Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
THE RABBI'S ONLY SON
There was once a rabbi who had no children. Eventually he had an only son, and he raised and married him off . The son would sit in a room upstairs studying Torah, as was the way with those who were better off.
He would constantly study and pray. But he felt a certain lack within himself, though he didn't know what it was. He felt no real taste in his studies and prayers. He told this to two of his young friends, who advised him to visit a particular Tzaddik.
Now this son had performed a certain mitzvah that brought him to the level of the Small Light.
The son told his father that he felt no taste in his prayers and studies and that something was missing, though he didn't know what it was. Because of this, he wanted to visit that Tzaddik.
"What reason could you have to travel to him ?" asked his father. "Surely you are more learned than he is and you come from a better family. It is not proper for you to go to him. Don't follow this path."
He thus prevented him from going, and the son returned to his studies. Yet he still felt the same lack. Again he took counsel with the same friends, who advised him, as before, to go to the Tzaddik. Again he went to his father, but the father dissuaded him and prevented him from going. The same thing happened several times.
The son felt he was lacking something, and he greatly yearned to satisfy his need, even though he did not know what it was. He came again to his father and pressed him to the point that the father had no option but to travel with him since he did not want to let his only son go alone .
The father said to him: "You see! I will go with you. I will prove to you that there is nothing of any substance in him." They prepared the carriage and set off on their journey.
"I am going to make a test," said the father. "If everything goes smoothly, it means this journey has been ordained by Heaven. But if not, it means it is not ordained by Heaven and we shall go back."
They journeyed until they came to a small bridge. One of the horses fell , the carriage overturned and they almost drowned.
"You see!" said the father to his son. "Things are not going smoothly, and this journey is not ordained by Heaven."
They turned back. The son returned to his studies, but again he felt that something was missing without even knowing what it was. He went back to his father and pressed him, and he was forced to go with him a second time. As they set off, the father once again set a test like the first time: "If everything goes smoothly."
During the journey, it happened that two of the axles of the wheels of the carriage broke.
"You see!" said the father to his son, "Things are not going right. We are not supposed to make this journey. Is it natural for both axles to break? How many times have we traveled in this carriage and nothing like this has ever happened."
They turned back. The son went back to his studies and once again felt that something was missing . His friends advised him to travel to the Tzaddik, and he went back to his father and pressed him until he was forced to travel with him again.
The son told him that this time they should not set any tests unless there was a very clear, visible sign, as it was quite natural for a horse to fall sometimes or for the axles to break .
They journeyed until they came to an inn for the night. A merchant got into conversation with them , as merchants do. They did not reveal their destination, because the rabbi felt ashamed to say he was traveling to that Tzaddik.
They discussed a variety of mundane topics, until the conversation came around to the subject of Tzaddikim and where they are to be found. The merchant spoke about a certain Tzaddik in one place and others in various other places, until they started to talk about the Tzaddik to whom they were traveling.
"Him?" said the merchant. "He's a lightweight. I am now on my way back from him. I was there when he committed a sin!"
The rabbi said to his son: "Do you see what this merchant is saying quite spontaneously without our even asking? Is he not on his way from there?!?"
They turned back and went home.
The son died. Afterwards he came to his father, the rabbi, in a dream. The father saw him standing there in great anger.
"Why are you so angry?" asked the father.
The son answered that he should journey to the same Tzaddik that he had wanted to visit. "He will tell you why I am angry!"
The father awoke and said it was pure chance. Afterwards he had the same dream again but he said that this too was a meaningless dream. Until it happened a third time and he realized that this was no empty matter, and he journeyed there.
On his way he met the same merchant that he had met previously when traveling with his son. He recognized him.
"Aren't you the one I saw in that inn?" he asked.
"You certainly did see me," replied the merchant. He opened his mouth wide and said to him, "If you wish, I will swallow you up!"
"What are you talking about?" asked the rabbi.
"Do you remember when you journeyed with your son?" replied the merchant. "First a horse fell on the bridge and you went back. Afterwards the axles broke. After that you encountered me, and I told you he is a lightweight.
"Now that I have eliminated your son, you are free to travel. For he was on the level of the Small Light, while that Tzaddik is the Great Light. If they had met together, the Mashiach would have come. Now that I have got rid of him, you may travel."
As he was speaking he disappeared, and the rabbi had nobody to talk to. The rabbi journeyed to the Tzaddik crying, "Woe! Woe! Woe for what is lost and cannot be found!"
May God quickly bring back our lost ones! Amen!
This merchant was the Angel of Death himself. He took on the guise of a merchant and deceived them. Afterwards, when he encountered the rabbi a second time, he himself rebuked him for listening to his advice. For that, as we know, is his way. May God protect us!
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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