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The Secrets In The Flames


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On Rosh Hashanah it is a mitzvah to assume a bowed posture as we offer tearful prayer to God and beg for His mercy and forgiveness. We are hopeful that our humility and remorsefulness will earn us a favorable verdict, but should we, Heaven forbid, fall short, Hashem in His infinite kindness extends our time of teshuvah through the duration of Chanukah, when it is a mitzvah to light the Chanukah candles that give rise (literally) to the flames that shoot straight upward, in affirmation of our spiritual ascent.

*  *  *

The atmosphere in the Tzaddik’s quarters was highly charged. The Apter Rav, R. Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, was deeply absorbed in the mystical contemplation of the Chanukah lights and did not anticipate the sudden intrusion that scuttled his concentration on this erev Chanukah.

Nachman the gabbai let him know that Soreh’le the agunah – stubborn in her refusal to accept Nachman’s admonition that “now is not a good time” – was waiting to see him.

“Moshe Chaim’s agunah?” The Rav visibly shuddered. “Now, as we prepare for the first light of Chanukah ?”

Profusely apologetic, Nachman assured the Rebbe that he had tried to dissuade the woman but that she was unrelenting in her insistence to be allowed inside. “So unlike her ” muttered the gabbai, “always keeps to herself, the embodiment of modesty.”

His words were still trailing when the door was thrust open and Soreh’le the agunah stood there pleading in a tear-chocked voice: “Rebbe, heiliger [holy] Rebbe!” As the Rav lifted his eyes from his sefer, teardrops fell to the surface of the table, just clearing the holy book’s open pages. Numerous broken souls had flocked to the Tzaddik to bare their pain and sorrow, and yet he now felt himself moved to the core of his being as never before.

Nachman’s quiet exit opened the floodgates.

“Ten years! It’s been ten long years since my tragedy unfolded, and God, Who sees and knows everything, has seen fit to keep my secret from the world – surely in merit of my innocent children! But for how much longer?”

Moshe Chaim had been one of the Rav’s most beloved chassidim, their camaraderie evidenced by his unsupervised visits to the Rebbe’s private chamber at all hours. His wife, a true aishes chayil, had managed the home front to ensure her husband’s uninterrupted flow of Torah study and close association with his Rebbe.

On one Motzei Shabbos, a time that would normally find Moshe Chaim in the beis medrash preparing for the Rebbe’s impending melaveh malka, he unexpectedly arrived home, purportedly on an errand for the Tzaddik – at the precise moment his wife was about to drop an unkashered piece of poultry into a cooking pot. (Women in those days routinely did their own kashering. Soreh’le had forgotten to do so earlier and succumbed to fear of being caught embarrassingly unprepared.)

R. Moshe Chaim would never in his wildest dreams have fathomed stumbling on such a scene – in his own home yet – and the blow rendered him momentarily numb. The chassid collected himself and faced his trembling, dumbstruck wife.

“From now on, Soreh’le, you are no longer my wife and I am no longer your husband. We can no longer live together under one roof. But out of compassion for our two young children, and in reverence of our Tzaddik whose honor would be besmirched should word of this travesty be circulated, I wish for this matter to remain forever hidden – and for you, Soreh’le, to retain your good name and your title of Soreh’le the tzidkanis.

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