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It is true. There is much more to Chassidism than "just stories"  even though many popular and scholarly authors have portrayed the movement more as the province of storytellers than thinkers.

Chassidism has a rich spiritual, moral, and intellectual core, but its stories are often the best entrance to the treasures within. And some of the movement's greatest thinkers have used its tales to captivate their listeners, and then initiate them into the thought-world of the Baal Shem Tov and his spiritual heirs.

In this time-honored craft, Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski M.D. has few peers. As a scion of a family that traces its roots to the founders of Chassidism, son of noble parents who planted and nurtured a slice of Galicia in Middle America, and close kin of renowned grand rabbis, Rabbi Twerski is steeped in the richness of Chassidic tradition. As an outstanding Torah scholar, master of homiletics, pioneering psychiatrist, and healer of torn psyches, he understands people's hurts and needs.

In his hands, stories are "not just stories"  they are precision tools that teach and enlighten, that heal and encourage.

This book is a masterpiece on many levels. It is a superb collection of stories, Chassidic and otherwise, told by a master. It is a thoughtful and provocative exposition of great spiritual themes. It is a magnificent overview of Chassidus, a movement that breathed life, pride, and vigor into millions of Jews.

Not Just Stories will become a milestone publication, a book that will be read over and over again, for the stimulation of its message and the sheer joy of its text.



Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., is a descendant of the founders of the Chassidic movement, whose philosophy he embraces and lies in his psychiatric practice. An ordained Rabbi, Dr. Twerski is Assistant Professor of  Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine and founder and Medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Rabbi Twerski's earlier works, Living Each Day, Living Each Week, Growing Each Day,  Each Day, I Am, Self movement?  I'm Jewish!, Mesilias Yesharim  Lights Along the Way, and Parenting have established his position as a Torah scholar who possesses psychological insights that enhance application of Jewish principles to everyday life.

Not Just Stories
The Chassidic Spirit through its Classic Stories


Published by SHAAR PRESS

370 pages

Table of Contents
1: To Feel for Others                                    
2: A Joyous Farewell                                                             
3: The Essence of Teshuvah                                                   
4: When Bad Things Happen to Good People                         
5: The Spirit of Tzeddakah                                                   
6: The Healing Pearl                                                             
7: In Pursuit of Truth                                                             
8: It's Not What You Do but How You Do It                       
9: Faith in Righteous People Emunas Tzaddikim                 
1O: The World As a Mirror                                                   
11: Just a Bit of Light                                                             
12: Return of a Favor                                                          
13: The Joy of Being Upstaged                                              
14: We Shall Do and We Shall Listen Naaseh VeNishma
15: Not Just Pranksters                                                       


The Torah is a Divine gift to the world, and therefore prior to reading the Torah we recite a blessing of gratitude, that G-d has given us the Torah. This is then followed by a second blessing, "That He has implanted within us an eternal life." The written Torah as well as the Talmud, the Oral Law, is comprised of two parts: instructions on specific mitzuos (commandments) that we are to do and on those acts which are forbidden, and narrations of the lives of our ancestors. We are to study the latter and derive lessons on living, to emulate the patriarchs and the tzaddikim (righteous individuals) of Scripture. Similarly, we are to study the lives of the tzaddikim who composed the Talmud.

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz points out that all this notwithstanding, we are to learn primarily by emulating the tzaddikim closest to our own time (Sichos Mussar 5732:10). The chronological gap between ourselves and the patriarchs, the prophets, and the compilers of the Talmud is so vast that we may consider their spiritual achievements totally beyond our grasp, and give up without even trying. It is therefore important that we take as our models the tzaddikim who lived closer to our own time, some of whom were personally known to our grandparents and great-grandparents.

