that war is simply a בדיעבד, a necessary evil; other mitzvot are necessary evils, too, like returning stolen goods and punishing criminals in beit din. If we were worthy, Hashem would battle our enemies and we would not need to fight, but we have not been worthy and so we have needed to fight.

The idea that war is a concession to reality is not new to Judaism; almost two thousand years ago, the Talmud[6] blamed our wars on the Golden Calf. Rav Ada, son of Rabbi Chanina declared: If we had not created the Golden Calf, Tanach would have been very short – we would have needed only the Chumash, and the book of Yehoshua describing the division of the Land of Israel. As Rav Kook explained:[7] We would have faced none of the wars and challenges and Divine rebukes which fill the rest of Tanach. Our righteousness would have awed the nations of the land, and we would not have needed to fight.[8]

Indeed, according to the Rambam these bedieved wars were an undesirable, weak and inferior means of sanctifying the land of Israel. He wrote[9] that sanctity which comes about via the sword can also be removed by the sword, and so the kedushah conferred by Yehoshua through battle was actually removed by the Babylonians when they conquered us.

Within this view, the ideal would be for victory to come through Divine intervention. Perhaps this is why our Sages looked for less bloody ways to re-interpret the violent exploits of our greatest leaders.
·         Moshe kills an Egyptian who is beating a Jew – but Avot d'Rabbi Natan[10] says he did it by invoking the Name of Gd.
·         The book of Shoftim says that Kalev marries off his daughter to the shofeit Otniel ben Kenaz, after he conquers the city of Kiryat Sefer – but according to the Talmud,[11] what Otniel actually did in “Kiryat Sefer” was to teach hundreds of laws which had been forgotten upon Moshe’s death.
Both of these derashot are based on solid textual analysis, but they also reflect a certain perspective: War represents a failure of spirituality, and our greatest leaders did not need to resort to fisticuffs.

In truth, this bedieved view of war may be part of a broader philosophical view of this world as a perfect planet shaped by imperfect people:
·         We should receive food from the heavens or miraculous crops, but because we are imperfect, we need to plow and plant and harvest.
·         We should be healed of disease upon praying to Gd, but because we are imperfect, we need to rely on painful, expensive and uncertain medicines.
·         And we should be protected from enemies without fighting, but because we are imperfect, we must go to war.

So the WOPR is indeed correct; the only winning move is not to play – but sometimes you don’t have another option.

But there is another layer to war. When the Torah depicts war as religious and righteous, it is because war is not only the act of bludgeoning the enemy.

War also means protecting our families and defending our ideals, and putting our own lives on the line to do so. War means seeing ourselves as part of a community, and recognizing that the parts must sacrifice on behalf of the whole. The redemptive character of war, that which makes it a mitzvah and a pursuit for our greatest and most righteous, is found in living beyond ourselves, pursuing neither pleasure nor power, but selfless purpose.
·         Avraham goes to war not to demonstrate power or gain spoils, but to save his brother-in-law;
·         Shimon and Levi are guilty of excess, but they went to war to save their sister;
·         Dovid haMelech cannot build the Beit haMikdash, but he fought the Plishtim in order to save his nation.

In truth, this approach requires more nuance; not every selfless fight is noble or heroic. The suicide bomber also thinks he is pursuing selfless purpose in the name of country and ideology. We need more discussion of what constitutes a “just war”, and that will be part of our panel discussion before minchah, at 4:45 PM. But the message I see in the Torah’s mitzvot of war is about not the glory of finishing our foes, but the glory of risking one’s life for others and for ideals.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein made this point in an essay entitled The Ideology of Hesder. Describing the mission of the yeshivot which blend Torah study with military service, he wrote:
No one responsibly connected with any yeshivat Hesder advocates military service per se… No less than every Jew, the typical Hesdernik yearns for peace, longs for the day on which he can divest himself of uniform and uzzi and devote his energies to Torah… In one sense, therefore, insofar as army service is alien to the ideal Jewish vision, Hesder is grounded in necessity rather than choice…
In another sense, however, it is very much l'hathillah, a freely willed option grounded in moral and halakhic decision… We advocate it because we are convinced that, given our circumstances - would that they were better - military service is a mitsvah, and a most important one at that.

This is the source of our troubled history of righteous warriors – of Avraham and Yaakov, of Shimon and Levi.
·         The sword may not cut the stones of the mizbeiach, and Dovid haMelech cannot build the Beit haMikdash, because war is corrupting; the Golden Calf ensured that we must fight, as a bedieved concession to our imperfect spirituality.
·         But war is also an ennobling opportunity to live for others, to sacrifice years, and possibly one’s life, to serve the nation. In that sense it may be the greatest mitzvah we can perform.

In the beginning, Hashem created a garden, and populated it with many trees. One of those trees was the Tree of Life; eat from it וחי לעולם, and live forever. Another of those trees was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We chose the latter, the fruit which gave us good and evil combined, and the result was the blending of good and evil in all of our pursuits, however noble. As a result, Chavah is told that bringing a baby into this world will involve not only life, but also pain. Adam is told that bringing food from the earth will involve not only life, but also pain. And serving our nation, too, involves both life and pain.

May we soon know a day when we will return to the Tree of Life, when the sin of the Golden Calf will at last be expunged, when לא ישא גוי אל גוי חרב ולא ילמדו עוד מלחמה – when nation will not raise sword against nation and no longer will they study war, when instead of מלאה הארץ חמס a land filled with chamas, we will have מלאה הארץ דעה את ד' כמים לים מכסים, a land filled with knowledge of G-d, as the sea is filled with water.

[1] Nedarim 32a
[2] See Rashi Bereishis 32:8, and Sifsei Chachamim there
[3] Ramban Bamidbar 16:21
[4] Esther 8
[5] Bamidbar 10:9
[6] Nedarim 22
[7] Orot HaMilchamah 4
[8] Ditto Shem miShemuel Succot 5674
[9] Hilchos Beis haBechirah
[10] 1:20
[11] Temurah 16a

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

HaNidach: The Banished One

I led a session on S.Y. Agnon's remarkable HaNidach last month, and I didn't know of a translation I could share with the group. It's a very long story - 47 pages in my edition - so I translated enough of it for the group to get a sense of the story. Since it's not available in translation anywhere, here is my partially annotated rendering for anyone who might want it. [The numbers in parentheses match the page numbers in my Hebrew edition of אלו ואלו.]

The story is heart-wrenching in its description of the depths of the divide between early Chasidim and the mainstream Jewish world, and for the elements which remain recognizable in our own world today. For easier reading, download it (.pdf) here.

