Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Pshischa had previously been a successful businessman. He spent some time in Germany, accompanied by his son Rabbi Avraham Moshe. At his Shabbat meals he would be visited by some of the local Jews, and he would deliver to them Torah insights, just as he was accustomed to doing at home.

The locals would snicker among themselves and make fun of his discourses

The locals, far from being impressed by the intensity of his chassidic style of delivery and the brilliance and mystical bent of his ideas, found his short talks amusing. They would snicker among themselves and make fun of his discourses.

This greatly upset the rebbe’s son. He complained to his father indignantly: “Why do you bother saying Torah for these heretics, these scorners of G‑d’s truth?”

“What can do, my son?” his father responded. “I get so aroused when taken by the impulse to say words of Torah that I don’t even know where I am, never mind whom I am talking to.

“But I’ll tell you what. Next Shabbat, when you see that I desire to begin speaking, signal me in some way, and then I will remember that I should not say my Torah then.”

The following Shabbat, when Rabbi Avraham Moshe that saw his father was about to launch into a learned discourse, he reminded him of their agreement that it was not a good idea to do so among these liberal German Jews.

Rabbi Simchah Bunim paused, then turned to his son and remarked: “It is not really correct to label these German Jews as heretics, my son. Why, whenever one of them has as a sharp headache, his first reaction is to cry out, “Shema Yisrael!” The only genuine heretic is Pharaoh, who, even though the Almighty struck him with ten mighty plagues, continued to say dismissively: “Who is the L‑rd that I should listen to his voice?” (Exodus 5:2)

He then proceeded to share his thoughts with his fellow Jews.

Biographical notes:

Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Pshischa (1765–12 Elul 1827) spent many years as a businessman and a pharmacist. He was a beloved disciple of the “Seer” and of the “Holy Yid,” whom he succeeded. Known as “a rebbe of rebbes,” his major disciples included the Kotzker and the first rebbes of Ger and Alexander.

[Translated/adapted from Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin, and other oral sources.]