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A Rebbe Goes Shopping

A Rebbe Goes Shopping

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On a number of occasions, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, told about his three-month stay in Vienna in 5663 (1903) with his father and predecessor, Rabbi Sholom DovBer, who required medical treatment. During that time, they studied together the laws of monetary claims from the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch. They also studied discourses of chassidic teachings on the weekly Torah reading.

Because of his weakened condition, the doctors told Rabbi Sholom DovBer not to engage in any strenuous physical activity, and even not to overexert himself mentally.

Rabbi Sholom DovBer’s habit during that period was to take a brief rest on the couch after lunch. He didn’t lie down exactly, but would sort of recline, with one leg up on the couch. Once he remained for a considerable time in this position, much longer than usual.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak wasn’t sure what to do. It seemed as if Rabbi Sholom DovBer wasn’t even in this world; he was on his side, and his eyes were bulging in a strange way. He was afraid to wake his father up. But he was even more afraid to leave him be.

He began to walk back and forth loudly near the sofa, hoping his father would wake. When that didn’t work, he started moving the table around, making even more noise, but that didn’t help either. And by now the hour was getting quite late.

It wasn’t until after nine straight hours that the rebbe finally stirred. “What day is it today?” he asked his son. “Which parshah [weekly Torah reading] is it?”

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak answered him that it was Wednesday, and told him which parshah it was. He thought his father seemed confused.

Rabbi Sholom DovBer then prepared to recite his evening prayers, which he accompanied with a melody of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad dynasty)—as was his custom on the first night of Rosh Hashanah.

The next morning, the rebbe asked his son if they had some money (when they traveled together, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak attended to the finances). Although they were really quite low in funds, he answered “yes” so as not to disappoint his father. Shortly thereafter, he went and pawned his silver cane and gave the money to his father. The rebbe then announced that he would be going out, put on his coat and left. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, sensing that his father did not want him along, remained by himself in their hotel suite.

Some time later, there was a knock on the door. He opened to a delivery boy, who asked if he was “Schneersohn.” Upon confirmation, he handed him the box he was carrying. Attached was a note which said, in the rebbe’s handwriting, “Take this package and pay the man twenty-five crowns.”

Over the next few hours, several more packages arrived with the same message, each from a different store. When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak looked over the names of the firms on the boxes, he realized that they were all stores specializing in women’s and girls’ apparel. He presumed that his father had bought presents for his granddaughters, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s three daughters.

That evening, when Rabbi Sholom DovBer returned, he told his son to prepare to travel. He said they would need to take along tallit and tefillin (implying that they would be away for more than a day), but he didn’t tell him their destination. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak had to borrow some money for traveling expenses.

The next day, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak bundled the packages, paid the hotel bill and arranged a cab to the train station. Once there, the rebbe told him to purchase tickets to Pressburg. When they got off the train, it was 9:30 in the evening, so they checked into a small inn.

In the morning, Rabbi Sholom DovBer said: “We are going to pay a shivah call to the family of a pious Torah scholar who are in mourning.” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak started to look for a cab to take them into the city, but his father told him they would walk. He picked up the suitcase and they headed downtown.

On the street, they encountered a hurrying yeshivah student. Rabbi Sholom DovBer stopped him and asked for directions to the Bick home. The young man responded impatiently, “I don’t have time. I’m in a rush to get back to the yeshivah. Just go straight, and ask further on.”

“Indeed,” said the rebbe, “is that how you fulfill the mitzvah of hospitality? Can’t you tell that we are strangers here?”

The young man calmed down and apologized. He explained to them carefully how to go, and then added that the family was sitting shivah. Upon further questioning, it turned out that the head of the family had passed away during the hours of the rebbe’s unusually long rest on the sofa.

