Stories of Tzadikim / Hearing Your Story
Hold on to Shabbos with
Stories of Tzadikim
With Rav Yussie Zakutinsky
Hearing Your Story
A gut voch everybody, a gut voch, there’s a very holy minhag by many yidden on motzei Shabbos, when Shabbos ends jews sit down for melave malka, they gather together and say stories of tzadikim. It’s a very beautiful and holy minhag, so that’s what we’re gonna do, we’ll get together virtually and say stories of tzaddikim. So for tonight I wanted to share with you a thought. What’s the significance of saying stories of tzadikim? Why is it so powerful, and what exactly is the avodah? What’s the mindset that a person should be in when you relate a story and hear a story? So to explain that, I’m going to tell you a maaseh I’ll tell you a story that explains that a little bit.
The story goes like this, when the baal Shem Tov was on his deathbed, so he gathered together a number of his great students and he told each one what their shlichus, what their mission is going to be for the rest of their lives in terms of spreading the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings. For example one student he said your mission is going to be to teach my Torah to as many people as possible. To one student the Baal Shem Tov said you’re avodah is going to do kindness to other jews in my name as much as possible, and so on and so forth. To one particular jew the Baal Shem Tov said, your Avodah, your job is to say stories about me for the rest of your life. Whenever you have the opportunity to say a maaseh about me the Baal Shem, you say the maaseh.
This particular Chassid, who was the storyteller of the baal Shem Tov, not only was that his spiritual mission, that was also his parnassah. He would go around from place to place, people would hire him for you know parties, shabbatons, to be the story-teller, to be the entertainment to say maasim. So there was one particular story, one event where he got a letter in the mail from a particularly wealthy elderly man, this person was having a 90th birthday, he was gathering his whole family and so on, he wanted to make a whole thing of it, so in this letter he invites this storyteller to come for the weekend, to regale everyone with maasim of the baal shem, it’ll be a very nice birthday week. So fine, 100% that’s what the story-teller does. So he travels already Thursday afternoon Thursday evening to where the weekend is going to be, and he comes off the wagon and the birthday boy comes with his whole family to go greet him everyone’s excited, they have a whole tish setup, a whole party set up and the entertainment is going to begin, he’s going to say a maaseh.
The storyteller comes and everyone is looking at him, everyone’s watching for the first story of the weekend, and he says let me tell you a maaseh and he completely goes blank. This is someone you have to appreciate it, he spent years and years amassing hundreds and hundreds of stories and he knew them off by heart, this was his life, and all of a sudden he’s there and he can’t think of one story. It’s a little embarrassing, the family says listen you just traveled today, it’s been a long journey, you’re a little tired, rest up, tomorrow we’ll pick up. So he goes to bed, he wakes up the next day all refreshed and he has a whole bunch of stories he’s gonna say. Comes Friday afternoon everyone gets together, Toameha, a little hachanos before Shabbos, “Nu say a maaseh, say a story?” Completely blank. Now he’s already embarrassed, friday night by the tish, “say a story?” Completely blank, every single opportunity that this person has to say any story he just completely goes blank and nothing. Obviously it puts a huge damper on the whole weekend, everyone is disappointed. By the time motzei shabbos comes, he’s ashamed to face the elderly gentleman that was putting all this together, but he has no choice. He goes over to him he says “I’m so sorry, I ruined your party, I ruined your weekend, I was supposed to come and say stories, I can’t explain it, I have no idea why this happening to me, I have nothing.” The person says “Hashem controls the world, it is what it is, it’s nothing personal obviously, it’s a little disappointing, but it’s nothing personal.” Obviously he says “I'm not taking any money, I ruined your party I’m not getting paid for this it is what it is.”
He gets into the wagon and he starts leaving, a few minutes after the wagon goes down the road the wagon stops, and the storyteller jumps out of the wagon and runs runs back to the old man. The old man says “What, is everything okay?” He says “I thought of one story, I thought of one story. And he said obviously this is not for money, not for parnassah, I ruined your party already, this is just for free. I just wanted to tell you the maaseh that just popped into my head, to tell you the truth It’s not even one of my best stories I don’t know if I’ve ever said it before, I don’t even know the full story, but at least part of the story I remember.” Okay so what’s the maaseh? He said the maaseh is like this.