In 1927 my father visited Canada, and a man of 86, who stemmed from my father's shtetl (village), asked him to please visit his father. Surprised, my father asked, "Your father?" "Yes," man said, "my father is in the home for the aged. He is really 114, but he denies this, and claims he is only 112." My father visited the aged man who told him that he had seen the great chassidic master, the Maggid of Chernobel, who died 1836. There was a span of six generations between the Maggid of Chernobel and my father, and here was a person whose life bridged this enormous gulf, back to the time of a tzaddik who was a contemporary of the disciples of the Baal n Tov. Such a link brings these great Torah personalities out of realm of legend and makes them real  real enough for touch.

We are fortunate in having many accounts of the lives of our tzadikkim of the past several generations. There are, of course, countless tales of their wondrous achievements, of their blessings being fulfilled, of miraculous healing of the sick, of children born to parents who had been hopelessly barren, and rescues from perilous dangers. But while such miraculous occurrences testify to the great virtues of these tzadikkim, they don't serve as lessons for us. The latter are contained in the accounts of their middos, their character traits, those that they worked to develop, because it is these that we must emulate. We may never achieve the capacity to perform miraculous deeds, but we all have the capacity to become more spiritual and to refine our character traits.

Torah relates how Eiiezer, the servant of the patriarch Abraham, journeyed to choose a wife for Yitzchak (Genesis 24:1-52). Eliezer said that the maiden who would offer to fetch water for him and for his camels would be the appropriate wife for Yitzchak. When Rivkah came to the well, Eiiezer noted that the water of the well rose miraculously for her, and he then waited to see if she would offer to fetch water for him and his camels.

Rabbi Chaskel of Kuzmir asked: Why was any further test necessary? Was it not enough of a Divine sign for Eiiezer that the water rose miraculously, which indicated that Rivkah was the designated wife for Yitzchak? Rabbi Chaskel answers, "One good deed is worth a thousand miracles." Eiliezer was not impressed by miracles. He wanted to see character.

I have therefore chosen, from among the many accounts of our tzaddikim, those episodes from which we can learn, and apply their teachings to our own lives. Thus, while these are beautiful stories, they are not just stories, but lessons.

It is customary when speaking of great tzaddikim to say, "May their merits protect us." We can implement this blessing by learning from their lives, and in this way, their merits will indeed both protect and elevate us.


1: To Feel for Others

Rabbi Akiva said that the all-encompassing principle of Torah is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:3). One of the masters of mussar (ethical teachings) said that a general principle is one that encompasses each detail, which is a derivative of the general principle. Therefore, he reasons, since loving another as oneself is the general principle of Torah, all the 613 mitzvos must be considered derivatives of this principle. If so, then observing the Shabbos, eating matzah on Pesach, wearing tefillin, avoiding prohibited foods, taking the four species on Succos, and all other mitzvos must somehow be related to this general principle. If eating matzah on Pesach or taking the four species on Succos does not contribute to and enhance loving one's neighbor, the mitzvah is incomplete!

Chassidism places great emphasis on Ahavas Yisrael, loving one's fellow. The Baal Shem Tov said that there are two parallel mitzvos: (1) to love G-d, and (2) to love one's neighbor. Since G-d is an abstraction and is not perceived by the senses, it may be difficult to generate love for Him. The way to achieve this, said the Baal Shem Tov, is to love people, because this will lead to love for G-d.

My great-grandfather, the Rabbi of Hornosteipel, once said, "If any of my chassidim experiences pain, even in the tip of his little finger, I feel that pain myself." To truly love another person means to so empathize and identify with him that one feels his suffering.

True love precludes offending or hurting someone. Parents who love their children suffer distress when they must implement discipline that hurts their children. With the exception of the need to discipline, one who loves another person will avoid doing anything that might cause discomfort to the beloved person. To the contrary, one will go out of one's way to show respect and affection for that person and prevent any distress from occurring to him.

The Rabbi of Rozadov had a dedicated chassid who was childless, and who frequently importuned the Rabbi for a berachah (blessing) that he have a child. The Rabbi often blessed him, but the blessing did not materialize.

