A young man named Velvel was once traveling home from the house of his father-in-law, Reb Baruch, who lived near Chernobyl. Having heard so much about Rabbi Menachem Nachum, known as the Maggid (“preacher”) of Chernobyl, Velvel decided to stop off there and see for himself the wonders which had earned the Maggid such a reputation.

Although he had arrived as a skeptic, it did not take long for Velvel to be enchanted by the intense holiness that permeated Rabbi Nachum’s study hall. It was the most exhilarating experience of his life. He found it difficult to tear himself away from the Maggid; his only consolation was that he could return upon his next visit to his father-in-law.

In a short time Velvel was back, and again was captivated. He was inspired by the prayers, stimulated by the Torah thoughts he heard . . . in short, Velvel became an ardent disciple, or chassid, of the Maggid of Chernobyl.

His father-in-law, however, was less than enthusiastic about Velvel’s newfound mentor. “What is going on with you? Why are you becoming so involved with Rabbi Nachum?” he demanded. “I’m supporting you so that you should be able to use your days for studying Torah, and instead you are spending your time with the Maggid!”

Confidently, Velvel was disappointed, but sure his father-in-law would be persuaded . . .Velvel answered, “My dear father-in-law, there is only one answer I can give you. Come along with me the next time I go, and experience a Shabbat with the Maggid yourself.”

They arrived in Chernobyl right before Shabbat. After the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers, Velvel looked at his father-in-law expectantly for his reaction. Reb Baruch said, “I’m not impressed. I’ve heard similar praying before.” Velvel was disappointed, but sure his father-in-law would be persuaded after he heard the Maggid recite kiddush over the wine before the Shabbat evening meal.

Much to Velvel’s dismay, Reb Baruch remained unimpressed, even after kiddush. And neither the entrancing Shabbat songs, nor the rebbe’s inspiring Torah words which followed, help sway his opinion.

After Shabbat, Reb Baruch turned to his son-in-law and told him, “I am still unconvinced. I see no reason why I should be supporting you to learn, when instead you spend your time here with the Maggid. In fact, I am going to the Maggid to tell him directly what I think!”

“I promised to support my son-in-law while he learns,” Reb Baruch informed the Maggid, “but while I have kept my part of the deal, he has let me down. Instead of learning, he comes here to Chernobyl. I refuse to support him any longer if he continues in this way. Tell me,” he asked Rabbi Nachum, “do you think it is right that so many young men whose parents are supporting them should spend their time here?”

Rabbi Nachum smiled at the father-in-law and said to him in response, “Let me tell you a story.

“During the time of the the Holy Temple, there lived a man who had never in his life been to Jerusalem! He had always found some excuse not to go. He convinced himself that he could remain at home and still be a good Jew; it was unnecessary, he maintained, to go there, not even to fulfill the mitzvah to appear there on the three festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.

“Once, when he was already an elderly man, he inadvertently desecrated the Shabbat, for which one is required to offer a sin offering. Now he had no choice but to go up to Jerusalem to present his sacrifice. It was quite an experience for him: since he had never been there, he did not know the way, and had to constantly inquire for directions. The people he asked were incredulous. ‘Do you mean you’ve never been to Jerusalem? How could it be that a man your age has never been there?’

“Finally he reached the city. His excitement grew as the moment approached when he would finally arrive at the Temple Mount and see the Holy Temple. But, again, he had no idea how to get there, and had to ask people how to proceed. Again, he had to endure the astonishment of those from whom he asked directions, who exclaimed, ‘You’ve never been to the Holy Temple? At your age?!’

“He Was this the beautiful Holy Temple he had heard so much about?arrived at the Holy Temple, and entered the courtyard where the kohanim were preparing the sacrifices. He was taken aback by the sight. Was this the beautiful Holy Temple he had heard so much about? It looked more like a kitchen! The kohanim were hurrying about, there was blood dripping everywhere . . . He had no idea what to do in order to bring a sacrifice, and he was ashamed of his ignorance.

“He asked to speak with the high priest, and was led to a man dressed in beautiful, majestic clothing. He had expected to see a saintly old man, and was unimpressed by this youth standing before him. Confused by the apparent lack of what he had always considered to be holy and respectful, he asked the high priest, ‘What makes this place unique? And what makes you more special than anyone else? Why do people flock to the Holy Temple three times a year?’

“The high priest turned to the old man and asked him, ‘Why have you come?’ He replied, ‘I sinned unintentionally.’ The high priest asked, ‘Is this the only time you sinned in all these years?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man confidently.

“Looking down at stones of his breastplate (the choshen), whose engraved letters were now illuminated, the high priest said, ‘What about the time last year when you made a business deal and swore falsely?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ admitted the man, ‘I forgot about that.’

“Again examining the holy breastplate, the high priest said, ‘What about that time when you were alone and succumbed to temptation?’

“The man now realized that the high priest had the ability to recount all the sins he had committed in his lifetime. ‘Please, enough!’ he begged. ‘Say no more! Now I understand why one has to come to the Holy Temple three times a year! The holiness of the place elevates a person; had I come here all these years, I would not have committed so many sins!’”

When the Maggid completed his story, Reb Baruch was standing in openmouthed shock. The sins at the times that the Maggid had related were, in fact, transgressions that he himself had committed! When he found his voice, he cried out, “Rebbe, Rebbe, don’t say any more! I understand now why my son-in-law and your other followers feel a need to come here!”

Reb Baruch became a loyal follower of the Maggid, and accompanied Velvel every time he went to Chernobyl.

Adapted from Gut Voch, by Avrohom Barash.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Menachem Nachum, the Maggid of Chernobyl [1730–11 Cheshvan 1787], was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and senior disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch. He is the author of Me’or Einayim.

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