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Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov: Redeeming Converts

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov was born in 5505 (1745). His foremost disciple was Rabbi Shmelkeh of Nicholsburg. Rabbi Moshe Leib was known as a wondrous lover of Israel, who selflessly redeemed captives and sustained the poor. He was also extremely devoted to helping non-Jews to convert. Rabbi Moshe Leib passed away on the 4th of Shevat, 5567 (1807). He requested that at his funeral, the melody that he had sung to bring joy to the bride and groom at a particular wedding should be played. Amazingly, the ensemble that had accompanied him at that wedding turned up at the funeral.  

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once set out on a journey from Sassov. They brought an aide with them, as well as a circumcision knife and wine. On their way, they found a baby wrapped in some sheets. His mother had placed him at the side of the road and was working in a nearby field. The three men constituted a Jewish court of law and secretly circumcised the baby. When the mother saw that her baby had been circumcised, she gave him to an orphanage in the nearby city of Brod. The rabbis wrote anonymously to the orphanage that the baby was a righteous convert and that he should immerse in a mikveh when he grew up in order to complete the conversion process. On his wedding day, Rabbi Moshe Leib came to Brod and revealed the story of the circumcision to the groom. (He was no longer afraid, for many years had passed and the incident had been forgotten). The groom was overjoyed. Certainly, the holy rabbis had seen that this baby was a holy soul, a great spark, and so had endangered their lives to circumcise and convert him against his parents’ will.

This almost surrealistic story, which includes a definite element of danger to the rabbis who performed the circumcision – requires a deep explanation. The story relates that the baby had a precious soul which, without the help of the tzaddikim, would have remained abandoned – out of its place – at the side of the road. The fact that his mother abandoned him at the side of the road and then gave him to an orphanage and forgot about him attests to this fact. Rabbi Moshe Leib wondrously explains the secret of conversion in our times as follows:

Regarding the teaching of the sages “One should not read by the light of the candle (on Shabbat) for fear that he will tip it. Rabbi Yishmael said, I read and tipped it and when the Holy Temple will be built, I will bring a fat sin-offering”[1] Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov explains that the Torah is the source of abundance in the world. When we draw abundance from the revealed dimension of the Torah into the world, that abundance is measured according to the letter of the law and reaches only those who are worthy of it. But when abundance from the concealed dimension of the Torah is drawn down into the world, ‘expansive kindness’ is also drawn down and reaches everyone – including non-Jews. Rabbi Yishmael says that he ‘tipped’ abundance into the world from the concealed dimension of the Torah. Thus, he commits himself to bringing a fat sin-offering – to draw non-Jews near to the teachings of the Torah or to convert them in the future, as is written in Proverbs,  “The kindness of the nations is a sin-offering” (Proverbs 14:34).  This sin offering makes them worthy of the abundance that they received.

Mistakenly tipping a candle on Shabbat seems like inattentiveness, but the sages say that Mashiach also comes when we are in a state of inattentiveness. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s chassidic revolution spread the inner dimension of the Torah outward. The resulting abundance spills out into all realms of life in the world – from material well-being and development to psychology and technology – all of which need to be rectified and completed in the Fourth Revolution. The Fourth Revolution purposefully tips the light of the candle of the Torah to shine to the non-Jewish world and lovingly draws near or converts those scattered sparks, with Chassidut and expansive kindness.

This concept is expressed in an additional story about Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov and conversion:

Once Rabbi Yisrael of Pikov, the son of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, came to visit Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov. “I would like to go to visit a good innkeeper, please come with me,” Rabbi Moshe Leib said to Rabbi Yisrael. They set off in an uncovered wagon. As they reached the innkeeper’s village, it began to pour. “Please come into my house and get out of the downpour,” the innkeeper said. The rabbis entered his home. Rabbi Moshe Leib was repeating a prayer, “Master of the Universe, please do not suspend my joy.”

