Tuesday, December 9, 2014

“The Stone That the Builders Rejected”

Retold by Dovid Sears
The following posting first appeared in 2006 on the Breslov-oriented blog, A Simple Jew.

There is a story in Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s Tovos Zichronos (Breslov oral traditions) about some astounding things one of the Reb Noson’s talmidim told the author in his youth about the Rebbe’s power of tikkun ha-neshamos (healing or perfection of souls). An English translation by Rabbi Chaim Kramer appears in the back of The Breslov Haggadah (Breslov Research Institute). This is a slightly shorter version.

Reb Pinchas Yehoshua was the son of Reb Isaac the Sofer, a close disciple of Reb Noson. He was very poor, yet well known for his piety and great devotions. One day, Reb Pinchas Yehoshua made the pilgrimage to the Rebbe’s gravesite in Uman, together with Reb Avraham Sternhartz, then in his early twenties, and Reb Motele Shochet, both of whom were very close to him. The three of them prayed there for many hours.

Reb Avraham writes:
As we turned to leave the Rebbe’s gravesite, Reb Pinchas Yehoshua began to tremble with great trepidation. “My friends,” he said, “I looked at myself, and I saw that I have been reincarnated again and again into this world.”

He then began detailing the various generations in which he lived. He said that he had been alive in the time of a certain Tanna, and then in the generation of a particular tzaddik... As he spoke, Reb Pinchos Yehoshua carefully weighed his words, their truth being clear. We believed him because we knew of his greatness and his incredible devotion to G-d. He even told us how many times his soul had already returned to this world.

Reb Pinchas Yehoshua found it extremely hard to understand why, of all the people that lived in the world when his soul was first incarnated, he alone had to endure this. The Tanna had rectified other souls. Why not his? Why did he have to suffer so many incarnations? Reb Pinchas Yehoshua began saying to himself, “Why was my soul left without a tikkun? Why was I left in the depths, in the abyss of my sins, so that I had to come down to this world again? Perhaps I would be rectified the second time around...”

Then he told us that he came back in the generation of a different tzaddik. This tzaddik worked diligently to rectify neshamos and bring them back to their source. But as before, his soul was left without its tikkun, and he had to return again – and again.

“I tried as hard as I could to understand why this was happening,” Reb Pinchas Yehoshua continued. “Finally, I realized that I alone was responsible for my fate. I, myself, because of my difficult nature and improper deeds, had made it impossible for anyone to provide me with a tikkun. Had I not learned in the Gemara that ‘the tzaddikim are builders?’ It must have been my fault that these righteous leaders were powerless to include me in the ‘buildings’ of holiness that they had made.”

I looked at Reb Motele Shochet, and he looked back at me. Neither of us could believe what we were hearing. We stood there transfixed as Reb Pinchas Yehoshua went on.

“When constructing a building,” he said, “a mason gathers all the stones that he needs for the first level of the building and starts cutting and chipping away at the corners. He forms the stones so that each one fits properly into place. When he has finished the first level, he again gathers the stones he needs and shapes them, so that he can then erect the second level. So it goes, level after level. At each level, the mason must make sure that all the stones he uses for the building are suitably formed. Many times we see that builders come across certain odd-shaped stones, which they try to use, only to find them too awkward to fit properly. In the end, they have no choice but to discard them.

“The same is true in spirituality. The great tzaddikim try to ‘build’ by attempting to rectify the souls of Israel. The Torah calls these souls ‘stones’ [as in Lamentations]. The tzaddikim work hard at this. Each stone they come across, every soul they encounter, they do their very best to fit into the building of holiness they erect.”

Reb Pinchas Yehoshua interrupted his words with a long, deep sigh. Then, with even greater intensity, he began again. “When it was my soul’s turn to play its part in the building, I came before this great Tanna. He attempted to correct me, but found that he could not succeed. He worked very hard to ‘ shape’ me, trying all different angles. However, no matter what he tried, it did not work. As soon as he corrected me on one side, I was found to be crooked on another side. Whichever way he turned my soul, it was still impossible for him to find a place for me in his ‘building.’ Seeing that it was futile, this Tanna left me alone. There was absolutely nothing he could do. The exact same thing happened the second time my soul descended into this world; and so it was with every subsequent incarnation. All the tzaddikim tried to rectify me, but their efforts failed. I was left alone through all those generations, thrown away like an odd-shaped stone, to be cast and kicked about forever.

“Yet G-d, Whose kindness is everlasting, wants all souls to be rectified, no matter what they have done. He saw my difficulties and sent me back to this world again. However, this time, in my current incarnation, I discovered something completely new: a tzaddik with a ‘building power’ that I had never seen in any of my previous incarnations. This was Rebbe Nachman of Breslov! All the Upper Worlds tremble in awe of his greatness and his holiness. Rebbe Nachman believed that a person could always come close to G-d, no matter how distant he was. In a strong voice he called out from the depths of his heart, ‘Never give up! Never despair!’ This Rebbe Nachman described himself as ‘a river that can cleanse all stains.’ From Creation until today, there never was a tzaddik who spoke such words, and with such strength and such power. In addition to hearing about Rebbe Nachman, G-d gave me the privilege of knowing Rebbe Nachman’s closest disciple, Reb Noson. He taught me Rebbe Nachman’s lessons and brought me to serve G-d.

“This is where I am now. “

And now, when I think about this, I cannot help but wonder: After being so distant from G-d all those years, how is it possible that I should I merit such a great light? How could someone so undeserving come to know of Rebbe Nachman?

“I only understood this after I contemplated the psalms of Hallel. ‘The stone despised by all the builders has become the cornerstone.’ In other words, this soul – the very same soul that had been discarded by all the great tzaddikim – has now come to the tzaddik, who is the ‘cornerstone,’ the foundation of the entire world. ‘This has come from G-d; it is wondrous in our eyes.’ It is truly wondrous how G-d deals with every single soul, making certain that it achieves its tikkun. The great tzaddikim never give up trying to correct all souls, because this is what G-d truly wants.

“I saw from this,” Reb Pinchas Yehoshua concluded, “that no matter what happens to us, we must understand that there is salvation. We can always come back to G-d.

“And these are the next words we say in the Hallel: ‘This is the day that G-d has made, we will rejoice...’ For today, in our generation, G-d gave us such a great leader, Rebbe Nachman, who instilled in us the faith that we can always turn to G-d, no matter where we are. Then G-d will redeem the Jewish People, and we will know nothing but great joy and happiness all the rest of our days, amen!”

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