Failing health once forced Rabbi Chaim of Sanz to make use of the mineral baths in Baden, near Vienna. Hearing that a chassidic rebbe was visiting the area, an irreligious Jew named Marcus decided to pay him a visit, arriving late Saturday morning at the Sanzer Rebbe’s Shabbat table. Rabbi Chaim sat at the head, surrounded by the chassidim who had accompanied him on his trip, as well as those from Vienna and Germany who had come to be in the company of their rebbe.

As soon as Marcus entered and sat down, the Rebbe sent small portions to him from each course that he had been served. Marcus ate a bit of fish, cholent, kugel and chicken, and soon thereafter, having satisfied his curiosity, he left.

Later that day Marcus went out for dinner to a restaurant—non-kosher, as usual—and ordered a sumptuous meal. But a soon as he began to eat, he suffered painful stomach cramps and began to vomit.

“They have served me terrible food here!” he exclaimed, calling over the manager to complain.

“There is nothing wrong with our food,” the manager protested. “Why, just look at all the other patrons who are dining on our fine cuisine without any ill effect! It must be that you are unwell, sir.”

Perhaps the manager was correct, Marcus thought to himself. He suddenly reminded himself of the renowned miracle-worker he had visited earlier that day, and decided to return to him and ask for a blessing that his stomach ailment be cured.

He described his problem to the rebbe’s attendant, who went into the Sanzer’s room and related Marcus’ request. “He is perfectly healthy,” replied Rabbi Chaim. “There is nothing wrong with him! Go into the kitchen and serve him some kugel, and he will be able to eat it.”

After this snack, Marcus told the attendant, “Thank you—that was really delicious! I feel much better now. Please thank the rebbe for me.”

Later that night, thinking himself cured by the rebbe’s blessing, Marcus decided to make a second attempt to dine at the restaurant. To his dismay, the afternoon’s incident repeated itself: as soon as he started eating, the stomach pains returned and he began to vomit. Puzzled, Marcus returned to the Sanzer Rebbe for an explanation.

“I was very ill this afternoon, and your blessing cured me. But when I went back to the restaurant, the same thing happened again!”

Rabbi Chaim smiled and told him, “There is nothing wrong with your health. But now that you have tasted our Shabbat food, your body can no longer tolerate anything unkosher! Your body had experienced purity, and now you can eat only kosher food.”

Marcus realized the truth in the rebbe’s words and accepted upon himself to observe the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher). One thing led to another, and he eventually returned to full observance of the Torah, even changing his name to Moshe. He returned to Sanz to live his newly chosen lifestyle in the community of the Sanzer Rebbe, and was known as “Reb Moshe Baal Teshuvah (penitent).” His previous education enabled him to write well in German, and eventually he became the Sanzer’s secretary for all official matters.

After the Sanzer Rav passed away, Moshe became a chassid of one of the rebbe’s sons, Rabbi Baruch of Gorlitz. He would constantly seek R. Baruch’s advice on how he could repent for his past sins.

* * *

When the Bobover Rebbe, R. Shlomo Halberstam (1907–2000), a great-grandson of Rabbi Chaim of Sanz, would relate this story, he would ask, “It would seem that upon eating the food of the Sanzer Rebbe, Moshe lost his free choice. How is that possible? And why then should he be rewarded for repenting, when the choice was taken away from him?

“We can ask further: How is it that every morning we ask G‑d, ‘Compel our yetzer hara (evil inclination) to be subservient to You’? Is this not a contradiction to the concept of free will? The answer is that the yetzer hara is removed only because G‑d accepts a sincere prayer. Therefore, the subjugation of the evil inclination is attributable to the prayer of the person. He did not lose his free choice; on the contrary, he used his free choice, to ask G‑d to help him in this struggle.

“Similarly, Moshe’s body did not become sensitized to impurity simply because of the Divrei Chaim’s food. The first step was taken by Moshe, for it was he who sought out the Rebbe, coming to his tish (table) that Shabbat. And he willingly accepted the food from the rebbe’s plate that he was served. Thus, the consequences of his actions are attributable to him, a result of his exercising his own free choice.”

Connection to the weekly Torah reading: keeping kosher is discussed in chs. 12 and 14.

Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition in Gut Voch (Artscroll), by Avrohom Barash.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz (1793–10 Nissan 1876) was the first rebbe of the Sanz-Klausenberg chassidic dynasty. He is famous for his extraordinary dedication to the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity), and also as a renowned Torah scholar; his voluminous and wide-ranging writings were all published under the title Divrei Chaim, and he is sometimes called by that name.

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