Reb Naftali of Ropshitz had spent a year studying at the feet of the aged tzadik Reb Mordechai of Neshchiz, when his teacher one day told him, suddenly: "It is time for you to return to your home."

Since his own entreaties were ignored, Reb Naftali decided to ask his teacher's rebbetzin to try to persuade her husband on his behalf. His answer to her was brief: "I have always taken your advice, and I shall do so now. I only hope that we shall have no cause for regret."

He was unable to restrain himself, and blurted out: "Get out, you impure fellow!

A few days later, while the tzadik was at shul, a stranger visited his home and entered his study. Reb Naftali was there at the time, and no sooner had he laid eyes on this stranger than he perceived that he was besmirched with sin. He was unable to restrain himself, and blurted out: "Get out, you impure fellow! How dare you step over the rebbe's threshold!"

The stranger fled, but Reb Mordechai, sensing what had happened, hastened home and asked: "Who was here?"

When Reb Naftali described the visitor, the tzadik rebuked him: "Whatever have you done? Quick, quick! Hurry out and bring him here!"

When the stranger was brought in, Reb Mordechai gave him a warm, smiling welcome, and asked him why he had not called on him for so long. The visitor assured the tzadik that in future he would come more frequently, offered him gifts of his own farm produce, and took his leave.

The tzadik then explained to Reb Naftali that this man had once been close to him, and the tzadik had been able to help him keep his distance from evil. Lately, however, various circumstances had combined to prevent him from visiting Neshchiz, and the link between them had been severed.

At first he had become sullied with lesser transgressions, but since, as the Sages teach, "One sin brings another in its train," he reached the point where he asked himself: "How am I going to end up? After all, I am really neither a Jew nor a goy. I can hardly go off to Neshchiz to visit the rebbe, for he will recognize at once that I am utterly enslaved to the Evil Inclination. On the other hand, if I don't go, I will simply become more and more deeply entangled in sin." And so he had continued to ponder the possibilities open to him, until finally he had decided to break his ties with his faith, and to become an apostate, G‑d forbid.

"Let me make one more trial..."

But at that point a new idea had entered his head: "Let me make one more trial. I will make the journey to Neshchiz, and there I will see: if he receives me warmly, that shows that there is hope for me yet; I'll put my life in order, be a good Jew again, and visit the rebbe often, just like I used to do. But if he doesn't, then I'll make a clean break with him and with Judaism altogether."

The tzadik, understandably enough, had not wanted all his hard work on behalf of this struggler, in speech and in prayer, to be imperiled by Reb Naftali's impetuous tongue. And that was why, some days earlier, he had asked him to go home.


Seasonal Connection: Directives from Pirkei Avot (which we start this week) — "Be patient in judgment" (1:2); "Judge every person favorably" (1:6); "Receive every person positively (1:15).

Supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by our esteemed colleague Uri Kaploun from Sipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.

Biographical notes:

R. Mordechai of Neshchiz [1740 - 8 Nissan 1800] was descended from the Maharal of Prague and Don Yitzchak Abarbanel. He was a disciple of R. Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov. The ill and the unfortunate came to visit him from long distances. It is recorded that he never uttered a negative word about another person. He actively supported settlement in Eretz Yisrael. He was succeeded by his son, R. Yitzchak of Neshchiz. His sayings were collected in Rishpei Eish.

Rabbi Naftali of Rofshitz (6 Sivan 1760 [the same day as the Besht’s passing!] -11 Iyar 1827) became the rebbe of many thousands of chassidim. He was noted for his sharp wit and humor and his elusive shining aphorisms. Some of his teachings are collected in his works, Zera Kodesh, Ayalah Sheluchah, and Imrei Shefer. Many stories about him appear in the book, Ohel Naftoli.

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