One time the Rabbi's brother, the Rabbi of Zhikov, a chassidic master in his own right, visited Rozadou, and the chassid unburdened himself to him, stating that nothing in his life was fulfilling since he was childless. The Rabbi of Zhikov said, "If you will come to Zhikuv and spend Rosh Hashanah (New Year) with me, I promise you that you will have a child." The chassid then related this conversation to the Rabbi of Rozadov who said, "If my brother assured you that you will be blessed with a child, you can be confident that this will come true. By all means, do as he says, and go to Zhikov for Rosh Hashanah."

On Rosh Hashanah, the Rabbi of Rozadov noted that the chassid was in shul (synagogue). "What are you doing here?" he asked. "You were supposed to be with my brother in Zhikov."

"I know," the chassid said, "but I got to thinking that everyone knows that over the years you have been giving me a berachah for a child, but that berachah was not fulfilled. If I had gone to your brother for Rosh Hashanah and then did have a child, what would people say? 'The Rabbi of Zhikov is a greater tzaddik than the Rabbi of Rozadov, because his blessings are more potent' That might cause you to feel slighted. Just because I have a desire to have a child is no reason to cause you any distress."

The Rabbi of Rozadov was deeply moved and said, "Well, in that case, I will promise you a child this year," and indeed that year a son was born to him.

The Rabbi of Rozadov said, "Do not think that I am a miracle worker and that my berachah brought him a child. When a person is so concerned about another person's feelings that he is willing to give up an assurance of having a child, something which is his greatest desire in life, certainly that mitzvah merits his being amply rewarded. This chassid earned the blessing of a child because of his deep concern that I might have been slighted, and it was his merits and not mine that brought him this reward."

We see this principle in the Midrash, which states that Moses was reluctant to accept the Divine mission to liberate the Israelites from Egypt because his older brother Aaron might feel offended that he was passed over. Imagine! The entire Jewish nation was in need of redemption, but Moses was concerned lest his assumption of the leadership could cause someone to feel slighted, and it was not until G-d assured Moses that Aaron could not feel hurt that Moses undertook the assignment. (Exodus 4:14).

Once the Gaon of Vilna was sitting in the succah engrossed in his study of Torah when a man walked in to greet him on the festival. The Gaon was so absorbed in his study that he was unaware of the man's presence. After waiting some time and still not being acknowledged, the man left, and on a subsequent occasion asked the Gaon what he had done that caused the Gaon to ignore him.

The Gaon was deeply affected, because he had inadvertently caused a person to feel slighted. "Ignore you? My dear friend, why would I wish to ignore you?", said the Gaon. He apologized profusely, explaining that he had not been aware of his presence because of his preoccupation with his study. He tried to compensate for this dereliction. "Please forgive me," the Gaon said, "And let me bless you to live 100 years."

The man did indeed live to be 100. When he was 98, he fell ill but refused the services of a doctor. "1 know I will recover, " he said, "because the Gaon promised me 100 years, and I know I shall not fall short by even a single day." He died on his 100th birthday.

Sensitivity to avoid offending someone was exemplified by he Rabbi of Vizhnitz, who visited a town where his chassidim complained that the shochet (ritual slaughterer), who was growing old, refused to relinquish his job, and that perhaps the Rabbi could impress him that it was time to retire.

The Rabbi called the shochet and invited him to eat with him. He had a bottle of wine placed on the table, and after the meal the Rabbi said, "It is my custom that if there happens to be wine on the table, we say the Grace After Meals over a cup of wine." He then poured a full cup of wine and placed it in the shochet's hand, and as his hand was tremulous, the cup shook visibly. After finishing the prayer, the shochet said, "My hand is obviously shaking. I guess it is time for me to retire from being a shochet." The mission was accomplished, and the man's dignity was preserved.

We must maintain a state of alertness and develop sensitivity to other's feelings.


