‘IF THERE’S A TZADDIK LIKE THAT, I ALSO WANT TO SEE HIM!’ – A personal story by Rav Avraham Thaler
(originally published in Hebrew here)
“I began my journey back to Yiddishkeit at the yeshiva of Rav Moshe Arush, in the Jerusalem suburb of Katamon,” explains Rav Avraham Thaler, one of the “oyvdim” (exceptionally serious student) at the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva. “At that time, Rav Moshe Tzanani would come to R’Moshe’s yeshiva to give some shiurim there, and that’s how I first heard about the concepts of searching for the ‘true Tzaddik’ of the generation, and also how it was forbidden in Yiddishkeit for a person to stagnate, and to just try to stay in the same place, spiritually.
“I understood that although I’d already managed to get acquainted with Rebbe Nachman, there was also a ‘tzaddik of the generation’, who’d been tasked with the job of presenting the inner dimension of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings to each generation, in a way that was relevant for them.
“By that point, I’d been working as a paid IDF soldier very close to the ‘Shuvu Banim’ yeshiva for 13 years’ already, but I had no idea the yeshiva even existed. It seems as though the Rav must have been hiding himself from me.
“So, I went to ask Rav Tzanani what I should do next, now that I knew all this stuff, because I’d spent all my life trying to get close to the true purpose of life, and now it seemed as though I still had a way to go, before I actually found it. Rav Tzanani told me: “Do some hitbodedut (personal prayer) and ask Hashem to show you who the Tzaddik of the generation is in our times, and that the tzaddik should reveal himself to you, and give you a message – or something similar,” he advised me.
“So for the next three months, I did a whole lot of hitbodedut only about this subject, I literally spent hour after hour talking to God about it. ‘Hashem! Show me the right way to go, show me the right path!” I begged Him. “If there’s really someone like this, then how come I’m not worthy of knowing who it is?” I was literally pleading with God like that every day, until I got to midnight one Shabbat evening, and I literally just threw myself down on the ground in the field where I was doing hitbodedut, and said to Hashem:
“Why is my life like this? If there really is a true Tzaddik, like they’re telling me, then I also want to see him!” Suddenly, it started pouring so hard without any let-up – and that’s when suddenly I saw him, the Rav, as though he was literally standing right next to me, wrapped in his tallit and doing some strange motions with his hands. I’d never seen the Rav before, and I had no idea who he was, so I was pretty scared, and I called out: “Mister, what do you want from me?” but he didn’t answer.
“As you might expect, the very next day, Sunday, I went to find Rav Tzanani and told him the whole story about what had happened. He tried to double-check that I hadn’t just seen a picture of someone, or something, but I was adamant about what I’d seen, and how ‘real’ the whole thing had felt. Rav Tzanani asked me: “Would you recognize him again, if you saw him?” he continued to probe. When I answered in the affirmative, he told me:
“Well, if that’s what you say, then meet me at the Synagogue on Ido Hanavi Street next Shabbat,” he finally conceded. (You can check all the details of this story for yourself, with Rav Tzanani.)
“The next Shabbat, I walked all the way from Katamon to Ido Hanavi, and I got to the synagogue at around 4.30am. As soon as I walked in through the doors, I saw that Rav Berland, shlita, was waiting for me, and made the same strange motions with his hands that he’d done during my hitbodedut session in the field. It was immediately clear to me: ‘Wow! It’s the same Rav that I saw in the field!!” From 4.30am until 2pm, I didn’t let the Rav out of my sight.
“From that time, I came to the yeshiva of the Rav, the ‘Shuvu Banim’ yeshiva, but it was only after another 15 years had elapsed that I actually spoke to the Rav about that first meeting. All the Rav said in reply was: “What amazing miracles!” and then proceeded to change the subject.
“Indeed, I have seen many amazing miracles and wonders from the Rav, especially in connection to when I was going out to help the masses and do some outreach work,” Rav Thaler continues. “I saw many, many people get helped as a result of the promises I made to them in the name of the Rav. Rav Berland, shlita, always told us: “Rely on my name!” – and we did on many occasions. We saw barren women fall pregnant and give birth, and unemployed people get back on their feet, financially, and a load of other things happened too, which really showed us the true spiritual power of the Tzaddik.
“One time, one of my friends asked the Rav: ‘How come you’re doing all these open miracles for people who are far away [from mitzvot observance and Torah], while with the people in the yeshiva, everything is hidden?’ The Rav replied: ‘You, I already brought close, but they are still far away, and haven’t yet got here.”
“The Rav, shlita, always spoke to us about the importance of praying with melodies [also a deeper reference to Jewish unity, and the ability to take the ‘good’ out of the bad] – so in all the strange places we travelled to within Israel, we were always looking for ways to develop more Torah and Jewish unity – and we took our holy melodies with us! People used to give us some big sums of money as donations to the upkeep of the yeshiva, and the students who were studying there, without us even asking for anything. I think our melodies really appealed to them. Whoever goes with the Rav in innocence and simplicity, they always succeed.
“I was orphaned at a very young age,” continues Rav Thaler, “so the pain I feel from everything that’s happening to the Rav is more than the pain I felt even about my own parents. The Rav doesn’t just ‘belong’ to us, to Shuvu Banim, he’s the Rav of all Am Yisrael. Each additional second that the Rav is suffering, we are all also in pain.
“One of my friends told me that in the days when he was first considering making Teshuva and becoming more observant, that he went to visit one of the Admorim, and wanted to kiss his hand [a normal custom amongst the Sephardim], but the Admor pulled his hand away and put on a glove. My friend was so hurt, he wanted to turn his back on Yiddishkeit completely, but a friend of his persuaded him to come with him to Holland, to visit Rav Berland. As soon as Rav Berland saw him, he gave him a big hug and gave him a very warm, loving reception.
“This friend told Rav Berland that the other tzaddikim really could see our faults and our blemishes, but that only Rav Berland – because of his enormous love for Am Yisrael – could come close to us even without ‘wearing his gloves’, and that love could fix all of the blemishes.
“It’s not the Rav who’s in prison right now. The Tzaddik is eternal. It’s us [the Jewish people] who are really in prison, and who need help to get free from all the spiritual blemishes that have caught hold of us. Rav Berland is fighting for us, and we really need a big merit in order to draw closer to him. If the Rav makes another request for a communal pidyon* [on behalf of Am Yisrael], then we need to give him what he asks for immediately, without any questions, because it’s an enormous privilege just to be part of the redemption process.”
*More than 18 months ago, Rav Berland made a request for all of Am Yisrael to club together, to donate $600,000 as a communal pidyon, to sweeten the judgments then hanging over the nation of Israel, that the Rav warned would explode in a third Intifida. Sadly, only around $90k was raised, and the third Intifida did indeed begin, as predicted by the Rav, during Succot of 5776.
Listen to Rav Thaler tell his story in Hebrew: