On the first day of Rosh HaShanah 5696 (1936), Rav Yitzchak Meir Heschel zt”l, the previous Kapischnitzer Rebbe, passed away and was succeeded by his son, Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel zt”l. For the next 31 years, Rav Avraham Yehoshua served his flock faithfully and devotedly as the Kapischnitzer Rebbe, both in Europe and, after the Holocaust, in the United States.
His home quickly became a center of tz’dakah and chesed. Rav Avraham Yehoshua’s kindness knew no bounds. He was particular not to go to sleep at night until he had distributed every penny in his possession to tz’dakah. Astronomical sums of money went through his hands, and when his funds were exhausted and people were still coming, he would borrow from anyone who was willing to lend him.
In a drashah he once gave about Akeidas Yitzchak, the Rebbe said, “The test of the Akeidah wasn’t just to see if Avraham Avinu would listen to Hashem, for who wouldn’t do so after Hashem had explicitly asked him? Indeed, if Hashem had asked Avraham to give away his own life, it would not have been a chidush. Here, however, Avraham was commanded to offer up someone else. To have to watch how the second person is suffering, that takes true m’sirus nefesh (self-sacrifice).” The Rebbe ended his words, adding, “When I was in Vienna under German control, I accepted all my suffering with love; but when I heard about the suffering of others, it was just too much for me to bear.”
The Rebbe’s house was open to anybody who wished to enter. Every person was made to feel at home, regardless of his social status or background. The homeless, those who were not totally sound of mind, those who had no one else to turn to – all found their place around his table. No one was ever mocked. No one was ever refused.
The Rebbe satisfied each one of his visitors’ demands and desires, no questions asked. A Yid from a prominent family once came, crying to the Rebbe. He was very poor and desperately needed a new hat, but he didn’t have the money to buy a new one. The Kapischnitzer Rebbe owned two hats, one that he wore every day, and a second, newer one, that he kept in his closet for special occasions. However, upon hearing the Yid’s request, the Rebbe took out his new hat from the box and presented it to the man. The Yid thanked the Rebbe gratefully and left the house a happy man.
This was the Kapischnitzer Rebbe’s way, but his Rebbetzin had some questions for her saintly husband. “Please explain to me,” she said, “what is wrong with your regular hat that you wear every day? It is in perfect condition and would have suited this man just fine. Why did you deem it necessary to give him your brand new hat right out of the box?”
Rav Avraham Yehoshua smiled at her and replied, “Specifically for this reason, I gave him that hat! Because I really want this hat for myself.”
The Rebbetzin looked at him without comprehension. “Listen,” the Rebbe told her gently, “on Rosh HaShanah, during the special t’filos that we daven, we continuously mention the great appellations of the Ribbono Shel Olam. One of them is, ‘L’vusho tz’dakah…l’chai olamim – ‘Whose clothing is charity... to the One Who lives forever.’ Now, as we know, it is our job to emulate the Ribbono Shel Olam. Thus, we may explain these words a bit differently. A person who does mitzvos in this world will merit the Next World. However, the ‘clothing’ he will wear in the Next World, is all a result of the tz’dakah – the charity – he gives to the poor in this world. This is the meaning of ‘L’vusho tz’dakah…l’chai olamim’ – The ‘l’vush’ (clothing) that one wears ‘forever’ in the Next World, is his ‘charity’ that he gave down here.”
With a beatific smile, the Rebbe concluded, “This is why I gave this Yid my new hat. The mitzvos that a person does in this world attire him as his clothing in the Next World. If I give him my old hat now, then in the Next World I will also be dressed in an old hat. I would rather keep the old hat for myself in this world, and in the Next World I will have a new one!”