2: A Joyous Farewell

The mitzvah of bringing joy and happiness to a chassan and kallah (groom and bride) is one which has few counterparts in Judaism. The Talmud is unusually lavish with praise and with rewards for those who enhance the of newlyweds, and is unusually harsh and critical of those who fail to do so {Berachos 6b). Why is this so great a mitzvah? Perhaps because the stresses in life that the couple are likely to encounter are so great that we should at least give them a most positive beginning. Let them have a reference point of supreme joy when they first bond together, and perhaps that can mitigate the various distresses that are likely to be encountered in the ears ahead.

The Kabbalists add another dimension to this mitzvah. Inasmuch as the relationship between G-d and Israel is considered much like that of a husband and wife, we wish to stress the joy in this spiritual union. Every day as we recite the Shema prayer, declaring our faith in and loyalty to G-d, we are, as it were, renewing our marriage vows with G-d. And yes, as a devoted "husband" to Israel, He is to support us and protect us, as is incumbent upon every husband.

The Talmud tells us how the great sages would bring cheer to a new couple. Hillel would sing the praises of the bride, how charming and beautiful she was, to endear her to her husband (Kesubos 17a). Rav Shmuel would dance before the couple while juggling myrtle branches, and the Talmud states that when he died, a heavenly flame in the shape of a myrtle branch surrounded his bier (ibid.).

Many of the chassidic masters excelled in this mitzuah. In those instances where the bride and groom were poor, they would collect money to give them the resources to establish their home, and they would actively participate in the wedding preparations and festivities. If the young couple were orphaned, the chassidic masters led the community in preparing for the wedding as though it were their own children who were being married.

But even among this distinguished group there are those who are outstanding. Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov was the paragon of these, the greatest among the great. Rabbi Moshe Leib was widely known for his incomparable Ahavas Yisrael, love of his fellow Jews. Although everyone is familiar with the classic story of Rabbi Moshe Leib, it is nevertheless worthwhile repeating.

During the days prior to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when Jews congregate in the predawn hours for special prayers of forgiveness, Rabbi Moshe Leib was noticeably absent. Some skeptics in the community taunted the chassidim that their Rabbi was a late riser.

One skeptic found it difficult to believe that the Rabbi just slept late. It was out of character for him. He decided to satisfy his curiosity and find out for himself the reason the Rabbi did not attend early services. He therefore woke up very early one day, and in the darkness of the predawn went to spy on the Rabbi.

Peeping through the window, he saw the Rabbi don the clothes of a woodsman, take a huge ax, and set off for the woods near the village. Now his curiosity was truly aroused, and he followed the Rabbi into the woods, and watched him chop branches and tie them into bundles. With the bundles of wood on his back, the Rabbi made his way to the outskirts of town, the "spy" trailing behind.

The Rabbi knocked on the door of a little hut. "Come in," a voice said. As the door opened, the "spy " could see an elderly, frail woman lying in bed, in a house that was essentially bare. "I have brought you wood for the fire," the Rabbi said.

"I wish I could buy your wood," the woman said, "but I have no money."

"Never mind that," the Rabbi said. "I trust you. If you can't pay me now, you will pay me in the future."

"But what good is the wood to me?" the woman asked. "I am so weak that I cannot get out of bed to make a fire."

"No problem," the Rabbi said. "I can easily do that," and proceeded to kindle the flame. Standing at the window, the "spy" heard the Rabbi recite the special prayers of forgiveness as he added wood to the fire. When the blaze was strong and healthy, the Rabbi opened the bag he had brought, saying, "Here is some milk and eggs for you, and some bread and cookies my wife baked," setting the food at the bedside. The Rabbi then left the hut, returned home, changed his clothes, and went to shul, by which time the congregation had already completed the special prayers.

Later that day the skeptic met several chassidim and said, "I told you that you were mistaken when you said that your Rabbi ascends to heaven each morning. That is not true. He ascends much higher."

Rabbi Moshe Leib would say, "How fortunate are the poor who must trust in G-d. It is the rich who are to be pitied, because they think their security is in their wealth." He would also say, "Simchah (joy) is far superior to tears." The Talmud states that even when all the gates to heaven are closed, the gates of tears are never shut (Berachos 32b). Joy is more powerful than tears, because whereas tears require an open gate, joy can penetrate even the thickest gates.

