Many Eastern European Jews longed to live in the Holy Land. However, the difficult conditions in the Holy Land, the expense of travel and the dangers of the journey made this a serious undertaking. Chassidim would not attempt such a move without receiving a blessing from their rebbeim.

A chassid who had a great desire to move to Israel presented his request to many of the leading rebbes of his time, but none would give him a blessing to go. He then went to Liozna to consult the Alter Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman.

“Discuss the matter with Rabbi Leib Sarah’s,” said the rebbe. “Tell him that I sent you to seek his advice. If he agrees, you may go.”

The chassid knew that arranging a meeting with Reb Leib was no simple feat. Reb Leib was a hidden tzaddik whose whereabouts were usually unknown.

“How will I even be able to find him?” the chassid asked. The rebbe told him to wait at a specific inn which Reb Leib would visit in the near future.

“But how will I recognize him?”

“A wagon full of wandering beggars will arrive at the inn,” replied the rebbe. “They will engage in loud argument and squabbling. The one whose voice is heard above all the rest will be Reb Leib.”

The chassid traveled to the inn and rented a room. He had stayed there for two weeks when he was awakened one night by a commotion in the courtyard. Looking out, he saw a wagonload of beggars arrive at the inn. Precisely as the Alter Rebbe described, they were arguing loudly. One man, taller and louder than the rest, stood out among the noisy group.

Recognizing Reb Leib Sarah’s, the chassid hurried down to meet him. “I mustn’t miss this opportunity,” he thought, “for he is likely to disappear without warning.” He approached the tzaddik and presented his wish, mentioning that Rabbi Schneur Zalman had instructed him to seek the tzaddik’s guidance.

“Go to Berditchev,” Reb Leib replied. “There is a tailor who lives on the outskirts of town. Order an overcoat from him. When the garment is ready, go for a fitting. As you put on the coat, the tailor will measure the buttonholes, humming a tune as he does so. While he is humming, ask him if you should travel to Eretz Yisrael.”

The chassid followed Reb Leib Sarah’s’ instructions, and presented his request precisely at the time he was told.

“Go!” replied the tailor. “But continue to wear this overcoat.”

The chassid realized that the tailor must be a hidden tzaddik, and rejoiced at the outcome of the events. On the following day he went back to the tailor’s house, hoping to meet the tzaddik again, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Later, he recalled having seen two apprentices assisting the tailor. He recognized one as the tzaddik and rebbe Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl (known for his support of hidden tzaddikim), but could not identify the second one.

Connection to the Weekly Reading: Love of the Land of Israel by Tzelafchad’s daughters

Excerpted from From My Father’s Shabbos Table (pp. 94–95), translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger from the first two volumes of Rabbi Yehuda Chitrik’s 4-volume series Reshimot Devarim.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Schneur Zalman [18 Elul 1745–24 Tevet 1812], one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch, is the founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement. He is the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya, as well as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.
Rabbi Leib Sarah’s (1730–4 Adar 1796) was held in high esteem by the Baal Shem Tov. One of the “hidden tzaddikim,” he spent his life wandering from place to place to raise money for the ransoming of imprisoned Jews and the support of other hidden tzaddikim. The Lubavitcher Rebbe stated the possibility that Rabbi Leib Sarah’s and the Shpoler Zeide are the same person.

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