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Wednesday
Jan182017

THE THIRD QUESTION

Presented for 24 Teves, when the Alter Rebbe passed away

The Chassid, R’ Yitzchok Isaac, waited nervously at the entrance to the Alter Rebbe’s room, deep in thought. He had just been hired to serve as rav of the large community in Vitebsk. As a Chassid, he decided to ask the Rebbe for a bracha before taking on this weighty position.

The door to the Rebbe’s room opened and R’ Isaac walked in with great respect and his heart pounding with emotion. The Rebbe was quiet for several moments and R’ Isaac waited. Suddenly, the Rebbe rose and went over to one of the bookshelves and removed a Shulchan Aruch. He leafed through the pages and read to R’ Isaac from a certain page. Then he asked a difficult question on the halacha.

R’ Isaac was taken aback. The question was very hard and despite his broad knowledge and wisdom, he could not think of an answer. He stood there silently, looking down at the floor.

The Rebbe continued leafing through the Shulchan Aruch. Once again, he opened to a certain page, read what it said and asked another question. R’ Isaac wracked his brains but could not come up with an answer.

Again, the Rebbe leafed through the seifer and then asked a third difficult question. Like the previous times, once again, R’ Isaac could not come up with an answer.

Silence filled the room. R’ Isaac felt that something unusual was taking place; something heavenly that the Rebbe was orchestrating.

The Rebbe then began to explain and answer the first question, simply and clearly. What genius! Then the Rebbe gave the second and third resolutions.

R’ Isaac nodded in amazement. Then the Rebbe blessed him that he succeed in his vital job and R’ Isaac left the room.

***

A few days passed since he began his job as rav in Vitebsk. R’ Isaac would go every day to where the community rabbis sat. He received people, answered their queries, paskened in dinei Torah, and got involved in community matters.

On the long line stood a simple woman who looked as though life wasn’t easy for her. She had a small chicken and had a question about its kashrus. When it was her turn, he saw that this was no simple question. Suddenly, he remembered the Rebbe’s room. This was the first question that the Rebbe had presented, and R’ Isaac remembered the solution he gave. My, what genius! What an approach to the study of Shulchan Aruch! R’ Isaac then paskened for the woman according to what the Rebbe had said.

Not many days later, a complicated question was posed to him about pots where meat and milk had been mixed. The rav did not need to think about it much since he already had the solution to this question. This was the second question that the Rebbe had asked. R’ Isaac was amazed. This was ruach ha’kodesh! The Rebbe had anticipated these questions!

R’ Isaac saw how quickly he needed those two answers and he waited for the third question to arise. He was sure it would, but when? He didn’t know.

He felt that with the answer to the third question he would complete his task in this world. But the third question was not posed.

A year went by and then another year. R’ Isaac served as rav in Vitebsk for sixty years and the third question the Rebbe had posed still had not been asked. But he knew its time would come.

R’ Isaac was no longer young. His beard was white and he was weak, but his mind was clear. Since it was hard for him to receive so many people due to his advanced age, he appointed three dayanim who sat in a nearby room. They received the people with their questions. Only in cases when they were in doubt and could not come to a decision did they approach him to hear what he had to say.

This is what went on every day, especially on Fridays when Jewish women prepared for Shabbos and kashrus questions arose.

One busy Friday, the tall, brawny butcher stood out in the crowd. He held a large lung of an animal which had kashrus questions. The dayanim examined the lung and the three of them were sure the animal was treif. They discussed it and brought proofs from various poskim. Their voices reached R’ Isaac who got up and slowly walked to their room. R’ Isaac asked to see the lung and declared it kosher.

The dayanim looked at him in wonder. How could he permit an animal that seemed treif without a doubt?

Before they could ask, the rav addressed the butcher in a booming voice, “Wicked one, admit the truth!”

The butcher turned pale. “Yes,” he said meekly. “I made a hole in the lung.” And he left the room in shame.

The dayanim were even more amazed now. Had R’ Isaac performed a miracle of open ruach ha’kodesh?

R’ Isaac returned to his room. A few minutes later he came back out and called R’ Mordechai, the Av Beis Din, and whispered to him, “Please call the chevra kadisha (burial society). I will be leaving the world soon.”

R’ Mordechai turned pale and said, “Why is the rav speaking this way? The rav is healthy and with Hashem’s health will continue to serve for many years!” But R’ Isaac was firm and told him to hurry and do as he said.

R’ Mordechai left the room in a fright and ran to call the chevra kadisha. When they came, the rav told them, “In a few minutes I will return my soul to my Maker. Please bury me before Shabbos.”

The members of the chevra kadisha, who never experienced anything like this before, asked him, “Why do you think you will be leaving the world?”

R’ Isaac explained. “The Alter Rebbe asked me three difficult questions when I had yechidus with him before I became rav, and he answered all three. The first two questions were posed to me shortly thereafter and I had the answers ready. Now, the third question was asked, about that lung. Since I knew it was kosher, as the Rebbe explained, I knew that the butcher had done something to make it look treif. Now, it is clear to me that I have completed my mission on earth.”

A few minutes later, R’ Isaac passed away.

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