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Winedrops on the Eyelashes
by Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi
In honor of Howard Schwartz and Neshamah Carlebach (daughter of Reb Shlomo)
About the author
Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi, Reb. Zalman, as he is affectionately called, has been at the forefront of pioneering Jewish spiritual renewal. He was ordained at the Lubavitch Yeshiva and holds graduate degrees in psychology of religion and a doctor of Hebrew letters. He is currently professor emeritus at Temple University.
Through prayer and meditation, counseling and mentoring, movement, song, storytelling, and philosophical discourses, he shares the central teaching of Hasidism and Kabbalah in a manner that is at once authentic, contemporary, and compelling.
In 1962 he founded P'nai Or Religious Fellowship, which has now merged with ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
Somewhere I read this story, many years after I heard it, and put it into my reveries. In the book it had become flat and lifeless, mere hagiography to get us to say, "Oy, what a Tzaddik the Baal Shem Tov was." I first heard this story from Reb Berl Baumgarten as I described it. It lit a fire in me. In my imagination I stood with Chaim, the Yoshev, the Batlan, at the Besht's door and was with him in his attempts at being a merchant. With him I was in the shipwreck and on the island. With him I was teleported by the Shem back to Mezhibuzh.
There are so many inspiring turns to the story. The Yoshev's life at the Bet Hamidrash of the Baal Shem Tov. His simplicity. How he is deployed by the Besht, through a chain of vicissitudes, to get the Name of the Jumping Road, the Shem for K'fitzat Haderekh.
(This notion of quantum jump or space warp comes up in many science fiction tales: Frank Herbert's Dune picked it up and called the mutant the Kwitzatz Haderekh.)
The island sanctuary for those loyal to the God of Israel in a time for idolatry is so reminiscent of the Jews of Djerba and Tunisia, and the purity of their loyalty to tradition, which rejected the incursions of the less traditional Alliance Israelite.
However, the notion that Shabbat on earth in a body of physical resurrection is an even more advanced state than the soul's post mortem spiritual paradisal existence - that was for me most inspiring.
When I first heard the story, I was told that Reb Chaim had said that he could not accept such an offer, no matter how tempting, without the advice of his Rebbe the Besht. Later I heard it with some differences from another source.
Now the motive for returning was stressed to be that Chaim did not want to leave his wife, an Aguna (an "anchored" and chained-down woman who could not marry, for there was no evidence that she was a widow). And how could he enjoy such a blessed state at such a great expense to his wife and kids?
I liked this ending better and printed it that way in the Holy Beggars' Gazette, a journal published by the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, Reb Sholmo Carlebach's Bay Area Shtibl of the seventies. It was first published in the Winnipeg Jewish Post and later a revised and edited version in the Yiddishe Heim of Chabad.
I would tell it often when I conducted a retreat. It set the mood of the participants into a state altered from their everyday routine consensus reality. It provided us with our own K'fitzat Haderekh to the state in which miraculous quantum jumps could be made to transformative insights and theophanies.
It is a pleasure to share this story in the hope that you too may experience a K'fitzat Haderekh.
So jump ahead gezunterheit.
Winedrops on the Eyelashes
Let me tell you a Ma'aseh!
Professor Heschel says, "A Ma'aseh is a story in which the soul surprises the mind." It is a key.
A key is a peculiar thing. You put it in the only opening remaining in a door and seemingly even stop this opening up, but when it is fitted, turned and used, it opens the door.
I heard this Ma'aseh from Reb Berel Baumgarten, who heard it from Reb Dovid Nosson, who heard it from the Komarner Rebbe, who heard it from his father and he from his, up to Reb Eisikel, and he from the Lubliner, who heard it from the Maggid, who himself heard it from Reb Chaim.
Reb Chaim was a Yoshev - a sitter - at the court of the Baal Shem Tov. A sitter sits and learns Torah day and night. The Baal Shem Tov gave him a stipend on the third day of every week: the day on which God twice said, "It is good."
Reb Chaim, waiting at the Baal Shem's door, was this Tuesday not called to receive his stipend. When he came home to his wife she asked for the money and he said that the Baal Shem Tov had not called him this day - an oversight.
An oversight that will misstamme be corrected next week.
