A Missed Opportunity
On the seder night, before Avodim Hoyinu, the Tchortokover rebbe would often relate a mayselah from our great rebbe’s and leaders, with an important lesson. One year, the rebbe related the following tale:
Reb Wolf Kitzes, the talmid muvhak of the Baal Shem Tov, once decided to undertake the long and grueling journey to Eretz Yisroel. Before he set off on his journey, he first took leave of his rebbe who gave him his bracha. The Baal Shem Tov was very glad his disciple was making the trip; the holy Besht always had wanted to go, but was held back from Shomayim.
Before Reb Wolf left, the Baal Shem Tov warned him, “Be careful with your words, and be especially careful with what you reply when someone asks you a question.”
Reb Wolf did not question his rebbe further, and immediately set out upon his journey. In those days, a journey to the Holy Land took many months. First, it was weeks of exhausting travel until reaching the port in Turkey, and then a long wait until a ship, bound for Yaffo, set out, and then another dangerous journey from Yaffo to Yerushalayim. Each leg of the journey was fraught with danger. However, Reb Wolf overlooked these discomforts, as his heart sang with joy: he was, as last, going to Eretz Yisroel!
After many weeks of travel, he arrived at the port, and soon found a ship departing for Yaffo. He ascended the ship, and spent several rickety days at sea. There was a slight storm, and the ship heaved with every wave, causing tremendous seasickness. Finally, the rough weather abated, and the ship docked at a small island, where the entire crew and passengers disembarked, to stroll and enjoy the balmy weather.
Reb Wolf, who was tired of the cramped, confining conditions, also strolled on the island, his mind filled with holy thoughts, as he had learned from his great rebbe. He strolled deeper inland, and soon found a shady spot, where he sat and learned for several hours with devotion. By the time he emerged from his spiritual trance, and headed back to shore, the ship had long departed, leaving him stranded on an unfamiliar island, alone with the natives, whose dialogue he did not understand.
Reb Wolf did not sink into despair. As a talmid of the Baal Shem Tov, he understood that all was for the best, and there must be a good reason for this occurrence. He continued to stroll through the island, aimless and confused, and soon came upon a lone house situated on a small field. Reb Wolf hurried toward the house, and soon the door opened. An elderly Yid with a long white beard emerged, his face shining with a pure glow.
“Reb Wolf, why are you so worried?” the Yid asked.
“Why should I not be worried?” Reb Wolf replied. “I am stranded here, alone on this island, with no money, no food, and no way to get to Eretz Yisroel.”
“You don’t have to worry,” the Yid comforted him. “Soon it will be Shabbos. Remain here with us, and you will have everything; a Shabbos seudah, a minyan, even a mikvah! After Shabbos, another ship will come and take you further on your journey.”
Reb Wolf followed the man who introduced him to the small kehilla of Yidden who had settled upon the island, ovdei Hashem, who conducted themselves with purity. He spent an exalted Shabbos in their company, feeling a lofty spiritual glow.
As soon as Shabbos was over, the elderly host escorted Reb Wolf to the shore, where, just as he had promised, a ship was waiting to take him further. As Reb Wolf was about to board the ship, the host asked, “Tell me, Reb Wolf, how are things with the Jews who live in your land?”
Without thinking, as he was hurrying to board, Reb Wolf replied, “Not too bad, Boruch Hashem. The Ribono Shel Olam takes care of them.” And with those words, he boarded the ship.
As he rode away from the island, Reb Wolf contemplated the entire strange tale, and suddenly realized a distressing thought. In his hurry to leave, he had not obeyed the Baal Shem Tov’s instructions, and had replied to the stranger without a second thought. Why did he tell the elderly Yid that everything was okay? He should have cried and said that they are facing tremendous persecutions.
Unable to calm down, Reb Wolf decided to change his plans and return to Mezibuzh, to discuss the story with the Baal Shem Tov. At the first opportunity, he disembarked from the ship, and made the long journey back to his hometown.
As soon as he entered the Baal Shem Tov’s study, the holy rebbe said, with distress, “Reb Wolf, why weren’t you careful with your words? The Zokein was none other than Avrohom Ovinu, who cries every day to the Ribono Shel Olam, ‘Tatteh, how are my children doing?’ The Ribono Shel Olam comforts him, saying that He does not abandon His children.
“When Avrohom Ovinu persisted in asking, Hashem said, ‘Soon Reb Wolf is coming, on his way to Eretz Yisroel. You can ask him how your children are faring.’ And indeed, as you were about to board the ship to continue your journey, Avrohom Ovinu did ask you.
“Oy, had you told him the truth, that the Yidden are suffering terrible pain and persecutions, Avrohom Ovinu would have turned over heaven and earth to bring the geulah. Yet now, that you told him things are fine, the moment of geulah has been postponed to the pre-destined time. May the One Above have Mercy on us.”