Excerpts from HaNidach
Chapter 1
(9) Great snow fell all that week, from the celestial level to the lowly world. The black earth turned white, and the heavens remained dull, and people entered their homes, between oven and stove,[1] and in the city no one departed or entered.[2] But on the fifth day to Shabbat the trait of chesed triumphed.[3] The sun shone over the land, and the snow began to melt…
The day descended and those who trembled at the word of Gd began gathering in the study hall. The learned closed their books, and the youths ceased their singing. The shamash lit the candles, and the prayers washed their hands and prayed.
They were praying, and two elderly women broke through the door, wailing, to seek mercy for Aydele, modest and pious. They opened the Ark and hugged the Torah scrolls and called to Gd mightily, “Gd, please heal her,[4] on behalf of her chicks who have not sinned.” And so they cried, until their tears met and merged.[5]
Between minchah and maariv news was heard in the study hall – a tzaddik had come to town.[6] His few allies were strengthened and filled with joy, that their Rav had had mercy on their city, to visit them on this Shabbat. They prepared their hearts and spirits to greet his holy countenance. The uninformed thought that the Rav had come to the city only to heal Aydele, daughter of Rabbi Avigdor the Parnas, but those who knew the hatred of the Parnas for the sectarians knew that this tough person would overturn the entire world to keep that tzaddik from stepping foot in Shibush.[7] [But] they still had some hint of a thought; Rabbi Avigdor was in pain, and it would be a burden for him to evict [the Rabbi].
(10) When day broke, the few Chassidim left the city to greet the tzaddik. Some of the people of Shibush joined them, to see his entrance. They said, “If he is a tzaddik, the entrance of tzaddikim induces awe of Heaven.” And anyone whose heart was uncertain about belief in tzaddikim convinced himself, saying, “If people thirst to see him, this is a sign that the Shechinah is upon him.[8]” While they were anticipating him, the wheel of a wagon began hammering along in the street of the city. The entire place was filled with joy; “The Rebbe has come, the Rebbe has come!”
His intimates were energized, and they drew close to the Merkavah.[9] They greeted the Rav and untied the horses from their reins and took their places to draw the Merkavah along. Immediately, the Rav descended from the Merkavah and mixed with those who had come to greet him. They said to him, “Rebbe, why did you descend? We have come to greet you and you descend from the Merkavah?!” He told them, “I saw that you fulfill the mitzvah of greeting guests with great passion, and I descended from the Merkavah to include myself with you in this mitzvah.”…
A Jewish householder, childless, who had never entered Chassidut, made his house available in order to be perfumed with the blessing of that tzaddik… The people could not separate from him, and he could not separate from them, and he was warmed by the light of their love.
(11) At that same time, Rabbi Avigdor left the room of his sick daughter, Aydele. He heard the voices of the Chassidim, joyously escorting their Rebbe. He trembled and said, “How long will this sin be stored with me?[10]” Rabbi Avigdor cloaked himself in Shabbat clothes, scrubbed his head with water and coiled his peiot with beer, fixed up his hat and prepared his cloak and looked in the mirror for beauty. Why all of this? So that he would impress the poritz, and he would listen to him…
The intimates of the tzaddik were energized, and they took white clothing, abandoned their mundane activities and went to the bathhouse to purify themselves for Shabbat and to stand before their Rebbe with a clean body. And Jewish girls baked challot and cooked meat and fish and increased various types of kugel for the pleasure of Shabbat, with a guest like this. But the hope of Man is worms. The Satanic deed triumphed, and the noble complied and sent an officer to chase out Rabbi Uriel from the city, for Rabbi Avigdor had brought bad speech against him.
At that same time, Rabbi Uriel stood cloaked in a tallit and crowned in tefillin, and his face shone from his prayer. The officer entered and saw the illumination of his face, and stood in confusion, waiting for him to finish his prayer. After he completed his prayer, [the officer] said to him, “My master has decreed to remove you from the city, please leave.” Rabbi Uriel removed his tefillin, and wrapped their straps like the wings of a dove.[11] He did not finish before the officer grabbed him by the hand and said, “Take them and go.”
(12) His group of Chassidim stood and cried Chamas! and sought revenge upon their enemies to punish them properly, for the Heavenly Name they had disgraced and for the Shabbat pleasure which had been destroyed. His holy heart was awakened, but he said, “Uriel, Uriel! Are you truly concerned for the honour of His Name, or are you concerned for your own honour? And how will you know the truth?” But nature triumphed and he cursed the Parnas,[12] and a harsh curse was uprooted from his mouth, that one who was banished would be banished from him.[13] And all who were present nodded their heads and said, “He has bitten Avigdor in his tail like a serpent, woe to him, woe to him, so is good for him, so is appropriate for him.”
Rabbi Uriel left the city, and his group of Chassidim left with him. The snow was melting, and the rain descended with force, and the land was partially smooth and partially sunken. They hesitated and walked, hesitated and walked, reciting Song of Songs.[14] Rabbi Uriel walked and recited, “Do not look upon me that I am dark, that the sun has blackened me, the sons of my mother have attacked me,[15]” and his group of Chassidim recited after him, “Behold, my beloved is pleasant, even pretty.[16]”…
(13) The innkeeper saw them and his blood chilled with fear; Gd forbid, there was trouble in the city and they had fled here! He ran and brought them into his house and asked, “Why has my friend come to my house?[17]” They told him the entire story. The innkeeper was filled with the joy of a simpleton.[18] This Avigdor, who would not let them make a minyan in the village – now Gd had brought him something to anger him. Immediately, he turned to them with a happy face and told them, “Remove all worry from your hearts, my masters. We have meat and fish here, thank Gd, and no lack of beverage, to eat and drink according to Gd’s word.” And he bowed before the Rav and greeted him, and looked with shame at his own clothing and his pants of animal hide. He said, “A tzaddik comes to my inn and I greet him with mundane clothing!” The Rav nodded in the manner of satisfaction, but in the depths of his heart he groaned for the children of Gd who greet the holy Shabbat in such clothing. And when the Rav groaned, so did his Chassidim. Shabbat is a day for Gd, and they were grieving and tossed and moved about and away from their families. And so they groaned, until the Rav rebuked them. They repressed their groans in their hearts, and were silent…
And the Rav led the prayers with holy passion, and when he arrived at Lecha dodi he actually left physicality, and he applied his two legs and went out to dance to greet the bride. And all who were present were elevated from level to level, until the end of the entire prayer…
(14) And Rabbi Uriel would [normally] minimize Torah speech, for Rabbi Uriel would say, “It is not speaking of Torah that is important, but doing and fulfilling the words of Torah.” Now Rabbi Uriel did not repress his holy speech, and he intentionally brought himself down to simple speech, so that even the simplest of his intimates would understand, and he taught the weekly parshah, Parshat Vayetze Yaakov…
After Birkat haMazon they spread out on long benches and coloured boxes, and the host and his wife ascended over the oven, and the house was silent… The candles were guttering and the smoke column rose, and the Rav did not move from his place, and he drank the smoke of the Shabbat candles. The members of the group lay with open eyes and did not sleep in the bosom of their pleasures, and they cloaked and crowned every statement that came from the mouth of that tzaddik, and they taught mountains upon mountains of intentions[19] from his every motion.

