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  Chapter 23 from
More Tales for the Soul
A famous novelist retells classic stories with passion and spirit

By Yair Weinstock 



What He Heard, What He Didn't Hear

Hundreds of cows grazed placidly in the fertile valley nestled between picturesque hills. The scenery was breathtaking, and the gentle breeze blowing through the verdant valley caressed Nachum’s perspiring brow. He looked with dreamy eyes upon the river gurgling through, at the eddies of blue water flowing by, a harbinger of plenty. It had been a blessed year, that year in Rumania; the rains had come down in abundance, the cold was mighty and the chill had improved the quality of the crops. Yet Nachum was worried, terribly worried. Occasionally he would glance at the cows as if searching for one that might suddenly stumble and fall, dead, upon the ground.

Nachum was a cattle dealer, and for many years he’d been raising animals on his farm. His cows were the fattest in the region; their milk was healthy and delicious. Nachum constantly upgraded the quality of his cows’ nutrition in order to raise their value and fetch a high price for them.

Fortune shone upon him, and in the entire region it was known that one who wanted a prime cow, top-quality, must turn to Nachum, the Shtefenesht Chassid from Rumania. He was a simple man and an innocent one, who knew nothing more than alef-beis, but he was well-versed in the concept of emunas chachamim. From the time that the holy rebbe, R’ Avraham Mattisyahu Friedman, was crowned as heir to his father, R’ Menachem Nachum of Shtefenesht, Nachum had become his devoted Chassid. Occasionally he would travel to Shtefenesht with a request and a generous donation. The words of his Rebbe were like the words of the Urim V’Tumim. With the passing of days it became known that Nachum had learned to read between the lines, and to hear the Rebbe’s words even when they came from utter silence and remained unsaid -- and here is one such story:

lll

That year an epidemic attacked the cattle of Rumania. It happened after the winter that had promised to bear such abundant fruit. The epidemic struck suddenly and left the cattle breeders helpless. Knowledge of medicine at that time was quite weak -- and where more limited than in Rumania? -- and, even more so, the study of veterinary medicine was almost non-existent.

The images were horrifying: animals dying by the thousands, with no way to stop the epidemic. None of Nachum’s colleagues knew what to do. In the course of a few days, many became paupers, losing everything they owned. And then came Nachum’s turn: He stood in the valley, hopeless, listening to the lowing of his beloved animals, his heart breaking. Here and there one of the cows would suddenly raise its neck upwards, give a terrible bleat of agony, and collapse onto the earth. The passing week had already left hundreds such corpses, and every moment he cast fearful glances at the herd. Whose turn would be next?

“No! I can’t let this situation go on.” A decision began to crystallize in his heart. “I began the week with 700 cows and I’ve only 400 left. If I stand here with my arms folded I’ll lose everything and starve.”

Nachum was a devout Chassid, and it had been many years since he’d ever done anything without consulting the Rebbe -- how much more so when faced with such disaster.

There was nothing to do but travel to Shtefenesht, to the rebbe.

He boarded a train and left.

Nachum reached Shtefenesht before Shabbos, too late to see the rebbe. Nevertheless he tried his luck with the dedicated gabbai. “Please, help me! My animals are dying,” he begged.

The gabbai agreed to go in and ask the rebbe if Nachum could enter, in light of his terrible problem. To his surprise, the rebbe replied with a definite, and uncharacteristic, negative answer.

“Just to say hello?” the gabbai ventured, but again the response was no.

Nachum spent his Shabbos in Shteftnesht, wondering how many of his cows were dying at that very moment.

Shabbos passed, and it was time for seudah shelishis. A group of Chassidim sat in the darkened beis midrash and sang zemiros with the Rebbe.

The rebbe sang the zemer of “Baruch Hashem, Yom Yom.” He reached the words “nidachim kovetz.

Nachum was sitting quite far away, with 40 or perhaps 50 Chassidim between him and the Rebbe at the long table. It was hard for him to make out the rebbe’s voice.

He made a strong effort to hear, concentrating on every word.

The Rebbe said, “Nidachim kovetz.

“What was that?” Nachum said in astonishment. “He s talking to me!”

For he had heard the words “nidachim kovetz” as “Nachum, koif vetz,” -- Nachum, buy wheat.

It was a clear, unambiguous instruction, a command that could not be ignored. The rebbe had answered him, though he hadn’t even asked the question.

What had the rebbe said? It was simple: “Nachum, sell your flock before all your cows die, and with the money you get, buy wheat.”

In other words, the rebbe had commanded him to change his occupation and become a dealer in wheat.

But -- one might ask -- Nachum hadn’t managed to even ask the rebbe his question. How could the rebbe know what Nachum the cattle dealer wanted of him? How could he answer a question that had not been asked?

Another problem: The cattle dealer hadn’t the faintest idea of how to buy or sell wheat. But that is the power, the beauty, of emunas chachamim. You don’t ask questions; you just do it!

Nachum traveled home immediately after Shabbos, without mentioning a word of his dire situation to the rebbe. That week he sold the remaining cows, and with money, bought several tons of fine wheat. And thus Nachum, in the space of a day, changed from being a cattle dealer to being a seller of wheat.

lll

Fortune once again beamed. Within a short while Nachum had become a rich man.

In his satisfaction he again traveled to the rebbe to thank him, telling him the whole story.

The rebbe said, “You must know that when you came to me before Shabbos I put you off, because I had no answer for you. I saw that devastating poverty had been decreed upon you -- may we all be saved from it -- and I couldn’t do a thing for you.

“But you,” the rebbe concluded, “with your honest belief, heard things that I never said, and in the merit of this simple belief you opened a new channel of prosperity and abundance that hadn’t existed before. It was your own power that saved you, not mine! When you must be saved, even an error in hearing can help. Salvation can come from anywhere!”

(I heard this from the gaon R’ Yitzchak Dovid Rotman, shlita).

 
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