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Rabbi Chaim Mordechai of Nadvorna: Paving the Way

“Your Rebbe saved my son!” the bank manager cried out. But the chasid had no idea what had happened. It was only after quite a while that the power of a Chasidic thought was revealed. Indeed, every day, a voice comes out of Mount Sinai and the soul always hears it.

 

Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Rosenbaum of Nadvorna was born in 5663 (1902) to Rabbi Itamar of Nadvorna and Rebbetzin Malkah. He grew up in Chernowitz and at the age of 15 wed Rebbetzin Sima Raizel, the daughter of his uncle, Eliezer Ze’ev Rosenbaum of Kretshnif. Rabbi Chaim Mordechai lived in Sighet, Hungary and later in Seret (Siret), Romania.

In 5683 (1923), when his father was still alive, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai became a chassidic rebbe. After his father’s passing, he succeeded him. During the Holocaust, his family fled from city to city under difficult conditions, while Rabbi Chaim Mordechai attempted to help his fellow Jews. In the Djurin Ghetto he served in a special court of Jewish law that dispensed the marriages of agunot—women whose husbands’ whereabouts were unknown, preventing them from remarrying.

Rabbi Chaim Mordechai made aliyah to the Land of Israel in 5708 (1947) and settled in the Beit Mazmil refugee camp in Jerusalem (today the neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel). During the War of Independence, he moved to Jaffa. After the establishment of the State of Israel, he moved his chassidic court to Jaffa and established his yeshivah, Ma’amar Mordechai – Nadvorna. In 5710 (1950) Rabbi Chaim Mordechai opened a Talmudic academy in Jerusalem and in 5720 (1960) he moved to Bnai Brak and opened a synagogue in the western part of the town. Rabbi Chaim Mordechai passed away on the 15th of Tevet 5738 (1978) in Bnai Brak and was laid to rest on the Mount of Olives.

Rabbi Meir Pechtholtz of Haifa related the following story, in first person: When I came to live in Haifa, I got a job as a senior clerk in one of the banks in the city. Before the festival of Shavu’ot, I approached the bank manager and requested a vacation from the morning before the festival until two days after the festival. When the manager asked why I needed such a long vacation for a one-day festival, I told him that I would be spending the holiday with my holy Rebbe in Bnai Brak and that I would be taking leave of him on the afternoon of the day following the holiday (isru chag).

“I will give you the vacation, as you requested,” the bank manager, an observant man, said. “But only on the condition that you tell your Rebbe that it is I who made it possible for you to take the vacation and that I request that he may kindly send me—through you—a special Torah thought for me.”

When it came time for me to take leave of my Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai, after the festival, I told him, as the manager had requested, that it was he who had let me take two days off from work so that I could spend the holiday with him, but on the condition that the Rebbe would send him a Torah thought through me.

The Rebbe complied immediately and said: “In Psalms there is a verse that says, ‘For God knows the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked will perish.’[1] It is the way of the righteous, that whatever events or circumstances come their way, they say ‘God knows.’ Meaning, that God certainly knows what he is doing, for He controls the entire world and brings all circumstances into being, and all that the Compassionate One does, He does for the very best. But the path of the wicked ‘will perish.’ When they encounter difficulties, they immediately lose their trust in God and feel that their world has been destroyed.”

When I returned to work, relates Rabbi Pechtholtz, the manager immediately approached me and asked to hear the Torah thought that the Rebbe had sent to him. I repeated the Rebbe’s words to him. When I finished, the manager got up from his chair and I could see that he was very moved. Without saying anything, he left the bank. He returned sometime later and said to me, “You should know that your Rebbe saved my son’s life.” He offered no further explanations.

After some more time had passed, the manager revealed to me what had taken place. His son was an officer in the army. During his service, he had been accused of criminal negligence. He was arrested and released on bail until the trial. The son was certain that he would be convicted, for the accusations were extremely serious; as a result, he had attempted to commit suicide a number of times. When the bank manager heard the Rebbe’s words, he immediately ran to see his son and related the Rebbe’s words to him. To his surprise, the Torah thought entered his son’s heart and he promised to wait until the trial and stop his attempts at suicide. The trial was held shortly afterward and amazingly, the son was completely acquitted of any wrongdoing.

From that day on, Rabbi Pechtholtz finished his story, the manager was very kind to me and would always remind me that his son was saved in my merit.

It is amazing to see how, with one focused sentence, it is possible to bring a person out of the depths of despair and infuse his heart with hope and trust.

It is no coincidence that this story took place during the festival of Shavu’ot. Hearing a saying from the mouth of a tzaddik (a righteous individual), particularly a tzaddik who is the son of a tzaddik, acts on the soul like a personalized moment of the Giving of the Torah and manifests its Divine light. This is the explanation of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s statement that the soul root hears the heavenly voice that comes out of Mount Sinai every day and that it is from there that thoughts of repenting and returning to God enter a person’s heart.

We can say that this is the primary definition of Chasidut: There have always been rabbis and Torah scholars. But a true rebbe is a spark of Moses. His words of Torah bring joy to the listener as if they were begin given on this very day at Mount Sinai. Intellectual perception alone does not give a person the strength to accept his hardships with joy. But experiencing a renewal of the Giving of the Torah sweetens the hardships at their root.

In Sidduro Shel Shabbat, written by Rabbi Chaim Tirrer of Chernowitz, the verse that Rebbe Chaim Mordechai quoted from Psalms, “God knows the path of the righteous” is explained as follows: There is a sanctification of God’s Name both in the attribute of justice meted out to the wicked as well as in the attribute of loving-kindness that flows upon the righteous. Nonetheless, God knows and loves the path of the righteous and it is His will to shower all with revealed good and to be sanctified in that manner.

According to Rebbe Chaim Mordechai’s explanation, faith in God’s goodness is itself the path of the righteous. With the Heavenly help that he merited, the Rebbe’s Torah was exactly on target and brought the manager’s son back to God, preventing him from wallowing in despair in the path of the wicked. In this manner, the tzaddik, who connects everything with God’s goodness, broadens the path of the righteous and paves it for everyone. This dovetails with the words of Rebbe Aharon of Zhitomer who explains that the path of the righteous is a narrow path that is not tread upon by the average person. But the tzaddik, with his service of God, transforms it into a broad, paved highway, open to all.

Image by Artur Pawlak from Pixabay

[1] Psalms 1:6.

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