THE STORY OF 
RABBEINU YECHIEL
August 16, 2013
Rabbi Shloma Majeski in #892, Moshiach & Geula, chai v'kayam

At that point, Rabbi Yechiel began to laugh from within the coffin. All those gathered saw him do so.  * From this story we learn that in these cases, the tzaddik maintains or assumes a physical presence in the world. * Source materials compiled by Rabbi Shloma Majeski. Translations are in bold. Underlining is the author’s emphasis.

Translated and presented by Boruch Merkur

Chida’s Shem G’dolim (Part 1, Maareches G’dolim, 11b) further discusses the ability of a tzaddik to return to the physical world following his passing, citing at length a story of Rabbeinu Yechiel, who had the ability to return to the world posthumously and visit his household, much in the manner of Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi, discussed in the Gemara:

I found the following in the Megillas Starim of Rabbeinu Moreinu HaRav Chaim Vital, zatzal, written in his pure handwriting, literally from his holy hand:

I discovered this in a letter written by Rabbeinu Yehuda, son of the Rosh, brother of Rabbeinu Yaakov, Baal HaTurim. The text has not been quoted here, however, in its entirety:

Since I left Germany in my youth, I didn’t have the opportunity to hear all the stories [of my relatives there]; just those that I had heard from my father, zal, and my great aunt, zal. They told me about my grandfather, HaRav Rabbeinu Yechiel, zal, who was born in the year 4970. When Rabbi Yechiel was fifteen years old, he had a good friend in yeshiva whose name was HaRav Rabbeinu Shlomo HaKohen, zal. The two made a covenant that each of them would share mutually in their Mitzvos and good deeds.

It is the Ashkenazic custom to bring a wax candle [to shul on Erev Yom Kippur] to be lit the entire night and the following day of Yom Kippur. It so happened that year, on Yom Kippur, that the wax candle of Rabbi Yechiel, which he had placed in the shul, had gone out. Seeing that his candle had been extinguished, he became extremely fearful, and on Chol HaMoed [Sukkos] he passed away.

It was the custom of the Ashkenazim to place the coffin of the deceased upon a large stone near the graveyard. They would open the coffin to see if the position of the body of the deceased had become agitated on account of being moved, or whether it was laying straight. HaRav Rabbeinu Shlomo HaKohen, zatzal, approached within four cubits of the coffin and wept out loud, saying before the gathering of people: I hereby remind Reb Yechiel, my master and friend, before those gathered here today, that he should remember the covenant he and I had made.

At that point, Rabbi Yechiel began to laugh from within the coffin. All those gathered saw him do so.

One time, a number of days following Rabbi Yechiel’s passing, Rabbi Shlomo was sitting and studying in the beis midrash in the daytime, when he saw Rabbi Yechiel sitting with him, studying halacha. Rabbi Shlomo asked him how he was doing, and Rabbi Yechiel answered that things are very good for him in Gan Eden. There he has a seat among all the pious men of the generation.

Rabbi Shlomo told him this: Dear master, with whom I have a covenant, I am amazed that you apparently have permission to appear to mortals.

Rabbi Yechiel responded, saying: You should know that I do have permission to go to my household as before, but I don’t wish to do so, lest they say: This tzaddik exalts himself beyond all the tzaddikim in Gan Eden!

Six months after that visit, and after his passing, at midnight, on the night of Shabbos, Rabbi Yechiel appeared to his wife when she was awake. He said to her: What are you doing here? Hurry, get up! Take your sons and daughters and quickly get them out of here, for tomorrow the Gentiles are going to kill all the Jews! Such a decree had been issued upon the Jews of all the surrounding areas as well, but we have prayed for the salvation of those Jews and our prayers have been accepted. We did not succeed, however, in saving this place.

So Rabbi Yechiel’s wife got up and left, saving my father, zal, and his brother. Then she returned to save her possessions. They all left on Shabbos night – my father, zal, and his brother, Rabbi Chaim, zal, Rabbi Yechiel’s wife and her six sisters, etc.

I have copied the above from the letter cited, as well as from what Rabbeinu Yehuda wrote to his sons. I was selective in quoting and I abridged the text.

Here ends the words of Rabbeinu Moreinu HaRav Chaim Vital zatzal, handwritten by him personally with his holy hand.

***

One way to interpret, “lest they say: This tzaddik exalts, etc.,” is in reference to the tzaddikim in Gan Eden, for even in Gan Eden there is reason to want to conceal ones deeds and privileges. This concept is found at the end of the chapter HaMadir [the 7th chapter of Meseches K’subos], where it speaks about how, in Gan Eden, Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi was not presumptuous about himself to say that a rainbow did not appear in the sky in his lifetime [signifying there was no need for such a Divine warning, on account of his profound righteousness]. Rather, when Rashbi asked him, “was a rainbow visible in your days?” He replied, “yes.” Look it up there at length. […]

It appears, however, that a more accurate interpretation, of “lest they say,” is in reference to people in this world [that Rabbi Yechiel should not appear as overly proud to living people].

Curiously Rabbi Yechiel does not follow the reasoning found in Perek HaNoseh regarding Rabbeinu HaKadosh, where it says: “Every Friday evening [after his passing], he would visit his house.  Having learned [that the word had gotten out about his posthumous appearances], Rebbi stopped visiting, so as not to shed an unflattering light upon the earlier tzaddikim.” The reason for this divergence may be that Rabbi Yechiel may have meant what he said even were the matter only known by the members of his household [since, “the word hadn’t gotten out” about his visits], as if he were saying, lest the members of his household themselves say…”

Moreover, regarding the apparent inference from Rabbi Yechiel’s words that all tzaddikim have this capacity [to appear in the physical world, in contrast with the above Gemara] – that is an expression of his humility, so as not to suggest that he is greater than the other, average tzaddikim.

There is room to pursue this topic further, but this is not the appropriate forum. Let us suffice with saying the following: For several years I wondered about the Jewish custom of making pilgrimage to pray by the graves of tzaddikim, though one mustn’t say Krias Shma or pray within four cubits of a corpse or in a graveyard, as outlined in Eitz Chayim siman 71. Indeed, according to Rambam, one has not fulfilled his obligation in doing so, even post facto. Likewise, I used to be puzzled by what is written in Seifer Emek HaMelech – that Avrohom Avinu, a”h, joined in to make up a minyan, as well regarding what Rabbeinu HaAri, zatzal, did in the shul, and the like. 

My quandary continued until I discovered in Seifer Chassidim siman 1129 that Rabbeinu HaKadosh would appear - not in shrouds but - wearing fine garments in honor of Shabbos. Rebbi would [make Kiddush and thereby] discharge members of his household of their obligation to make Kiddush on Shabbos. [That is, from this story about Rebbi, we learn that in these cases, the tzaddik maintains or assumes a physical presence in the world.] For tzaddikim are called alive [even after their death], unlike others who die and are free of the obligation to do Mitzvos. The quotation ends here.

The above settles our minds about all the topics of investigation mentioned above, and even more.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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