Weekly Chasidic Story #852 (s5774-30 / 22 Adar Sheini 5774)
The Pre-empted Circumciser
So eager was Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch to perform the mitzvah of circumcision that he never once declined an invitation to act as mohel.
Connection: Weekly Reading (beginning) — Circumcision on the eighth day
One of the young chasidim of Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch was always berated mercilessly by his father-in-law, who was an outstanding scholar – but an incorrigible misnaged. “You are just too lazy to study,” he would taunt, “that is why you have chosen to be a chasid!”
Now one day a son was born to the young man so, being a loyal chasid, he hastened to honor his rebbe, Reb Mordechai, an expert mohel, with the coveted mitzvah of circumcising the newborn infant.
The eighth day arrived, and the father rose early, as was his custom, to pray the morning service in the synagogue of his rebbe. This was the very opportunity that his misnagdisher father-in-law had been waiting for. Once and for all he would put them in their place, both of them, this young Chasidic son-in-law of his with his favorite Chasidic rebbe. He lost no time, hired another mohel, mustered ten men for a minyan, and while his son-in-law and Reb Mordechai were still at their devotions, the circumcision was over and done with.
Radiant with innocent expectation the father and his rebbe returned from shul, accompanied by a retinue of joyful Chasidim, all ready for the great mitzvah. But what a surprise awaited them! The young man was understandably distressed, firstly, because he had not been present at the circumcision of his own son, and secondly, because of the calculated insult to his revered rebbe. But there are things in this world which, once done, cannot be undone. There was nothing to do but to quietly go to the rebbe’s home for the seudas mitzvah, the traditional festive meal that follows a joyful mitzvah.
There, to the wonderment of all the crestfallen Chasidim, the rebbe was clearly happier than on all the other occasions when he had in fact carried out the mitzvah of circumcision.
His explanation was simple: “The mitzvah of circumcising a baby is, of course, a singularly great one – but it is almost always tainted by the shadow of a hankering after honor, or pride. Now our Sages teach us that ‘if an emergency prevented a person from doing a mitzvah, Scripture accords him credit for his good intention, as if he had actually performed the mitzvah.’ Obviously, a mitzvah of this kind has no ulterior motive, and is reckoned by the Almighty as having been executed in the most perfect way possible. And this is why I have cause to rejoice more than usual: for how often do I get a chance to do a mitzvah that is absolutely untainted?”
So eager was Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitch to perform the mitzvah of circumcision that he never once declined an invitation to act as mohel. One short midwinter’s day, on the Sabbath eve of Chanukah, he was honored with the performance of two circumcisions in villages far apart from each other, one to the north of this town, one to the south. When his Chasidim heard that he had accepted both invitations, they asked him whether he thought he could mange so much in such a short day.
He answered; “Regarding a certain passage in the Torah, the Talmud tells us that ‘it comes to teach us of Avraham’s alacrity,’ which I understand to mean that the Torah teaches us Avraham’s alacrity; nay, the Torah implants it in us.”
And, indeed, Reb Mordechai rose at the crack of dawn, hastened to set out and circumcise the infants in both villages, and sped home – weary, but in time to prepare for Shabbos.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chasidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by the esteemed Uri Kaploun from Sipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.
Connection: Weekly Reading (beginning) — Circumcision on the eighth day.
Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch (? – 15 Tishrei 1810), disciple of R. Shlomo of Karlin; known for the fervor of his prayers, and for being exceedingly charitable, particularly toward the poor of Eretz Yisrael.
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.
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