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Despite the thousands of miles separating Brooklyn from Eretz HaKodesh, the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, felt the struggle in the heart of a young Jew returning to his roots, crying in the Sanzer mikveh in the Old City of Tzfas, whose inner world was thrown into deep emotional turmoil threatening to drive him away from Yiddishkait… A moving story that took place decades ago, reaching its final conclusion via a detour through the Holy City of Yerushalayim.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

The Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue in Tzfas’ Old City | Rabbi Yosef Binyamin WilligerI had no special connection with him. We were acquainted only through the regular contribution he gave to the Lag B’Omer parade that I was privileged to organize for many years in a certain neighborhood in Eretz Yisroel. He has the appearance of a venerable Chassid, a distinguished looking beard and expressive eyes filled with deep Chassidic feeling. Yet, beyond his external appearance, I knew nothing about him, exchanging no more than a few words. However, one day, I inadvertently revealed his life’s story – a profoundly moving story containing a powerful message that the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, feels what is happening with every Jew as if he is his only son.

It was the holiday of Sukkos during my year on ‘k’vutza,’ an entire year with the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, in ‘Beis Chayeinu.’ After davening in 770, I along with several other T’mimim went for the Yom tov meal to the sukka of the Cohens, an Anash family in Crown Heights. This family (blessed with tremendous spiritual and material good) frequently hosts bachurim learning in 770 for Shabbos and Yom tov meals. During the month of Tishrei, their table is enhanced by the presence of additional guests from Eretz HaKodesh.

The spacious sukka was filled with numerous guests. At the holiday meal in the Cohens’ sukka, each guest in turn gave over something from one of the Rebbe MH”M’s sichos or told a Chassidic story. Between stories and sichos, everyone sang Chassidic niggunim and the L’chaims flowed like water. The aura was very spiritual, with the prevalent feeling of “Fortunate are we, how good is our portion that we are the Rebbe’s Chassidim” and the privilege of being in Beis Chayeinu.


During the farbrengen, one of the participants mentioned that the ushpizin for that day were Yitzchak Avinu and the Mezritcher Maggid. He explained the connection between them, according to the Rebbe’s teachings, how each of them was characterized by dwelling in his own place, and from there influencing Jews wherever they lived.

At the conclusion of his d’var Torah, another guest suddenly spoke up. While his face was familiar, I was not acquainted with him personally. R’ Pinchas (not his real name, as he chooses to remain anonymous) raised his glass to say L’chaim, and then asked if he could tell his own story.

His quavering voice aroused everyone’s undivided attention. The expression on his face made it clear that the story he was about to tell came from the depths of his heart. “My story will illustrate a fact known to everyone here,” he said as a form of introduction, “that while it seems that the Rebbe is found only in 770, in truth, his presence reaches the four corners of the earth…”

Here is the story as told by R’ Pinchas:


Something very profound, hidden deep within R’ Pinchas’ heart, a young Jew in his early twenties, left him no respite. He was in the midst of a very successful career, with plenty of money and respect. While his future appeared extremely bright and promising, some mysterious outside force seemed to be preventing him from integrating into the life of ease attained by most young people of his age group.

An acute sense of longing filled his heart, and it wouldn’t leave him. Why he was being engulfed by this sensation, he didn’t know. It troubled him deeply, and Pinchas soon found himself in the midst of a lengthy spiritual journey as he searched for a way to bring peace to his anguished and tormented soul. His search led him to read about a variety of cults. He joined their ranks, in an attempt to find what his thirsting soul was looking for. However, his efforts proved futile.

The home in which Pinchas had been raised was devoid of anything relating to Torah and mitzvos. Although he knew about those who observed Jewish tradition, he initially tried to deny this fact, searching instead in idolatrous cults for spirituality. However, an inner voice kept calling out from the depths of his heart. It told him that if he failed to find what he was looking for among these various cults and faiths, this would be proof that the true “source of the living waters” was actually within the Torah observant community, despite the fact that many of its members preferred to keep their distance…


After a series of twists and turns along his spiritual journey, Pinchas finally began to get closer to his Jewish roots. Once he got his first taste of Yiddishkait, he firmly took hold and wouldn’t let go. Like a fish drawn to water, he soon embraced every scrap of Torah material he came across. Slowly but surely, he began to feel that this was his place, and it was here that his search would reach its successful conclusion.

