Weekly Chasidic Story #683 (s5771-17 / 21 Tevet 5771)

The Judgment and the Advice

Reb Noah was a devoted disciple of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. His son eventually married the Rebbe’s daughter.

Connection:Seasonal – 198th yahrzeit


Reb Noah was a devoted disciple of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the “Alter Rebbe” of Chabad, who lived in 18th century Russia. Reb Noah’s son eventually married the Alter Rebbe’s daughter and from that union came the Rebbe who was known as the Tzemach Tzedek. To this day, the memory of Reb Noah is well honoured among Lubavitchers, who tell this story about him.

After Reb Noah died and came before the Heavenly Court, they looked into his case and found that he had been a very good Jew. All his life he had observed the commandments as best he could and never missed any opportunity to perform an additional mitzvah.

Now, as is well known (Avot 4:11), when a Jew fulfills a mitzvah, a holy angel is born from that very act. These angels, it is said, will come to testify on behalf of the soul after death. And the more properly and sincerely he does the mitzvah, the stronger the angels will be. So it happened when Reb Noah stood before the Heavenly Court that thousands upon thousands of luminous mitzvah angels came to his trial, saying “I was born from such-and-such a good deed performed by Reb Noah when he was alive on earth”.

The Heavenly Court was very impressed by the testimony of all these mitzvah angels and was about to decide that Reb Noah should go immediately to Gan Eden (“Paradise”). But suddenly another angel appeared, a dark one. It stood before the Court and said “I was born from a sin that Reb Noah committed during his life on earth.” Then the angel revealed to the Court exactly what the sin had been.

The three judges who sit on the Heavenly Court deliberated thoroughly. On the one hand, Reb Noah was a pious man who had led a basically righteous life, so he deserved to go to Gan Eden. But on the other hand, he had committed the sin. Just as no good deed every goes unrewarded, so does no sin ever go unpunished. Finally, the Court decided to give Reb Noah two choices: he could spend a half-hour in Gehennom (“Purgatory”) now, to atone for the sin, and then go straight to Gan Eden. Or, he could avoid the pain of purgatory by reincarnating on earth once again and making up for the sin there.

Reb Noah answered: “With all due respect to this Court, I would like to consult with my Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, before I make a decision. All my life I never did anything concerning my spiritual life without first asking the Rebbe’s advice. And so I would like permission to ask the Rebbe about this now.”

The Court consulted the Heavenly Records and found that it was indeed true. Reb Noah never did anything important without first asking the Alter Rebbe’s advice. “Very well” the Court replied, “you may return to earth in the spirit and consult with your Rebbe about your decision”.

Back on earth, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was sitting at the table as usual, learning Torah with his chasidim. Then the soul of Reb Noah appeared to him in the spirit and posed the question: “Earth or Gehennnom?” The Rebbe turned to his chasidim and said “Reb Noah is here right now, and he is asking what judgment he should choose: a half hour in Purgatory or to be reborn in this world another time.”

The chasidim said nothing. What could they say? If the Rebbe wasn’t prepared to decide, how could they presume to speak for him? So they sat there in silence, waiting to hear what the Rebbe’s answer would be.

The Alter Rebbe put his hand on his forehead, then rested his elbow on the table and concentrated very deeply. For a long time he just sat there in silence, turning the question over in his mind, weighing all the consequences. Then came the answer: “Gehennom – to purgatory!”

As soon as the Rebbe had said the word “Gehennom“, the chasidim all heard a voice cry out in anguish, “Oy, Rebbe!” At the same moment they saw, burned into the wall by the door, the outline of a human hand!

From this the chasidim understood what a spiritual danger it can be for a soul to be born into this world. Better to spend half an hour in the fires of Purgatory than a whole lifetime on earth once again!

[Source: adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from]

Connection: Seasonal – 198th yahrzeit

Editor’s note: For a similar story about a different Chabad Rebbe, and from a more reliably Lubavitch source, see #270 in this series.

Biographic note:
Rabbi Shnuer Zalman [18 Elul 1745-24 Tevet 1812], one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, is the founder of the Chabad-Chasidic 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.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of 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.