A Light Shines On A Dark World

A certain talmid went to visit his master, Rabbi Israel’s brother-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Gershon of Kuty, who was also Rabbi Israel’s master. This happened about the time Rabbi Israel was preparing to let his light shine on a dark world. The talmid lingered in Rabbi Israel’s village and went to visit him. “Sholom aleichem!” Rabbi Israel called, and they ate together. The talmid asked Rabbi Israel to prepare horses for his journey, Rabbi Israel did so, but enquired of his guest “What harm occurs if you spend Shabbes here?” The talmid thought this funny: it was only Tuesday! And so he left.

He had scarcely journeyed a kilometre when his wagon lost a wheel, so back and forth he went from village to wagon. At the village? He sought and found a new wheel. At his wagon? He replaced the wheel, and his wagon failed again. Nu? Back to the village. He stayed, Wednesday became Thursday, Thursday became Friday, and so he stayed for Shabbes, but with regret: what was there for him to do on Shabbes with a pasht Yid, a simple Jew?

Gazed and amazed, the talmid saw Rabbi Israel’s wife prepare twelve challas for Shabbes. Such was the custom of the first Chasidim, and the talmid was astonished. He asked her “Why do you prepare challas?”

“My husband is a proper Jew,” she answered, “though he his a gruber yung, humble and ignorant.” Nu? She said this to keep his light hidden. “My brother honours Shabbes with twelve loaves and so do we.”
The talmid asked “Have you a mikve?”

“Yes,” she replied. And he was again astonished. “Why do you need a mikve?” he asked.

“My husband is a proper Jew,” she answered, “and every day he goes to the mikve for t’vilah.” Astonished, yes, but even so the talmid felt regret while lingering in the village. When Mincha began he asked “Where is your husband?”

“In the fields,” she answered, “with the sheep and cattle.” So the talmid said Mincha alone and then Kaballes Shabbes, and Rabbi Israel still lingered in solitude to say his prayers. On his return Rabbi Israel was accompanied by a different look, a different behaviour, and different words. “Gut Shabbes!” he said, and turned away as if to pray.

When he turned back to the talmid he said “As I said and so it is. You and Shabbes together with me.” He honoured the talmid and asked him to make kiddish, because he wanted to keep his light dimmed. The talmid said kiddish, they ate, and Rabbi Israel asked “Rabbi, gib undz a droshe, teach us Torah.” Shmois was the parsha that Shabbes, and the talmid began to explain simply how Bené Yisroel arrived in Egypt and the story of Paroi, Egypt’s king. They prepared the talmid’s bed beside the table after the meal, and then departed to their own bed.

The talmid awoke at midnight to see a great fire ablaze, he thought the stove was on fire, he ran to put it out, but stood mute and amazed when he saw the baal habyes, the master of the house, consumed by fire. He revived, he found his voice, and Rabbi Israel said to him “You should not have looked where you had no permission!” but the talmid could make no sense from these words.

Morning came, Rabbi Israel went to pray alone, and to home he returned with good cheer and a heart full of devotion as he sang the Shabbes songs. He again honoured the talmid and asked “Rabbi, gib undz a droshe, teach us Torah, ” but the talmid could not find his voice. At some point he was able to try and simply explain, when Rabbi Israel said “I once heard another explanation.” After lunch he went back to his solitude and stayed that way until after the afternoon prayer, when he returned home. During the seuda shlishis, the third meal of Shabbes, he began to teach the Torah’s secrets. Ma’Ariv, Hovdola, and the talmid departed.

The talmid came to a place where there were Chasidim. He found the congregation and the rabbi and told them “A great light shines near your community. Find him, fetch him and bring him here.” They realised he must be speaking of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, for had they not heard many remarkable stories of him? Nu, they went to Rabbi Israel’s village, they asked him to move to their city, and all this Rabbi Israel had foreseen. So he arose and made his way to them, but they met on the way, and together they found a place in the wilderness. Rabbi Israel from then on was their rabbi, and from him they learned much Torah.

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