"What should I do in the meantime?" she pressed him.
"Pawn our pillows."
Grudgingly, she did. He, Reb Chaim, studied on.
The next week Reb Chaim stood at the door, waiting, suppliant - in his heart thinking at the Rebbe - "It is I, Chaim, my stipend! - last week - this week - Rebbe!"
But he was not called.
"Chaim! Chaim! What now?" his wife demanded.
"Borrow! The candlesticks, pawn them! The Rebbe will remember. I shall stand near him at the evening service - he will not forget. Perhaps next week."
But the studies soured on him. The flavor was gone. What will be? Perhaps business - Tachles!
No, no! The Rebbe will remember. On the following Tuesday Chaim stands at the door and waits. His wife, she paces up and down outside and she, too, waits. Like a sentry on the post she does not leave. So he takes heart, Chaim.
He knocks on the door, timidly enters and faces the Rebbe's seemingly anger-clouded face.
"What should I have done, Rebbe - how was I to know that I displeased you.
I did not? So what else? You don't want me here - but my three weeks of debts! What am I to do? Business? Rebbe, I have no business sense and such bad luck all the time.
"You will give me a blessing. Amen! So be it. And something so the blessing will be able to take hold? Thank you, Rebbe. I am sure there is a purpose in this. I am resigned. Yes, Rebbe resigned and alert to my new role."
Reb Chaim thus became a merchant. And what a merchant! The Baal Shem Tov's blessing that he - Reb Chaim - will, with God's help - find favor in the eyes of his beholders - immediately proved potent.
The money became a goose: the goose, a turkey; the turkey, a goat; the goat ... Bakitzur - to make a long story a bit shorter - Reb Chaim was the proud owner of a store, a feed store, a general store. He even had a jewelry counter - a jewelry store.
His supplier of gems tells him that he buys the merchandise in Leipzig. "Leipzig?
I can also go there to shop!" Some purpose drives Reb Chaim - and he is off to Leipzig. He can buy the gems direct and have all the profit. There is so much to see in the world. Jews, Minyonim, Rabbonim. But since Chaim compares them all with Mezhibuzh and the Baal Shem Tov, none of them can really measure up.
Leipzig - the fair - the tumult - the noise. "The jewels don't come from Leipzig?
Where from? Amsterdam?" Reb Chaim thinks as long as he is in Leipzig he might as well go on to Amsterdam!
Our Reb Chaim finally gets to Amsterdam. "What? The diamonds come from Africa?"
Then Africa! There is something in Reb Chaim that urges him on - Africa!
The journey is long and the sea is wide. Sea travel is not for the former Yoshev. He is ill. A storm - up - down, can I say it better than the psalmist?
They that go down to the sea in ships,
A rock - a hole in the ship - it sinks. Reb Chaim holds on to a board for dear life. He is glad that he is tossed back and forth - the immediacies of preserving the bit of life drown out some anxious questions concerning the Baal Shem Tov's intentions that burrow their way into his awareness.
That do business in great waters
These saw the works of the Lord,
And his wonders in the deep;
For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind,
Which lifted up the waves thereof;
They mounted up to the heaven, they went down to the deeps;
Their soul melted away because of trouble;
They rolled to and fro, and staggered like a drunken man,
And all their wisdom was swallowed up--
Tossed up - down - ahead - back - slush comes a wave over his his head and carries him ahead and, with a jar, he lies on the land.
He drags himself a bit farther ahead. On the slight dune of sand he sinks exhausted into an imageless sleep.
He awakes - and looks about. "Where are my tallis, my t'fillin? Lost on an island?" He looks about and sees smoke - a fire? People - anybody? Baruch HaShem, blessed is the Creator who provides. Reb Chaim goes on and finds a village, he enters a house, a Mezuzzah! Jews! "Blessed Art Thou Who bestow such kindness on the undeserving!"
He surveys the simple furnishings on the table, a bottle of schnapps, a few pieces of Lekach cake, a tallis, and two pair of t'fillin - Rashi's and Rabbenu Tam's. He dons them, and lo and behold, the knots tie just like his own, they turn outward - just like in Mezhibuzh! And the way in which he davvens in them! These tallis and t'fillin really pray by themselves, and his soul wafts upward:
Thou art the Lord God all alone
Ah, M'chaya - Reb Chaim enjoys this prayer - he waits for the impression of t'fillin straps on his hand to pass away and he helps himself to a L'Chaim.
