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Beit Midrash Series Chassidish Stories

Chapter 13

R' Moshe Leib's Merchandise

A merchant goes to the market to do business. Man comes into the world in order to observe the Torah and its commandments. What can we say about a person who reaches a certain location with a said purpose, yet abandons that goal for something else?
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Hasidim relate that, in his youth, R' Moshe Leib of Sasov lived in great poverty together with his wife and children. One of R' Moshe Leib's neighbors, an affluent man, gave him some money so that he be able to go to the fair and buy some merchandise which he would then be able to sell in his own town.
Chassidish Stories (17)
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
12 - The Angels and the Watch
13 - R' Moshe Leib's Merchandise
14 - The Dance of Sanctity
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Rabbi Moshe Leib traveled with the rest of the merchants to the fair. When they arrived each one set out to address his own business. R' Moshe, however, went to the study hall and spent his time there, and when he finally returned to the market square the other merchants were already preparing themselves to return home. R' Moshe said to them that he wished to buy merchandise and they began laughing, and this was the atmosphere as the group made its journey home.

When he arrived home, his children came running out and asked R' Moshe, "Daddy, what did you bring us!" He fainted on the spot. After he had return to himself, his wealthy neighbor came to ask him what he had accomplished on his trip. He saw R' Moshe's broken state and asked, "What happened? Did you lose the money? Don't be depressed, I will gladly give you money again."
R' Moshe Leib sighed and said, "If a man returns home and is asked 'What did you bring us?' how should he answer?"
"If this is the case," said the neighbor, "it is best that you work at home."
From that day onward, the righteousness of R' Moshe Leib became revealed to the world.

Our story's format is a familiar one. The Sages often draw analogies between man's lifetime and his day. Thus they say, "The day is short, the workload is great, the laborers are lazy, the wages are high, and the Boss is pressing" (Avot). In our story, this approach receive a Hasidic twist.

What broke R' Moshe Leib's heart was the cry of his children, "Daddy, what did you bring us!" The fundamental principal of Hasidic philosophy is the recognition that "no place is absent of Him." In other words, no place is absent of God's presence. God's presence fills all of existence and gives Divine meaning to everything. Every creature, every being, every thought, every philosophy, every statement - all contain God's presence. All we have to do is pay attention.

The Baal Shem Tov was accustomed to say that he could sit in the company of friends and while they chattered away about nonsense he would at that very moment be in a lofty state of oness. The question is not what is being said, but what is heard. One who is aware of God's presence filling all of existence can hear the spiritual imperative even in the cry of children. This is what happened to R' Moshe Leib from Sasov. As he stood at the entrance to his home, he heard the voice of God calling out to him, "What did you bring us!"

Now that we have unraveled the profound Hasidic dimension of our story, let us address the story itself and try to grasp its allegory. R' Moshe Leib receives a loan so that he can go and start a business and thus support his family. Each of us receives some "credit" before he sets out upon his journey in life - credit from the Creator of the Universe. This credit is life, it is competence. Man must set out on his journey of life while focusing on his principal goal - to take full advantage of the credit he has been given and to bring home his profits. He must reach a level which will allow him to answer the question, "What did you bring us?"

The merchants who traveled with R' Moshe Leib are privy to the ways of the "marketplace of life." They understand that man must make the best use he possibly can of his time. They travel to the fair and immediately begin their business. They know that time is limited and with nightfall it will no longer be able to do business.

R' Moshe Leib, however, does not attend to merchandising upon his arrival. He instead goes to the study hall. Ostensibly, this act demonstrates religious devotion; however, within the allegorical framework, what we have here is actually a case of negligent observance. A merchant goes to the fair in order to do business. Man comes into the world in order to observe the Torah and its commandments. What can we say regarding a person who reaches a certain location with a said purpose, yet abandons that goal for something else?

When R' Moshe arrived home, his children came running out and asked, "Daddy, what did you bring us?" As, noted, R' Moshe hears in their voices a divine imperative to man: "What did you bring us?"

The Sages teach us that from the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed prophecy was given to children. The popular saying goes that "imbeciles and children say the truth." Children don't think twice. Because of their age, they speak straight from the heart, the natural voice which pulsates within. And this is the way, in our story, the children behave when their father returns home. What we have here is a straightforward, natural demand containing abundant yearning and love.

When R' Moshe Leib hears this call from his children, it resounds in his ears in like that inner natural call which can be heard in the heart of every man, the cry for perfection, the cry for proper utilization of time, the cry for proper use of that "credit" which each of us receives at his outset.

Rabbi Moshe Leib does not travel to the marketplace again. He has learned the wisdom of the market. From here forward he will dedicate his time to his "trade," the trade for which he is destined - to act as a Rebbe of Hasidim. This is the trade which he must take up now, and it is for this that he will be held accountable when he is asked "what did you bring us."

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