1 It was my master and Rebbe’s regular custom to choose one of the new students to wait on him at his home, and to sleep in the room adjoining his own bedroom. That Sunday, I was informed that my master and Rebbe had chosen me to attend him, and that I was to begin my service on Tuesday after Shacharis.

The established rule was that the student who served would eat his meals at our master and Rebbe’s home. This fact disturbed me greatly, and I had no idea what the eventual outcome would be. Since the day that I had come to maturity, I had supported myself exclusively by the toil of my own hands, and the prospect [of having to eat at my Rebbe’s home] had caused me deep distress.

On Tuesday after Shacharis, I presented myself to my master and Rebbe. After he finished his personal study session in Mishnah and Gemara, I followed him to his home, and attended to all his needs.

My master and Rebbe didn’t order me to eat, and I was overjoyed by this fact. From that day forward, my master and Rebbe began to study various seforim with me twice a week, and he trained me in worshiping the Creator according to the standard works on mussar.

[The narrative is resumed by Reb Baruch’s son]:

Even while on the road traveling from Viazhyn to Brysk, he had managed to earn enough to support himself adequately. He was able to donate ten percent to charity, and even had some savings left over. During his first month in Brysk, he supported himself from his savings. After that, he would spend two hours in the marketplace on each of the three market days during the week. There, he could always get an odd job delivering packages to the merchants’ homes; this was enough for his needs.

From the time that he first began studying the sefer Avodas HaKodesh, he experienced a strong desire to seek isolation. Now, this desire occasionally became overpowering. Since his arrival in Brysk, when he undertook his regular study of mussar seforimSefer HaMefouar by R. Yehudah Kolatz and the sefer Reishis Chochmah — he began to despise the company of other people. He would speak only when absolutely necessary, and even then, he made his remarks as brief as possible.

On the other hand, whenever he studied (even by himself), he preferred to study aloud, and in a melodious voice. G‑d had blessed him with a pleasant voice, and whenever he studied some topic, he would talk to himself in a conversational style.

When he studied a passage that contained a difference of opinion between two Tannaim or two Amoraim, he would declare their respective proofs aloud and articulately. It sounded as if Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer,2 or Abbaye and Rava,3 were holding a conversation. Whenever he studied, either by himself or with another person, he would explain everything in detail and at length, loudly enough to be heard some distance away.

There was a large garden behind his master and Rebbe’s house. After Reb Baruch came to serve as his Rebbe’s attendant at home, he began to seclude himself in the garden at every free moment. Actually, he would have preferred to find himself a secluded spot in the field. But he could never spare the time to go out into the field, and so the garden had to suffice.

His master and Rebbe had a younger brother, who was the son-in-law of a wealthy resident of an estate about three miles from Brysk. The brother — who was called “Moreinu the Rav Reb Chayim Yisrael,” — spent his full time studying Torah, while his father-in-law supported him.

Reb Chayim Yisrael’s daughter was engaged to the illuy Shmuel Gedaliah, and in due course his master and Rebbe journeyed to attend the wedding celebration of his niece and his senior student. He took several of his students along with him, including Reb Baruch.

During the ten days that he spent there, Reb Baruch was able to seclude himself to his heart’s content. He spent many consecutive hours in the fields and the forest. One day, he tarried in the field until the sun was about to set.

He was sitting on a hilltop, beneath which lay a broad plain, spread out like a blue-green carpet. Here and there, patches of multicolored plants and herbs appeared. A narrow, ribbon-like stream flowed through the middle of this plain. Its waters bubbled with a turbulence that could be heard at a distance. Trees grew on this hilltop.

Reb Baruch sat on a rock, gazing at his surroundings. The grandeur of this scene brought him to a state of unique spiritual joy — the song of the birds in the blue sky, the buzzing of the winged insects, the swaying of the branches above, the bowing and curtsying of the green army below, and, above all, the splendor of the color of the setting sun, woven into the tapestry of the darkening blue sky. All this was reflected in the flowing stream below.

In fact, he had long been familiar with field and forest. Even while still living in Viazhyn, he had preferred to seclude himself in the country. Often, while delivering his heavy parcels for the widow, he would pause on the way to gaze at the beauty of the trees, the grain, the plants, and the grasses, and to listen to the song of the manifold species of winged creatures. Even in wintertime, when field and forest — and everything in them — were covered with snow, he loved to gaze at the trees and their branches, dressed in their linen-like garments of pure white snow.