A volume of the Talmud is at hand and he studies. Soon the owner of the house will come - there is a pot of soup boiling on the stove - so when the owner will come he will surely invite him to eat. All the questions he will ask then! Has the Baal Shem Tov ever been to this island before? When he tried to go to the Holy Land?
Thou hast made the Heavens
The heavens of the heavens, all their hosts
The Earth and all that is upon it
The seas and all that fill them-
And thou art m'chaya - invigorating."
Reb Chaim gets hungry and cannot wait any longer, so he helps himself to the soup - Ah!
No one comes. Reb Chaim impatiently visits the other houses, finds them the same as this, but not a soul to be seen. He despairs and wonders. When he feels sleep approaching he makes himself comfortable and is soon asleep.
The next day still not a soul to be seen. The bottle refilled, the Lekach replaced, the pot of soup a-boil, but not a soul around and when, on the third day, still no one can be seen Reb Chaim comfortably despairs. He saw no one, sees no one, ergo he will see no one - and with a happy naivete that is pained only for the lack of company he accepts his lot as he goes to bed on Thursday night.
To the Shochet with the chickens! To the sea for fish! Vegetables from the garden, and fruits! Men, women, and children, all in an eager rush to make Shabbos, awaken Reb Chaim from his troubled sleep.
Chaim turns to them, "Please tell me who you are, what you are, where are you from, what are you doing here?"
But talking to them is just like talking to people during their prayers. Engaged in a mitzvah, doing God's will, how can they be interrupted then?
Chaim would like to help prepare for the Sabbath, but there is no answer coming his way. So Chaim, like an orphaned shadow, wanders among the people, watches them prepare for the Sabbath while his soul aches over his isolation. How much he would like to be part of it all!
In the afternoon he repairs to the bathhouse, and there, enveloped in steam, with the other people preparing for the Sabbath, he sees their joy and still is not a part of it.
Toward sunset all of them go toward the synagogue and Chaim with them. The cantor begins to davven and Chaim, who has been to many places on this trip, Chaim who has been to cities in Poland, who has been to Leipzig, who has even been to Amsterdam, who was on his way to Africa, hasn't heard such davvening since he left Mezhibuzh in the home of the Baal Shem Tov. Chaim feels at home.
Ah-h-h, the taste of the world to come!
The canter begins again: "Come let us sing unto the Lord! Let us chant to the rock of our salvation!" That singing, that chanting! The ecstasy of that prayer! Oh, yes, Chaim feels at home and Chaim merges with them.
"Come, O friend, to meet the bride! Let us meet the Sabbath!" The melodies, though they are not the same, have the same lilt, the same flavor as those of Mezhibuzh, the home of the Baal Shem Tov. Before long, all too soon, the service is over.
The shammas approaches Chaim and asks him to be the guest of the rabbi. Chaim is only too glad. Now he will find out. Chaim follows the rabbi to his home.
Seated around the table he attends as the rabbi bids the angels welcome, "Shalom Aleichem Mal'achei Hashareth. Peace unto you, angels of peace!" Chaim almost feels the clasp of the angel's hands in his as he, too, says, "Shalom Aleichem.
Peace unto you."
The rabbi intones the Eshet Chayil. "A women of valor who can find? Her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband is secure in her!" Chaim is transported into the realm where God sings this song of valor to his Shechina.
Then the Kiddush. The cup of wine glistens in the rabbi's hand. "it is evening, it is morning, the sixth day. And the heavens and the earth were finished."
Chaim, before his mind's eye sees the completion of the universe, how God hallows this day and prepares to rest and Chaim stands as a witness to this sublime fact of all creation, the Sabbath. Oh, such spiritual Ta'am Gan Eden.
It is as if the tendrils of his sensory nerves were connected to his very soul. Feeling with his neshama the delights of this world through the Sabbath.
Very soon, the rest of the people are gathered around the rabbi's table, the tish, as he begins to expound the Torah based on the portion of the week.