Chapter 2
(17) There is no snow as attractive as the snow of the end of Shabbat. What is that snow like? Like the feathers of angels’ wings. Israel is beloved, for even the ministering angels remove their wings in their honour and spread carpets for them from the entrance of the synagogue to the entrance of their homes when they depart to recline at the meal of King David[20]
And Rabbi Uriel sat and sang songs of the end of Shabbat, and he sighed and waited and delayed until making Havdalah, for as long as Rabbi Uriel did not make Havdalah, the keys of Gehennom[21] were in his hands, and out of mercy for the wicked who would be returned to Gehennom it was hard for him to pick up the cup of Havdalah in his hand, until they showed him the light of the next Shabbat…
(18) And so they sat. The most holy, the Rav, Rabbi Uriel, crowned in reverence and the light of his face like the light of the seven days.[22] To his right Elyakim Aryeh, a Jew who knew to rejoice on Simchat Torah and cry on Tishah b'Av. And beside Elyakim Aryeh, Leib the Silent, who prayed with force until his teeth flew from his mouth. And beside Leib the Silent, Maharam the Mohel, a Jew of stature. And beside Maharam the Mohel, the elder from the village. He was the one who had brought the Torah scroll, from which they read the weekly portion. And beside the elder from the village, Natan Nata, husband of Chayah Sarah the storekeeper. And beside Natan Nata, husband of Chayah Sarah the storekeeper, Yaakov Yehoshua, who was counted in the assembly of important people. And beside Yaakov Yehoshua, Ephraim Shlomo, the great drinker. He began to spice the Rav’s table with his jokes. Beside Ephraim Shlomo, the great drinker, Zanvil Berish the shocheit, a Chassid who had been removed from shechitah by the Parnas. And beside Zanvil Berish the shocheit, a Chassid who had been removed from shechitah by the Parnas, Elimelech Meizlovitz, descendant of Elimelech the water-drawer, about whom the Baal Shem Tov – his soul stored in the heavens – had said, “Have you seen my friend Elimelech? When he prays, the gates of Heaven are open.” Each day he would draw water and fill the barrels of the needy for free, and pray at sunrise. Once he was coming from the well, and he went to pray. It was harshly cold, and his sleeve froze and stuck to his skin, and he could not put on tefillin. He lowered the sleeve by the handles of the bolt until the flesh of his arm peeled, and his blood flowed, and he put on tefillin, as it is said, “And my hands dripped myrrh upon the handles of the bolt.[23]”…
(21) Rabbi Uriel remembered how the entrance of Shabbat was in silence and tearful faces, and now it departed with great noise and the light of honour. Great fear befell him – might this light only be from the kelipah of Nogah,[24] Gd forbid? He turned his eyes from the joy and said, “Master of the Universe, who sees the shame of the shamed and my broken heart, give Your light and truth to those who walk before You.” Immediately, his limbs were moved by the light of truth. At that time Rabbi Uriel turned his mind from the expulsion, and put his heart to the secret of the Creator’s deeds, for all that happens in this world is at Gd’s supervision, and there is no difference between that which happens according to His will and that which happens that is not according to His will…
(22) Rabbi Uriel arose and looked at the world itself, and he was inflamed with an awesome passion from the chain of worlds and the refined realms, until he was afraid that he might cease to exist. He put his forehead upon the window glass to chill his awesome dveikut, so that he could keep his soul in his body.

Chapter 3
(23) On a bed of grief Aydele lay, and there was no cure for her illness… Suddenly she saw an angel before her, his length from one end of the world to the other, full of eyes from the sole of his feet to his skull, his garb fire, his clothing fire, entirely of fire, with a knife in his hand and a drop of bile suspended from it.[25] Immediately, her face turned green and the joints of her spine popped and her bones separated and Gd in His holy presence descended to her, as it were, and appeared to her, and she gave Him her pure soul.
Snow covered the ground, and the house was covered in shrouds…
(25) [The children were reading a book of wondrous deeds of tzaddikim, including a tzaddik bringing miraculous healing.] Rabbi Meshulam spread his two hands and cried out from his heart, “All of the ‘ends’ have come and gone,[26] this cannot be, this cannot be.” And he jumped up and left the house. Where did Meshulam go? Where did he turn? Rabbi Meshulam descended to the village, to Rabbi Uriel, to seek mercy for his wife Aydele, that she not die.
Rabbi Avigdor knew all that had been done.[27] Rabbi Avigdor turned his two ancient eyes down upon his only daughter as she was expiring, and his heavy tears flowed into her tears. He strengthened his heart with [thoughts of] the merciful Gd, of great mercy, who would have mercy upon her and send His help from His sanctum.
At that same time Rabbi Avigdor had a thought in his heart – perhaps they would say that in the merit of the prayer of Uriel his daughter Aydele had been healed, and people would then stumble because of her! Rabbi Avigdor turned his two eyes heavenward and he said, “Master of the Universe, please take her life immediately, lest the power of falsehood[28] increase in the world because of her, Gd forbid.” Not even a few moments passed before the ‘end’ of the body was completed, and her soul exited in purity[29]
(26) The dead are forgotten from the heart,[30] and her son Gershom entered their hearts, sitting in the yeshiva of Torah with his relative, the Rabbi, several parasangs away from Shibush. When they remembered Gershom, all of them began to speak of the glory of the Talmud which his [future] father-in-law, Rabbi Zundel had bought for him, and they spoke in praise of its commentaries…
(28) [From the letter Rabbi Avigdor sent to Gershom after the shivah:] But after my return I have some comfort when I remember that your mother, of blessed memory, when she was about two years old, her nursemaid brought her to see the Strypa river, and for an instant she turned her attention from your mother z”l, and your mother z”l fell into the Strypa, and she sank in mighty waters beneath the bridge, where the water was very deep, more than the height of two men. And when a man from the butcher shop saw, he did not remove his clothes, and he jumped into the water and he saved her from death and he brought her to my home. And now see the wonders of the Perfect Intellect.[31] The deeds of Gd are great, for He wanted her to leave behind sons and daughters…
I ask one thing of you, this I request.[32] Although I know that you will not join with empty, reckless people, but only with those who revere Gd, of great hearts, still, I see fit to warn you firmly against the sect of Chassidim who are suspected of nullifying the brit [milah], drunkards who have spread like weeds…

