Remembrance Chant Phrase:
Bati L'gani Akhoti Khalkah
I have come into my garden, my sister my bride...
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There’s a story of a man, Rabbi David of Lelov, who, though he was a rabbi, was actually a great sinner– he had cheated and robbed and abused many people– but one Yom Kippur he was deeply moved and resolved to change himself. So, he gave up his livelihood and devoted all of his time to spiritual work, spending his days either begging for scraps of food, or doing intensive advodah, fasting from Sabbath to Sabbath and imposing many rigid disciplines on himself. He had vowed to live this way for six years, but at the end of the sixth year, he still felt that hadn’t purified himself of his past life, so he went for another six years.
Toward the end of the twelfth year, he was disturbed during his prayers by a squawking bird outside his window. For a moment he burned with rage and glared angrily at the bird. Fire streamed from his eyes and incinerated the bird on the spot. “Wow,” he thought to himself, “I guess all this avodah has really paid off, look how powerful I’ve become!”
Later that evening, while he was begging, he came to the home of a woman who usually had something for him. He knocked on the door, and he heard her voice from inside saying, “Just a minute!”
He waited for some time, but nothing happened– maybe she forgot about him. He knocked again. This time no answer. He started banging– “I told you I’ll be there in a minute!” she called out. Finally, she came to the door, and he snapped at her angrily: “How could you make me wait at your door like this!”
“What are you going to do?” she said, “Are you planning on burning me up like that bird?”
“What? How did you know about that?” he said. “You must have even greater powers than I! Please teach me what avodah you’ve done to get the power to read minds!”
“Well, I can’t teach you, but you can learn what you need to know from the tzaddik Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizhensk.”
So, Rabbi David made his way to pay the rebbe a visit. On Friday night, he came to the beit midrash with many others. The rebbe shook everyone’s hand, but when he got to David, he just skipped over him and didn’t even look at him. Rabbi David was appalled and left. But later, he thought it over and figured the rebbe must have taken him for someone else, so he came back to him after the evening prayers. He held out his hand, but the rebbe treated him just as before.
All night David wept, and in the morning, he resolved not to go see the rebbe again, but to stay in his lodging all day and return home as soon as Shabbat was over. But when it came time for shalosh seudes, the Shabbat Third Meal toward Saturday evening, the time when the rebbe gave his words of teaching, he couldn’t restrain himself any longer and crept up to the window. There he heard the rebbe say:
“Sometimes people come to me who fast and work on themselves, some who even fast for six years and then another six years– twelve whole years! After that they expect they should receive the ruakh hakodesh– the Divine Spirit– and become enlightened. They come to me to give them whatever little bit they still lack. But the truth is that all their work and discipline are nothing but a drop in the ocean; and what’s more, their avodah doesn’t rise to Hashem at all, but to the idol of their own pride. Such people must turn to the Divine by utterly giving up on all they were expecting to gain, and instead simply serve from the bottom up, with a sincere and truthful heart.
When Rabbi David heard these words, the spirit moved him with such force that he nearly lost consciousness. As he stood on the other side of the wall, he tasted for the first time since childhood a purity and simplicity.
Hieni hu omed akhar kotleinu – Behold, he stands behind the wall...
Trembling and sobbing, he peered through the window.
Mashgiakh min hakhalonot, metzitz min hakharakim – He looks through the window, he peers through the lattice...
When Havdallah was concluded, he went to the door with faltering breath, and waited on the threshold. Immediately Reb Elimelekh rose from his chair, ran up to his motionless visitor, embraced him and said: “Barukh HaBa! Blessed is this one who comes!” He then drew him toward his table and seated him at his side.
At once the rebbe’s son, Eleazar, couldn’t restrain his amazement. He came up to his father and whispered in his ear: “Abba, that’s the man you turned away twice because you couldn’t stand the sight of him!”
“Not at all!” replied Rabbi Elimelekh. “That was an entirely different person. Don’t you see that this is our dear friend Rabbi David!”
As Rabbi David sat with the rebbe, unable to speak, that simple inner glow he felt expanded and illuminated his being...
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks