An Illness unto Death – A Spiritual Story By Rabbi Allen Maller
An Illness unto Death – retold by Rabbi Allen S. Maller
The Seer of Lublin was one of the most famous and formidable of the Hassidic Rabbis at the end of the 18th century. His greatest disciple (who had exactly the same name as his master) was called the Yehudi in Lublin, and the Holy Yehudi everywhere else. The two Rabbis loved each other very much, although they suffered many heartaches due to rivalries among their own disciples, especially those in Lublin. The Seer, as his appellation indicates, was a visionary who was interested in large movements and long term developments. The Holy Yehudi was a humble saint, famous for the power of his worship of God, who developed a reputation (which he always denied) as a healer of souls.
The Seer’s wife Beile, often overheard the gossip and slanders of the Seer’s disciples and began to believe what she had heard. When her young child fell ill she feared it was an evil eye from the Yehudi. Beile begged her husband to pray for the child’s recovery. He replied, “You know to whom you must turn.” meaning God. But perhaps because she felt guilty about the slanders she overheard and, like her husband, had failed to rebuke, Beile decided to go to Pshysha, where the Holy Yehudi held his court. She begged him to forgive her sins against him and to pray for her son’s recovery. The Holy Yehudi was struck dumb that the Seer’s wife could think he would wish her or her child ill; and he sobbed for a few minuets. Finally he told her, “I will pray without ceasing.” Being generally naive, he neglected to tell her that he forgave her. When Beile returned home her son was dying.
What the Seer and his wife concluded from all this no one knows. But some weeks later, the Yehudi’s son, who was almost 12, now fell ill. At first, it did not seem serious, but then it got worse. His mother Schoendel, cried hysterically for days. Once the told her husband, “This is their vengeance!” The Yehudi replied, “Don’t go to pieces!” She gave all that she had to charity, but the boy only got worse. Then something extraordinary happened.
Rabbi Yissachar Baer come to visit. The Yehudi took him by the hand to the bed where Asher his son lay moaning. The Holy Yehudi said, “I am at the end of my strength. I can pray no more. Take him upon yourself and you will surely give him back to me healed.” With that he took his sobbing wife and left the room.
Rabbi Yissachar Baer was dismayed. He had never practiced healing; and he was sure he was not a holy man. But Rabbi Baer was a man of peace; and he knew that one of his teachers, the Maggid of Kosnitz, had on several occasions tried, with some success, to reduce the Seer’s suspicions and tensions with the Yehudi. He thought Asher would be old enough to understand the nature of his illness.
“I am just an ordinary Rabbi; I am not a holy man like your father, or a great mystic like the Seer, or even a wise sage like the Maggid of Kosnitz. Every year I visit each of them for a few weeks, to learn and be inspired. Each of them is different, and their disciples are different. Their Torah is one Torah, but they teach it differently. Their Shabbat is on the same day, but they celebrate it in different ways. Each congregation says the Sh’ma but they sing it with different melodies. They do not even eat the same food. Some of the Seer’s disciples like Rabbi Meir, who is a leader of those who oppose everything your father does, are narrow minded and resistant to change. Other disciples are fearful of competition, and resent those who have come to your father instead of their own Rabbi, the Seer. But I tell you that I learn from each one of them, and each of them speak the words of the living God. No one anywhere wishes you ill. A Jew, no matter how pious, learned or Kosher he is, who slanders another Jew, is a Jew hater and not a real Jew. ”
Asher harkened to the words of Rabbi Baer and he began to feel better. Neither of them ever spoke about what had happened that day in that room. Rabbi Baer suggested to the Yehudi that Asher should live for a few months with the Maggid of Kosnitz until he fully recovered; and he did. Rabbi Baer also talked to the Seer and the Seer instructed Rabbi Meir to say a prayer every day for the long life of the Yehudi. And Rabbi Baer, much to his surprise, found that the story of his miracle cure spread, and many people with wounded souls came to him. Thank God he was able to help many of them.
Every year when he visited the three great Rabbis, he always told the disciples of the Seer, the Maggid and the Holy Yehudi, that self-righteousness, gossip, and slander cause an illness of the soul that can lead to death.
From: FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN by Martin Buber pp. 205-210
Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com