Study, Teshuvah and the Yoke of Heaven

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The Yahrzeit of Rabbi Meir (Meirl) of Premishlan  (1783-1850) is commemorated on the 29th of Iyar. The following meise / hasidic tale appeared in Sefer HaHasidut, Meah Tzadikim, Raphael, Yitzchak, 1961, Tel Aviv. (Freely translated by Gabbai Seth Fishman.)

His Meeting with the Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson

Once, the great teacher, the famous Gaon, the Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson (z’tz’l) was traveling toward Premishlan.

It was back when he was a young man and, he had come from Lvov where he had just been married (lit. near the table of his nuptials). He was traveling toward Premishlan with an ultimate destination of Berezhany so he could fulfill the mitzvah of honoring his father, the Gaon Rabbi Aryeh Leibush Nathanson ztz’l (author of the book “Beth El”) who lived in Berezhany.

Since the Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Shaul (z’tz’l) had already heard of our holy Rabbi’s reputation, because serious-minded Jews (lit. people of faith) had told him of the Ruach HaKodesh (spirit of holiness) that would always appear when they were with him, he desired to make time to go to him and check him out himself.

When he came into his room, he found our holy Rabbi sitting by his table but no book lay open before him.

Right away, the Gaon Reb Yosef Shaul ztz’l felt critical, for on his part, he was a great perseverer in his studies, did not allow himself to deviate one iota from studies of Torah (lit. did not walk four cubits without Torah).”How was it possible,” he asked himself, “that a person sitting idly, not engaged with torah, could merit for the spirit of holiness (Ruach Hakodesh)?”

When he aproached him and greeted him, the holy Rabbi Meirl said to him:

“Young man, if you could put me in touch with the author of these commentaries, I should ask him to tell me the explanation of the words of our sages z’l in the Gemara:

‘If you see a Torah scholar (talmud chocham) commit a transgression… harbor no ill thoughts of him, etc., perhaps he has repented.’

“And they asked:

‘Do you think that the most one can say is that perhaps he repented?’

“And they answered,

‘Rather say that surely he has repented!’

“Their surmisal that the torah scholar had doubtless feared Hashem is a big stretch of the mind.

“And how could they imagine that a person like this whom the holy sages (z’l) called a torah scholar should have committed, God forbid, a transgression, and to particularly call it out, saying that [the sages] had to assert that he certainly repented?

“These are some of my questions for the author.”

On the spot, the great teacher, the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Shaul z’tz’l was stumped; could not find anything with which to reply.

Our Rabbi resumed and said:

“The lesson learned is that one should, in his honor, make a plausible alibi.

“In truth a true Torah scholar didn’t do a transgression.

“Rather, it might appear that you see the torah scholar as though he is not engaged in torah. And indeed, in your eyes, he is committing a transgression since he is sitting idly without studying Torah. And it was of this that the sages z’l said:

‘Harbor no ill thoughts of him, for surely he has repented,’

“It is  in the Kavvanah / stated intention for study of Torah that our Rabbi the Seer of  Lublin, (his merits shield us), would say at a time when they opened the Talmud to study. He would say beforehand:

‘Master of the world, possibly you wrote this of [wicked] me, (God forbid):

“For what reason do you recount My statutes?”

‘Behold I accept upon myself to repent from this point on!’

“And thus would he do at every time before they sat down to study.

“And behold for our Rabbi of Lublin the kavvanah was enough if he felt the slightest hint of needing to repent. But for a person like me, it is not enough when I feel a slight hint of needing to repent.

What I must do at this time is to greatly focus my thoughts, to receive upon myself the yoke of heaven before studying.

“And this is what the sages intended by,  ‘If you see a Torah scholar commit a transgression.’ i.e. that if he was being idle and not busying himself with words of Torah, ‘don’t criticize, for perhaps he has repented.'”

And the Gaon Reb Yosef Shaul related that right after this he asked for Reb Meir’l’s counsel whether to accept what the people in Lvov were suggesting for him, namely a Rabbinate in a small town.

Our Rabbi turned to him and said that he should not take it, that he should wait a while  in Lvov:

“Because for you, young man, there will be a big Rabbinate!”

And so it came to pass that a short time after this, the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Shaul ztz’l was received as the holy spiritual leader of Lvov.

(Enlightening Lessons)

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