The Holy City of Tzfas and the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in nearby Miron played an important role in Pinchas’ early childhood. His parents would often travel up north with him, and he had been drawn to the holy and mystical atmosphere characterizing Tzfas and its enchanting passageways ever since.

It was before he started getting closer to Judaism, when during one of his journeys to visit the Rashbi, he noticed a Torah observant middle-aged woman sitting on the bus. Throughout the entire trip, she buried her head between the pages of a small book, mumbling incessantly.

The sight aroused his curiosity. He turned to her and asked what she was doing. The woman replied that if he would promise her that he would read from the seifer, she would give it to him as a gift. He agreed, and received a copy of the “Tikkun HaKlali.” Thus, even before he knew the meaning of the psalms contained therein, he read them with great fervor, as he had promised.


One weekend, he decided to spend Shabbos in the Holy City of Tzfas. He boarded a bus and soon found himself walking along the cobblestoned lanes of the Old City. It was late in the morning, and he decided to go to the mikveh.

The pleasant rays of sunlight reflected on the fading stones along the winding road, mingling with the holy magical atmosphere of Tzfas. Like a silent melody, it slowly began to reach him. His thoughts imbued him with hopefulness. Recently, after so many years of internal struggle, a greater sense of recognition finally started to grow within him that he would find the connection to his true inner essence through Yiddishkait.

He made his way to the Sanzer beis midrash, located about twenty yards from the central square of the Old City. Underneath the beis midrash is a mikveh, combining the characteristic ancient Tzfas style of construction with modern-day building improvements. Pinchas wanted to immerse in the mikveh, calm his mind, and from there he would continue to his place of lodging.

When Pinchas entered the beis midrash, he noticed a Sanzer Chassid wearing a neatly combed shtraimel, a full beard, dressed in shining Shabbos garb, secured with a handsome looking gartel. From Pinchas’ viewpoint, the chassid’s appearance was such that he looked as if he had just walked out of a book of stories on the Baal Shem Tov.

He felt real holiness. Two Jews sat in a quiet corner, deeply immersed in the world of Abayei and Rava. They failed to notice what was going on around them, cut off from the reality of their worldly existence. In another corner, a Jew sat and learned Torah by himself, while another Jew stood with a towel on his shoulder, also on his way to the mikveh.

At this stage, Pinchas looked like someone whose soul was still in the midst of an intense spiritual journey. The Jew who met him at the entrance to the beis midrash apparently noticed this, and he wanted to strengthen him. Holding a copy of the Sanzer Torah periodical, the chassid turned to Pinchas and said, “You must read a vort from the Sanzer Rebbe.” He took the magazine and thanked the chassid. When Pinchas told him that he would read the magazine later, the chassid would not relent. “Read it now! I want to see how you enjoy reading the vort…”

It wasn’t easy for Pinchas to refuse. He sat down and started to read, while this Jew hovered over him with his hands behind his back, gauging Pinchas’ spiritual response…


The d’var Torah touched upon one of the p’sukim discussing the Exodus from Egypt. Pinchas read the words and he felt that they were penetrating his heart. It explained that the children of Israel didn’t leave Egypt due to their longing for holiness and G-dliness, rather, they were escaping from the evil that had clung to them in exile, from their difficult spiritual state. At that stage, they still didn’t want to cleave to spirituality or G-d.

Then, the article turned directly to the reader with the following content: You think that you did t’shuva because you want to get closer to G-d. That’s not true. You felt stuck in the mud, and you wanted to get out. Since it wasn’t good for you where you were, you tried to run somewhere else. Everything stems from your personal interests. Even at the deepest levels of your soul, you are moved by selfish concerns. You aren’t really thinking about G-d; you’re only thinking about yourself…

Paragraph after paragraph, the discourse continued to prove from the pasuk how every action and every effort that a baal t’shuva imagines to be an act of self-sacrifice on his part is, in fact, dependent upon his personal interests.

“I read this vort,” R’ Pinchas recalled as he spoke before the guests in the sukka, “and I almost burst into tears. The words were like a sword stabbing my heart. I grasped at once that it was absolutely true: I’m only into myself, searching for my own personal benefit.

“It was a very ‘sharp’ message, if you could call it that, exploring deeply a person’s concealed motivations. It showed that what eventually directs each individual’s actions are his/her narrow interests. This vort revealed the truth to me about myself – without mercy. As would any baal t’shuva, I took the matter very seriously.

