Weekly Chasidic Story #696(s5771-30 / 22 Adar B 5771)
Just before his passing, the Apter Rebbe made an intense promise.
Connection: Seasonal — 33rd yarhzeit of Rabbi S. Y. Zevin (and 182nd of the Apter Rebbe)
The fifth of Nissan is a week from Shabbat, so you can save this story for then too. However, the reason I chose it because Sunday this week was the yahrzeit of Rabbi Zevin, one of the most important rabbinical figures of the 20th century, and this story, from his collection, includes a deeply personal note. – Y.T.
It was in Mezhibuzh, on the night of the 5th of Nissan, ten days before Passover, 1829, that Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Ohev Yisrael of Apta, departed this world. On the very same night, in the holy city of Tiberias on the shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee, Israel), people heard a knocking on the windows of Kollel Vohlin, one of the organizations responsible for the fair distribution of funds in support of the struggling religious Jews from Europe in the Land of Israel. Inside was the caretaker, alone, the one who held the keys to the gates of the cemetery. The voice from outside said: “Go outside and follow the bier of the Rabbi of Apta!”
He ventured outside and was chilled by terror, for the bier was being followed by a grim retinue of a myriad human forms from the Other World. One of these followers intimated to him that this was the funeral procession of the tzadik(righteous one) of Apta; he had died in Mezhibuzh, and angels from Above had borne his coffin here for entombment in the soil of the Holy Land.
The beadle repeated his story in the morning. People refused to believe him, until on the suggestion of an elderly sage they went together to the cemetery, and there they found a newly-covered grave.
Letters from Apta later confirmed that the tzadik had indeed passed away on that very day. Before his passing he had cried out to heaven in bitter protest over the length of the exile. Why was the Mashiach tarrying so long? And in his heartache he had wept and said: “Before Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev left This World he promised that he would not rest, nor allow the tzadikim in the World of Truth to rest, until their insistent pleas would bring about the Messianic Redemption. But when he arrived there, the saintly souls in the Garden of Eden found spiritual delight in his company, and ascended with him to the palaces of supernal bliss – until he forgot his own promise. But I will not forget!”***
* * *
When Reb Chaim Eleazer of Munkatsch visited the holy sites in The Land in 1930, he asked about among the oldest citizens of Tiberias as to whether any of them knew where the Apter Rebbe was buried. They led him to a certain stone slab in the old cemetery which their hoary elders, who were now in the World of Truth, had shown them – the place where the Ohev Yisrael had been brought to rest.
[Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by our esteemed colleague Uri Kaploun from Sipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.]
Connection: This week (21 Adar) fell the 33rd yahrzeit of Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, founder and first editor of the ongoing Encyclopedia Talmudit project, and author of many significant and popular works on Jewish Law, who somehow also managed to find the time and care to pen a multi-volume set of traditional Chasidic stories, upon which the above version is based.
Original note from Rav Zevin attached to this story:
***When it was granted me some [twenty plus] years ago  to leave the Vale of Tears which was known as the USSR on my way to settle in the Land of Israel, and I had to visit Moscow in order to arrange the formalities, my fellow chassidim there arranged a farewell gathering. On that occasion, on the eve of my departure, they told me the above story, and then added the following words: “We do not have to tell you, rabbi, that here in this wretched exile we live a life of torment and anguish. We are supported only by the hope that our Father will one day deliver us too out of this dungeon. And bring us to the Holy Land. But all our friends from here who were fortunate enough to go there, and who promised that from the moment they arrived they would never rest until they found some way of getting us out of here — when they arrived, they same happened to them as happened to Reb Levi Yitzchak of Beditichev in the World Above: they savored the spiritual delights of the palaces of bliss, and forgot us completely. But on you, our friend, we rely. You will not forget us!”
By reason of my imperfections, no doubt, the hope they placed in me bore no fruit. They probably assumed that I too spent my years in the Holy Land disporting myself in the quest of spiritual or other delights…My heart bleeds for them.
Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (1755- 5 Nissan 1825) the Apter Rebbe, was a main disciple of the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhinsk. He is also often referred to as “the Ohev Yisrael,” both after the title of the famous book of his teachings, and also because its meaning (“Lover of Jews”) fits him so aptly.
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.