Flying To Heaven|
Chassidic literature is filled with legends of leaders (Rebbes) who performed miracles and flew
to the heavens to talk with God. This is one of my favorite stories, maybe because it illustrates
that the true measure of a Rebbe is not in his miracles but in his heart and that it does not require
miraculous powers to gain heaven.
In small towns in Europe, two groups of Jews lived side by side. The Hassidim were the ultra religious Jews, who dressed alike in long black coats and never shaved their beards. They believed that the sun rose on fell on their Rabbi, who they called the Rebbe and they never made a move without seeking his approval. They believed that he spoke directly to God.
The rest of the Jews kept the Torah, but they lived individual lives. Some had beards and some didn't. They dressed differently, according to their station. They did not believe that the Rebbe was any more than a very religious person. Some respected his opinion and others ignored it.
For the most part, these groups got along. After all they were a despised minority in the country. But at times there were conflicts when the Rebbe issued some statement and the non-Hassidim wouldn't comply. The Hassidim also believed that their Rebbe performed miracles and when they related these stories, the non-Hassidim would mock them.
Now it was known that the Rebbe was often late to the Friday night services and the services that began on the evening of any holiday. The non-Hassidim would use this to point out that the Rebbe could not be so holy. How could a holy man show up late for services? The Hassidim would claim that the Rebbe flew up to the heaven and spoke with God and that is why he was late. One day, a man named Moshe, who often made fun of the Hassidim, said that he would spy on the Rebbe and find out what it was he did every Friday afternoon. He would then report back to the others. It quickly became a bet. If Moshe could prove that the Rebbe was late because he conducted his own business, the Hassidim would admit they were wrong and pay him and his friends a large sum. If the Rebbe did in fact do some miracle, then Moshe and his friends would pay the Hassidim a large sum. Moshe even promised that if the Rebbe flew to heaven, he would become a Hassid himself.
That Friday, Moshe stationed himself in the woods behind the Rebbe's house. He watched a steady stream of Hassidim come and go, asking for the Rebbe's blessing. In the afternoon, the visitors finally stopped coming as they went home to prepare for the Sabbath. Moshe was moving closer to the Rebbe's house, when he saw a figure slip out of a back door. It was a short, stocky man wearing a patched fur coat and hat, carrying a sack over one shoulder and an axe over the other. Who was this person, why was he slinking about and why had he been in the Rebbe's house?
The stranger headed for the woods and as he came closer, Moshe was astonished to see that it was the Rebbe himself. Why was he dressed this way and acting so furtively? Moshe followed him through the trees as he circled the village, remaining hidden in the woods. At the edge of the village, near a decrepit house, he stopped.
There were some fallen trees near the house and the Rebbe began chopping at them and hacking off smaller pieces, which he placed in the sack. Then he entered the house. Moshe followed and was able to peer between the cracked walls.
"Is that you, Ivan?" an old, thin voice asked.
"Yes, it's me," the Rebbe answered, in the coarse tones of a peasant. "I've brought you some wood and vegetables."
Moshe watched as the Rebbe emptied the sack of wood near the fireplace. In a short while, he had a fire going. The Rebbe picked up a bucket and left the house, Moshe watched from a hiding place as the Rebbe filled the bucket with water from a nearby stream. He returned to the house and put the bucket over the burning wood. Then the Rebbe removed some potatoes and carrots from his sack and added them to the boiling water.
"I don't know what I would do without you," came that thin voice and Moshe saw an old woman sitting in the single chair in the one room shack. "Thank you for coming. You may take what I owe you. It is on the table."
Moshe noticed some nearly worthless coins on the battered table. He watched the Rebbe take a few of them. "You are generous as always," the Rebbe said. Moshe could hardly believe it. The coins were of no value. "Have a good weekend. I'll see you next week."
Why was the Rebbe acting this way? If the woman needed help, the Rebbe could have just asked one of his followers to deal with it. Then understanding dawned. How could the Rebbe ever fulfill his own obligation to help others if he simply asked someone else to do it? But then Moshe thought, surely it was beneath the Rebbe's dignity to chop wood and draw water? But then he thought of the old woman and how her dignity would suffer. Because of how the Rebbe had handled her situation, she did not even realize that she was a "charity case." And in that moment, Moshe had a small insight into the heart and soul of the Rebbe.
The Rebbe went back to the woods and Moshe realized that he was now heading home to take care of his own preparations for the Sabbath. There was no question that he would be late for the services, just as Moshe would be this week.
Moshe rushed home to prepare for the Sabbath. That Friday night, he too was late for services. After the service, he and his friends met with the Hassidim.
"So, were you able to follow the Rebbe?" the Hassidim asked.
"Yes, I did," Moshe answered.
"And did you see the Rebbe ascend to heaven?"
"No, he did not go to heaven," Moshe responded. Then as his friends began to smile, Moshe concluded, "he went even higher."