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Rabbi Mordechai of Nadvorna: Above Time

Rabbi Mordechai Leifer of Nadvorna (Nadvirna, Ukraine) was born on the 19th of Iyar 5584 (1824) to Rabbi Yissachar Dov, the first Rebbe of Nadvorna. He married Chayah, the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelkeh Taubes, the chief rabbi of Yas (Iași, Romania), the son of Rabbi Aharon Moshe Taubes. After Chayah passed away, Rabbi Mordechai married Frieda the widow of Rabbi Gershon of Olinov (Ulanów, Poland). The tzaddikim of the generation such as Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin and Rabbi Chaim of Sanz praised Rabbi Mordechai very much while he was still a young man. Following his marriage, Rabbi Mordechai moved to Nadvorna and served as the Rebbe together with his brother, Rabbi Aharon Leib, for a short time. Later, he moved to Hungary, and his court moved to various places: Kyvyoshad, Chust, and Bushtyno. He became known in those places as a tzaddik and miracle worker and thousands streamed to him from all over Europe. Rebbe Mordechai passed away on the first day of Sukkot in 5655 (1894) and was laid to rest in Bushtyno (today in Ukraine).

 

When Rebbe Mordechai of Nadvorna was born, his uncle, Rebbe Meir’l of Premishlan, was invited to be the sandak (godfather) at his circumcision. Rebbe Meir also named the baby Mordechai. Later he said that he named him Mordechai after Rabbi Mordechai of Kremenitz, but also because inside this Mordechai, the soul of Mordechai from the Book of Esther dwells.

Similar to many tzaddikim, and perhaps more than all others, Rebbe Mordechai would pray very late. Once, the Mashiach was revealed before Rebbe Mordechai and Rebbe Mordechai asked him: “Why do I pray so late? If you tell me the correct answer, I will know that you are the Mashiach. For no one in the world knows why I pray late, only the Holy, Blessed One and the Mashiach.”

In addition, he would not allow anyone outside the regulars in his prayer quorum to pray with him. Once, he prayed the afternoon prayers in the middle of the night. A great rabbi happened to be present, and he was taken aback by the late hour for the afternoon prayers, which can only be recited until sundown. Rebbe Mordechai ordered everyone to leave and called the rabbi to enter his room in the middle of the night. He opened the blinds (when Rebbe Mordechai would pray, he would close the blinds) and to the rabbi’s great amazement, he saw the sun shining in the Rebbe’s room.

Once, Rebbe Mordechai was invited to be the mohel (circumciser) at a brit that was held on a Friday. The honored role of godfather was given to the Yitav Lev of Sighet, one of the tzaddikim of that generation. He asked Rebbe Mordechai when he would be arriving at the brit. “Two, three o’ clock,” Rebbe Mordechai answered.

2 o’clock came and went, then 3 o’clock, and even at 4 o’clock Rebbe Mordechai had not yet arrived. All this time, the Yitav Lev, one of the greatest tzaddikim of the generation, was waiting for him. At 5 o’clock, just a few minutes before sunset, Rebbe Mordechai arrived. “One has to fulfill his words,” the Yitav Lev reproved Rebbe Mordechai. “And you said that you would be coming at two, three.” “I am not a liar,” Rebbe Mordechai answered. “I said ‘two, three’ and I came at five!”

The Midrash says, “Mordechai in his generation like Moses in his generation,”[1] exemplifying how Moses’ soul continues to extend and appear in all the generations. In the merit of his staunch stance against Haman, Mordechai became the eternal symbol of the pintele yid—the concentrated essential Jewish spark found within every Jew’s heart, in every generation. Regarding the eternal nature of this spark, the Ba’al Shem Tov explained that the mishnah, “He who reads the Book of Esther in reverse did not fulfill the mitzvah,”[2] can be understood to mean that one should not read the Book of Esther as a story that happened in the “reverse,” i.e., in the distant past, but rather, as a story that continues to be enacted in every generation. With the right perspective, the story of Esther and Mordechai becomes more and more relevant as the years go by.

Mordechai’s super-temporal spark was very apparent in the way that Rebbe Mordechai of Nadvorna conducted himself. Timetables, the clock, and even the sun all had to adjust themselves to him and honor him, and like Mordechai, he would not kneel or bow. Accordingly, the Ahavat Yisrael of Vizhnitz said about him, “Rebbe Mordechai is above time and above intellect.”

