In Petersburg behind closed doors, the highest officials in the land were drawing up evil decrees against the Jews of Russia. There was no time to waste, and so Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (known as the Tzemach Tzedek) dispatched his son Shmuel to Petersburg with orders to make sure the decree would not pass. Rabbi Shmuel was the rebbe’s youngest son, yet it was Shmuel who was chosen for this important mission. But he did not travel alone. His older brother, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, who was twenty years his senior, accompanied him to the capital.

Before they embarked on their journey, Rabbi Shmuel made one request of his brother: “I must insist upon one condition if we are to travel together. I must ask that you refrain from giving any blessings along the journey. Our father is the rebbe, and only he should be the one to give blessings.”

Rabbi Yehuda Leib “Our father is the rebbe, and only he should be the one to give blessings.”was accustomed to granting requests for blessings; people always gathered around him wherever he went, asking for his help in serious matters of health, livelihood, or any of the myriad of problems that plagued them in those harsh times. He was uncomfortable acceding to his brother’s wishes, but under the circumstances he had no choice but to agree. Keeping his word, however, wasn’t so simple. For people were used to receiving Rabbi Yehuda Leib’s blessings, and whenever people heard of his arrival, they flocked to meet him. Each person came with a different, equally pressing need for Divine mercy, and each tragic story pierced Rabbi Yehuda Leib’s kind, compassionate heart like an arrow.

In one village he encountered an especially persistent woman. Stationing herself in front of Rabbi Yehuda Leib, she begged him to bless her, crying, screaming and weeping unrelentingly. The heartbroken woman had no children, and she was determined not to budge until Rabbi Yehuda Leib blessed her with a child. Yehuda Leib was moved by her tears, but he had promised his brother, and so he steadfastly refused to give a blessing. He replied only, “Go to my father. He will surely bless you.” The woman refused to be put off, and her wailing could be heard throughout the entire village. Finally, in utter desperation, he cried, “Go to my brother; perhaps he will bless you!”

The woman’s countenance changed at once, and soon she appeared before Rabbi Shmuel. The entire scene was repeated, complete with cries, screams and bitter tears. Even a rock would have dissolved in the face of such grievous pain, and Reb Shmuel was certainly not impervious to her agony, but he followed his own counsel, insisting, “Go to my father; he will surely bless you.”

The woman continued her plaintive cries until, unable to respond any further, Rabbi Shmuel turned to his brother and said, “Call the coachman so that we may leave this place!”

The driver leaped to his seat and urged the horses forward, but the wheels didn’t budge. He descended from the coach and snapped at the woman, “Go eat a bagel!”The resourceful woman had placed a stick between the spokes of the wheel and the coach was immobilized. Now Rabbi Shmuel reached the limit of his patience. He descended from the coach and snapped at the woman, “Go eat a bagel!”—the equivalent of “Go fly a kite!” in today’s vernacular. In a flash the annoying woman was gone, and the two brothers continued in peace on their way to do battle in Petersburg.

A year passed, and the incident with the distraught woman was long forgotten. In the interim the Tzemach Tzedek had passed away, and R. Shmuel, the youngest of his seven sons, became his successor in Lubavitch. (His brother, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, became the rebbe in Kopust.) One day a man appeared in Lubavitch before the new rebbe, bearing two beautiful cakes.

“Last year you gave my wife a blessing that she would have a child, and she has just given birth. She has asked me to bring these cakes to the Rebbe to thank him for his blessing.”

“Would you remind me of my meeting with your wife? I cannot remember that such an incident occurred last year.”

“Well, my wife was in the village of B., and she begged you to bless her with a child. You told her, ‘Go eat a bagel!’ And Rebbe, my wife ran to do exactly what you told her.”

“I am very happy to hear your good news. Tell me, though, why are you bringing me two cakes? Surely one would be thanks enough.”

“Forgive me. And so, instead of one, she ate two bagels, just to be sure.I didn’t tell you the whole story. You see, you told my wife to eat a bagel, but she was very anxious for your holy blessing to take hold. And so, instead of one, she ate two bagels, just to be sure. And it worked, for she has just given birth to twins! And that is why she sent you two cakes,” the beaming father concluded.

Rabbi Shmuel was deeply moved by the man’s words. “Know that there was a Divine decree that you and your wife would never have children. Therefore I was unable to promise her a child. It was just out of exasperation that I told her to ‘eat a bagel.’ But because of her pure and simple faith in the blessing of a tzaddik, the decree was annulled, and you and your wife have been blessed with children.”

Connection to the Weekly Reading: bringing two loaves of bread to the Temple

From (#529), with permission.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (2 Iyar 1834–13 Tishrei 1882), the fourth Lubavitch Rebbe, known as the Rebbe Maharash, was the seventh and youngest son of his predecessor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Tzemach Tzedek.

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