In the city of Kamenetz, Poland, it was widely known that the door to the home of R’ Boruch Ber Lebowitz, zt”l, was always open. The talmidim in Kamenetz could go there whenever they wanted, and they would stay as long as they liked. There was, however, one time when the house was off-limits to people, and that was when any important guest, a visiting gadol or rosh yeshivah, would come. R’ Boruch Ber had to be given the opportunity to delight his guest by speaking Torah with him alone, for this was R’ Boruch Ber’s concept of true hospitality and no one was permitted to intrude.
One evening, just before Maariv, a distinguished guest arrived in the yeshivah. R’ Sholom of Ishishok, zt”l, a close talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, came to speak to R’ Boruch Ber. Knowing that immediately after Maariv the Rosh Yeshivah would take his guest home with him, and that when they got there he would ask him to tell him something about the Chofetz Chaim, one bachur suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to be inside the house to listen in! So as soon the final Kaddish was over, he stole out of the beis midrash and quickly made his way to the Rosh Yeshivah’s house.
The door was open, of course. R’ Boruch Ber’s door was always open. This time, however, when he walked in, he cautiously looked in every direction to see if the coast was clear, and then hid under the bed in the main room.
A few short minutes later, he heard the Rebbetzin saying, “Please, everyone leave. I would like to make the house available for the Rosh Yeshivah to be with his guest alone.” Of course, everyone complied with her request and left, except for the one daring bachur whose heart beat loudly, not just because of awe, but also because of the fear of punishment.
The two great men came in and sat down. R’ Boruch Ber began. “Please tell me something about the Chofetz Chaim.”
“Suddenly, I saw fire all around him.
Very startled, I almost shouted, ‘Help! Fire!’”
R’ Sholom agreed and said, “I must relate an amazing story that my rebbi personally witnessed regarding his rebbi, the tzadik R’ Nachumke, zt”l, of Horodna. He said, ‘I noticed that every night at midnight, Rebbi would go out and come back an hour later. I was 15 years old at the time and decided that one night I would follow him. Staying behind him at a distance so as not to be noticed, I saw that he went to the Beis Knesses HaGadol, took out a key, unlocked the door and went inside. The next day, I davened Maariv at the Beis Knesses HaGadol. After Maariv, I went up to the ezras nashim (ladies’ section) and hid under a bench. Before the shamash locked up the shul, he made his rounds to see if the place was empty, but he didn’t notice me. Once he left, I was all by myself and I began to anticipate what I would see at midnight.
“‘Lo and behold, at midnight, I heard a key turning in the lock and R’ Nachumke walked in. In the Beis Knesses HaGadol there was absolute silence, so I could hear even the slightest noise. The tzadik quietly closed the door behind him and made his way to the wooden bimah in the center of the shul. He mounted the stairs and stood on the platform. In front of him were two boxes for genizah. R’ Nachumke stuck his hand into one box and pulled out a worn sefer. Later, I realized that it had to be a Kabbalah sefer. R’ Nachumke, still standing, opened it and started to learn from it. The light in the Beis Knesses was very weak, for there were just a few lit candles here and there, but it was possible to learn by their light. R’ Nachumke swayed back and forth gently, concentrating on secrets of the holy Torah as they unfolded before him, intent on every word.
“‘Suddenly, I saw fire all around him. Very startled, I almost shouted, “Help! Fire!” Immediately, though, I saw that it was no ordinary fire. It was another type of fire – for R’ Nachumke was learning the Torah just as it was given at Sinai. In this fashion, he continued to learn exactly for one hour. When the hour was over, he closed the sefer, kissed it, and the fire went out. He then walked out of the Beis Knesses. I was so moved, I was unable to sleep that night.’”
R’ Sholom finished telling the story and the room was quiet. The bachur under the bed later recounted that R’ Boruch Ber’s reaction was unique. He said, “For fire of that sort to surround R’ Nachumke of Hordona is not a chidush. The chidush is that the Chofetz Chaim, who was only 15 years old at the time, was already on a level where he could see such a fire!”
Rabbi Dovid Hoffman is the author of the popular “Torah Tavlin” book series, filled with stories, wit and hundreds of divrei Torah, including the brand new “Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim” in stores everywhere. You’ll love this popular series. Also look for his book, “Heroes of Spirit,” containing one hundred fascinating stories on the Holocaust. They are fantastic gifts, available in all Judaica bookstores and online at http://israelbookshoppublications.com. To receive Rabbi Hoffman’s weekly “Torah Tavlin” sheet on the parsha, e-mail Torahtavlin@yahoo.com