Tes Vov Av, 5775
Playing With Fire
When the Mitteler Rebbe was sixteen, his chavrusa (study-partner) for the year was his age-mate, Nachman of Ushatz, who subsequently became well-known as a chassid, rabbi and shochet. After the completion of his yeshiva studies R. Nachman returned home, where of necessity he became involved in business.
Three years later, he made the journey back to Liadi, in order to see the Alter Rebbe. While there, he said to himself, "I think I shall go say hello to my old friend," and went to see R. DovBer. When he entered the house, the Mitteler Rebbe was learning Talmud, and R. Nachman noticed that he was on page 4. The next day, when he visited again, he saw that his old friend was now studying page 40. He began to tease him. "Yesterday you were on page 4 and today you are already up to page 40! How come we didn't learn so fast when we were study-partners?"
DovBer remained silent, making no response.
Several days later, R. Nachman returned home. Shortly thereafter his house caught fire and burned down. He lost roughly half of all what he had. He immediately went back to Liadi and requested the Alter Rebbe to pray for him, that Heaven be merciful towards him. He told the Rebbe about the tragedy that had befallen him.
The Rebbe's reaction was one of surprise. "I see that this is not because of you at all," he said, "nor is there an unfavorable heavenly judgment against you. Rather, this was a result of someone being upset with you."
"I don't know who it could be," R. Nachman replied.
"Perhaps you did something to upset my son DovBer?" suggested the Rebbe.
"No, no," R. Nachman insisted. "That can't be. We are such close friends."
After he left the Rebbe's presence, R. Nachman sat down in a secluded spot and racked his brain, trying to think of something that might justify the Rebbe's explanation. Finally, he recollected how he had teased the Rebbe's son about the speed of his learning, and he wondered if that might be what the Alter Rebbe had sensed. He decided to speak to R. DovBer about it, and hurried off to see him.
Said the Alter Rebbe's son: "To tell you the truth, I was annoyed with you. Why should you tease me about how fast I was learning, when you know well that some of my time for Talmud-study is specifically to do so not in great depth in order to cover much material. Also, for the last three years while you have been primarily involved in business, I have devoted myself to studying with great diligence day and night; so in any case you have no right to say anything about the speed of my learning.
"Nevertheless," he continued, "it disturbs me terribly that I could possibly be the cause of such a great loss for you. Let me say that I sincerely and absolutely forgive you with all my heart, and G-d Al-mighty in his great mercy should restore your loss twice over."
Although he was only eighteen or nineteen years old at the time, all that the Mitteler Rebbe said came to be. That same year R. Nachman profited in his business more than double what he had lost through the fire in his house.
[Translated and retold by Yerachmiel Tilles from Siporim Noraim by Rabbi Yaakov Kaidener, who heard it from Rabbi Nachman of Ushatz himself! (first published in Kfar Chabad magazine).]