Chapter 4
(29) During this season the luminaries in the heavens are muddled, and they did not finish the Shacharit prayer before the time for Minchah arrived, as though the sun had stopped serving its duty before Gd to benefit the creatures from its light.
In the study hall, the oven was cooled and a damp darkness enwrapped the household implements, and a damp, cold draft blew from the books and fluttered into a person’s limbs and sapped the desire to learn, as though Gd forbid all love of Torah was gone from the world.
Gershom triumphed and studied. In the corner, between the Ark and the window on the east side of the study hall, he sat and read and learned and immersed himself in Torah. This even though a spirit of sorrow hovered over him every day; from the time of his mother’s death he imagined that the heavens were with him in his pain…
When he remembered that she was dead he began to moan and cry, and to desire and yearn and long for the day when he would return to his house and take her siddur and join his voice with those of his young brothers when they stood in the synagogue and recited Kaddish, and he would cry on the neck of his father until his eyes wore out from tears. This is Gershom, who studied Torah and mourned for his mother…
(30) The youths were stretched out on their benches, and they devoured their nights in their sleep. The entire world was deep in sleep, and the candle burned and drew near to its end. The yahrtzeit candles were quiet in their sediment, and the clock awoke people for midnight, and the time had arrived for Gershom to sleep. But Gershom knew himself, that even if he would go to his dwelling and lie on his bed, his rest would not be restful. Gd had cut his life with suffering, and even if he would return to his dirt, his troubles would return with him.
At that time, Gershom began to question Gd’s justice, why He had created him…
(31) The day was not yet lit, and the shamash called for service of the Creator. But Gershom did not rise like a lion to the service of his Creator.[33] Not only did he not awaken the dawn,[34] but he did not even merit to awaken himself. The shades were sealed, and the light of sunrise did not shine through, and the household implements made black, long shadows, to which the imagination gave life. Gershom kept himself in bed, and they moved along and came to the point of reaching him.
(33) From evening to evening Gershom involved himself in Torah, and his thoughts floated in the higher wisdoms. Most of the day, he stood on the ladder of the book repository and read books and ascended the sansinim[35] of wisdom. His mourning became sweeter, and Divine kindness sheltered him all day. His heart was softened by this sensitivity he had inherited from his mother, and he also softened it with popular aggadot which draw a person’s heart to love of Gd. Gershom did not yet know the light of the truth of the tzaddikim…

Chapter 5
(34) “Do not arouse, do not awaken,” the text says, and because the yeshiva students mentioned his betrothed to [Gershom], all sorts of affection were awakened in his heart…
And when Gershom arrived near his city, he found his brothers and sisters standing by the eruv and waiting for him. They mobbed him and took his bags from his hand, and while one embraced and hugged and kissed him,[36] another hung on him and kissed him…
Rabbi Avigdor asked Gershom whether he had completed a tractate, and which tractate he had completed. He told the cook, “Give him something to eat.”…
(36) [This scene takes place at the Passover Seder at Gershom’s future in-laws:] They poured the cups and took their Haggadot. Rabbi Zundel had one, his wife had one, and Menuchah had one. Gershom began to fear that they might combine him to read with his betrothed from the same book. In truth, Rabbi Zundel had ordered a Haggadah for Gershom, but since the craftsman had bound it close to Pesach when he bound the Talmud, they had decided not to use it because of some bit of chametz.[37] Rabbi Zundel stood and took an old siddur from the rafter and gave it to Gershom, and Gershom’s mind was eased.
They made Kiddush over wine and read the Haggadah, they drank and ate and drank and blessed and finished. Rabbi Zundel took his pipe, and before he had put it in his mouth, sleep caught him and he slept. And even the hostess did as her husband, and dozed. And Gershom read and added, and since he had drunk four cups his heart was full, and he sang in a pleasant voice. Menuchah heard and was happy, as though a brother had been given to her and he was filling the house with the sound of Torah. Gershom read Chad gadya, and Menuchah answered him Chad gadya, chad gadya d’zabin Abba. And so they added and read in Song of Songs,[38] him a verse and her a verse, until they completed the entire book and parted from each other.
Gershom came to sleep in his grandfather’s room. While it was still day, they had brought there his mother’s bed on which to sleep, so that his body would lie in rest and pleasure. He ascended the bed, recited the first paragraph of Shema, and covered himself in his mother’s cover. He had some childishness in him, as though he was a baby lying beside his mother, until the Master of Dreams came and made him sleep with verses of Song of Songs and the image of his betrothed…
(38) A spirit of the outdoors grabbed Gershom by his cloak and drew him to tour a bit in the city. Close to minchah, Gershom came to a street, hidden from the major road. He saw two men standing by a house, looking for a tenth to come complete the minyan, and he entered.
Although Shibush was a small town and Gershom was well-known in the town, they did not recognize him when he entered. Once they recognized him, they thought he had been sent by the Parnas, to harm them. [But] they remembered their Rebbe’s curse and they said, “He is a dead man, and we need not fear him. If someone should fear, he should fear.” When they saw his depressed appearance and his charm, they understood that it was chance that he had come here.
The room was small, its form like a dwelling. When he entered, Gershom thought some Jew had set up a minyan in his home. When they reached Kedushah and he heard them say Nakdishcha,[39] he realized he had entered the domain of “the sect”. He leapt from his place as though bitten by a snake, but the pleasantness of the prayer enveloped his heart, and he did not leave. The enthusiasts saw him, and they no longer said it was chance that he had come here…
(39) After they finished Maariv they went out to dance, and they sang pleasantly Atah Bechartanu.[40] Gershom stood from the table and took a book in his hand and covered his face, lest he see Jews acting immaturely. One of the group patted his shoulder and pointed to the dancers, saying, “How beautiful are your feet, O princess.[41]” After only a few moments, Gershom put down his book and concentrated fully on watching the dance. Even though he knew the dance was a dance, he contemplated each movement, and his lips began to move with the pleasant tune, until they finished dancing and they blessed each other Moadim l’simchah.
Gershom left the shtiebel, and a sort of elixir of life bubbled in his limbs. The nights of Nisan were at the height of their beauty, and a sweet smell came from the fields close to the city, and he enjoyed the beauty. While walking he met an old man. Gershom said, “Shalom.” The man brandished his stick and said, “Empty one! I am about seventy years old,[42] and I have lived near their temple all my life, and I never entered there! You, once you arrived here your spirit rose rashly upon you and you entered their house.”
(40) In those days he did not read Psalms or Job, which bring rest to the soul; sadness was even more beloved to him than a page of Talmud, Gd forbid.
Sometimes he read Reishit Chochmah and he dampened the pages with tears, and he saw himself dwelling in the seven levels of Gehennom, and he mentally accepted upon himself all manner of punishment for his very existence… When he remembered his betrothed, it was only with painful emotion, for she bound him to this lowly world…
(42) [While trying to sleep] Gershom could not repress his tears any longer, and he cried bitterly from the great pain.
Rabbi Avigdor jumped from his bed and awakened his household. Rabbi Meshulam came and soaked a towel in vinegar and rubbed it on his son’s chest, as he had done for Aydele of blessed memory, for they thought he had heart pain. In truth, there was pain in Gershom’s heart, but not as his household thought…