Chaim has heard many preachers, he has heard preachers in many parts of Poland, he has heard many other preachers. Even in Leipzig there are preachers! He has even heard preachers in Amsterdam. Chaim was on his way to Africa for diamonds, but such preaching, such fervor, such ecstasy, such a feeling of hearing the Shechina talking through the throat of Moses, this feeling he only had at Mezhibuzh and here again.
Chaim is amazed and Chaim is wondering.It is very late when the chevra break up, going home, each one to his place, and Chaim to the place where he had stayed all week - and he rests. All the anxieties of the week are gone. In the back of his mind he still wonders; who, what, where, when, how, but Chaim thinks, "There will be time to ask."
Behold it is the Sabbath morning.
First to the sea for a ritual dip. Refreshed, renewed, Chaim is able to pronounce with the rest of the congregation, "The soul of the living blesses Thy name, O Lord, and the spirit of all flesh..." His very flesh is enthralled at the song of his own soul to God.
The Torah is being read. The words float through the air as if they were intricate designs of fire. All the people stand erect for the reading of the Torah.
No one dares to chat at the time when God speaks to each man's mind and soul through the words of the Torah, as it is being read from the reader's desk.
Then the Haftarah. Oh, Chaim can see the prophet on the hilltop addressing the throng surrounding him. Chaim feels even in the denunciation of the prophets the very tender mercies of God. Chaim knows at that moment that the voice of God still speaks to man in Mezhibuzh and here. "Oh," Chaim sighs, "if only in the other cities of Poland and Leipzig and Amsterdam ..."
The Musaf begins and at the K'dusha, the sanctification of God's name, Chaim joins the rest of the congregation and feels as if he were an angel standing in the presence of the Throne of Glory, approaching that Throne and placing the Crown, wrought by Israel's prayers the world over, on the head of God.
"Keter Yitnu Lecha (the Crown they give unto Thee)," Chaim chants, "Holy, holy, holy ... the Lord of Hosts." Chaim, too, feels like one of the Seraphim in Heaven, chanting God's praise.
When they come to the passage: "And the sacrifice of this Sabbath we shall render unto Thee in love," Chaim has a Kavvanah, an insight, something he had never felt before, nor fully understood. Chaim had always wondered, "How is it possible to make up the sacrifice of this Sabbath even at the time of the coming of the Messiah?" And now Chaim understands! The sacrifice of this Sabbath, this very Sabbath, which we cannot sacrifice unto you, O God, in the life of an animal, or on the altar in Jerusalem, the sacrifice of this Sabbath, O Lord, we sacrifice to you in love, by loving you.
Chaim joins in the jubilation of the Eyn K'Elokenu. "There is no God like our God." After the service is over Chaim goes back to his host, the rabbi, and for the first time in his life, he then fully understands the meanings of the saying that the first meal on the Sabbath was established by Abraham, the second meal of the Sabbath by Isaac and the third by Jacob. The first and the last meals Chaim could always enjoy. Somehow Isaac frightened him. It is at this moment, sitting at the rabbi's table, being in this sublime atmosphere, for the first time in his life, he is able to say to Isaac, "Thou are my father, my grandfather." Strange - Isaac became familiar to him as he mirrored his own loneliness and isolation and the sense of fellowship with the one who was lonely in this universe for God.
The Torah of the second meal is worth hearing, repeating, remembering and meditating upon. Shabbos lasted and this meal lasted until Mincha time, when the people again assembled in the synagogue and with tremendous joy in his heart, and with the premonition of the parting of the Sabbath, adding some tartness to the flavor he felt in his soul he said the words, "Thou art One, and Thy name is One, and who is likened unto Thy people, Israel, one nation upon the earth."
At the third meal of the Sabbath there was not much said, but the melodies that were wafting between man and man as they sat around the table in the synagogue - the melodies were of the the kind he hadn't heard anywhere. Chaim had been around - been to many cities in Poland, been to Leipzig and been to Amsterdam and he was on his way to Africa for diamonds, but Chaim hadn't heard melodies of this kind since he left Mezhibuzh. Yet he knew these melodies, he recognized them. They must have been the melodies that the Levites chanted in the Holy Temple.