“What joy is he talking about?” wondered Rabbi Yisrael. He knew, however, that it was not always possible to understand Rabbi Moshe Leib’s ways. They prayed the evening prayers and their host brought them a jug of warm milk. He placed straw on the floor so that they would have a place to sleep and even added his calf to sleep next to them and keep them warm.

Rabbi Moshe Leib joyously rose in the morning and turned to the innkeeper’s wife, “Rasi, what is for breakfast?”

“Please pray, Rabbi, and I will give you the morning meal,” Rasi replied.

After they prayed, the innkeepers served a bowl of millet cooked in milk. Rabbi Yisrael had never eaten such coarse food.

“Eat the millet, it is very good!” Rabbi Moshe Leib encouraged him. “Have you ever tasted such delicious millet?”

“Rasi, where did you get such delicious millet?” asked Rabbi Moshe Leib.

“From my non-Jewish neighbor, the miller’s wife,” Rasi replied.

“And she is a good person?” Rabbi Moshe Leib asked.

“Yes.”

“And what about her husband, the miller, is he also a good person?”

“No!” Rasi answered. “He is a bad dog, and constantly beats her. When that happens, she runs away to my house.

“Does she have more of this millet?” asked Rabbi Moshe Leib.

“No, just the small amount that she lent me.”

“And if her husband will discover that she lent you her last millet, what will he say?”

“He will beat her to death,” Rasi replied.

“Listen to what I am telling you, Rasi,” said Rabbi Moshe Leib. The miller will come home and ask about the millet. He will beat his wife and she will run away to you and tell you that she wishes to convert to Judaism. When that happens, come to me.”

The story unfolded just as Rabbi Moshe Leib predicted. He sent the woman to a different city, where she converted and married a Jewish man. Some of her descendants were the greatest Torah scholars of their generation.

Let us delve more deeply into the soul root of converts by the light of the teaching of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who was a primary partner (as was his son) in Rabbi Moshe Leib’s ‘conversion journeys.” On the verse in the Song of Songs, “May he kiss me from the kisses of his mouth,” Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explains:

“He had a love for the souls of Israel before they were created and afterwards, as well…This love (prior to their creation) is called alef, alluding to the verse in Job 33, “Aalefcha chochmah” אאלפך חכמה (I will teach you wisdom). And the love…after they were created is called beit, the first letter of binah בינה (understanding). And it is known that the soul of Israel is called hei. And to whom is the love that is called alef? To the hei. And the love that is called beit? To the hei, as well. Put them together – the alef to the hei and the beit to the hei – and they spell the word ahavah (love). And this is the meaning of ‘May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth’ – meaning, with two loves.”

The root of the souls of Israel is ahavah, (love, the inner dimension of chesed). The souls of Jews from birth are drawn down from the unification of the alef and hei prior to creation (“the thought of [creating] Israel preceded everything”). The souls of righteous converts are drawn down from the unification of the beit and hei, following creation. (This is alluded to in the first appearance of the word beit hei [bah] in the Torah: “And you, be fruitful and multiply [with the birth of the Nation of Israel] swarm in the earth and multiply in it (bah – beit hei) with an abundance of converts from the Sons of Noach, with love).”

Rabbi Yaakov Emden taught that a child born to a non-Jewish couple who unite with true love will convert to Judaism. True love, void of personal interests, also flows down to righteous non-Jews. Tthe two righteous rabbis in the first story are actually the parents of the baby who they converted. In the second story, replete with love, the sign that the woman is a potential convert was the love of Israel that was that she displayed toward her Jewish neighbor – lending her millet at considerable danger to herself. Initially, Rabbi Moshe Leib sensed a nearby spark and thought that its source was the love between the miller and his wife, who may possibly give birth to a child who would convert. When he understood, however, that the love was concentrated in the miller’s wife alone and not in her wicked husband, he knew that she would convert. This is the essence of the Fourth Revolution – drawing down an effluence of God’s love to the entire world, with love for all His creations – and seeing His goodness and love in everything.

[1] Shabbat 12a.

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