It was a Friday morning when Harav Elazar, the Rebbe of Kozhnitz, zy”a, visited a small town to attend a bris. Somehow, it got delayed, and by the time it concluded, it was already midday. The Rebbe, who was always careful never to travel after chatzos on Erev Shabbos, made it clear that although he had neither clothes not food for Shabbos, he would not break with his longstanding minhag.
In this town there were many Chassidim of his father, Harav Moshele, and his grandfather, the Kozhnitzer Maggid. When they heard of the predicament that the son of their late beloved Rebbe found himself in, they undertook to provide him with every possible need.
With great dedication they managed to ensure that the Rebbe’s stay was a very comfortable one. Rav Moishele was touched by their devotion, and on Motzoei Shabbos he turned to the Chassidim and related to them the following:
The Chozeh of Lublin had a certain bekeshe that he wore only when he served as a sandek at a bris. When the Chozeh donned this particular bekeshe one morning, his gabba’im were certain that sometime during the day someone would come to the Rebbe with an infant and ask the Rebbe to be sandek.
When nightfall came and no bris had taken place, the gabba’im were puzzled. The Chozeh then explained to them what had occurred.
He related that some years earlier, a simple Jew who lived a short distance from Lublin decided to do some business at the yerid — fair, which took place in Lublin on Fridays.
He knew that he would not be able to return home before Shabbos and would have to stay over somewhere in Lublin until Motzoei Shabbos.
The Jew calculated the cost of a hotel room and pondered whether it would be worth it financially for him to go to Lublin at all. He had heard that at the court of the Chozeh all those who came to spend Shabbos with the Rebbe received free food and lodging. However, each person would ordinarily give the Rebbe a kvittel on Motzoei Shabbos.
According to custom, a small payment would be made to the gabbai for writing the kvittel, and an additional donation, known as a “pidyon,” would be given to the Rebbe together with the kvittel. The Jew calculated the minimum amount he could give the Rebbe and the gabbai and found that he could still save a small amount of money over the cheap hotel in the city.
The Jew finished his business late on Friday and then made his way to the Rebbe’s court. On Motzoei Shabbos, he went to the Rebbe with a kvittel, gave an appropriate donation, and returned home happy over the few kopecks he had saved.
When this Jew passed away and wished to enter Gan Eden, he was blocked by the sar (malach) in charge of Gan Eden. He was told that he had not had a proper bris, and someone who is not properly circumcised cannot enter Gan Eden.
The Jew protested that it was not his fault — after all he had no idea that this was so. Further-more, he declared, “I visited the Chozeh of Lublin, and he should have informed me that I did not have a proper milah. …”
The Beis Din Shel Maalah — the Heavenly Court — ruled that he was right, and the matter was transferred to the Chozeh.
The Chozeh told his gabba’im: “Today I was this Jew’s sandek. …”
The Kozhnitzer Rebbe concluded by saying to his father’s Chassidim: “This Jew only went to the Rebbe to save a few kopecks over a cheap hotel. Yet the fact that he once gave the Chozeh a kvittel was enough to gain him entry into Gan Eden. You have extended yourselves so much for me in honor of my father — I am certain that this great zechus will protect you.”
Many assume that the custom of going to tzaddikim for brachos, and giving the tzaddik a monetary gift, is a chassidic one. Yet in reality, the practice is already mentioned in Rishonim, and existed in the times of Tanach.
This week, the Ramban (Bamidbar 1:45) teaches us that one of reasons that the Bnei Yisrael were counted was so that they should come before Moshe Rabbeinu, the “father of all Nevi’im and his holy brother,” so they should beseech mercy for them. The half shekel that each of them gave served as an atonement for them. The Bnei Yissaschar in his sefer Igra D’Pirka, quotes the Drashos Haran as saying it was the practice to give a gift to a Navi, and points out that when Shaul went to seek advice from Shmuel Hanavi, he initially intended to give him a small monetary gift. (Unlike other prophets, Shmuel Hanavi did not accept gifts from anyone.)
As the story of the Chozeh illustrates, we have no inkling of the benefit that one derives from cleaving to a tzaddik and seeking their brachos and guidance in life.