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The Oven Stokers of Mezerich

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Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi told:

In Mezeritch, it was extremely difficult to be accepted as a disciple of our master, Rabbi DovBer.[7] There were a group of chassidim who, having failed to merit to learn directly from our master, wanted at least to serve his pupils: to bring them water to wash their hands upon waking, to sweep the floors of the study hall, to heat the ovens during the winter months, etc. These were known as “the oven stokers.”

One winter night, as I lay on a bench in the study hall, I overheard a conversation between three of the “oven stokers.”
“What was the specialty of the test of the Akeidah?” [8] the first one asked. “If G-d revealed Himself to me and commanded me to sacrifice my only son, would I not obey?”

Answering his own question, he said: “If G-d told me to sacrifice my only son, I would delay my doing so for a while, to keep him with me for a few days. Abraham’s greatness lay in that ‘he arose early in the morning’[9] to immediately fulfill the divine command.”

Said the second one: “If G-d told me to sacrifice my only son, I, like Abraham, would waste not a moment to carry out His command. But I would do so with a heavy heart. Abraham’s greatness lay in that he went to the Akeidah with a heart full of joy over the opportunity to fulfill G-d’s will.”[10]

Said the third: “I, too, would carry out G-d’s will with joy. I think that Abraham’s uniqueness lay in his reaction upon finding out that it was all a test. When G-d commanded him ‘Do not touch the child and do nothing to him,’[11] Abraham was overjoyed-not because his only child would not die, but over being given the opportunity to carry out another command of G-d: not to slaughter his son.”

Rabbi Schneur Zalman concluded: “Do you think this was mere talk? Each of them was describing the degree of self-sacrifice he had attained in his service of the Almighty.”

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.

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[7] The “Maggid of Mezeritch” (d. 1772), second leader of the Chassidic movement.

[8] The “Binding of Isaac” (Genesis 22): G-d’s testing of Abraham by commanding him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.

[9] Genesis 22:3.

[10] See Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 22:6.

[11] Genesis 22:12.

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