From the story about the brit we see that despite Rebbe Mordechai being above time, he enjoyed the numbers of the hours. The series of numbers that he mentioned: 2, 3, and 5 belongs to the famous Fibonacci series—1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21..—in which the ratio between consecutive numbers asymptotically approaches the Golden Ratio known by the Greek letter phi. The Golden Ratio is of course connected to the brit, both in the removal of the extraneous foreskin and the manifestation of Divine beauty, and in a number of mathematical phenomena connected to it, as well. For example, circumcision is performed on the 8th day from the birth of the baby. The Torah uses the word for “covenant” 13 times in the section where God commands Abraham to circumcise. Both 8 and 13 are Fibonacci numbers and since they are consecutive numbers in the series, their ratio approaches the Golden Ratio!

Rebbe Mordechai’s statement that connects the two numbers that he mentioned one after the other, can also be considered a segulah (a spiritual charm) for longevity.  The Ba’al Shem Tov, as revealed by one of his disciples known as Mordechai the tzaddik, said: “A soul descends into the world and lives seventy, eighty years all for the sake of doing a single good deed for a single Jew on the physical plane and even more so, on the spiritual plane.”

If we add 70 and 80 together, we get 150 years of life, just from one good deed that we do for someone else. Moreover: The verse from which the Ba’al Shem Tov learned this principle is, “The days of our lives in them are seventy years, and if they are mighty, eighty years”[3] (יְמֵי שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה). The numerical value of the word meaning “in them” (בָהֶם) is 47. If we add 47 years to the 150 years, we get a life longer than the life of Isaac, 197 years—the numerical value of “Immanuel” (עִמָּנוּאֵל), one of the names of the Mashiach.

Once a woman who had no children came to Rebbe Mordechai. All the doctors had despaired of her ever bearing children. Rebbe Mordechai took some hay, told the woman to make tea from it and drink it. The woman went home and told her husband and the neighbors, who were opposed to Chasidut about Rebbe Mordechai's advice.  They scoffed at the idea. As a result of the ridicule, the woman decided not to follow Rebbe Mordechai’s advice and not to perform the segulah he recommended. This woman had a neighbor who was also childless, but who had strong faith in tzaddikim. She asked for the hay, made herself some tea, and drank it. Shortly afterward, she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy.

The neighbors who were opposed to the tzaddik may have scoffed, but hay has a direct connection to childbearing. When Joseph became the viceroy of Egypt, he is said to have told the people, “Here is seed for you [to sow the land]”[4] (הֵא לָכֶם זֶרַע). But the Hebrew word for “here” (הא) is pronounced exactly like “hay,” thus associating hay with bearing seed and having children.

Rabbi Mordechai Leifer of Nadvorna (Nadvirna, Ukraine) was born on the 19th of Iyar 5584 (1824) to Rabbi Yissachar Dov, the first Rebbe of Nadvorna. He married Chayah, the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelkeh Taubes, the chief rabbi of Yas (Iași, Romania), the son of Rabbi Aharon Moshe Taubes. After Chayah passed away, Rabbi Mordechai married Frieda the widow of Rabbi Gershon of Olinov (Ulanów, Poland). The tzaddikim of the generation such as Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin and Rabbi Chaim of Sanz praised Rabbi Mordechai very much while he was still a young man. Following his marriage, Rabbi Mordechai moved to Nadvorna and served as the Rebbe together with his brother, Rabbi Aharon Leib, for a short time. Later, he moved to Hungary, and his court moved to various places: Kyvyoshad, Chust, and Bushtyno. He became known in those places as a tzaddik and miracle worker and thousands streamed to him from all over Europe. Rebbe Mordechai passed away on the first day of Sukkot in 5655 (1894) and was laid to rest in Bushtyno (today in Ukraine).

 

When Rebbe Mordechai of Nadvorna was born, his uncle, Rebbe Meir’l of Premishlan, was invited to be the sandak (godfather) at his circumcision. Rebbe Meir also named the baby Mordechai. Later he said that he named him Mordechai after Rabbi Mordechai of Kremenitz, but also because inside this Mordechai, the soul of Mordechai from the Book of Esther dwells.

Similar to many tzaddikim, and perhaps more than all others, Rebbe Mordechai would pray very late. Once, the Mashiach was revealed before Rebbe Mordechai and Rebbe Mordechai asked him: “Why do I pray so late? If you tell me the correct answer, I will know that you are the Mashiach. For no one in the world knows why I pray late, only the Holy, Blessed One and the Mashiach.”

In addition, he would not allow anyone outside the regulars in his prayer quorum to pray with him. Once, he prayed the afternoon prayers in the middle of the night. A great rabbi happened to be present, and he was taken aback by the late hour for the afternoon prayers, which can only be recited until sundown. Rebbe Mordechai ordered everyone to leave and called the rabbi to enter his room in the middle of the night. He opened the blinds (when Rebbe Mordechai would pray, he would close the blinds) and to the rabbi’s great amazement, he saw the sun shining in the Rebbe’s room.