Chapter 6
(43) Rabbi Avigdor wanted to ease the heart of his household. Rabbi Avigdor said, “Since my son-in-law Meshulam has entered his 36th year, I will make a feast of thanks, for he has left the category of ‘Men of blood and trickery, they will not live out half their lives.[43]’” He sent the shamash and invited his relatives to a cup of blessing that evening…
[Menuchah’s] friends began to embrace her and hug her and kiss her. One of them held her with her two hands and said to her, “Come, I will tell you what I heard from Father. So I heard from Abba: All day, Regional Rabbi discussed fine points of Torah with Gershom. You think he defeated Gershom, it is not so, Gershom defeated him. You think he did not admit it, it is not so, he said explicitly, ‘No one ever defeated me, only this young one.’ You think he was angry, it is not so, he was ready to give Gershom a gift. And what was it? Ordination. When? When you and Gershom are sitting and rejoicing at your wedding.”
Menuchah arranged a basket of fruit before her friends, to interrupt their prattle…
(45) The Rabbi agreed [to participate]. Rabbi Avigdor added and invited the seven councilmen.[44] A minyan gathered, and they recited birkat hamazon with “Elokeinu”.
To fulfill the statement of our Sages[45] that those of refined mind in Jerusalem would not recline at a feast unless they knew with whom they were reclining, Rabbi Avigdor opened and said, “Rabbi, the elder official who sits to the right of his eminence is Rabbi Yaakov, son of Rabbi Yitzchak, may Gd avenge his blood, from the grandchildren of the milkman who would not eat meat from Shabbat to Shabbat, and from the line of the holy Sh’lah. And the official who sits behind him is Rabbi Moshe haKohen, grandson of the Ot Emet who is mentioned by the rabbis of the generation in their responsa, who struck the men of the accursed sect of Shabbtai Tzvi with the rod of his mouth. And the official who sits behind him is Rabbi Yosef Shemuel, whose name is like that of his grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Shemuel who studied Torah standing[46] for 25 years, and learned the entire Talmud 42 times, fulfilling v’dibarta bam
(46) The Rabbi shut his eyes and focused his thoughts and began to speak on the matter of the day, and he presented a sharp pilpul until the faces of those reclining there were illuminated from his Torah. When he had finished, he said to Gershom, “Gershom, what do you respond to this?” Gershom leaned over and repeated the Rabbi’s words in summary, including the entire pilpul in a few words to ensure he had heard it properly, and in his words he answered part of it and refuted part of it, and tied to it a great pilpul on the matter of the day. The Rabbi’s face glowed, and he said, “Beautiful, beautiful!” and he did not stop showing love. Gershom bent his head and repeated verses which keep people from arrogance…
(47) While they were eating, the chazan arose and gave his voice pleasantly and blessed with the Mi sheBeirach Rabbi Meshulam, the focus of the meal, and all of the guests answered Amen with pleasant hearts. Even the Regional Rabbi, who rebuked chazanim for going on at length with tunes, enjoyed it and said “Yeyasher kochacha Chazan.”
The officials asked the Chazan where he had heard the tune. The chazan deceived the higher mind and that of the officials, saying, “I received this from my father, and my grandfather, the tune from Sinai.” The chazan knew that the Regional Rabbi did not tolerate new tunes, how much more so a tune which he had heard from a passerby, such that one might be concerned that he was from the sect…
Once they had mentioned the sect, the Regional Rabbi said, “I will also tell you a story: Once an avreich fled from his father-in-law’s house and went to his Rabbi’s house. They brought him from the road, to me. I instructed to cut off one peah and half his beard,[47] so that people would hear and see.”…
(49) Once Rabbi Meshulam found [Gershom] upset, and decreed that he wander about each day. The fields surrounded the city, and he wandered in the fields or sat in the shade of a tree and looked at the gardens and the flowing rivers. Creation smiled upon him. The Sun decorated the entire world, the trees and bushes stood in their beauty, and the field produced pleasant aromas. But if you have lost faith, there is nothing that all of the gifts of Creation can give or add.
An avreich said to Gershom in the study hall, “Do we not say, ‘The commandments of Gd are straight, they gladden the heart,[48]’ and you learn with an angry face!” Gershom’s eyes streamed tears. “What can I say, what can I tell? Gd has found my sins.[49]” “She has fallen, she will not rise again,[50]” a verse fell into his mouth,[51] from a high roof to a deep pit.[52] Man only sees with his eyes. They said, “Gershom is crushing his body with Torah,” and they blessed themselves, “We wish that we would be like Gershom.” And the sectarians opposite them pointed at him with their fingers and said, “The curse of the tzaddik, the curse of a tzaddik makes a mark.” What was Gershom like? Like silk the tailor cuts, from which he makes a beautiful garment. Had he not cut it, he could not have made a garment from it…
(50) [The students who followed tzaddikim] said to Gershom, “You have black bile.[53] With our Rebbe, you could see how to serve the Creator with joy.” But Gershom sealed his ears and did not wish to hear their words. An avreich said to Gershom, “Gershom, I will tell you something the likes of which you have not heard. When I was a youth, I was troubled by doubts in faith, Gd save us, until my spirit was dark and my life was not life. Once I told myself, ‘The world says there are tzaddikim who help people with their counsel,’ and I began to draw close to them and I merited faith in the sages…”
Daily they spoke to him and their words did not enter his heart. One time his heart began to beat powerfully, and he desired and yearned to see the Rav, Rabbi Uriel. The thirst inflamed his heart, and he cooled his heart with Torah. And yet, the thirst reignited, like an oven. Even if he put his entire soul into Torah, he could not extinguish the love.[54] If he would tell his relatives, he would be disgraced with them and they would mourn him as for the dead. If he would not tell, how could he bear it? He turned his eyes heavenward and said, “Master of the Universe, I can depend only upon Your mercy.” And he picked himself up and went out in secret.
The Mitnagdim were battling the Chassidim, and they exiled the Chassidim, each from his in-laws’ home, and they separated them from their wives. They broke their windows and dirtied their tzitzit, and they even sent their hand against their house of prayer. If the Chassidim stood on Friday night to pray, then uncircumcised ones, drunk from the wine of the Mitnagdim came and extinguished the Shabbat candles, and did not leave light in the house of prayer, or a candle, candelabra or lantern. And when the Chassidim complained to the noble, the noble sent his servants and they destroyed the house of prayer at night…
(51) That day, Zusha the Butcher travelled to the village, to Zanvil Berish the Shocheit, to slaughter an animal. On the way he found a youth lying, arms and legs outstretched. He pushed him with a rod and called out, “Arise, why do you sleep? Are there insufficient benches in the study hall, such that you lie down to sleep at a fork in the road?” When this one did not rise, Zusha jumped from the wagon and saw that it was Gershom, grandson of the Parnas, lying on the ground as if dead. He picked him up in his arms and revived him and put him in the wagon and returned to the city with him. Had Zusha known that Gershom had sought to go to Rabbi Uriel, he would have carried him there himself…
In the time of his illness Gershom read stories of wars and chronicles and Tzitzat Noveil Tzvi about the deeds of Shabbtai Tzvi and his group. This reminded Gershom of the Chassidim, and he remembered that he had been headed to that Uriel, and his eyes darkened in shame. He said to himself, “Had my illness not grabbed me on the road, I would have strayed and left the path.” He justified the [Divine] verdict and saw his illness as a Divine kindness. He said of himself, “To oppress you, to benefit you in the end,[55]” that Gd had made him suffer in order to help him in the end. And from then on he read and studied and learned pilpul as did the schismatic students, until the Chozer[56] arrived and brought him back to his root.

