Although his grandfather, the saintly Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, had passed away many years earlier, the Tzemach Tzedek merited to envision his grandfather often. At times he saw him at night, other times by day. This afforded him the unique opportunity to present his Torah difficulties before his grandfather for resolution. After becoming accustomed to these visions, the Tzemach Tzedek prepared for them by accumulating his questions in advance.
He had always relied on his grandfather for answers, and felt greatly anguished at this sudden change.
The Tzemach Tzedek was therefore quite distressed when the visitations suddenly ceased. It was 5575 (1815); he was twenty-five years old, and his father-in-law, Rabbi DovBer, was the rebbe in Lubavitch. The Tzemach Tzedek had gathered many complex Torah questions for which he could find no solutions. He had always relied on his grandfather for answers, and felt greatly anguished at this sudden change.
One morning, as the Tzemach Tzedek was walking to synagogue, he passed through the village marketplace, where he was approached by one of the merchants, a chassid by the name of Reb Mordechai Eliyahu. “Could you lend me five or six rubles just until tonight?” he asked the young scholar. “I expect to make a profit during market hours today.”
“Certainly,” replied the Tzemach Tzedek. “Come to my house after I return from the synagogue, and I will lend you whatever you need.”
When the Tzemach Tzedek arrived at the synagogue, he prepared himself for prayer. He had already taken out his tallit and put it over his shoulder in readiness to wrap himself in it, when a sudden thought occurred to him. “Doesn’t the Talmud (Bava Batra 10a) say that Rabbi Elazar would give a coin to the poor, and pray only afterwards? And doesn’t the Talmud (Sukkah 49b) also say that lending money is greater than giving charity?”
The Tzemach Tzedek immediately regretted his actions. Rather than delaying the good deed, he should have offered Reb Mordechai Eliyahu the loan immediately. In the meantime, the chassid could possibly have earned something. He laid down his tallit at once, returned home, and took out the amount of money the merchant needed.
The Tzemach Tzedek could hear a loud commotion as he retraced his steps to the marketplace. Dozens of merchants had descended on the marketplace, each offering various kinds of wares. The hundreds of customers haggled loudly, animals brayed and clucked and mooed, and merchants fought with each other over prospective customers. Finding Mordechai Eliyahu now would be no easy task.
The Tzemach Tzedek walked slowly through the bustling marketplace, looking intently at every face. The minutes ticked away as he sought out the needy merchant. Finally, after much effort, he located Reb Mordechai Eliyahu, and gave the grateful merchant the funds he so desperately needed.
“Lending money to a fellow Jew in a wholehearted fashion has great merit”
Leaving the busy market behind, the Tzemach Tzedek returned to the synagogue to resume his prayers. A pleasant surprise awaited him; no sooner had he donned his tallit and tefillin when his grandfather suddenly appeared to him, his face radiating spiritual joy. “Lending money to a fellow Jew in a wholehearted fashion has great merit,” said R. Schneur Zalman. “Doing a selfless favor for a fellow Jew without imposing restrictions, in accordance with the great precept to love your fellow as yourself, throws the portals of heaven wide open.”
The Tzemach Tzedek realized that he had merited this divine revelation with the act of lending charity before even starting his own prayers. He then advanced his complex questions, receiving his grandfather’s replies to all his queries.
Decades later, when he related this incident to his youngest son and successor, Rabbi Shmuel, the Tzemach Tzedek added the following: “Helping another Jew earn his livelihood—even just to earn a small amount on a calf—opens the doors of all the heavenly chambers.”
[Connection to Weekly Reading: Loans (22:24)]
Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from The Third Judge by Rabbi Elchonon Lesches, and from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by Uri Kaploun from Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [29 Elul 1789–13 Nissan 1866], the third rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tzemach Tzedek, after his books of halachic responsa and Talmudic commentary published under that name. He was renowned not only as a rebbe but also as a leading scholar in his generation in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah.
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