Once, Rebbe Mordechai was invited to be the mohel (circumciser) at a brit that was held on a Friday. The honored role of godfather was given to the Yitav Lev of Sighet, one of the tzaddikim of that generation. He asked Rebbe Mordechai when he would be arriving at the brit. “Two, three o’ clock,” Rebbe Mordechai answered.

2 o’clock came and went, then 3 o’clock, and even at 4 o’clock Rebbe Mordechai had not yet arrived. All this time, the Yitav Lev, one of the greatest tzaddikim of the generation, was waiting for him. At 5 o’clock, just a few minutes before sunset, Rebbe Mordechai arrived. “One has to fulfill his words,” the Yitav Lev reproved Rebbe Mordechai. “And you said that you would be coming at two, three.” “I am not a liar,” Rebbe Mordechai answered. “I said ‘two, three’ and I came at five!”

The Midrash says, “Mordechai in his generation like Moses in his generation,”[1] exemplifying how Moses’ soul continues to extend and appear in all the generations. In the merit of his staunch stance against Haman, Mordechai became the eternal symbol of the pintele yid—the concentrated essential Jewish spark found within every Jew’s heart, in every generation. Regarding the eternal nature of this spark, the Ba’al Shem Tov explained that the mishnah, “He who reads the Book of Esther in reverse did not fulfill the mitzvah,”[2] can be understood to mean that one should not read the Book of Esther as a story that happened in the “reverse,” i.e., in the distant past, but rather, as a story that continues to be enacted in every generation. With the right perspective, the story of Esther and Mordechai becomes more and more relevant as the years go by.

Mordechai’s super-temporal spark was very apparent in the way that Rebbe Mordechai of Nadvorna conducted himself. Timetables, the clock, and even the sun all had to adjust themselves to him and honor him and like Mordechai, he would not kneel or bow. It is not for nothing that the Ahavat Yisrael of Vizhnitz said about him, “Rebbe Mordechai is above time and above intellect.”

From the story about the brit we see that despite Rebbe Mordechai being above time, he enjoyed the numbers of the hours. The series of numbers that he mentioned: 2, 3, and 5 belongs to the famous Fibonacci series—1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21..—in which the ratio between consecutive numbers asymptotically approaches the Golden Ratio known by the Greek letter phi. The Golden Ratio is of course connected to the brit, both in the removal of the extraneous foreskin and the manifestation of Divine beauty, and in a number of mathematical phenomena connected to it, as well. For example, circumcision is performed on the 8th day from the birth of the baby. The Torah uses the word for “covenant” 13 times in the section where God commands Abraham to circumcise. Both 8 and 13 are Fibonacci numbers and since they are consecutive numbers in the series, their ratio approaches the Golden Ratio!

Rebbe Mordechai’s statement that connects the two numbers that he mentioned one after the other, can also be considered a segulah (a spiritual charm) for longevity. How so? The Ba’al Shem Tov, as revealed by one of his disciples known as Mordechai the tzaddik: “A soul descends into the world and lives seventy, eighty years all for the sake of doing a single good deed for a single Jew on the physical plane and even more so, on the spiritual plane.”

If we add 70 and 80 together, we get 150 years of life, just from one good deed that we do for someone else. Moreover: The verse from which the Ba’al Shem Tov learnt this principle is, “The days of our lives in them are seventy years, and if they are mighty, eighty years”[3] (יְמֵי שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה). The numerical value of the word meaning “in them” (בָהֶם) is 47. If we add 47 years to the 150 years, we get a life longer than the life of Isaac, 197 years—the numerical value of “Immanuel” (עִמָּנוּאֵל), one of the names of the Mashiach.

Once a woman who had no children came to Rebbe Mordechai. All the doctors had despaired of her ever bearing children. Rebbe Mordechai took some hay, told the woman to make tea from it and drink it. The woman went home and told her husband and the neighbors, who opposed Chasidut and scoffed at the idea. As a result of the ridicule, the woman decided not to follow Rebbe Mordechai’s advice and not to perform the segulah he recommended. This woman had a neighbor who was also childless, but who had strong faith in tzaddikim. This woman asked for the hay, made herself some tea, and drank it. Shortly afterwards, she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy.

The neighbors who were opposed to the tzaddik may have scoffed, but hay has a direct connection to childbearing. When Joseph became the viceroy of Egypt, he is said to have told the people, “Here is seed for you [to sow the land]”[4] (הֵא לָכֶם זֶרַע). But the Hebrew word for “here” (הא) is pronounced exactly like “hay,” thus associating hay with bearing seed and having children.

Image by Bruno from Pixabay

[1]. Esther Rabbah 6:2.

[2]. Mishnah Megillah 2:1.

[3]. Psalms 90:10.

[4]. Genesis 47:23.

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