“This Sanzer Chassid didn’t notice that I was going through an emotional whirlwind. He clapped his hands and asked me excitedly: ‘Nu, how was the vort?’ I mumbled, ‘Yes, very nice…,’ and then I quickly ran down towards the mikveh.

“I got into the mikveh and let the tears flow freely down my cheeks. I sobbed uncontrollably as I thought to myself: ‘That’s it; this is the absolute truth. My entire process of t’shuva has been based on self-interests, and therefore, it’s better that I go back to what I was before…’

“These considerations were accompanied by a deep sense of frustration. While the vort left no room for doubt, there had been no consideration of the fact that during my lengthy kiruv process, I sacrificed money, a profession, and a lucrative career in my previous world.

“The underlying message simply finished me off and I thought to myself: ‘Why should I go to so much trouble and try to get closer to Judaism if I know from the very outset that everything stems from my personal interests? It’s clear from the start that all my efforts are doomed to failure. This is just a colossal waste of time. It isn’t for me…’”


“I went outside, having made the decision to leave my ‘t’shuva’ behind me,” R’ Pinchas continued.

Then, as he was slowly walking through the picturesque lanes of Tzfas, immersed in his thoughts, Pinchas suddenly heard the sound of a heartfelt Jewish melody. It was a father and his son singing together, as the delicate high-pitched voice of the boy blended with the father’s bass in a warm and rich harmony. It was a magical yet unfamiliar melody, and its tones pulled at Pinchas’ heartstrings. He clung to the fence surrounding a house along one of the Old City’s scenic side streets, and he was overcome by the niggun’s uplifting tune.

The niggun’s sweetness and intensity did its part, and Pinchas felt that the tempest within him was slowly subsiding. Incredibly, the melody beat a path directly to the inner recesses of his heart, extricating him from the confusion and sorrow that was oppressing him, giving him inner comfort, and convincing him that Yiddishkait was the right path and he must not abandon it.

“I remember the niggun,” R’ Pinchas told his spellbound listeners, “and I later discovered that it was a Chabad niggun, attributed to the students of the Mitteler Rebbe…”

At this point in the story, R’ Pinchas broke out with a sweet Chassidic niggun, and all those sitting in the sukka joined in. After the singing stopped, R’ Pinchas continued with the second part of his story. By the time he had finished, his listeners had already come to understand the spirit of the Chassid sitting before them…

* * *


Decades passed. R’ Pinchas had become an outstanding Chabad Chassid in every respect, bound in heart and soul to the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, and thank G-d, meriting to establish a beautiful Chassidic family.

One year, R’ Pinchas spent a Shabbos in Yerushalayim, and he went to daven in the Chabad shul in the city’s Har Nof neighborhood. At the conclusion of the morning services, a Chassidic farbrengen was held. Eventually, the number of participants dwindled as people went home to have their Shabbos meal with their wives, children, and other family members.

A small nucleus of Chassidim remained at the farbrengen, including R’ Pinchas. At a certain point, there were only four people left. The rav of the community at that time, Rabbi Mordechai Stern, turned to one of them and said, “Nu, say something…” A chassid with an American accent began by saying, “I’ll tell you a story I recently heard from the Rebbe MH”M’s secretary, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner, as he told it at a siyum HaRambam held at Yerushalayim’s Gutnick Hall.

“One day, at around four o’clock in the morning, the Rebbe left his office and turned to Rabbi Groner with a request that he get the editor of the Sanzer Torah magazine on the phone. Noticing Rabbi Groner’s puzzlement with this unusual request at such a late hour, the Rebbe told him that he should call the editor and inform him in the Rebbe’s name that it would be appropriate to change the style of the divrei Torah printed in his magazine. The style is a bit too ‘g’vuradik,’ and therefore, is not appropriate for our generation, possibly breaking Jews instead of strengthening them. The style should be softer, more in a manner of ‘chesed’ and in the ways of pleasantness.

“Rabbi Groner completed his story,” the chassid said at the Har Nof farbrengen, “totally in awe as he described the Rebbe’s Ahavas Yisroel. It was so urgent for him that he had to make certain – and at such an unusual hour – that there shouldn’t be a situation where a Jew might be hurt by too harsh an approach, even if we’re talking about some internal magazine of Sanzer Chassidus…”

Rabbi Groner called one of the leaders of the Sanzer Chassidic community, Rabbi Yosef Binyamin Williger from Borough Park. He referred him to the avreich in charge of editing the magazine, and the Rebbe’s instructions reached their proper destination.