Chapter 7
(52) [The following scene takes place on Shabbat, when a Chozer visits Shibush, and ends up at the table of Gershom’s family:] The Chozer saw the host sitting, his head and bulk[57] in a book, and his son-in-law sitting opposite him, his head and bulk in a book, and the eyes of the holy matron, the Shabbat Queen, gazing at them from the gravy, and them not looking at her. The Chozer remembered his holy Rebbe, who was actually greater than any man by two heads, and whose holy body was different from on all other days, from Friday after immersing until after Shabbat. The Chozer cried in his heart, “Master of the Universe, why have You chased me out of the lot of Your beloved,[58] to crush my feet in a desolate wilderness? I said I would travel from city to city to educate properly the humble of the land,[59] to guide them in paths of righteousness for Your Name,[60] and I would keep myself from benefit, and I never challenged Your actions, Gd forbid, but now sadness and worry almost fell into my heart on Your holy Shabbat.”…
(53) The Chozer joined in their battle of Torah. At first he wanted to show them Torah with pleasant paths, but he realized that this was neither the place nor the time, lest the Parnas recognize his type and expel him. He wanted to stay here, since he had smelled the bottle of the youth[61] and found him to be a precious vessel, ready to receive purity. He hid his deeds and concealed his ways…
One day, the Chozer said to Gershom, “Today we will learn a simple page of Talmud.” Gershom was surprised; this genius who had left no great matter [unlearned] wanted to learn a simple page of Talmud? The Chozer saw that Gershom was surprised. The Chozer said to Gershom, “Come and see how blind are the eyes of men. A man sees something and thinks, ‘How simple this is,’ and in truth it contains many hints, and many matters depend on it. Regarding them the verse says, ‘They do not look at the deed of Gd.[62]’” And so he clarified and went in this matter, many awesome lessons. And once Gershom’s heart was opened, and the secret of Gd hinted in the simple words was revealed, the Chozer began to guide him from level to level on the rungs of wisdom, until Gershom saw things that no one in Shibush had ever seen…
(55) And [now] Gershom had already left all of the books and he did not read them; he only remained alone in the house, sitting in the shadow of Gd and nursing from sacred thought…
(56) Gershom stood and stood and reviewed all that his ears had heard, and from the great energizing of his spirit he began to cry. He leaned against the wall and stood as long as he stood.[63] In the end he drew out his head and said, “The time has come to accept Shabbat.” He uprooted himself from his place and went to the study hall.
He came to the study hall and found that most of the congregation had already gathered for prayer and were sitting, saying Song of Songs. Some of them said it aloud, with a tune, and some said it quietly. Gershom took a siddur and went to his place by the bimah. He opened his siddur and put his head between his two arms, and he stood for a brief time, until he drew out his head and began to recite Song of Songs with terrifying passion and awesome might. He recited and went until he reached the verse, “Draw me forth, I will run after you.[64]” Then, when he arrived at the verse, “Draw me forth, I will run after you,” his soul departed in purity. His lips were still moving, “The King brought me to His chambers,[65]” “My soul left when He spoke.[66]” So died Gershom, grandson of Rabbi Avigdor, for Rabbi Avigdor had fought with Rabbi Uriel, with the Chassidim he had fought.

1.   Arnold J. Band
The suspense of the story is created by the deliberately slow pace in which Agnon works his way to the inevitable tragic ending. Situation by situation we learn more about Gershom, begin to understand him as a person, and consequently watch his steady progress to his doom in sympathy and horror…. The drama of Gershom is played out on two levels. On the metaphysical plane he is doomed because of the curse of Reb Uriel, hence the innocent victim of an ideological clash; on the psychological plane he is victimized by his own hypersensitivity. Both tensions, the metaphysical-ideological and the purely psychological convulse the tranquil folkloristic milieu resulting in the inevitable death…

2.   Israel Cohen, The Buczacz Community,
Buczacz was characterized by people like R' Avraham David Ben Asher (1770-1840). His life history and philosophy constitute a very important chapter in Buczacz' history. We shall, however, suffice with a concise account of his story. As a boy he already drew attention to himself by his great Talmudic erudition and sharpness. Tsvi Hirsh, author of Neta Sha'ashuim, chose him as a son-in-law for his daughter. At twenty he was ready to serve as the rabbi of Yazlovitsh. Buczacz was a town of scholars and Talmudists who did not believe in the tsadikim and their miracles. The war between the Talmudists and the hasidim reached its peak at that time, and it greatly troubled R' Avraham. When his son fell ill, his wife and friends urged him to bring the sick child to R' Levi Yitskhak of Berditshev. After refusing for a long while, he finally consented. From that day on he was a different man. He was greatly influenced by R' Levi Yitskhak, who helped him in reconciling his Talmudic and hasidic views, positions that were polarized in his town. The hasidim could not imagine a greater joy, for many of them feared his mastery of the Talmud and rabbinical law. Nevertheless, after he inherited his father-in-law's position, everyone marveled at his religious knowledge but opposed his way of life, his following the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. In the practice of rabbinical law, he would draw his judgment from the Talmud and from rabbinical authorities [poskim], and not from the principles of the Kabbala. His wide-ranging literary work was basically rationalistic, Talmudic and exegetic. His essay Da'at Kedoshim, as well as Eshel Avraham, was incorporated as an independent section of the Shulkhan Arukh. In addition to all of his other books, he wrote a Kabbalistic commentary named Birkat David [David's Blessing]. At one point in his life his reason was somewhat shaken, and according to tradition he was cured by the rabbi of Sasov. He acted as Buczacz' rabbi till the day he died, approximately fifty years, and bestowed his spirit upon the town.

3.   Shemuel II 14:14
כִּי מוֹת נָמוּת וְכַמַּיִם הַנִּגָּרִים אַרְצָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא יֵאָסֵפוּ וְלֹא יִשָּׂא אֱלֹקִים נֶפֶשׁ וְחָשַׁב מַחֲשָׁבוֹת לְבִלְתִּי יִדַּח מִמֶּנּוּ נִדָּח:
For we will certainly die, and [we are] like water spilled on the ground which will not be gathered in, and Gd will not show favour to anyone, but He plans lest anyone who is pushed away remain pushed away.

