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Saved From the Monastery

Saved From the Monastery

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When Rabbi Schneur Zalman was still a young student under the tutelage of the famed Maggid of Mezerich, he boarded at a house owned by a local widow. One day, the young scholar arrived home to find his landlady on the floor wailing hysterically. Her only son, she sobbed, had decided to convert to Christianity, and was being held in a locked room in a monastery.

“Don’t worry,” Rabbi Schneur Zalman comforted her, “with G‑d’s help, we will bring your son back.”

Bringing this woman’s plight to the Maggid would be difficult. The Maggid stayed locked in his room throughout most of the day which enabled him to quietly contemplate Torah. And outside his door stood his wary attendant, who was adept at keeping people away when the master wished to be alone.

“Listen to what I say,” Rabbi Schneur Zalman said to the widow. “Tomorrow, Friday afternoon, while the attendant is away from the door for his pre-Shabbat bath, I will be able to open the door for you. Do not waste a second. Run inside and inform the Maggid of your dilemma.”

The next day, Rabbi Schneur Zalman took advantage of the attendant’s absence to open the door for the distraught widow. Inside, the Maggid, who was occupied with his spiritual preparations for the holy day of Shabbat, did not expect a strange woman to burst into his room, weeping uncontrollably. But the poor woman was so shattered that she stood silently at the door, unable to emit a single word. Apparently seeing no use for the interruption, the Maggid waved his hand, signaling her to leave. The woman emerged from the brief audience shattered and bitterly disappointed with herself.

But Rabbi Schneur Zalman was confident that the Maggid knew of the widow’s misery down to the last detail. Righteous people, after all, are not bound by the conventional ways of learning information.

After the widow left, the Maggid did not make any mention of her or the purpose of her visit. But when the attendant returned from the bathhouse, the Maggid suddenly instructed all of his students to enter his room to welcome the Shabbat together. Despite the unusual nature of the request, the group heeded the Maggid’s words.

Immediately after prayers, the attendant rushed to set the table for the evening meal. Generally lengthy and peppered with mystical Torah insights, the Shabbat meal was eaten in a hurry, again leaving the students wondering at their master’s unusual behavior. Grace After Meals was recited promptly after the meal.

All this time, the Maggid maintained deep concentration and spoke with a booming and forceful tone, a marked departure from the unassuming voice the students usually heard. Torah insights, the likes of which were never heard before, were expounded upon, his holy words interspersed with the occasional call to “listen, my brothers, to the Torah’s sweetness.”

Of all the students, only Rabbi Schneur Zalman knew the reason for the unusual change in routine. He sensed that from the moment the widow left the Maggid’s office, the Maggid busied himself with reigniting her son’s soul.

Then a mighty wind began to roar outside, steadily picking up speed. By this point, the Maggid’s face was shining like a glowing torch. The students listened with growing trepidation to the wind that howled violently around them.

Boom!

Something thudded against one of the walls of the house and the students, concerned that the roof would collapse from the wind, bolted out of their seats. Unperturbed, the Maggid stopped his discourse and turned to his attendant: “Quickly take him to the nearby inn,” he ordered.

The attendant hurried out the door and immediately stopped in his tracks. Lying on the ground outside the house was the widow’s son, softly weeping. The attendant did not waste a second and proceeded to whisk the son away to the inn.

After the attendant left, the Maggid’s serious demeanor, which had persisted throughout the entire evening, transitioned to joy, and he finished the discourse on a euphoric note. The Maggid then retired to his room, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman headed for the inn, curious to learn what led to the son’s seemingly impossible release from the second floor of the monastery.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman found the young man sitting on the bed and reading the weekly Torah portion with large tears streaming down his face.

“How did you escape?” Rabbi Schneur Zalman asked gently.

The widow’s son paused his tearful reading and began to tell his story.

“The beginning of my escape started two hours before nightfall. I was lying on my bed in a small cell on the monastery’s second floor, determined to follow through with my choice. No amount of convincing would have made me change my mind. But then I had an overwhelming bout of longing for the G‑d of my people, an urgent need to leave and reestablish my connection with the Jewish faith.

“I bolted from my bed and quickly strode to the cell door, intending to break it down. But the door remained steadfastly bolted from the outside. Discouraged, I collapsed back on my bed for about half an hour. But the pangs of yearning and love toward Judaism continued to intensify until I sensed my materialistic desires give away. This is how a dead person must feel, I thought; none of the things that had mattered so much to me seemed to have any consequence anymore.

“Lying there in bed, becoming more restless by the moment, I understood that this love could not have developed from myself. G‑d was actively trying to protect my Jewish soul from self-destruction.