But a panorama as glorious as the present one, he had never yet seen. At that very moment, dozens of Biblical verses and Talmudic passages crept into his mind, all describing the Creation, and the laws of nature that the Holy One confers upon all created things. From the very depths of his heart, sprang the exuberant song: “Praise the L‑rd from the earth ....”4

While he still stood contemplating the greatness and glory of the Creator (blessed be He), night fell. Millions of brilliant stars sparkled in the heavens. With great exhilaration, he stood up to daven Maariv. He recited the blessing, “... Who by His word causes the evenings to become dark”5 with special feeling; he also took great care pronouncing the words “... and arranges the stars in their positions in the sky according to His will.” Then, with much delight, he recited the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.”

As he prolonged and emphasized the word “One,” his voice rang in the clear air. An answering echo came, as if every individual thing around him agreed with his declaration: G‑d (blessed be He) created and sustains the seven celestial orbits, the earth, and the four points of the compass and all that is in them.

During that summer, he acquired broad knowledge of many mussar works. He did his best to fulfil everything he had learned about perfecting one’s character traits and serving the Creator.

The High Holy Days were approaching. In mid-Elul, the formal yeshivah lectures were suspended. From mid-Elul until after Yom Kippur, all the yeshivah students were expected to spend their time on the avodah of the fear of Heaven. Many of them were fasting, and all of them recited Tikkun Chatzos and were busy with their confessions and their meditations on the subject of teshuvah.

Since his return from the country estate of Moreinu Reb Chayim Yisrael’s wealthy father-in-law, Reb Baruch’s desire and longing to seek isolation in the fields and forests had grown stronger. The glorious scene he had witnessed that day and that evening had become engraved upon his heart, and it constantly reappeared before his eyes.

During the month of Elul, while the formal lectures were suspended, he abandoned his employment during the market days and spent all his time in seclusion, out in the country.

By that time he was already aware that all of G‑d’s creation may be divided into two categories: the heavenly host, and the earthly host. Every member of the heavenly host continues to exist forever; the earthly host, by contrast, is perpetuated only by species, but not by individuals.6

He had also come to understand that everything existing in this world belongs to one of four classes:

i. “inanimate” beings [the mineral world];

ii. “growing” beings [the plant world];

iii. “living” beings [the animal world];

iv. ”speaking” beings [the human world].

Each of these four classes possesses a soul unique to that class: the inanimate soul, the growing soul, the living soul, and the speaking soul.

The four classes are on different levels, one superior to the other. The class of growing beings is superior to the class of inanimate beings; the class of living beings is superior to the class of growing beings; the class of speaking beings is superior to all the rest.

A superior class is also called the “higher” class, in comparison with an inferior class, which is called the “lower” class. A lower class ministers to the higher class, and the higher class is sustained and nourished by the lower class. In fact, this is the whole function of the lower class — to benefit the class that is above it. Thus, the sole function of inanimate beings is to serve growing beings; the sole function of growing beings is to serve living beings; the sole function of living beings is to serve speaking beings.

Each of these four classes occupies its rank not only because of its natural physical properties, but also because of its spirit and soul. Now the fact is that all souls are merely emanations of the glory and splendor of the Creator, who is absolute oneness and unity, who possesses neither a beginning nor an end, and to whom the terms “above” and “below” do not apply.7

In spite of the forgoing, the various souls are fundamentally different: inanimate beings possess only an inanimate soul; growing beings possess, in addition, a growing soul; living things possess, in addition, a living soul; and speaking beings possess, in addition, an intellectual soul.

His discovery of these subjects, in all their details, opened up a new world for him. Wherever he turned, he observed created things designed in antiquity, whose very existence, perception, and natural properties glorify, sanctify, and exalt G‑d, the Master of all.

From time to time he would delve very deeply into his studies. It sometimes happened that he would contemplate a single subject in depth for several hours on end. He inspected every being — whether inanimate, growing, or living — with intense contemplation. This intensity served as a link, connecting him to all living beings that walk the earth or fly in the skies.

He observed the creeping of worms and the industrious movements of the ants with the same intensity that he contemplated the rising and setting of the sun and stars. In all these things he perceived G‑d’s wondrous handiwork. Anything that happened to catch his eye became the subject of deep study.

His intense diligence also prompted him to delve deeply into anything he came upon. In his imagination he would hold a conversation with that thing’s soul. This became his second nature, so that whenever he looked at some object he saw only its soul and spirit. All this taught him to love G‑d and to fear Him.

One day, Reb Baruch went out into the country, to a field that had already been harvested. Here and there, a few bundles of grain still lay scattered. At the edge of the field stood a few apple trees, whose fruits had already been picked. Only a few rotting apples lay about, amidst piles of fallen leaves.