4.   Rabbi David Altschuler, Metzudat David to Shemuel II 14:14
ועוד הלא אין אלקים נושא פנים לשום נפש ושלם ישלם לאיש כמפעלו ולטובת האדם חושב מחשבות לשלם גמול בזה העולם לבל יהיה האדם הנדח במעשיו מוטרד ונדח ממנו יתברך...
Further, Gd does not show favour to anyone, and He repays each person according to his deeds, and for a person’s benefit He plans to give just desserts in this world, lest a person who is pushed away because of his deeds be banished from Gd…

5.   Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Sichot haRan 189,
פַּעַם אַחַת הָיָה נֶכְדּוֹ זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה, מֻטָּל עַל עֶרֶשׂ מֵחֳלִי הַפָּאקִין [אַבַּעְבּוּעוֹת שְׁחוֹרוֹת] רַחֲמָנָא לִצְלָן וְהָיָה קוֹבֵל לְפָנַי מְאד שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ צַעַר גָּדוֹל מִזֶּה מְאד וְסִפֵּר לִי אָז וְאָמַר שֶׁיֵּשׁ דַּרְכֵי ד' שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לַהֲבִינָם כִּי אִיתָא שֶׁאֵצֶל הָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה, נִסְתַּלֵּק בֵּן אֶחָד וְאָמַר, שֶׁנִּסְתַּלֵּק בִּשְׁבִיל הַסוֹד שֶׁגִּלָּה לְתַלְמִידוֹ רַבִּי חַיִּים וִיטַאל זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה וַהֲלא בֶּאֱמֶת הָאֲרִ"י הָיָה מֻכְרָח לְגַלּוֹת לוֹ כִּי רַבִּי חַיִּים וִיטַאל הִפְצִיר בּוֹ מְאד
וּכְשֶׁהִפְצִיר בּוֹ הָיָה מֻכְרָח לְגַלּוֹת לוֹ כִּי אָמַר שֶׁלּא בָּא לָעוֹלָם כִּי אִם לְתַקֵּן נִשְׁמָתוֹ שֶׁל רַבִּי חַיִּים וִיטַאל זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה נִמְצָא שֶׁהָיָה מֻכְרָח מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם לְגַלּוֹת לוֹ הַסּוֹד, וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן נֶעֱנַשׁ עַל יְדֵי זֶה כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל, וְזֶהוּ דַּרְכֵי ד' שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לְהָבִין בַּשֵּׂכֶל בְּשׁוּם אפֶן. וְהַמּוּבָן מִדְּבָרָיו לְעִנְיַן עַצְמוֹ שֶׁכָּל צַעֲרוֹ וְיִסּוּרִים וְצַעַר בָּנָיו שֶׁיִּחְיוּ הַכּל הוּא רַק מֵחֲמַת שֶׁעוֹסֵק עִמָּנוּ לְקָרְבֵנוּ לְד' יִתְבָּרַךְ וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהוּא מֻכְרָח לָזֶה, כִּי בְּוַדַּאי ד' יִתְבָּרַךְ רוֹצֶה בָּזֶה כִּי הוּא יִתְבָּרַךְ חוֹשֵׁב מַחֲשָׁבוֹת לְבַל יִדַּח מִמֶּנּוּ נִדָּח וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן הָיָה לוֹ יִסּוּרִים קָשִׁים גְּדוֹלִים מְאד עַל יְדֵי זֶה
כִּי הוּא דַּרְכֵי ד' כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל וְהָיָה הוֹלֵךְ וּמְסַפֵּר לְפָנַי צַעֲרוֹ הַגָּדוֹל שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ מִזֶּה שֶׁנֶּכְדּוֹ חוֹלֶה כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל וְאָמַר שֶׁהוּא רוֹצֶה שֶׁהוּא בְּעַצְמוֹ יִהְיֶה חוֹלֶה בְּעַד הַתִּינוֹק הַנַּ"ל וְאָמַר שֶׁהוּא מַרְגִּישׁ כָּל גְּנִיחוֹת הַתִּינוֹק בְּלִבּוֹ וְכוּ' אַחַר כָּךְ אָמַר: אַךְ זאת יֵחָשֵׁב לִי לְטוֹבָה שֶׁגַּם כְּשֶׁאָדָם אַחֵר יֵשׁ לוֹ חוֹלֶה בְּתוֹךְ בֵּיתוֹ וּמֵבִיא לִי פִּדְיוֹן אוֹ מְבַקֵּשׁ לְהִתְפַּלֵּל עָלָיו יֵשׁ לִי גַּם כֵּן צַעַר כָּזֶה מַמָּשׁ כְּכָל הַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל גַּם כְּשֶׁאֶחָד מֵאֲנָשֵׁינוּ שֶׁהָיָה מְקרָב מִתְרַחֵק עַצְמוֹ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם יֵשׁ לִי צַעַר כָּזֶה מַמָּשׁ בְּלִבִּי כְּכָל הַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל...
Once his grandson z”l was lying in bed with smallpox, Gd save us, and He complained before me greatly that he felt great pain from this. He told me then that there are Divine ways which one cannot understand; it is found regarding the Ari z”l that he lost a son, and he said that the reason was that he had revealed a secret to his student, Rabbi Chaim Vital z”l. In truth, the Ari had needed to reveal it to him, for Rabbi Chaim Vital had pushed him greatly, and this pushing had required him to reveal it, for [the Ari] said that he had come to this world only to repair the soul of Rabbi Chaim Vital z”l. So Heaven required him to reveal the secret to him, and yet he was punished, as noted. This is one of the Divine ways which one cannot understand rationally, at all. From [Rebbe Nachman’s] words it was understood regarding himself, that all of his pain and suffering, and the pain of his children, may they live, were all because he worked to bring us close to Gd. Even though he was required to do this, for Gd certainly wants this, as Gd plans lest anyone who is pushed away remain pushed away, and yet, he suffered greatly in this way…

6.   Sefer Dorot HeChadash
מעשה בהרב הגאון המובהק הקדוש מוה' אברהם דוד ז"ל מביטשאטש בעהמ"ח ספר ברכת דוד כי פעם אחד הלך לבית הכסא אז בא אחד ממתנגדיו והסגיר בעדו הדלת בבית הכסא כמו שעה אחת והצדיק הקדוש ז"ל היה מצטער מאד מהריח רע, גם שהיה מוכרח לצמצם מחשבותיו הקדושים אשר לא פסק רגע מלחשוב מחשבות קדושות בדביקות הבורא כל עולמים. וכאשר הרגישו בני ביתו ופתחו לו הדלת אמרו לו כי יתנקם בשונאיו ויחרים אותם בנדוי ושמתא מפני שזהו כבוד שמים וכבוד התורה. וכמעט שמע לעצתם ולקח שופר להריע בחרם ונדוי, אז אמר הקדוש לעצמו אמור נא הבאמת ותמים אתה חושש לכבוד שמו ית' וכבוד תורתו? אולי אתה חושש לכבוד עצמך, במה תדע להבחין האמת? אז ברגע נהפך הקדוש לאיש אחר וחדל מעשות הדבר הזה.
It once happened with the great and holy Rabbi Avraham David of Buczacz, author of Birkat David, that he went to the outhouse, and one of his opponents locked him in the outhouse for about an hour. The righteous and holy sage was very upset because of the fumes, and because he needed to narrow his holy thoughts, for he never ceased thinking holy thoughts, cleaving to the Creator of all. And when his household realized and opened the door for him, they said he should avenge himself against his enemies and issue a ban against them, for the honour of Heaven and Torah. He almost listened to their counsel, and he took a shofar to trumpet the ban, but then the holy one said to himself, “Tell me – are you truly and completely concerned for the honour of His Name and His Torah? Perhaps you are concerned for your own honour – how will you know the truth?” In a moment the holy one becamse someone else, and refrained.

