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Tales of Rabbi Mordecai of Neskhizh

Teaching stories worthy of contemplations and work.

What Does It Matter

Before Rabbi Mordecai of Neskhizh had recognized his vocation, he ran a small business. Alter every trip he took to sell his wares, he set aside a little money to buy himself a citron for the Feast of Tabernacles. When he had managed to collect a few rubles in this way, he drove to the city and on the way there thought only of whether it would be vouchsafed him to buy the finest of the citrons for sale. Suddenly he saw a water vendor standing in the middle of the road and lamenting his horse which had collapsed. He left his carriage and gave the man all the money he had to buy himself another. "What does it matter?" he said to himself as he turned to go back home. "Everybody will say the blessing over the citron; I shall say mine over this horse!" But when he reached his house, he found a beautiful citron which friends, in the meantime, had brought him as a gift.

With the Prince of the Torah

To those who came to him to share the sabbath meal, Rabbi Mordecai rarely said words of teaching, and then only a very few. When one of his sons once ventured to ask him the reason for this restraint, he replied: "One must unite with the angel. prince of the Torah in order to receive in one's heart the word of teaching. Only then, does what one says enter the heart of one's hearers so that each receives what he requires for his own particular needs."

The Promise

Rabbi Mordecai used to say: "Whoever has eaten of my sabbath meal will not leave the world without having turned to God."

At Dawn

Once Rabbi Mordecai sat with his disciples all night until break of day. When he saw the light of dawn, he said: "We have not transgressed the bounds of day. Rather has day transgressed our bounds and we need not cede to it."

The Standard

Rabbi Mordecai of Neskhizh said to his son, the rabbi of Kovel: "My son, my son! He who does not feel the pains of a woman giving birth within a circuit of fifty miles, who does not suffer with her, and pray that her suffering may be assuaged, is not worthy to be called a zaddik."

His younger son Yitzhak, who later succeeded him in his work, was ten years old at the time. He was present when this was said. When he was old he told the story and added: "I listened well. But it was very long before I understood why he had said it in my presence."

Why People Go to the Zaddik

Rabbi Mordecai said: "People go to the zaddikim for many different reasons. One goes to the zaddik to learn how to pray with fear and love; another to acquire strength to study the Torah for its own sake. Still another goes because he wants to mount to a higher rung of spiritual life, and so on. But none of these things should be the true purpose of going, for each of them can be attained, and then it is no longer necessary to toil for it. The only, the true purpose, should be to seek the reality of God. No bounds are set to this, and it has no end."

The Fish in the Sea

Rabbi Yitzhak of Neskhizh told: "Once my father said to one of his friends, in the month of Elul: 'Do you know what day this is? It is one of the days when the fish tremble in the ocean.' "

One of the men standing near Rabbi Yitzhak, observed: "People usually say, 'when the fish tremble in the waters.'"

"The way my father said it," Rabbi Yitzhak replied, "that is the only way it expresses the secret of what occurs between Cod and the souls."

The Offering

This is how Rabbi Mordecai of Neskhizh expounded the words in the Scriptures: "And in your new moons ye shall present a burnt.offering unto the Lord." If you want to renew your doing, offer up to God the first thought you have on awaking. God will help him who accomplishes this, to be bonded to Him the whole day, and to bind everything to that first thought.

Seeing and Hearing

A rabbi came to the zaddik of Neskhizh and asked: "Is it true, what people say, that you hear and see all things?" "Think of the words of our sages," he replied, " 'a seeing eye, and a hearing ear.' Man has been so created that he can see and hear whatever he wants to. It is only a question of his not corrupting his eyes and his ears."

The Skull Cap

It is told: A woman came to Rabbi Mordecai of Neskhizh and begged him with many tears to find out the whereabouts of her husband who had left her years ago and gone to a foreign country. "What makes you think I could help you?" said the zaddik. "Is he here? Is he perhaps in the water-barrel over there?" Now, because her faith was great, the woman went to the waterbarrel and looked in. "There he is!" she cried. "There he is, sitting in the water!"

"Has he a hat on?" asked the rabbi.
"Only his skull cap."
"Then fetch it."

The woman reached for it and drew it out At the very same moment her husband, who was carrying on his tailor's trade in a far-away land, was sitting at the window of the house of a lord for whom he happened to be sewing,when a storm-wind rose and blew the cap off his head. The man shook in every limb. The core of his heart trembled and he started on his way home.


They tell: A man of whom Lilith had taken possession traveled to Neskhizh, where he wanted to beg Rabbi Mordecai to free him. The rabbi divined that this man was on the way to him and gave orders throughout the city to have all doors closed at nightfall, and to admit no one. When the man reached the city at dusk, he could not find a lodging, and had to lie down on some hay in a loft. Instantly Lilith appeared and said: "Come down to me."

He asked: "Why do you want to do that? Usually it is you who come to me." "In the hay, on which you are lying," she replied, "is an herb which prevents me from coming near you."

"Which is it?" he asked. "I shall throw it away and then you will be able to come to me."

He showed her one herb after another, until she said: "That's the one!" Then he bound it to his breast and was free.

The Special Thing

The rabbi of Lublin once asked the rabbi of Apt, who was a guest in his house: "Do you know the old rabbi of Neskhizh?" "I do not know him," he replied. "But tell me: what is there so special about him that you asked me this?"

"The minute you made his acquaintance, you would know," said the rabbi of Lublin. "With him everything: teaching and prayers, eating and sleeping, is all in one piece, and he can elevate his soul to its origin."

Then the rabbi of Apt decided to go to Neskhizh. His carriage was at the door, when he heard that he had been denounced to the authorities and found it necessary to go to the official magistrate of the district. By the time he returned, it was two weeks before Passover and he again postponed his journey. After the holidays, he was told that the rabbi of Neskhizh had died in the week before Passover.

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