The Sabbath was over. The Maariv, the evening prayer, was being said, and the Havdalah was being made - and Chaim wanted to ask. His curiosity had reappeared with the new week.
Just as Chaim was about to ask the rabbi, the Havdalah candle was raised and the rabbi intoned: "Hiney E-l Y'shuatti (behold the God of my salvation)."
In his new, weekday state of mind, beholding God is a terrifying thing. Chaim stood as one paralyzed. At the end of the Havdalah ceremony the rabbi doused the Havdalah candle with the leftover wine of his Havdalah cup and everyone stepped forward to dip their small fingers into the wine, touching them to their eyelids. Lo and behold, as they touched them to their eyelids, they disappeared, one by one, the rabbi himself being the last. As suddenly as they had come, they had disappeared. Now Chaim knew, somehow he was sure, that all during the week he would have to be in the same loneliness as he was the week before...
Although his wants were well taken care of, with his schnapps replenished and the cake there every day, as well as the soup, Chaim's wonderment, and the many theories that he spun, grew larger and larger. But he knew Friday morning he would wake up and there they would be. Again he made up his mind that come Saturday night, he would ask the rabbi, he would prevent him if need be, from dipping his fingers into the wine before he touched his eyelids, in order to know the truth. Again the Sabbath went, and again Chaim felt as if transported into a higher world, a supernatural more sublime world.
Again the rabbi intoned: "Behold God is my salvation, I shall trust and never fear." That way in which he said it started Chaim thinking, as if this was the answer to his own problems, as if this sentence of the Bible would tell him that he must trust and never fear. So he was caught in meditation until this time, too, all the people and the rabbi were gone.
For the next week Chaim devises a plan. He will not listen to Havdalah, he will make Havdalah beforehand, right after the service in the synagogue is over and the Sabbath is gone, before they came to the rabbi's house; he will make Havdalah and keep his fingers in his ears and not even listen, because he knows that were he to listen he would again be transformed by a new way of looking at his sentence. This time Chaim is prepared.
Just as the rabbi is about to dip his fingers in the wine, Chaim grabs his hands and says: "Rabbi, you must tell me! Who are you? Where are you from?
What does it all mean?"
As if a cloud had dropped before the rabbi's eyes, the rabbi heaves a sigh and says: "Chaim, why did you have to ask? Chaim, you cannot remain with us any longer in the same way that you have during the past. Chaim, you must now make a choice, you must decide one way or the other.
"I will tell you our story, after which your decision must be made, a decision that will be irrevocable."
It was in the time of the first temple, in the time of the prophet Elijah, when a group of our parents approached the prophet and said to him:
"Master, Thy servants desire to leave this land, which is so full, both of holiness, but also of idolatry. We do not wish that our children and that we ourselves become polluted by the idolatry that you are so hard pressed to fight. If you grant us permission we shall leave this country and settle somewhere far away, on an island, where we can serve God according to the dictates of our conscience, according to the way in which we recognize His truth."
And the prophet agreed. Moreover, he gave them the sacred name for K'fitzat Haderech. K'fitzat Haderech means the jumping of the way. It is as if a long road was made shorter. It is as if all of space would become warped and distances no longer would remain distances and could be traversed with ease.
We sent a group of spies. They found this island on which we are now. They came back, reported to us, and we held hands, one to another, standing in a great circle and a Holy and Terrible Name was pronounced and when we opened our eyes we found ourselves on this island where we built what we built and made ourselves at home and continued to worship God.
Before every one of the three pilgrimage holidays, before Passover, before Shevuot, and before Succot, one third of our community would be delegated to go on the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple and offer the sacrifices on our behalf and on their own behalf. Our entire community would walk with them to the edge of the sea, and there, after song and dance, and tender leave-taking, the chosen ones would hold hands, close their eyes, utter the Name and be transported.
The day after the holiday we would again gather by the shore to await them. So we did, year after year.
Once the group we had sent for Succot came back and was there before our eyes, but gone were their festive garments, instead they were clothed in sackcloth and ashes, and as we wondered why, with no answer forthcoming, we knew and realized the terrible tiding.
