“Under no circumstances are we traveling to Tiberias today! Even if the donkey driver refuses to return the money, so be it!”
Haifa, the day before Rosh Hashana, 5569
The moment had finally come.
How many tears of longing had been shed to reach this point? How much danger had to be overcome, how many miracles produced? Who can fathom the spiritual and physical strength Rebbe Nachman exerted to accomplish what so many other tzaddikim had never achieved in their lifetimes – to travel the world and step into the holy embrace of Eretz Yisroel?
The ship was situated at the foot of Har HaCarmel, where the cave of Eliyahu Hanavi is located. Rebbe Nachman and the rest of the crew disembarked and set foot on the blessed soil of Eretz Yisroel.
The Rebbe trembled with awe and excitement. He took four steps and all that he had dreamed to accomplish came to fruition at once. What he needed to complete for his own soul, for the soul of the entire world, was fulfilled.
The Rebbe’s journey of love, the voyage to fulfill the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu at all costs, was finally over. Nothing in the world could stand in Rebbe Nachman’s way, not storms, sickness, adversaries, or the French Navy. As he himself taught many times, when one begins to do something good, to come closer to Hashem, obstacles will immediately stand in his way. But a person is not to be discouraged. Hashem is to be found everywhere, even inside of the obstacle itself. If one perseveres, Hashem will ensure that all will be fixed in the end.
“You are so fortunate to be here with me!” Rebbe Nachman told his attendant, beaming with incredible joy. “Now, bring the notes all of my chassidim gave me with their names and their parents’ names written on them, so I can daven for them in this holiest of holy places.”
They spent Rosh Hashana in Eretz Yisroel. Immediately afterward, Rebbe Nachman turned to his attendant and said something astonishing.
“I’m ready to leave.”
“Rebbe, we’ve just arrived!”
“Even so, I have already accomplished everything I needed to. I want to return.”
“But what about Tzfas? What about Tiberias? There are so many holy places still we need to visit, kevarim of the greatest tzaddikim we still need to daven at!” The attendant was dumbfounded. “We risked our lives over and over again to be here! How can we leave so soon, without visiting every inch of this land?”
Rebbe Nachman was silent. One of his trademark personality traits, besides for a burning flame of unimaginable love and devotion in the service of Hashem, was his tendency never to insist on anything at all. Even when something was clearly better for him, if his students or children insisted he go somewhere or move to another place, he would comply without arguing. He also chose to lead his followers by inspiring them, not lecturing them. So even now, when he strongly felt he should return to Europe, he gave in to his attendant.
“Very well, take some money from our chest and hire donkeys for the trip. You desire to go to Tiberias?”
The attendant quickly took the funds and ran to hire donkeys. A little while later he returned.
“Did you hire transportation?”
“Go back immediately and get your money back.” Rebbe Nachman’s face was gravely serious.
“Rebbe, I don’t understand—”
“Listen to me, under no circumstances are we traveling to Tiberias today! Even if the donkey driver refuses to return the money, so be it!”
“Didn’t the Rebbe just—?”
“We are not going.”
The attendant canceled the trip with a heavy heart. Why had the Rebbe changed his mind without any explanation?
A few hours later, a terrible sickness overcame the attendant. As he lay on the floor, struggling to control his fever, he understood the Rebbe had foreseen this and knew he would not be able to travel safely. He raised his eyes upwards and thanked Hashem that he had such a tzaddik to guide him.
After the attendant recovered, he once again approached the Rebbe for permission to secure transportation for a trip to Tiberias.
“I want to leave now,” Rebbe Nachman said. “Arrange for our immediate departure for Istanbul, and then from there to our homeland.”
The attendant dug his heels in and insisted that they could not leave without visiting the rest of Eretz Yisroel.
As he was wont to do, the Rebbe gave in.
The scene in Tiberias was a joyous one. The entire community came to greet the illustrious tzaddik from Europe, the young and holy descendant of the Baal Shem Tov. Dressed in their finest clothing, visitors came to speak to Rebbe Nachman and receive his advice and blessings. He stayed up the entire night, guiding his fellow Jews with his trademark love, keen insight and unparalleled understanding of human nature.
“When someone comes to me, I can see everything there is to know about them immediately. I can read them, their very souls, like an open book,” Rebbe Nachman once related to his followers.
Soon a letter arrived at the house Rebbe Nachman was staying in. The saintly Rebbe Avraham Kalisker, a talmid of the Maggid of Mezhritzch, was inviting the young Rebbe to come stay in his home. Rebbe Nachman went to stay there for the next Shabbos, Parshas Noach.
That Shabbos was scene to behold: The elderly, saintly Rebbe Avroham talking to one of the most holy and unique Chassidic Rebbes ever to live, a tzaddik who at the time was not even thirty years old!
Rebbe Nachman put his head down for Rebbe Avroham to give him a brachah. The older Rebbe literally jumped backwards, his body shaking.
“We are very humbled in the presence of a descendant of the holy Baal Shem Tov…” He whispered. He absolutely refused to confer a brachah to Rebbe Nachman.
At Shalosh Seudos, Rebbe Avraham began to deliver a dvar torah. His voice shook with so much emotion that no one could fully understand his words. He delivered a heart-rending cry at some point, an anguished scream from his soul.
Rebbe Nachman would talk about that scream for the rest of his life.
“Did you hear Rebbe Avraham’s scream? That is the way to call out to Hashem.” Rebbe Nachman would urge his followers to scream out to Hashem to help them be better Jews, not with half a heart, but from a place of tremendous urgency and feeling.
But even though it seemed that the most dangerous part of the Rebbe’s trip was over, his greatest challenges were actually yet to come.
While the Rebbe was in Eretz Yisroel, a terrible incident occurred, involving a Jew who had turned his back on his heritage and became a government informer. He used to make life miserable for the Jews in Eretz Yisroel. Eventually, a plan was put in place to eliminate the wicked informer.
One day, the informer was attacked and strangled. He craftily faked death and went limp, convincing his attackers that he was already dead. The next day he approached the pasha and told him what had occurred. He convinced the Jew-hating ruler to put a group of Turkish soldiers under his command so that he could return to Tiberias, the site where he had been attacked, and seize his revenge on the Jewish community.
TO BE CONTINUED…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 823)
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