7.   Aryeh Veinman, Aggadah va’Amanut: Iyunim b’Yetzirat Agnon, pg. 84-85
מבחינות שונות, "הנדח" מזכיר את "מעשה בבן הרב", אחד משלשה עשר סיפורי המעשיות של רבי נחמן מברצלב. משותפים לשני הסיפורים אותו המצב והדגם העלילתי של תלמיד, מרקע משפחתי אנטי-חסידי, השואף לדעת שמחה בתורתו והנמשך לצדיק כדי שהוא יוכל למלא את החסר. בשני הסיפורים, המתנגד הוא קרוב משפחה לדמות... ובשני הסיפורים, האוירה הלמדנית אינה עונה על הדרישות הנפשיות של הדמות ומחניקה אותה מבחינה רוחנית...
On various levels, HaNidach recalls Maaseh b’Ben haRav, one of thirteen stories of Rebbe Nachman miBreslov’s deeds. Common to the two stories are the situation and model of a student from an anti-Chassidic family who longs to know joy in his Torah, and who is drawn to the tzaddik so that he will fill that which is lacking. In both stories, the opponent is a relative of the hero… And in both stories, the intellectual atmosphere does not meet the spiritual needs of the hero, and strangles him spiritually…

8.   Stephen Katz, The Centrifugal Novel, pg. 52
Reflecting on the virtual silence in Agnon’s fiction concerning Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook (1865-1935), among the few individuals to have had a profound influence on him, Michael Shashar appears to be expressing the attitude held by many. His explanation, supported variously through others’ as well, is that “he was afraid to approach Rav Kook’s grand image lest he fail in his task.” However, as A Guest for the Night proves, the author did include, and publish, an account of the Rav Kook in its early editions…
In what seems to be one such example, the Guest, in his argument with the rabbi of Shibush, echoes the views of the Rav Kook as he defends the young Zionists from the Shibush rabbi’s accusations that, by playing soccer, they desecrate the Sabbath… During a later confrontation, having added more to the previous statement, the Guest concludes, “Father in heaven, if you can suffer them, we can suffer them too.”

[1] A talmudic phrase for a small place in which one might sit while grieving (Taanit 30b)
[2] A biblical phrase used to describe the city of Jericho when it anticipated a military assault (Joshua 6:1)
[3] A popular phrase in Chassidut; see Sfat Emet Lech Lecha 5647
[4] Moshe’s prayer for Miriam in Bamidbar 12:13
[5] This may be connected to Hosheia 4:2 and Gittin 57b on the merging of blood of martyrs.
[6] צדיק בא לעיר is a standard announcement in Chassidic communities, heralding the arrival of a Rebbe.
[7] Shibush is S.Y. Agnon’s regular stand-in for his hometown of Buczacz, which had its own troubled history with Chasidim and Mitnagdim. See Israel Cohen, The Buczacz Community,
[9] This is a kabbalistic term for the Divine throne, based on various passages in Tanach
[10] Sanhedrin 95a; Gd asks King David how long the guilt for the massacre of Nov will go unpunished
[11] A reference to the tefillin of a Jew who was persecuted by the Romans for wearing tefillin; they were transmuted into dove wings so that he could escape detection. Shabbat 49a, based on Psalms 68:14.
[12] To truly appreciate this scene, one must see Sefer Dorot heChadash with a similar and yet very different story involving R’ Avraham Dovid of Buczacz. See תחנות ביצירה החסידית של עגנון  pg. 82-83.
[13] See Samuel II 14:14. And one must see Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Sichot haRan 189,
[14] Reciting Song of Songs is an ancient practice for Friday afternoons
[15] Song of Songs 1:6
[16] Ibid. 1:16
[17] Yirmiyahu 11:15, although taken out of context
[18] This phrase is used in Tanya 1:33 to describe the joy of a simpleton when he can host a human king
[19] Eruvin 21b uses this phrase for deducing mountains upon mountains of laws from every element of a biblical letter
[20] This name for Melaveh Malkah is brought in Rabbi Tzaddok haKohen’s Pri Tzaddik Devarim Motzaei Yom haKippuim 11
[21] The concept of keys of Gehennom appears in various midrashim
[22] See Chagigah 12b, on the light of the first seven days of Creation, created on Day One and replaced by the light created on Day Four, and stored for the righteous in the future
[23] Song of Songs 5:5
[24] A mystical element which is situated between purity and impurity; on Friday night it becomes holy, but that leaves with the departure of Shabbat
[25] The image of a person on the deathbed witnessing the “angel of death”, with this appearance, is found in Avodah Zarah 20b.
[26] Psikta Zutrita Shemot 3:20, among other places
[27] Esther 4:1
[28] The concept of כח השקר is popular in chassidut; see Shem miShemuel
[29] See Sanhedrin 68a on the death of Rabbi Eliezer
[30] Berachot 58b speaks of the dead being forgotten from the heart
[31] Job 37:16
[32] Psalms 27:4
[33] Avot 5:20, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 1:1
[34] Psalms 57:9 and Berachot 4a
[35] See Song of Songs 7:9
[36] See Song of Songs Rabbah 8:1, which uses this phrase for a reunion of long-lost siblings
[37] The fear is that chametz in the paste might not dry out and become inedible before Passover. See
[38] There is an old practice of reading Song of Songs after the Seder, until falling asleep. See the Haggadah of the Shelah pg. 170a.
[39] This is the text of Kedushah in the siddur popular among Chasidim; others say Nekadeish.
[40] From the amidah of holidays.
[41] Song of Songs 7:2
[42] A loaded phrase for Passover! See Mishnah Berachot 1:5, cited in the Haggadah.
[43] Psalms 55:24
[44] The שבע טובי העיר were the city council in the times of the Talmud, and similar bodies were appointed in Jewish communities throughout the ages.
[45] Sanhedrin 23a; and Agnon used this passage to introduce himself in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech
[46] Per Megillah 21a, this is the way Torah was learned until the death of Rabban Gamliel, when people weakened and they began to sit
[47] A sign of humiliation; see Samuel II 10:4
[48] Psalms 19:9
[49] Genesis 44:16
[50] Amos 5:2; and see Berachot 4b on ways to read this verse positively and negatively
[51] On the significance of a verse falling into one’s mouth as an omen, see Berachot 55b
[52] See Chagigah 5b
[53] In Greek medicine, this was a cause of depression; Rambam and others mention it in this connection, too.
[54] Song of Songs 8:7
[55] Devarim 8:16
[56] A Chozer is a follower of a Rebbe who also has an unusually strong memory; he is tasked with memorizing the Rebbe’s speech on Shabbat, and recording it after Shabbat.
[57] A mishnaic expression for one’s entire body being immersed in something; see Eruvin 10:6 and Succah 2:7.
[58] See Samuel I 26:19, where King David says something similar
[59] Isaiah 11:4
[60] Psalms 23:3
[61] An expression for testing someone, usually intellectually; Shabbat 108a and Bava Batra 22a
[62] Isaiah 5:12
[63] Agnon uses the same phrase for someone whose death is pending in לפנים מן החומה pg. 32.
[64] Song of Songs 1:4
[65] Ibid.
[66] Ibid. 5:6