Where Does He Go?

The story is told of how Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov would disappear during the early morning hours during the week before Rosh Hashana. During the time of prayers when Jews across the world say their prayers of repentance, this holy Rabbi would disappear and no one knew where he would go.

Many speculated as to where the Rabbi could be. Most of the Hasadim in Sasov ventured this holy tzaddik would actually be in heaven pleading for his people. After all, life was difficult for the Jews in Ukraine and Poland, there was a great need for God’s people because the Accuser did all he could to tempt and test and defeat all Jews. Who else could help but the Rabbi himself?

Ah, but there was Talmudic scholar who knew of the Hasadim and was opposed to their philosophy. He came to Sasov and heard the stories of this Rabbi Moshe-Leib and he scoffed. After all, he was schooled in logic and logically the Rabbi could not ascend into heaven.

But he was challenged by the people to see if he could discover where the Rabbi ventured. So in the evening, before the Rabbi returned to his home after evening prayers, the scholar slipped into the Rabbi’s house and hid under his bed prepared to stay the entire night. There he stayed awake all night long listening to the Rabbi tossing and turning on his bed moaning for hours.

But then morning came and the Rabbi jumped from his bed. The moon had not yet disappeared and it was dark. He went to the chest at the foot of his bed and pulled out peasant’s clothing and put them on. Then, dressed this way, he left the house with the scholar following stealthily behind.

On his way out of his yard, the Rabbi picked up his axe and made his way into the nearby forest. There he found a large tree and with his axe he felled it. He then methodically cut and split the wood into a large bundle. He tied the bundle and threw it over his shoulder and continued walking through the forest.

At the edge of the forest, just outside of the village there was a miserable little shack. The scholar was amazed to see the Rabbi knock on the door.

Who is there? Cried a frightened old woman’s voice.

It is Valera.

Valera? I do not know anyone named Valera. What do you want?

The Rabbi replied in a rough voice, I have fire wood to sell for a very reasonable price. I see there is no smoke coming from your chimney. Perhaps you would like some wood?

Then the Rabbi boldly entered the shack without asking or waiting for reply. The skeptical Jew who followed peeked through the window and he saw inside was an old woman, pale and sick, wrapped in rags.

I have no money to buy wood! Why do you bother me?

Ah, it is of no concern. I think I can trust you for a few kopeks. How much, six kopeks? I will let you pay me later, the Rabbi replied.

Are you crazy in the head? The woman cried out. Can you not see how ill I am? I could never repay you!

The Rabbi snorted like the peasant he dressed as, Ah you silly woman! I told you I trust you; why don’t you trust God? Isn’t he worth six kopeks?

With that the Rabbi put the wood in the stove and quietly prayed the first prayer of repentance. As he struck the flint to start the flame he prayed the second prayer of repentance. And as the wood caught and began to burn, he placed the lid on the stove and prayed the third prayer of repentance.

The Talmudic scholar was awestruck as he dumbly followed the rabbi back to his house. There the scholar offered himself as a disciple of Moshe-Leib and became one of his most ardent followers. After that, whenever one of the Hasidim said that on the days before Rosh Hashana the Rabbi ascended to heaven, the scholar would slowly shake his head and say, To heaven? No. Higher than that!

How often do we confuse spirituality with merely a state of mind or some practice such as meditation and Bible reading while neglecting simple acts of justice and mercy? As the Hebrew Writings remind us (as do the Christian Scriptures) spirituality without justice and mercy is a contradiction.

Anyone who sets himself up as religious by talking a good game is self-deceived. That kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. -James 1:26, 27, The Message

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person has it? For instance you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup–where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? -James 2:14-16, The Message

What are your thoughts?


About Darryl Willis

Darryl has been working for non-profits for over 36 years. His current work takes him to Ukraine several times a year. He has fallen in love with the country and the people. Darryl writes poetry and his work has appeared in several online and print journals.
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3 Responses to Where Does He Go?

  1. Nancy says:

    I really liked this story. I felt it was about people and God. The story had a enlightened Rabbi, a Talmudic scholar, and a peasant women. Each experiencing God at one specific moment.

  2. Darryl Willis says:

    Thank you, Nancy. It is one of my favorites as well. Your observation proves something I’ve always believed about the power of story: each story can legitimately and profoundly touch people in different ways. What pulled me to the story was quite a different point. But your observation rings true as well.

    Thanks for dropping by for a visit!

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