“I remember when I was by the Baal Shem, years and years ago, The Baal Shem once took me aside he said we’re going to go on a trip together. So we get into the wagon the Baal Shem Tov whispers something in the horses ears, the Baal Shem Tov comes on the wagon sits next to me and the horses just go on their own. After some time we find ourselves in a city that I never recognized the story-teller says, and this was a particularly not jewish city, it was a non-jewish town, not only did we find ourselves in a non-jewish neighbourhood, the horse and wagon parked itself in front of the church of the town, and this was during mass, it was on sunday morning, during mass, the whole place was filled with worshipers, of goyim, not only was it awkward for us to be there but it was a little dangerous too. The Baal Shem Tov goes to the church, this is what the storyteller is telling the old man, he says I saw this, that the Baal Shem Tov went into the church, knocked on the door, the secretary opens the door sees this Rabbi, and the Baal Shem tov is not going into the church but he says “I want you to go tell the priest that I want to speak to him, tell him Yisroel Baal Shem Tov wants to talk to him.” The secretary is like he’s in the middle of giving a Drashah you know, he’s leading the services. The Baal Shem Tov says “Do what I say”. He had those piercing eyes, go tell the Galach, tell the priest Yisroel Baal Shem wants to talk to him. The secretary goes, whispers this message in the Galach’s ear, all of a sudden the Galach turns pale, runs out of Mass in the middle, sees the Baal Shem Tov and him, the Baal Shem tov and the priest go to a side house, a side area and they have a conversation. Meanwhile the storyteller says to the old man, I was sitting there, waiting there waiting there for the Baal Shem Tov to come out from the private meeting it must’ve been an hour or two, a few hours. The door opens they come out, and the Baal Shem Tov walks out back to the wagon, and I see the Galach his eyes are beet red, clearly clearly crying the whole time. And so the storyteller says that's the end of the story, that’s all I know we went back home.”
Meanwhile the old man is hearing this, the old man faints, mamash faints on the spot. What happened? They revive him, and he says let me tell you something, “that priest, that was me. That was me.” So the storyteller says okay so, you know, this person is a professional storyteller, “what’s the end of the Maaseh, what did the Baal Shem Tov tell you in that room?” So the person said, The old man said “listen What the Baal Shem Tov told me in that room and what he said to change my life, to bring me from that place to the place that I am now, that’s between me and G-d, I’m not going to say. But I’ll tell you one thing, after the whole thing was over and I decided to return to Hashem, to return to the jewish people, I asked the Baal Shem, I said Rebbe, how will I know how can you give me a sign that my Teshuvah has been accepted in heaven. When can I fully be at peace with myself? The Baal Shem Tov says if at one point in your life one of my students comes and tells you your story, that’s a siman that you should be at peace.” So the old man said, “ever since then I've been hiring all sorts of storytellers as much as I possibly can to hear stories from the Baal Shem Tov, hoping and hoping I’ll hear my Maaseh. Finally finally this is the Maaseh that i’ve been waiting for, to hear my story.”
Chevra, I think this is the Avoda of hearing a maaseh, hearing a story of a tzaddik, you’re not hearing about a story that happened to a particular person from a long time ago, that that person was righteous, and we’re trying to become people like that. We have to realize every motzei shabbos, this the Avodah, we have to realize that we are connected to the Tzadikim, we are a part of them and they are a part of us. When you hear a story of a tzadik, you’re hearing your own autobiography, you have to learn and you have to realize that the greatness that we hear and we remind ourselves of, of our people in past generations, that’s our story right now. And when a person hears their story it gives them strength.
The reason we say stories motzei shabbos going into the 6 days of the week. The 6 days of the week is a dark time, it’s a time of forgetfulness. What do we forget? Sometimes we forget torah, sometimes we forget mitzvos, sometimes we forget each other, and the deepest tragedy is sometimes we forget who we are. When we say a maaseh motzei Shabbos of tzadikim we’re reminding ourselves who we are, what we’re capable of, what’s really beneath the surface of our own souls and our own consciousness. Hashem should bless each and every one of us, by telling stories of tzadikim, by believing in tzadikim we should hear our stories in them, our stories in their stories and have the strength to remember who we are throughout the course of the 6 days of the week. A gut voch, a gebentched voch, a lichtige voch.