Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Rabbi Mottel (Mordechai) of Chernobyl saw in Heaven

The great Tzadik, Rabbi Mottel (Mordechai) of Chernobyl (1770-1837) was renowned for his erudition and holiness. He had thousands of followers, many of whom he 'inherited' after the passing of his saintly father Rebbe Nachum. Once, it so happened that this Rabbi Mottel fell sick. He became so critically ill that he went into a coma for four days and was literally hovering between life and death. His Chassidim and followers were in distress. They gathered together, prayed and said Tehillim (Psalms) non-stop for the entire time. G-d heard their prayers and their Rebbe regained consciousness. Several weeks later held a great thanksgiving meal for the kindness G-d showed him. The meal was unusually joyous; replete with song and dance until one of the older Chassidim, who had taken a few L'chaims, mustered up his courage approached the Rebbe and asked him if he would please grace the crowd with a description of what he’d seen in the four days he was “out.”

After a few minutes of pregnant silence, the Rebbe cleared his throat, closed his eyes and began to speak.

"I left my body and felt my soul rising, rising to heaven. I was sure that my time on earth had terminated. But I resisted. I didn't want to die. I cried and asked for mercy but it didn't help. "I was brought before the heavenly court and they were about to decide my fate. So in desperation I screamed that I wanted to see my holy, departed father, Rabbi Nachum. I knew that if he could intercede for me I might have a chance.

"My request was granted! My father was lowered from the high level of heaven where he was, but when we were finally face to face and I was bursting from joy to see him again after all these years … he didn't recognize me! I pleaded and tried to make him remember… but to no avail. He admitted that he had a son but he didn't believe that I was him! He simply didn't recognize me at all. Finally he asked if perhaps I had done some sin after he left this world and that is the reason he didn't know me. And he disappeared.

So for three days, I tried to remember if possibly I had done something wrong but with no success. I again began weeping and praying and, behold, my father re-appeared. He told me that he also had been searching but he came up with nothing. All he could conclude was perhaps it was something I had done very recently; say in the last day or two before my illness that was inaccessible to him. He asked me if I remembered anything unusual.

"Suddenly something came to my mind, but it certainly wasn't a sin. I told him that I remembered that just before my illness a wealthy Jew who had recently become a pauper, came to ask me for a loan of several hundred rubles to get back on his feet. But I had to turn him down because I simply didn't have that type of money. Still, I gave him what I could and tried to comfort him as best as possible.

"'Comfort him?' My father asked, 'What did you say?'

"I said a proverb from the wisest of men, King Solomon. I said:

כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֶאֱהַב ה', יוֹכִיחַ...

For the one who G-loves, He chastises… (Proverbs 3:12).        

“‘And what did you mean by that?' My father asked as though he was on to something. ‘What did I mean?’ I replied, not really understanding what he was getting at. "Why, I meant the simple meaning. That he shouldn't worry because sometimes G-d makes people suffer because He loves them. For instance, suffering can sometimes make people more kind, more sensitive, more compassionate, more deep. Sometimes it can clean people of their sins.

"'Aha!' My father replied. 'Now I know why I didn’t recognize you! I never would have said such a thing! And, indeed, here in Heaven we learn that sentence completely differently. Up here we learn it like this:

כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֶאֱהַב, ה' יוֹכִיחַ...

“Whoever you love (and we are supposed to love every creature), and you see that he or she is suffering, then you shall chastise G-d.’"

This is what Moses did when he challenged G-d saying, “Why do you make Your people suffer?” (Exodus 5:22). And G-d listened.

“’My son,' my father concluded, 'when it comes to the suffering of others we have to protest! We must try to “reprove” G-d and not justify Him.'”

“And I came back to life.”

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