When cabin fever hits, some of the most surprising excursions aren’t too far from your own backyard
This generation is the generation of free access to the holy burial sites of the tzaddikim. It’s the era of the charter to Lizhensk, Kerestir in style, the trip to Mezhibuzh without losing Wi-Fi. The really exotic spots, the ones that you can only get to via donkey and seaplane, pop up regularly in advertisements, suddenly mainstream destinations.
I’m not much for travel, and if I feel the need, there’s Tosh, just 20 minutes away.
A few minutes on the highway, turn left through the “shtetl,” with its sweet boys in plaid shirts riding scooters and steady stream of meshulachim from all over and its strange layout — a beis medrash at the tip and then roads going this way and that like afterthoughts — and then there’s a long, unpaved dirt road to the cemetery, where the Rebbe lies.
The previous Tosher Rebbe, Rav Meshulam Feish Lowy, was niftar just short of five years ago. As a tzaddik who danced in different worlds, a poel yeshuos like tzaddikim of old, his burial place draws masses who come hoping that he will continue to intercede for them in Shamayim.
I go when I’m able. There is a certain tranquility that seems to rest there. The crowd is similar to the crowd that the Rebbe attracted during his lifetime. There are inevitably travelers from New York and elsewhere. There are the locals, those who go every single night at chatzos and others who go at dawn. There are the broken, the weary, and the lost who sit there, hour after hour, experiencing comfort they don’t get elsewhere. The Rebbe had a special bond with the Sephardim of Montreal, and I’ve walked in at night to find a festive gathering at the table near the tziyun: darboukas and arak, honey-glazed fried dough and throaty song.
Also, there has always been tefillah there. The zechus of the tzaddik is real.
I didn’t realize how much I needed those prayer excursions to Tosh until coronavirus started.
Back before Pesach, someone from New York called to ask me to please daven for a coronavirus patient, and I reached for my keys. As I was leaving the house, my wife suggested I check if I could get to Tosh. She’d heard that the highway was closed.
It wasn’t just the highway, it turned out, but Tosh itself. There had been a few cases in the village, likely brought in by visitors from outside, so the town had been quarantined, police cars blocking the entrance road.
I couldn’t go, and just like that, I needed to go.
I have a bit of an imagination problem.
If I were an actuary or mortgage broker, it would be catastrophic, I think. I read things and imagine them happening in my life, identifying with characters (heroes) in books and reliving their exploits and decisions.
Over the next few days, my mind was filled with images of desperate chassidim throwing themselves across borders, walking through fire and water, burning with desire to get the kever of their rebbe — whichever rebbe.
I was trying to get to Uman when the Communists were in charge. I was watching Romi Cohn, alav hashalom, trying to get that last tefillah in by the kever of the Chasam Sofer so that a Jewish community that was centuries old could bid farewell to its ever-relevant Rav. I was with my zeide, Rav Chaskel Besser, walking alone through the Warsaw cemetery with a flashlight and map, determined to identify the final burial place of his rebbe, the Tzaddik of Radomsk.
I called a few days later. There were, sadly, more names on the Tehillim list, but the kever wasn’t open yet.
Pesach came and went. A friend called one night with a proposal. He had a plan that didn’t involve entering Tosh, and we wouldn’t have to break the quarantine. We could park on the other side of the woods and using night goggles and sticks, make our way through the brush and reach the kever from the back.
It was cool. Maybe there were also dogs, tents, Sherpas, and short-range radios in the plan, I don’t recall, but it had me excited. Maybe, I thought, I could squeeze an article out of it. Drama in real life.
I called a friend in Tosh just to make sure it was okay and he told me it wasn’t. Hold off. True, the tziyun was outside the village, but the locals didn’t want visitors coming just yet. Even the kind of people who came by helicopter and climbed down with ropes.
I had to go for plan C, which was the hardest.
It meant waiting. Being patient. Accepting that, despite my need for a destination tefillah trip, I could daven just fine in my little backyard minyan, and the Ribbono shel Olam would be just as attentive to me.
Eventually, Tosh opened. We went, the 21-mile drive compensating for all the Chol Hamoed trips that weren’t this year.
I parked and entered the Ohel, feeling the warmth of a hundred candles, and I suddenly understood the determined trekkers and intrepid discoverers finding kevarim in Europe.
It’s gotten too easy. If you don’t invest, you can’t withdraw. A little hardship along the way, some “menios,” make arriving that much sweeter.
Chassidim traditionally come to a rebbe bearing a kvittel, a list of their needs, and kvittel gelt, an offering to accompany the names on that list.
Here, Rebbe, I whispered, here I, Yisroel Tzvi ben Sarah Chanah, bring you some unrealized hopes, some unfulfilled wishes, some frustrated attempts… and Rebbe, that is my gift.
I wanted. I really wanted.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 816)
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