The most famous of the students of the Baal Shem Tov was Rebbe Dov Ber, known as the Maggid of Mezerich. He was the one who carried on the teachings of the founder of Chassidus, who spread his Torah ideas among thousands of students and who was responsible for their continuance.
Rebbe Dov Ber, however, was also blessed with descendants of his own who carried on the Chassidic dynasty. His son was known as Rebbe Avraham HaMalach because of his almost total spirituality. He would sit wrapped in his tallis and tefillin, isolated from the materialism of the world, deep in study and contemplation.
In a significant way he differed from his father and the Baal Shem Tov. The latter elevated the concept of joy as found in the verse, “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha…” and stressed the importance of happiness in the service of G-d. As the Baal Shem Tov would say: “Happiness is a greater attribute than sadness or weeping. Weeping only opens the gates of Heaven while happiness shatters them entirely.”
Rebbe Avraham, however, was immersed his whole life in sorrow for the Churban and the dispersion of the Jews. In fact, one Tisha B’Av a venerable chassid of the town of Redzivilov, by the name of Reb Yitzchak, came to be with Rebbe Avraham in the city of Pastov.
As evening approached, Reb Yitzchak went with the rebbe to the synagogue where the two, together with the entire congregation, sat on the floor in mourning. As the cantor began to chant the Eichah Rebbe Avraham began to wail bitterly, and then, putting his head between his knees, was silent. All through the reading he sat in that position, not moving or speaking.
Reb Yitzchak waited until past midnight for Rebbe Avraham and finally he returned to his hotel. Awakening early in the morning he returned to the synagogue and was astounded to see that Rebbe Avraham was still there, in the same position in which he had left him, in his silent, bitter mourning for the Temple and Israel, and there he stayed until the fast was over.
Rebbe Avraham also carried over from his father a deep faith in G-d and a disregard for personal suffering. His father, Rebbe Dov Ber, was very poor and in poor health. When his wife would sigh and weep, he would say to her:
“Why do we weep? What has happened already in the past has gone and I give thanks to the Almighty Who has allowed me to survive to this day. As for the future, I have constant faith that He will send me salvation. There is left, then, only the present. The present is always only an instant – shall we then worry about an instant of suffering?”
Rebbe Shalom Shachna
The one who followed in the footsteps of Rebbe Dov Ber, however, was his grandson, Rebbe Shalom Shachna.
Rebbe Shalom Shachna did not keep himself from the world; he met it and attempted to purify it. He introduced an element of happiness and indeed a regal display, and his home became a palace of sorts to his followers. While he himself disdained materialism, he was equally adamant in his opposition to undue emphasis on fasting and self-denial.
The Tragic Woman
Thus the story is told of a tragic woman who, through a sad and unfortunate accident, negligently crushed her infant child as they slept in the same bed.
The bereaved woman felt that some punishment was due her negligence and she appealed to the rabbis to punish her.
The answer she received was that because she had taken a life out of negligence – though it was accidental – she should suffer exile from her home for a period of time and, in that exile, should fast every Monday and Thursday.