There was a servant in the house of the tzadik, Rabbi Mordechai (‘Motel’e’) of Chernobyl, who used to stoke the fire in the winter stove. He was afflicted with severe psoriasis, and was covered from head to toe with painful boils and other skin eruptions. It seemed like he was always bleeding, whether from the disease itself or from being unable to refrain from scratching at the relentless itching.

Whenever the Rebbe saw him, he never said a word to him, even though he undoubtedly noticed the young man’s terrible suffering. His household and his chasidim were astonished, for the Rebbe’s tremendous empathy for Jews in pain of any form was well-known.

One day, upon rising early in the morning, the Chernobyler came upon the servant crying and groaning in pain, furiously scratching at his head and other parts of his body, with blood oozing down from all over. The tzadik lifted his eyes and said, "Master of the Universe: let it be enough already!"

That same day, the servant suddenly died.

That same day, the servant suddenly died.

Now the Rebbe’s household and the chasidim were even more amazed. Realizing that the turn of events was certainly out of the ordinary, they pleaded with the Rebbe for an explanation. Finally, he told them the following story.

His father, the famous tzadik Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, was desperately poor; the family was always teetering on the brink of starvation. There was, however, a certain rich person in the town who loved the tzadik very much, and he used to provide the Rebbe with nearly all his household needs.

It came to pass that when this rich man realized how dear he was to the Rebbe, it went to his head and he proposed to R. Nachum that the tzadik’s son marry his daughter. Of course, he would pay all the expenses of both sides as well as provide a handsome dowry, he confidently told the Chernobyler.

The Rebbe turned him down.

The man continued to argue and plead his case, but the Rebbe was steadfast in his refusal. As a result, the man transformed from the tzadik’s biggest supporter into his fiercest enemy. Not only did he cease his financial aid, he actively sought to aggravate him, and was constantly inventing new plots to make the Chernobyler’s life even more difficult.

One time, he somehow found out that Rabbi Nachum’s married daughter was due to go to the mikveh that night. His antagonism had so festered in him that he actually decided to hire some ruffians to pursue her through the streets on her way home afterwards. They did so in a brutish obnoxious manner, and she was forced to flee with all her might through narrow side streets and filthy back alleys. Finally she reached the haven of her home exhausted and upset. She crossed the threshold, collapsed on the floor, and fainted.

...his daughter’s suffering was a result of the rich man’s evil plan...

As you can imagine, this caused a great commotion in the Rebbe’s home. It was only after immense effort that the household was able to bring her back to herself. When Rabbi Nachum found out that his daughter’s suffering was a result of the rich man’s evil plan, he was enraged.

Shortly thereafter, the rich man died.

When his case came before the Heavenly Court, the judges were about to issue a harsh judgment against him because of his aggression towards a great tzadik and the suffering he caused him. But then a defending angel arose and pointed out the rich man’s large number of good deeds, his accomplishments in Torah-study, and how he had even generously supported the Rebbe and his household for many years.

Other heavenly beings joined in, pro and con. Finally it was decreed that that he would be given the chance to appease Rabbi Nachum. If he succeeded, he would be granted the rewards for the many good deeds he had accomplished in his lifetime.

He was assigned to two angels who would escort him to R. Nachum, and subsequently bring him back to the Heavenly Court.

The rich man’s soul came to the Chernobyler and begged forgiveness for all the pain and aggravation he had caused him while still alive in this world. The Rebbe told him to enumerate one by one each of the offenses he had committed. At each one the tzadik responded, "I forgive him with all my heart."

"NO!" cried out the Rebbe, "This I may not forgive."

Finally, they reached the episode with Rabbi Nachum’s daughter. "NO!" cried out the Rebbe, "This I may not forgive. This was a crime against my holy ancestors and against Heaven; not just against my daughter and me."

Immediately the escorting angels took him and returned to the Heavenly Court, where a second decree was issued. He would be reincarnated again, and in his next lifetime would suffer from terrible physical afflictions.

After the Chernobyler passed away and his son Rabbi Mordechai succeeded him, Rabbi Nachum appeared to his son in a dream and asked him to take the youth with the skin diseases into his house. The second Chernobyler Rebbe did so. When he saw how much the man was suffering, he refrained from offering to help, because he knew it was atonement for the sins of the man’s previous life. Finally, however, Rabbi Mordechai could no longer hold back. He forgave the man for the abuse of his family, the soul’s spiritual rectification was completed. Then the man’s soul returned to heaven.


Connection to Weekly Reading: skin disease

Translated and freely adapted from Niflaos HaTsaddikim, pp. 23-24.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl [1730-11 Cheshvan 1787], was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and senior disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. He was the author of Meor Enayim.

Rabbi Mordechai ("Mottel") of Chernobyl [1770 – 20 Iyar 1837], successor to his father, Rabbi Nachum, was the son-in-law of Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin and subsequently of Rabbi Deavid Seirkes. His eight sons all became major Chasidic leaders. One of them married the daughter of Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in order to maximize the possibilities for fulfillment of the prediction, "the Moshiach will be born of the elder disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch or the youngest" (match arranged by the two grandfather-Rebbes).

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