Weekly Chasidic Story #691 (s5771-25 / 17 Adar A 5771)
The Rebbe R. Elimelech of Lizhensk described what he had seen in Heaven while hovering between life and death.
Connection: Seasonal – 224th yahrzeit
The saintly Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk once recovered from a life-threatening illness. When his recovery was complete, his closest disciples mustered their courage to ask him what he had seen while hovering between life and death.
The Rebbe said that he would tell one thing he learned:
As I walked in the Garden of Eden, I saw among the most honored souls a familiar face. He looked very much like Mottel the Bookbinder. To be sure, Mottel was a G-d-fearing Jew, an honest, hard-working bookbinder, but he was otherwise an undistinguished ordinary Jew, not even much of a Torah scholar.
“Is it truly you, Reb Mottel?” I asked the soul as I approached him.
“Yes, it is I,” called out Reb Mottel happily.
“But how did you get to this exalted place?” I asked Reb Mottel quite innocently.
“When I was brought before the Heavenly Court, I was asked the usual questions. I had to admit that, regrettably, I had studied very little Torah. I didn’t have much of a head for it. Besides, we were very poor, so I had to find a way of earning money to help my parents support the family. I was apprenticed, at an early age, to a bookbinder, I explained to the Court…
“They began the weighing of my mitzvot (commandments) and sins. On the right side of the scale, angels began putting all my good deeds. Then they pushed the scale down to make it weightier, saying this was for the joy and sincerity with which I performed the mitzvot. “But then other angels came forward and began to load my sins and misdeeds on the left scale. I watched with horror as my sins were added up. Most of the sins were truly not serious, and they happened because of my ignorance. But, though they were small, they were adding up dangerously, till they tipped the scale.
“As I stood there before the Heavenly Court, trembling and ashamed, an angel suddenly appeared with a worn-outsiddur (prayer book) in his hand. Behind him was a line of wagons loaded with sacks.
“‘I am the angel in charge of stray pages from holy books. I go to every Jewish home, every shul and every Jewish school. I look to see the condition of the holy books. Whenever I see a worn out book, with crumpled pages and loose covers it gives me tremendous pleasure, for this is a sign that the books are in constant use. But when I see that some of these books are tattered beyond repair, I am troubled, for every holy book has a holy soul, and every page has a soul, which must be treated with care and respect.
“‘In the course of my travels I met this man here on trial. Ever since he was a child, Mottel loved his little siddur and would often caress and kiss it before closing it.
“‘When it came time for Mottel to be apprenticed, he told his father that there was nothing he would like more than to be a bookbinder.
“‘I have never seen a book-binder like Mottel,’ continued the angel in my defense. ‘He never got any pages mixed up, never missed a stitch, and always used the best materials. From time to time, he would go to the shuls in his town and collect holy books that cried out for attention. He took them home and worked late into the night to restore them, bind them and give them new life. He never charged for this and never even told anyone about it.
“‘I respectfully request that the Heavenly Court permit me to unload all the sacks of worn-out holy books to which Mottel the Bookbinder has given a second life, and put them on the scale with all his other mitzvot and good deeds.
“The Heavenly Court agreed. Long before the wagons were half unloaded, the scale with the mitzvot clearly outweighed the other side.
“Believe me, dear Rebbe,” Mottel concluded, “I was as astonished as you were at what happened before my eyes at seeing me in this place of honor.”
“I wanted to ask Mottel a few more questions,” explained Rebbe Elimelech, “but at just that moment I began to recover. Reb Mottel’s story speaks for itself. But let us also remember,” Reb Elimelech enjoined his disciples, “that G-d never fails to give credit and reward for any good deed, even for such a seemingly trivial act as smoothing out a crumpled corner of a well worn page in a holy book.
Source: From “Talks and Tales.” (as posted on lchaimweekly.org #999]
Connection: Seasonal – 224th yahrzeit.
Burial site of the Rebbe R. Elimelech in Lyzhinsk
Photo credit: Moshe-Ber HaKohen Katz
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.