There was one wedding at which Rabbi Moshe Leib was unusually ecstatic. This was the wedding of a bride and groom who had both been orphaned as children, and Rabbi Moshe Leib had been like a devoted father to the two of them. He had arranged the shidduch, and had traveled from village to village to raise money for the young couple, both for the wedding and to set up their home. The klezmer (band) at the wedding played lively tunes, and Rabbi Moshe Leib danced before the chassan and kallah as never before. At one point Rabbi Moshe Leib exclaimed, "How lovely a melody! I wish that when they lead me to my eternal resting place, I could be accompanied by this beautiful melody."

Many years passed, and on the fourth day of Shevat, 5567, a wedding party was traveling to Brody, bringing the local klezmer along with them. Approaching a fork in the road, the horses took the wrong path, and nothing the driver did could pull them back. In fact, they continued to pick up speed, and the wedding party were helplessly carried away from their destination. As they neared a cemetery, the horses slowed, and the party saw a huge crowd gathered for a funeral. On inquiring whose funeral this was, they were told that it was that of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov.

Upon hearing the Rabbi's name, one of the klezmer, an older man said, "That name is familiar to me," and then he remembered that many years earlier he had played at a wedding where Rabbi Moshe Leib had officiated, and that he had expressed the wish that he be accompanied to his eternal rest by a particularly lively melody.

The musician then said, "I remember the melody well," and proceeded to lead the klezmer in playing the tune which Rabbi Moshe Leib had loved so.

To tzaddikim, the sojourn on earth is a task, a heavy burden. Their goal is not this earthy existence, but a far more beautiful world. The day they leave this world for Gan Eden (Paradise) is a day of liberation, a day on which they reach the goal they worked so hard to achieve. What is perceived as a day of sadness to most people is a day of joy to tzaddikim.

Rabbi Moshe Leib wished to be accompanied to his eternal home with the same joy that he experienced in fulfilling the mitzvah of bringing cheer to a chassan and kallah.


3: The Essence of Teshuvah                                                   

The Talmud says that teshuvah (repentance) preceded creation of the world. Just as the creation of air and nutrients preceded the creation of man, because man cannot live without these, similarly teshuvah preceded creation because man cannot exist without teshuvah. As mortals we are fallible and vulnerable to sin, and without a method to rectify and remove our sins, all mankind would be doomed to eternal damnation. Teshuvah is therefore an essential for human life.

But what constitutes teshuvah? In the Talmud and the early ethical writings it is evident that fasting and mortification of the flesh was practiced as penance. In the later writings, particularly those of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples, self-imposed fasting as a method of penance is discouraged. Rabbi Schneur Zalman states that such fasting was appropriate for people whose function was not significantly impaired by fasting, but those who are unable to pray and study Torah properly and fulfill mitzvos when fasting are better advised not to fast. Others say that people may mistakenly think that fasting is the important factor in teshuvah, and may neglect taking the necessary steps that would lead to corrective action of their behavior. One chassidic master said, "You have sinned primarily with your eyes, by looking at things you should not have looked at, and with your ears and tongue by listening to and speaking lashon tiara (gossip) and untruths. Why are you penalizing your stomach, which is innocent in all these? To do proper teshuvah, avoid looking at things you should not see, avoid listening to lashon hara and lies, and guide your tongue from indulging in these. That will constitute proper teshuvah."

Other chassidic masters were concerned that the discomfort experienced in fasting may lead a person to think, "See how much I have sacrificed for G-d. Just look what kind of tzaddik I am." In this way, fasting may lead to vanity, which is the worst of all sins. One chassidic master said, "I prefer a rasha (sinful person) who knows that he is a rasha to a tzaddik who knows he is a tzaddik."

One chassidic master noted that one of his followers was doing penance by fasting. "I see you are doing a complete job," he said. "First you sinned to ruin your neshamah (soul), and now you are fasting to ruin your body."

