Grand Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin had passed away, and his sons had to divide up his vast estate. Their first thought was that each of them should write down what he would like as his share, and put his note in an envelope. This they did, but then for some reason they dropped the idea, and agreed instead to apportion the inheritance by drawing lots. The share that was drawn by Rabbi David Moshe of Chortkov, who at the time lived in Potik, included the most prized treasure of all—the tefillin that their father had inherited from his father, Rabbi Shalom Shachna, who had received them from his father, Rabbi Avraham “the Angel,” who had received them from his father, Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch.

After the division was completed, one of the older brothers, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadigora, said: “It would interest me to see what each of us wished to choose for himself.”

When they came to the envelope of Rabbi David Moshe, they were amazed to find a note that stated that he was willing to forgo his whole share in the estate, in exchange for the tefillin. The thought that no doubt crossed their minds at that moment is expressed this by the Psalmist: “He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him.”

About two years later, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov was sitting with a group of his disciples after kindling the Chanukah lights, sharing chassidic insights with them. He remarked in passing, “I envy my brother Rabbi David Moshe; while praying he wears the tefillin of our great-great-grandfather, the Maggid of Mezeritch.”

At these words, two of the young men in that company instantly turned pale. Finally one of them mustered the courage to say, “Rebbe! I must air my old sins. Once, when my friend here and I saw how dearly you would have liked to use those tefillin, we decided to take it upon ourselves to get hold of the parshiyot (parchment scrolls) that lay inside them, and to put those parshiyot into your tefillin. And indeed, we got as far as to take out the parshiyot from the cases of your brother’s tefillin, and to replace them with kosher but ordinary scrolls. All this time we have been watching for an opportunity to tell you what we had done so far, but our minds were not at ease about our whole plan, because we began to suspect that perhaps we had not acted properly. Now, Rebbe, that you mentioned the tefillin again, we revealed our secret, and we will bring you the parshiyot.”

A restrained tremor shook the little crowd of listeners. In the first place, they were amazed that the two young men had dared to even contemplate such an escapade. Secondly, was it not disconcertingly strange that Rabbi David Moshe had not sensed that the parshiyot of the Maggid had been subtracted from his tefillin?

Anyway, as soon as the two young men brought the parshiyot, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov gave an order that the matter was not to be talked about, nor was it to be communicated to anyone not then present. He further instructed the group of chassidim then with him to prepare themselves for a journey to Potik immediately after Chanukah.

The day after their arrival in Potik, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov entered the room in which his younger brother Rabbi David Moshe was accustomed to pray. On the table he found two pairs of tefillin—the priceless pair inherited from the Maggid, and another pair. Rabbi David Moshe now joined him, approached the table, took up the Maggid’s tefillin in his hand, sighed, and returned them to their place. He then picked up the other pair and donned them instead.

“Brother!” asked Rabbi Avraham Yaakov. “Why don’t you use the tefillin that became yours through the lottery?”

“I’ll tell you the truth,” replied Rabbi David Moshe. “Not once in these two years have I donned those holy tefillin. You see, every time I pick them up, I feel that I am unworthy of them. So I put them down again with a humbled heart, and use these others.”

Rabbi Avraham Yaakov could not be silent: “No, my dear brother! It is not that you are unworthy of using those holy tefillin. The reason is quite different. You do not sense their special sanctity because the Maggid’s parshiyot have been removed from them! Now, here they are. Return them to their place, for you are worthy indeed of using them!”

During the First World War, when the Cossacks burned down the synagogue of the tzaddik of Chortkov and pillaged all of its contents, these tefillin disappeared. However, in due course they were traced, identified by incontrovertible evidence, and restored to the hands of his only son, Rabbi Yisrael. But that’s another story!

Adapted from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by Uri Kaploun.

Biographical notes:

Rabbi David Moshe Friedmann (20 Cheshvan 1828–21 Tishrei 1903), the first Chortkover Rebbe, was the fifth of the six sons of the famed “holy Ruzhiner,” R. Yisrael of Ruzhin (1797–1850), and attracted a large following after the death of his father. He is the author of Divrei David.

Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedmann (20 Cheshvan 1819–11 Elul 1883), the first of the Sadigorer dynasty, was the second son of R. Yisrael, who passed away in Sadigora, and succeeded him as rebbe there. R. Avraham Yaakov’s elder son, R. Yitzchak (1849–1917), became the first Boyaner Rebbe. His younger son, R. Yisrael (1853–1907), succeeded him in Sadigora as the rebbe of tens of thousands.

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