Thursday, February 9, 2012
A Chassid’s Journey
From Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz, Tovos Zichronos 2
“Emor El HaKohanim,” the second lesson in Likutey Moharan, was given on a Shabbos during the winter of 5561 (1800-01). Rebbe Nachman was not quite thirty years old. The discourse addresses the importance of the importance of spiritually binding oneself to the tzaddik of the generation, particularly when praying. Rabbi Shmuel Isaac, destined to become one of the foremost Breslover Chassidim, visited Rebbe Nachman in Zlatipolia, where the latter had established his residence less than a half year earlier. Rabbi Shmuel Isaac’s visit was precipitated by a most disturbing dream, for which he sought the Rebbe’s advice.
In his dream, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac found himself lost inside a great forest, with no path by which to make his way home. There he encountered a man who was armed with a double-edged sword.
Rabbi Shmuel Isaac’s initial fear was abated by the man’s friendly demeanor, and Rabbi Shmuel Isaac agreed to follow him. They soon came to a large house deep in the forest, and the man informed him that inside Rabbi Shmuel Isaac would find many swords, great and small. He could chose one of the small swords, but he would have to know how to use it in a judicious manner.
Entering, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac came upon an old man who told him that he could not take any of the swords until he was absolutely pure from any spiritual or moral blemishes. He would also have to know how to wield any sword he took. Then suddenly, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac found himself being covered by layer upon layer of dark clouds. The old man then pushed Rabbi Shmuel Isaac out of the house, telling him, “You are not yet ready for the sword, since you are still surrounded by these clouds. However, if you are able to travel still further into the forest, you will come upon a beautiful building in which you will find the craftsman who sharpens these small swords. Even the large sword carried by the master swordsman you encountered must be brought to this craftsman. But who knows if the craftsman will open the door to let you in when you arrive?” concluded the old man. At this point Rabbi Shmuel Isaac awoke, his heart pounding in dismay. What was the meaning of this dream?
This took place not long after Rabbi Shmuel Isaac had first become one of Rebbe Nachman’s followers. He lived in Dashev, and at that time the Rebbe lived in Zlatipolia, a considerable distance away. To make matters more difficult, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac was extremely poor. Nevertheless, he realized that he must overcome all obstacles and consult the Rebbe about his dream. Somehow, he managed to gather together enough money for his journey. Thus, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac set out on foot in the winter’s frost, until at last he reached Zlatipolia. Not knowing exactly where the Rebbe’s house was located, he asked one of the townspeople for directions.
“What do you want to go to him for?” asked the local inhabitant. “Indeed, there is much objection to him here in town.”
Hearing these words, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac recalled the old man in his dream, and remembered his having wondered if Rabbi Shmuel Isaac would manage to get in to see the craftsman. When he eventually did arrive at Rebbe Nachman’s house, the door was indeed locked. After knocking loudly and repeatedly, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac heard the Rebbe’s hushed voice from the other side of the door: “Shmuel Isaac, it is impossible to open up for you now! “
For about an hour, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac stood at the door, crying and completely brokenhearted. When Rebbe Nachman finally opened the door, he said to Rabbi Shmuel Isaac: “Were you not already informed, even before having set out on your journey, that you might not be allowed to enter? However, I have fulfilled the words of our Sages, ‘All the gates are sealed, but the gates of tears’—because you cried so much—’are not sealed’ “ (Berakhos 32b).
From this, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac understood that Rebbe Nachman already knew about his dream. Yet when the Rebbe said to him, “You are surrounded by numerous clouds,” Rabbi Shmuel Isaac was left totally astounded by exactly how much the Rebbe really knew. Overawed, he could not manage utter a word about his dream.
As Shabbos approached, other Chassidim arrived from Medvedevka. It was at the Shabbos gathering that Rebbe Nachman revealed the lesson, Emor el HaKohanim. Careful study will show that the Rebbe included within his lesson the explanation of Rabbi Shmuel Isaac’s dream, particularly through references to the sword of Mashiach and the need for bringing one’s prayers (the sword) to the Tzaddik (the craftsman) for perfection (sharpening). This marked the beginning of Rabbi Shmuel Isaac’s attachment to Rebbe Nachman, specifically through the devotional practice of prayer. In fact, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac devoted so much effort into perfecting his prayer that he very nearly fulfilled the Talmudic dictum, “Would that a man could pray all day long” (Berakhos 21a).
Translation by Dovid Sears © Mesorah Publications