The Temple, the House of God, the place where He Himself had chosen to dwell, was destroyed! And we wept, all of us, our youngest and our oldest. We wept until our souls could stand it no longer and separated from our bodies and we found ourselves before the great tribunal on high.
They didn't know what to do with us. Some argued that even Heaven, with Abraham, with Isaac and with Moses, was not good enough for us. Perhaps we did not think it so. Yet they were adamant and none knew where we were to be placed.
Suddenly there came a voice from the Throne of Glory saying: "What is the greatest reward I have in my treasures? The greatest reward that awaits man is that he returns again to his body that his soul and his body become one.
"But with one important difference. That whereas now it is the body which receives its life from the soul, then the soul will receive its life and sustenance from the flesh. For the flesh is in some ways closer to the inscrutable, ineffable heights."
The rabbi explained, "Is it not so? Only the flesh can hide the light of God from the soul. Therefore the origin of the flesh is in its root much higher and much more sublime. It stems directly and immediately from the divine Ayin - the No-Thing, without having to become subject to innumerable transmutations and developmental steps like the soul. All the angels on high agreed, and so it was decided.
All week we were to be in Heaven and our souls were to receive their reward.
The reward where the righteous sit with crowns on their heads and bask in the radiance of the Shechina. Before Sabbath we were to be returned to Earth, because he who does not work for the Sabbath, who does not prepare for the Sabbath, what will he eat on the Sabbath? And the Friday is as much of the Sabbath as the Sabbath itself. The more preparation, the higher the rejoicing of the Sabbath itself. The more preparation, the higher the rejoicing of the Sabbath, the deeper the draught of life that the soul will derive from the body. On the Sabbath we are granted the resurrection, the bodily resurrection here on earth...
In all his amazement Chaim somehow understood.
The rabbi turned to Chaim and said: "Chaim, now you must make up your mind.
Chaim, either you become one of us and join us, and then you, too, will dip your fingers in the wine and disappear like the rest of us, or else, Chaim, you must leave this island. I will see to it that you find transportation. The name of K'fitzat Haderech shall help you arrive where you have to arrive."
Chaim thinks and thinks very deeply. Such an opportunity - for which souls are waiting for eons and eons, for which he will have to wait if he is to return.
To have all of eternity, even higher than heaven, at his fingertips. Surely Chaim wants to avail himself of this, and yet he thinks, "The body, the flesh, the soul derives from there ... True, it is not visible during the week, but on the final Sabbath it will become palpable and become known ..."
Yet Chaim sees his wife, deserted, chained, never able to remarry, never finding solace, not knowing whether her husband was dead or alive and her fate being worse than one of death. Chaim thinks of the opportunity of the soul, but what were any opportunities of the soul if one would have to renege on God's mitzvahs to man and forget a fellow creature.
With a sigh, Chaim declares himself to the rabbi saying, "This opportunity is desirable yet my choice must be to return."
The rabbi lifts his hands and says, "Blessed art thou, Chaim, for making this choice. May the Heavenly Husband so think of his Earthly Bride, may God so think of His people Israel as thou thinkest of thy wife and become reunited with her and redeem her."
"Amen," said Chaim.
The rabbi told Chaim to open his hand and in the palm of his hand he placed the name of K'fitzat Haderech and he told Chaim to close his eyes and to see himself where he wanted to arrive and there he would be.
"But Chaim," he warned him, "on your arrival you must throw this terrible name of K'fitzat Haderech heavenward, or else you will be a child of death."
Chaim closed his eyes and naturally the place where he imagined himself to be was Mezhibuzh. As he opened his eyes he found himself in the marketplace of Mezhibuzh ready to throw up the terrible name of K'fitzat Haderech, when a hand took hold of his hand and, without turning, Chaim screamed, "Murderer, leave my hand."
The gentle voice of the Baal Shem Tov said to Chaim, "Chaim, it was for this Name that you were sent where you were sent."
If you want to know what happened to Chaim I can tell you. Chaim sold all his possessions and became a Yoshev again with the Baal Shem Tov, and the Baal Shem Tov had his name of K'fitzat Haderech. But what does the end of the story matter ...?
Copyright 1995, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.
As published in Peninnah Schram, ed., Chosen Tales.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ. Permission was also obtained from the author. To order: The Jason Aronson Home Page
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