The rebbe thanked the yeshivah student, and continued with his son down the street. When they reached the house, they entered, and there they saw a woman with her three daughters, sitting shivah. After offering words of comfort to the widow and her daughters, the rebbe then suggested to his son that they go out for a while. They walked, and came upon a large yeshivah with many students who were sitting and studying. The rebbe engaged a few of them in discussions about what they were learning. Among these was the young man who had given them directions. The rebbe entered into a pilpul (complex Talmudic analysis) with one of the students, and afterwards praised him highly.

Upon returning to the house, the rebbe spoke again to the bereaved. When they asked him who he was, he told them that he was a distant relative. When they asked if he knew the deceased, he responded that it didn’t matter.

Subsequently, the rebbe guided the conversation to the subject of the girls’ future. The woman complained about her difficult situation, especially now that her husband had died. She couldn’t afford to buy clothes for her daughters, nor was she being approached with appropriate matches for them.

The rebbe recommended to her as a match for her eldest daughter the yeshivah student whose analytical abilities he had praised, and for her second daughter he suggested the young man they had first met in the street. “And don’t worry about trousseaux for them,” added the rebbe. “I have everything they need.”

Eventually, both these matches were successful. Before each engagement became official, the young bride-to-be received a parcel of clothing from the purchases of Rabbi Sholom DovBer, and everything fit perfectly! The first wedding took place while the rebbe was still in Vienna; the second was a few months later, after Shavuot.

About ten years later, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak happened to be in the Pressburg area. He decided to look up the Bick daughters to see how things had worked out. He found the street, but could not locate the house. There was now a large brick home where previously the cottage had stood.

A young woman came out and greeted him. She said she recognized him as having been present with his father at her two older sisters’ engagements. She told him that she too was now married, and happily so, thank G‑d, but that both her sisters were even more fortunate. Her older brother-in-law was the chief rabbi of a prominent city, and the other was the dean of a yeshivah. “I wish your father had arranged my match too!”


Biographical note: Rabbi Abraham Bick (the girls’ father in the story), originally from Mohilev in Podolia, was the author of Bikkurei Aviv, a wide-ranging commentary on the weekly Torah readings and also certain sections of the Prophets, as well as on the Talmud and on Jewish law, published in Lvov in 5633 (1873), in which he quotes often from “great chassidic masters.”

Sources: 1) Reshimot (published excerpts from the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s journals) #94; 2) Shemuot V’Sippurim, vol. 1, pp. 108–110, by Rafael Kahan in the name of his father Nachman, who was part of a group of chassidim who heard it directly from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak in a small village near Nushkina; 3) Reshimot Devarim, vol. 1, pp. 164–166, in the name of Chaim Meir Liss, who attended to Rabbi Sholom DovBer during his cure.

A master storyteller with hundreds of published stories to his credit, Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and managing editor of the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
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Peter Godovic Trnava, Slovakia November 14, 2012

Great story I have read this story in the morning while at work and re-told it to my little son as a bedtime story. He listened with great interest although he is still too young to understand all words :) Reply

Ruth Krieger Boca Raton, Fl. November 14, 2012

THE CINDERELLA DRESS This wonderful story reminded me of the time I purchased a very beautiful lace bridal gown intending It for a Russian kallah who might need it..This became a cinderella story.
Many tried the size 7 dress.It didn't fit any since these were older women who never went to chuppah. So when my Yeshivah boy son was going to learn in Israel, I asked him to take the dress with him since many Israeli young women didn't have money for a bridal gown.
"They go through your luggage on ElAl. How am I going to explain my packing a woman's bride's dress? No way!"
I pleaded with him, trying to convince him this was a great mitzvah. He conceded. I thought.
While he was learning in Israel, a flood covered the first floor of the Yeshivah's dormitory. When he returned, the Rosh Yeshivah called him into the office.
"Ill you please explain. What were you doing with a wedding dress under your dorm bed?"
I told my son, "See? Hashem sent a flood all because you didn't listen to your mother!" Reply

yehudis November 17, 2011

great story But why indeed didn't the Rashab arrange the third daughter's match as well? Reply

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