[I spoke on the telephone to Rabbi Williger and the aforementioned avreich, and they both confirmed that they remember that the story took place during the period when the Sanzer Rebbe was ill. – C.B.]


“Like everyone else, I listened to the story, which I was hearing then for the first time,” R’ Pinchas continued as he described what was going on in his mind. “While I already had four ‘L’chaims’ by this time, I was stunned. It all came to me at once as my mind brought me back to the events of that day decades ago, near the Sanzer mikveh in Tzfas’ Old City at the start of my journey to Torah and mitzvah observance.

“If I hadn’t made the connection at first, it hit me like a bolt of lightning and every piece of the puzzle came together for me. This literally was the second half of my story…

“‘Did you personally hear this story from Rabbi Groner?’ I breathlessly asked him. ‘Yes, of course,’ he replied. Still, I had to be certain and I asked him again: ‘Are you sure that you heard this?’ He confirmed it again, confused why I was so excited.

“Making a quick computation, I concluded that the time when the Rebbe left his room was approximately when I arrived at the Sanzer mikveh in the Old City of Tzfas. Although I couldn’t clarify the exact date when this took place, as Rabbi Groner himself didn’t remember, nevertheless, at that moment, it was clear to me that this was the same story. The Rebbe’s connection with each and every one of us and with each and every Jew transcends time and place. The heart of the entire Jewish People corresponds to the heart of each individual Jew.

“I was overwhelmed and tears began to stream down my cheeks. I kept the matter concealed within my heart, as I came to realize the tremendous power of the Rebbe – Rosh B’nei Yisroel. He felt the torrent of emotions within me, including the tremendous emotional pain I was suffering…

“Just imagine, from a distance of thousands of miles in faraway Brooklyn, the Rebbe perceived the struggle in the heart of a young Jew returning to his roots, crying in the Sanzer mikveh in the Old City of Tzfas.”

[I wish to emphasize that despite all my efforts, I wasn’t able to find out if, in fact, the Rebbe’s instructions pertained to the divrei Torah that the baal ha’ma’aseh had encountered. In principle, it’s quite conceivable that the Rebbe was simply referring to some other type of divrei Torah. Nevertheless, in the final analysis, there can be no ignoring the fact that the Rebbe’s instructions carried tremendous meaning for R’ Pinchas and the momentous events he experienced. We see this with even greater certitude in our daily actions, when the Rebbe’s non-written instructions – without chapter or verse – often produce hands-on references for Chassidim in given situations. – C.B.]


The circle had been closed, but there was one more facet to this story:

Six months later, R’ Pinchas was in Tzfas for Shabbos. The date was Chof Menachem Av, and the “Tzemach Tzedek” Synagogue in the Old City, run by the Chabad shliach Rabbi Gavriel Marzel, had arranged for a Chassidic farbrengen immediately after davening in commemoration of the yahrzeit of the great Kabbalist and Torah giant, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn, of blessed memory, father of the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach.

R’ Pinchas davened in another shul and then made his way to the “Tzemach Tzedek” for the farbrengen. It was already toward the end of the farbrengen when he arrived, and there were only a few people left. As he sat down near the table, someone turned to him and asked, “Nu, say something…”

R’ Pinchas decided, as a gift to R’ Leivik, to tell the story that he had personally experienced with R’ Leivik’s son, the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach. Those assembled listened to the story with great rapture, and R’ Pinchas felt that he was closing a very moving circle. It had all begun in the Sanzer mikveh in Tzfas’ Old City, a short distance away from the place where this farbrengen was taking place – the “Tzemach Tzedek” Synagogue, also located in the Old City of Tzfas…

“This is what I said at the outset,” R’ Pinchas noted as he concluded his fascinating story to those gathered in the Cohens’ sukka on Maple Street in Crown Heights, the king’s sh’chuna. “The Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, sits in his place, yet he feels and knows well every thought and every emotion of every Jew wherever he/she may be – throughout the four corners of the earth. We merely have to dedicate ourselves to carrying out his shlichus and prepare for his complete revelation. May he be revealed and redeem us – now, mamash!”


[Before putting this story in writing,I personally sat with the baal ha’ma’asehand heard the story again directly from him in full detail. – C.B.]

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