Reb Zushia: a Chassidic Story

        May 2014    
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A Chasidic Story

By Avi Lazerson

There are stories and there are stories. Stories were one time used by authors to illustrate a point but unfortunately today they have fallen into use as pure entertainment fiction that have little, if any, redeeming values. Not so are the Chassidic stories which are still told today; they come to bridge the understanding gap between G-d and man.

One of the better known stories concerns a man who became a great rebbe. A 'rebbe' is not the run of the mill standard rabbi of today, but rather he is a mixture of saint, philosopher and guide. The early 'rebbes' were followers of the saintly Baal Shem Tov, who infused mystical thought and practice in every day religious ceremonies. These early rebbes differ from the today's modern rebbes in the fact that no dynasty had been established when they began to spread chassidic thought; no guidelines drawn; no external manifestation that is indicative of the achievement of being a 'rebbe' as it is today.

Our tale concerns one of the students of the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov was the first to reveal to the world the path that is today called 'chasidut' based on a philosophy which infused practical service to G-d with mysticism. Although at that time there was much opposition to the new path in service to G-d that was revealed by the Baal Shem Tov, he developed a staunch following of both great thinkers and simple Jews who sincerely wanted to serve G-d with holiness and humility.

Such was the case of the Jew who is the subject of our story:

Reb Zusha was one of the more beloved rebbes who was known for his simplicity in serving G-d and his simple life style that precluded indulgence. As he grew in knowledge and service to G-d, his reputation spread far and other Jews came to him to seek advice. Such was the case in this story.

A Jew was seeking a path to serving G-d in sincerity and joy but had much difficulty in achieving such a lofty goal so he sought out Reb Zushia. Reb Zushia lived not in the center of a small village but in a shack slightly distant from the village.

When this Jew came to seek him out he came to the little shack that served as a home to Reb Zushia and his family. Reb Zushia existed on a level that today would be called well below the poverty line. He had little furnishing in his shack. His wife and children had to exist wearing patched clothing. His cupboards were bare.

His wife and children were there in the shack but Reb Zushia was nowhere to be found. His wife informed the visitor that most likely he could be found in the small synagogue in the small town nearby. So the visitor returned to town and came to the local synagogue.

In those days the synagogue was used also as the place of studying the Torah. It was a one room building and as the visitor entered he saw several men there. Some were engaged in learning and some were praying. Which one of these men could possibly be Reb Zushia?

As he looked around at the faces of the various men in the synagogue he saw one man who stood out from the rest. He had a very happy look on his face. In fact his face radiated joy. Could this be Reb Zushia? The man sat down in a vacant corner to study the situation and watched the scene. He was fascinated by this one person who seemed to be so content and joyful in his being.

After a short time of studying the men, he decided to ask this person if he were Reb Zushia. The man answered in the affirmative that indeed he was Reb Zushia. Why did he ask?

The man explained to Reb Zushia that he wanted to serve G-d with love and joy but needed some guidance. But before he could begin to ask Reb Zushia for guidance, he felt it necessary to ask one small question.

"Why is it that I find you here so happy and joyful and yet when I was at your house I did not see any joy or happiness on the face of your wife or children?"

"Simple," replied Reb Zushia, "they are dependent on me for their needs. How can they be happy? Who am I to depend upon? But I am dependent of G-d for my needs, how can I not be happy?"

Now that is the story. What is in this story for us to enrich our lives?

Everyone including the great Reb Zushia is dependent on others for his support and well being. In our livelihood we are dependent on our employer, on our customers, on various manufacturers, etc. If something goes wrong in this chain, we can suffer a financial loss that could well bring a small disaster.

Reb Zushia was not dependent on mortal man. Reb Zushia placed his dependence squarely in the hands of the Almighty G-d of Israel. Reb Zushia felt that it was He who was the ultimate provider of Reb Zushia and his family. Due to Reb Zushia's great piety G-d never failed to deliver and those few times it looked like He would not give Reb Zushia his needs, Reb Zushia would engage in deep prayer and supplications until G-d would have mercy on Reb Zushia and send him some sort of help via other people or nature.

Reb Zushia saw G-d's hand in the world quite clearly and therefore he was certain and assured that G-d would continue to help Reb Zushia. Unfortunately his family did not have the save level of trust and faith in G-d that Reb Zushia had and therefore could worry if their needs would be met. Instead they had to look to Reb Zushia for provision and he was a mere mortal. No wonder they did not have the same happiness that Reb Zushia had.

That is what the Psalmist says, "Do not place your trust in mortal man, rather in G-d who has created the heavens and earth." (Psalm 146:3)

The message in this story should be clear: Happiness is not dependent on financial security alone but on faith that God will help. The more we see God's helping hand in our personal life, the happier we will be.


from the May 2014 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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