True teshuvah consists of sincere regret for having done wrong and a firm commitment never to repeat the wrongful act. 3ut even such commitment is not yet enough. One must think, 'How is it that I came to do this wrongful act?" One must analyze oneself to discover the character defects that made such an act a possibility, and improve upon these defects, developing oneself to a level of spirituality at which such an act could not recur, if one achieves this, then there is no need for fasting. If one has not achieved this, the fasting is of no value.

A man once came to Rabbi Michel of Zlotchow, stating that he had inadvertently done something forbidden on Shabbos, and asked the Rabbi what he must do for his teshuvah to be accepted. Rabbi Michel explained the gravity of violating the Shabbos to him, and that Shabbos is equivalent to all the other 612 mitzvos. His sin was indeed a serious one, and he therefore prescribed a rigorous course of fasting and self-mortification as penance.

This man subsequently came to the Baal Shem Tov, who told him that the fasting prescribed by Rabbi Michel was unnecessary, and that as penance he should provide the candles for the pulpit in shul. The man proceeded to buy candles, and since in those days the candles were made of tallow from animal fat, a dog who wandered through the open door of the shul sniffed the candles and ate them. The man then replaced the candles, but whenever they were lit, the wind blew them out. He took these as being Divine signals that his teshuvah was rejected, and he reported this to the Baal Shem Too.

The Baal Shem Tov understood that the problem was due to Rabbi Michel's interference, and that the latter believed that a more strenuous penance was necessary. The Baal Shem Tov sent a message to Rabbi Michel, asking that he come to him for Shabbos.

Rabbi Michel accepted the invitation and set out on the trip on Wednesday, giving himself ample time to arrive before Shabbos. However, the trip was plagued with one mishap after another. First the axle of the wagon broke, and this took considerable time to repair. Then a severe thunderstorm caused the roads to be muddy and hindered their progress. Then a wheel fell off, and then they took wrong fork in the road. In short, there were a series of misfortunes that resulted in their arrival at the Baal Shem Tov's home late Friday afternoon, shortly before sunset. Rabbi Michel, who was by this time terribly anxious that they not travel into the Shabbos, took his belongings and rushed into the Baal Shem Tov's house, where he saw the Baal Shem Tov in his Shabbos garments, standing with the goblet of wine in his hand, reciting the kiddush. Assuming that it was already Shabbos and that he had violated the Shabbos by traveling, Rabbi Michel fainted.

The Baal Shem Tov revived him and said to Rabbi Michel, "You did not violate Shabbos, because the sun had not yet set. I accepted the Shabbos upon myself earlier than usual, but for you it is not yet Shabbos. But tell me, Reb Michel, when you thought that you had violated the Shabbos, how distressed were you? Don't you see that if the awareness that one has sinned causes a person to feel deeply distressed at having transgressed the Divine word, this is the essence of teshuvah? Once this regret has occurred, there is no need for additional self-punitive behavior. The man who had sought a method of penance from you had already experienced the pain of the awareness of having transgressed, and all that was necessary vas some token act of penance, because the true teshuvah had already taken place."


One time a man confessed having committed a multiplicity of sins, and asked for instructions for penance. Rabbi Mordechai said, "I will give you instructions, provided that you promise me that you will not deviate from them one iota." Assuming that he would be instructed in rigorous self-mortification, the man nevertheless agreed to accept his fate.

"Here is what you must do," Rabbi Mordechai said. "Every day you must eat a hearty breakfast, with pleasant-tasting foods. For dinner you must have roast meat or other delicacies, and condiments for dessert. Avail yourself of the finest mattress and pillows to make your bed most comfortable. Do not deny yourself any pleasurable activity. At the end of the year, return to me."

