A chasid of the Tsemach Tsedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) who was a timber merchant once purchased the logging rights for a forest outside the town of Palatsk. Logging on such a large scale was usually done in the winter when the ground was covered with snow, making it easier to penetrate deep into the forest and to bring out the wood from the forest to the river. At the beginning of the summer they would use some the wood to build rafts, and then float the logs on the rafts downriver to sell them in far-off places. The chasid had to move temporarily to Palatsk in order to oversee the work.

...he didn’t feel that any of the others there were worthy to be his study-partner...

The merchant spent his days overseeing the timber operation. At night he would attend the local synagogue, and after the Evening Prayer would stay and study for several hours. Several other men also stayed late, engrossed in intensive Torah-study. Mostly they studied in pairs, but one older man always sat by himself, because he didn’t feel that any of the others there were worthy to be his study-partner, as he was more scholarly than they were.

When the older man saw that the stranger was studying alone, he presumed it was because he wasn’t much of a student, and so was embarrassed to ask anyone to study with him. He walked over to the newcomer and engaged him in a Torah discussion in order to check him out, and soon discovered to his pleasant surprise that the visiting businessman was an accomplished scholar. He suggested that they study together and the chasid agreed. The arrangement turned out to be mutually satisfying.

Then, one day, the timber merchant noticed that his chavrusa was stumbling in his speech, as if he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure whether to hold back or not. The chasid said, "Ask me whatever you like; don’t hesitate at all."

"I’ll tell you the secret that I have been keeping to myself for a long time," the older man said. I have been reading various philosophy tracts, and now I have a lot of questions and doubts. But I don’t know anyone to share them with who could possibly answer me."

"Try me," said the chasid. "Ask me whatever is bothering you. Perhaps I’ll be able to answer your questions and set your mind at rest."

Now a new dimension was added to their study-partnership. Every day the elderly scholar would ask one of his questions based on his philosophy readings, and the chasid would answer to the best of his ability. In general, the older man was pleased with his chavrusa’s answers, and their discussions always lightened his heart and cheered him up.

Months passed. The festival of Passover was on the horizon.. The logging and the rafting work drew to a finish. The timber man announced to his friend that he was about to return home. At their parting, the old man started to cry. "I’m so sad you are leaving. Not only were you an excellent partner for text study, I’ll also miss being able to confide my problems in you. Your answers were always such a relief to me! What will I do now?"

"Don’t despair...Travel to Lubavitch and see the Rebbe...

The chasid replied immediately. "Don’t despair. I have excellent advice for you. Travel to Lubavitch and see the Rebbe, the Tsemech Tsedek. He’ll surely answer all your questions."

The timber merchant went home. Shortly before Shavuos, he traveled to Lubavitch, in order to bask in the presence of the Rebbe during the festival. As he was walking in the street, someone came up behind him and placed his hands over his eyes, saying, "Guess who?"

The chasid quickly identified the elderly scholar from Palatsk. "See," said the latter, "I listened to your advice. Soon after Pesach I made the trip here."

"So what happened?" asked his friend excitedly. "Did you speak to the Rebbe yet?"

"Certainly. I made an appointment for yehidus [private audience] and when I went in, I told the Rebbe that I am troubled by a lot of disturbing questions from my study of philosophy. The Rebbe said to me, ‘What is your problem? Abaye and Rava [two outstanding sages of the Babylonian Talmud whose wide-ranging disputes cover both major general issues and intricately detailed matters of Jewish law] were not bothered by such questions of philosophy, so why should you be?’

"As soon as he said that, all my difficulties fell away. Now I am staying on to devote myself awhile to study chasidus."

Translated from Reshimat Devorim vol I, pp 127-129.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [29 Elul 1789-13 Nissan 1866], the Third Rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tsemech Tzedek, after his books of Halachic responsa and Talmudic commentary called by that name. He was renowned not only as a Rebbe, but also as a leading scholar in his generation in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe of our generation was his son-after-son descendent, and was named for him—and his wife, Chaya Mushka, a distant cousin, was named for the wife of the Tsemech Tsedek!).

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