Friday, July 24, 2009

Reb Mordechai of Kuzmir and Animals

One motzei shabbos, after a fiery afternoon of zemiros and Torah, Reb Mordechai of Kuzmir, son of the Maggid of Trisk, decided to go for a sleigh ride through the forest with some of his chassidim. As they were pulled, swiftly but gently, across a wintery landscape, Reb Mordechai closed his eyes, and became engrossed in his holy and otherworldly thoughts. Oblivious to the night scenes, but attentive to the crisp air hitting his face, the Rebbe was in an exalted state. His chassidim surrounding him looked on.

At one point the horses slowed down their trot, and came to a complete stop adjacent to some dense forestry. As the Rebbe was deep in his trance, the chassidim looked around to see what was holding up the horses. But just then, in between the bare trees, they saw something lit up in the dark. Eyes. It was wolves. When horses sense wolves in their immediate vicinity they freeze out of fear. The chassidim began to tremble, and all looked toward the Rebbe. But the Rebbe was still in his rapture. They feared for their lives, and they shook the Rebbe until he reached a conscious state. They pointed toward the eyes. The Rebbe looked on, and made his way out of the sleigh. He walked to the front, and took off his coat. He took off his long jacket, and lifted up his shirt. With his bare chest exposed to the wintery air, he stood for two minutes, three minutes, and a few minutes more, while all remained silent, and stared in his direction. The silence was broken when one of the wolves was heard rustling between the branches. It was the head wolf. It walked up to the Rebbe slowly, and put it's nose to the Rebbe's chest. It kept its nose glued to the chest for a few seconds, until it licked the Rebbe's boots, and preceded back into the woods. Then came the rest of the wolves, one by one. Each went up to the Rebbe, licked his boots, and went back into the forest.

The chassidim were amazed, and when the Rebbe got back into the sleigh, they inquired about this wonder. "Animals can sense fear," explained Reb Mordechai. "If you show not an ounce of fear then they will not attack. And in the case of some animals they will even come to submit. And how does one come to a lack of fear? One has to be on a lofty spiritual level. The higher one's level of ruchnius (spirituality) the less fear he will have of an animal, and the animal, in turn, will not fear, and thus not attack. My mind has been on only the loftiest of subjects from the beginning of this ride, and therefore when faced with the wolves I was already in an exalted state."

Perhaps there is more insight into Reb Mordechai's otherworldliness. In Chernobyl, it was the custom, as it was and is in other places, to say "harachaman (part of the grace after meals)," betzibur, as a group. After every "harachaman" there is a pause until the person leading the bentching concludes the "harachaman." It was reported that when Reb Mordechai led the bentching in the court of Chernobyl it took approximately two hours to go through the "harachamans." (This would normally take about two minutes). And such was the case with the shaking of the lulav (which is waved in six directions symbolizing G-d's sovereignty over the entire world) on the holiday of succos. This would last from one to two hours, as well. It is no wonder that he earned the zechus (merit) to perform wonders and associate with animals of nature, as he was widely known as an "ish peleh," a man of miracles and wonders.

There is a story that about Rav Eliezer Gordon, Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, who grew up in the small Lithuanian village of Chernian. There was no mohel in Chernian, and when it came time for the young Eliezer's bris (circumcision), his parents had to take him to a larger town. The family set out by sleigh the night before, but when they arrived, they realized that the baby was missing, and must have fallen out on to the snow somewhere along the way. They back-tracked, and found young Eliezer in the snow, being gaurded by a wolf. Perhaps the illustrious Rosh Yeshiva possessed a hint of spiritual nobility from the time of his birth.

Similarly, we learn in the gemara Pesachim, that referring to the pit in which Yosef, son of Yaakov, was thrown, the Torah states, "v'habor reik, ain bo mayim (and the pit was empty, there was no water)" The gemara asks why the Torah had to mention "there was no water" if it just said that the pit was empty. And the gemara learns out that the pit contained nechashim v'akravim, snakes and scorpians in the walls. We know that Yosef wasn't harmed, but was sold to a caravan of Yishma'alim a little while later. Coming out of the pit unharmed could only have been possible of a tzaddik on the loftiest and most exalted spiritual level.

In one of the Jewish papers there is weekly Q&A column. A few years back a question read: Who am I? I received the signal to do teshuvah (repentance) by a dog that bit me. Answer: I am a Jew according to the words of the Yalkut Me'am Loez, which states, "before a wild animal can attack a human being, he must appear like the animal. Only then do they dare attack. If he appears to them like a human being," that is, a spiritual being, "they would flee from him," meaning if all they see is a basar vadam (a physical body), then they see themselves, and animals attack each other out of fear and for food. But if one has an eminently G-dly connection, and can subordinate his body to the will of his soul, the animal will not sense the corporeal form to the same degree, and therefore will not attack. It will only attack something like itself, namely, a physical form. The Yalkut Meam Loez concludes, "if a person does good works, and has pity on the poor, no animal will be able to approach him to harm him."


Anonymous said...

why did he have to expose his chest? not that I expect you to have the answer but I'm just curious.

Anonymous said...

Obviously he knew something that we don't know!