The man returned home and began to follow Rabbi Mordechai's instructions. As he ate his food, he thought, "How dare I partake of delicious food when I have been so sinful. I do not deserve this." But when he wished to set the food aside, he remembered that he had promised not to deny himself any pleasures, and he virtually had to force himself to eat, feeling as though he was choking with every bite. Indeed, rocks and sand would have been more palatable. As he retired to a soft and comfortable bed he would think, "A sinner like myself should be sleeping on a bed of nails," and he would cry himself to sleep with remorse. In short, the indulgence prescribed by Rabbi Mordechai was far more punitive than any course of self-denial would have been, and the sincere remorse the man experienced constituted true teshuuah.

.My father used to cite the verse {Psalms 23:6) "May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life," and he would ask, "'Pursuit' connotes that someone is fleeing. Why would someone flee from goodness and kindness, making pursuit necessary?"

My father then told the story of a man who had rebelled against the king, and one day, while the king was riding in the royal coach, the man threw a rock at the coach. He was promptly arrested, put on trial, and given a severe prison sentence. When the king heard of this he gave the man a pardon, and had him appointed to a well-paying and honorable position n the palace. The man was seized by remorse. "How could I lave been so stupid and so vile to rebel against a king who is so benevolent?" From time to time the king had the man promoted, giving him ever greater honors and more money. With each promotion the man's remorse intensified, and he was consumed with regret for having acted against the king, so that he vas far more distressed than he would have been with a harsh prison sentence.

This is the meaning of the verse in Psalms. We pray, "Dear God, if You must punish me, pursue me with goodness and kindness rather than with harshness, because the former can result in my correcting my ways even more than the latter."

Rabbi Zusia of Hanipoli had yet another way of bringing people to teshuvah. One time he took lodging at an inn, whose proprietor was a flagrantly sinful person, and who had been resistant to reprimands by others. Late at night, when the inn was quiet, Rabbi Zusia awoke to recite the midnight prayers. His tears and sincere grief in chanting the prayers bemoaning the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel penetrated the heart of the innkeeper, who had been woken by Rabbi Zusia's prayers.

After reciting Psalms with great devotion, Rabbi Zusia then began saying, "Oh, Zusia, Zusia! What audacity you have to pray to G-d. How dare you show yourself to G-d, Zusia, when you have been so sinful. Have you no sense of shame, Zusia? Why have you done thus and so," then he began listing the sins of the innkeeper as though he had committed them himself, directing the reprimand toward himself, and saying, "G-d has been so kind to you, Zusia, and you have been so rebellious. Where is your sense of gratitude, Zusia?" This litany resulted in the innkeeper breaking down in tears, and asking Reb Zusia for instructions on how to mend his errant ways.

Two attitudes should dominate the concept of teshuvah. One is that out of devotion to and love for G-d, a person should not do anything that displeases Him, and the second is that by disobeying the Divine will, we are actually harming ourselves, which is simply a foolish thing to do.

A chassid of Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz, whose business was dealing in lumber, once complained to the rebbe that he had bought a huge forest for lumbering and that the price of wood had dropped, causing him a significant loss. Rabbi Mordechai said, "The Talmud says that when a person is in distress, this causes the Shechinah (the Divine presence) to also be in distress. If you are in pain because of your financial loss, this causes G-d to suffer along with you. Now tell me, is it worthwhile to cause G-d to suffer because of a few pieces of wood?"

A young man who was in recovery from drug addiction decided to become a drug counselor, and in his training, he worked with adolescents and their families. One day he said, "I never realized before how much suffering I had caused my parents, and their greatest pain was for the harm that I was doing to myself." I am sure he will be an excellent counselor, because he will be better able to convey to young addicts that their behavior is causing their parents much distress, and that this distress is primarily due to their parents' love for them, and this is why their parents are trying to prevent them from harming themselves.

The Baal Shem Tov was equally displeased with itinerant preachers who used to harshly reprimand people with their sermons. Instead, he wished to convey to people how much G-d loves them and that the Divine commandments are for their own welfare. When one deviates from the Divine rule, one not only causes distress to G-d, but also injures oneself. It is the understanding of these concepts that comprises the essence of teshuvah.



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