“Again, I unsuccessfully struggled to break down the door. There was no way out. I slumped on the bed, tears streaking my cheeks, and began to deliberate with myself. If G‑d allowed me to experience this indescribable arousal of G‑dly love, I had no doubt that He would surely come to my aid. I had to continue to try.

“I walked over to the cell’s small window. I pushed it and, to my relief, it swung open. However, peering over the precarious ledge in the failing light, I was greeted by the sight of the hard flagstones far below. To jump from this height would leave all of my bones shattered, and even the prospect of a Jewish funeral was nonexistent. I was unsure what to do next.

“I rethought my decision several time, and made my way to the window, only to be discouraged again and again by the sheer drop.

“Darkness had already set in when I suddenly felt my legs dash across the room, leap onto the windowsill and carry me through the open window. I landed miraculously intact, aside from some minor pain in my feet. Despite this, my excitement was short lived. During my brief stay in the monastery, I had learned of the vicious dogs who guarded the premises. Chained away during the day, the dogs were set loose on the monastery grounds at night. Even if I managed to fend them off, their barking could easily alert the priests, who would surely take me back, and who knew what they would do to me then?

“G‑d will help, I thought, and fearlessly strode towards the pack of dogs. They bounded towards me excitedly and circled around me eagerly, as though reuniting with one of their masters. Thankfully, they also kept silent, and I was able to slink cautiously across the monastery grounds. But then my heart fell. A towering stone wall separated me from my freedom. Topped with sharp spikes and the height of two men, the wall surrounded the monastery, its smooth surface providing no grip. It was impossible to scale.

“Raising my eyes once more, I pleadingly explained to G‑d that I had tried everything that was humanly possible to escape, risking my life in the process. Now, standing beside the wall, I had nothing more to do.

“I was answered in the most incredible way. A strong gale immediately swept me off my feet and lifted me into the air. I was tossed over the unpassable wall and into the sky, tumbling over the countryside until I landed right beside the Maggid's house.”

Displaying a zeal and aptitude that he had never known before, the young man applied himself to Torah study and the performance of good deeds for the rest of his days.

Years later, when Rabbi Schneur Zalman would have his own followers, he would recount this story on numerous occasions (noting that the young man’s change of heart happened right around the time the Maggid began his devotions), testifying to the Maggid’s greatness.

(From Sippurim Nora’im, by Reb Yaakov Kadanir, p. 38.)

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Sara Antwerp Belgium December 10, 2017

So beautiful! It gives me tons of motivation! Todah Reply

YY Israel December 10, 2017

Reading the story I was growing more and more incredulous; the magnitude of the open miracles recorded seemed all too fantastical...and then I saw the source!!

Just the introduction to the original author's book --he being a great, esteemed individual himself (and a chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek no less!)--is enough to dispel any doubts regarding the pure accuracy of the tale.

And regardless, very well written!! Excellent! Thanks to you I had a story to relate for Melave Malka Reply

Anonymous Balaclava via chabadtas.com December 9, 2017

Thank you so much!! This is the power of a true tzaddik Reply

pauline paul Langley December 7, 2017

Beautiful and touching Reply

Lyn Gibb-de Swarte Ely December 7, 2017

No soul is destroyable! Not Jewish or any other kind of religious adherence is taken into account here or hereafter when the material/physical world is transcended. The Maggid with his obvious connections to the other world of Light would have known that. Rabbi Zalman perhaps embellished his story for his listeners this? Reply

Asharon Baltazar December 8, 2017
in response to Lyn Gibb-de Swarte:

I don't usually respond to comments on my articles but your concern of Rabbi Zalman embellishing a story caught my attention and here's my response:
I find it very hard to believe that someone with Rabbi Zalman's stature, someone who founded the Chabad movement and for what it stands for, would do a petty a thing such as make up a story and pass it off as truth for whatever reason. Reply

YY Israel December 10, 2017
in response to Lyn Gibb-de Swarte:

To Lyn:
I myself fail to understand your doubts concerning the story; are you insinuating that the boy in question would not really have gone through such measures in abandoning his beliefs? If I understood correctly then know that as far as the Jewish soul is concerned you may be correct, but it is taught that the Jewish soul enters the physical body, itself enlivened by its own soul, which subsequently can indeed fall pray to idol worship (else there probably would be no need for a prohibition in the Torah against it...). Reply

S United Kingdom December 4, 2017

The life of a Jewish soul, which cannot be clothed with false teaching, even when imprisoned in such a system.

Beautiful account reiterated here. Todah Reply

Ariel December 3, 2017

What a wonderful story! I almost felt like crying myself. Reply