The sight of this barren field, with its few abandoned sheaves, the frogs hopping about, the forsaken trees with their bare branches, and the cawing sound of the ravens perched in the treetops, all had a profound effect upon him constricting his heart and awakening dread.

The day itself — and the weather — matched the appearance of the field. The sky was heavy with dark clouds. Here and there, patches of sunlight managed to break through the thinner clouds, but heavier clouds quickly moved in to obscure the glow.

He stood there deep in thought, musing that all of Creation then stood upon the threshold of its annual renewal. Only a few days remained before the twenty-fifth day of Elul, the anniversary of the world’s creation. This creation is renewed annually on the sixth day thereafter, which is Rosh HaShanah, the day that Man was created. Man is, after all, the focus of all Creation, and the entire world was created exclusively for his benefit.

As he reflected on this theme, the thick clouds suddenly split asunder. The heavens were rent with lightning and thunder, sending shivers through his heart. But after the rains stopped, the clouds parted and the sun shone forth in all its might, refreshing his spirits. Then, turning his gaze eastward, he saw a rainbow in the clouds. He was stricken with awe by the sight of this majestic wonder.

This entire spectacle caused him to deliberate. He concluded that Man is like the trees in the field8 — he lives through three periods of his life: the days of his growth, the days of his full powers, and the days of his decline.

His avodah during that High Holy Day period went very well, and he was exceedingly cheerful and joyous during the festival of Sukkos. In the month of MarCheshvan he had to yield his position as servant in the home of his master and Rebbe, in favor of another newly-arrived student.

Meanwhile, his master and Rebbe had taught him the correct approach to studying the Kabbalistic works of Ramac, and elucidated several topics discussed in the commentaries of Ramban9 and Bechaye10 on the Torah. He also set out a curriculum for his studies, which he followed diligently, day and night. This was besides his regular diligent study of the formal lectures, required for all students of the yeshivah.

When the festival period was over, he resumed his employment on the market days, and G‑d provided him with more than adequate income. At that time, Reb Baruch leased for himself a private apartment where he could pursue his secret studies without being observed. Thus, the winter months passed, while he studied with superb diligence. During the month of Adar I, however, something happened that compelled him to depart from Brysk.

The apartment in which he lived was in a two-story house, and his quarters were in the upper story. At the beginning of Adar, unbeknownst to Reb Baruch, one of the yeshivah students leased the apartment in the lower story. One night, Reb Baruch sat studying Ramac’s Sefer HaPardes in great depth, completely oblivious to anything happening around him.

Suddenly, he raised his eyes, and discovered one of his fellow yeshivah students sitting opposite him and watching him. Seeing this colleague quite unnerved him, and he closed the sefer. Now, Sefer HaPardes is a large volume — as big as a volume of Gemara;11 therefore, he could not hide it under his robe, and so he buried it beneath a stack of seforim that lay on the bench. Tearfully, he begged his colleague not to reveal to another soul what he had seen.

His fellow student told him that after he had changed his habits and leased a private apartment, his classmates had begun to murmur about the mystery surrounding Baruch Viazhyner. They had then decided to investigate him carefully. At a meeting of the yeshivah student council, this fellow student had been appointed to spy on Reb Baruch. Therefore, he had leased the other apartment in this house, stipulating that the landlord was not to tell anyone about it.

This was the third night that he observed Reb Baruch sitting and studying, but he still had no idea what sort of subject he was studying. Now, however, he discovered that Reb Baruch was studying Kabbalah, and — pursuant to the decision of the student council — he was obliged to inform them of this. They would then inform their master and Rebbe, through the Rosh Yeshivah Reb Chayim Uri.

After much begging and pleading, Reb Baruch convinced his fellow student to wait three days. During this time, he would decide whether he should tell his fellow students himself, and then confess all to their master and Rebbe.

On that same day, he told his master and Rebbe what had happened: his fellow students had spied on him the previous night, and had discovered him studying Ramac’s Sefer HaPardes. He had succeeded in persuading the fellow student to wait three days, so that he could decide whether to inform his colleagues himself.

Their master and Rebbe was very pleased that the students had such concern for one another, and that each took care that the others behaved in a G‑d-fearing manner and took part in the atmosphere of diligent study that prevailed in the yeshivah. During the next two days his master and Rebbe drew him very close, and gave him a program for his future studies. On the third day, with his master and Rebbe’s consent and blessing, he departed from Brysk.