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This book has many Hebraic terms. It may be difficult to follow without some knowledge of the Hebrew language and some Torah background.


A Treasury of Chassidic Tales on the Festivals - volume 1

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin
Translated by Uri Kaploun


Brooklyn, New York 11223
In conjunction with HILLEL PRESS, Jerusalem
© Copyright 1982
by MESORAH PUBLICATIONS, Ltd. 1969 Coney Island Avenue / Brooklyn, N.Y. 11223 / (212) 339-1700
0-89906-914-2 (Hard cover) 0-89906-915-0 (Paperback)




Rosh Hashanah


The Master Key

The Baal Shem Tov once instructed his disciple Reb Wolff Kitzis to study the kabbalistic kavanos on which he would meditate while blowing the various blowing blasts of the shofar, in readiness for the prayers of Rosh  HaShanah in his synagogue. Reb Wolff studied the mystical significations of the Divine Names associated with this mitzvah, and made notes of them on a sheet of paper which he put away in a pocket, so that he would be able to read them while blowing the shofar. The Baal Shem Tov was not pleased by the fact that he had committed these secrets to writing; the sheet of paper slipped out of its pocket and was lost.

The awesome moment drew near. Reb Wolff searched his pockets in vain, and was obliged to blow the shofar without knowing which divine mysteries to meditate upon. This grieved him no end, and he wept with a broken and humbled heart.

After the prayers the Baal Shem Tov said to him: "In a king's palace there are many chambers, and each door has its own particular key. But there is one implement which can open all the doors, and that is — the ax. The kabbalistic kavanos are the keys to the gates in the World Above, each gate requiring its own particular kavanah — but a broken and humble heart can burst open all the gates and all the heavenly palaces."


Undeserved Rewards

Reb Zvi of Portziva used to lead the congregation for the solemn Musaf prayer on Rosh HaShanah in the synagogue of Reb Yossele of Torchin, the son of the Chozeh of Lublin.

He was once asked by Reb Yitzchak Meir of Ger: "Perhaps you could repeat me some Torah teaching which you heard from the mouth of Reb Yossele?"

"I do not remember any dvar Torah," said Reb Zvi, "but I do recall a story. One Rosh HaShanah, just before the shofar was to be blown, Reb Yossele entered the beis midrash and said to his congregation of chassidim, some of whom were no doubt thinking at that auspicious moment of their requests to the Almighty for the coming year: 'I am not going to rebuke you with words of musar; nor am I going to teach you a dvar Torah; I am only going to tell you a story.

" 'In a certain city there lived a learned and wealthy wine-merchant who was honored one day by a visit from the local rabbi. Feeling deeply privileged, the host went out of his way to show his guest every due mark of respect. He quickly sent his servant down to the cellar, where he was to fill a bottle of wine from the middle barrel of the third row — for this was the choicest wine he owned. He himself continued to maintain scholarly conversation with his distinguished guest, but when he had waited a surprisingly long time for his servant to return, he begged to be excused, and hastened downstairs himself to find out what was amiss. He was stunned by what he saw there. Some of the barrels had been left uncovered; others were being drained of their precious contents because the taps had been left open; broken bottles jutted out of the puddles of wine on the floor; and the servant was nowhere to be seen. He returned to the house, sorely grieved by the serious damage which his servant had caused him, and began to look for him and call him by name. The servant finally answered — from a cozy nook over the fireplace, where he was sprawled at his leisure. And from up there he called out to his master: Listen here! I want you to increase my salary by so and so much; it isn't near high enough ...' "

Reb Yitzchak Meir of Ger thanked the storyteller warmly.

''Now that is what I call a fine parable!" he exclaimed.


The Ten Days of Repentance

Novel Penance

"Whatever penance you prescribe, rebbe! Fasts, self-mortification, ascetic exercises, anything — so long as I can atone for my sins!" insisted a certain penitent who had just confessed his long list of transgressions in the hearing of Reb Mordechai of Lechovitch.

"And will you in fact undertake everything I instruct you to do, without turning left or right?" asked the tzaddik.

"Every single word!" exclaimed the penitent.

"In that case," said Reb Mordechai, "make sure that every morning you make your breakfast of fine white bread, roast chicken, and a casserole of meat and vegetables. Wash it down with a bottle of good wine — and do exactly the same in the evening. See to it that you sleep in a bed that has a cozy eiderdown, and don't even contemplate undertaking (God forbid!) anything resembling self-mortification. When you have done this for a whole year, come along here and we'll see then what to do next."

The penitent was wonderstruck. He had prepared himself to hear a forbidding list of fasts and ritual immersions and ascetic exercises such as rolling in the snow and who knows what else — and here the tzaddik had ordered him to wallow in the luxuries of This World! Was it possible that he would ever atone for his sins through such a penance? But there was no alternative: he had to obey the tzaddik.

Back at home, he discovered that whenever he sat down to his rich repast, he was tortured by the same thought: "Here I am, a sinner who has repeatedly rebelled against his Maker; I have dragged my soul from its heavenly source down into the mire of impurity. How, then, can I delight in the pleasures of This World and pamper myself with choice delicacies? What I deserve is to bite on a mouthful of gravel, to chew bitter penitence herbs!'

At every meal he would go through this torment, shedding bitter tears and finding no peace. And though he had been a man of robust build, by the time the year was over he had shrunk to a wretched skeleton. Barely did he have the strength to make the long journey to Lechovitch.

The tzaddik took one look at him and said: "Enough!" He then prescribed him a different lifestyle for him, and the man completed his days in joy and serenity.



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