Ches Adar, 5775
The Orphan Sage
By Yerachmiel Tilles
Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Pshischa (1766-1813), known in the chassidic world by the title "The Holy Jew" (Yid Hakadosh), had the following custom when teaching his disciples: whenever a very difficult question arose, he would concentrate very deeply, often remaining steeped in his thoughts for half an hour or more, until the answer came to him.
One day, when one of these questions came up, one of his students, a young man who was orphaned of his father, became very hungry and decided to dart home to his mother for a quick bite while everyone waited for their rebbe to emerge from his meditative trance.
He quickly ran home and asked his mother for some food. While he ate, his mother asked him to bring down a package that she needed from the attic. Nervous about returning late, the young man told his mother he had to return right away. But as he hurried back to the study hall, the student realized what he had done: after all, isn't the study of Torah supposed to lead to fulfillment of its mitzvot? He had just missed an opportunity to fulfill the divine commandment to honor his mother!
The student did an about-face and ran back to his mother's house. He begged his mother's forgiveness and brought the package down from the attic. He then rushed back to the study hall. As soon as he entered the room, the Rebbe of Pshischa emerged from his deep thoughts, and promptly stood up to greet the young man.
Noticing that their master had stood up, all the other students also stood. The young man was quite bewildered at all of this. The rebbe then delivered his answer to the difficult question, and asked everyone to sit down. Sitting down with them, he turned to the young man and said: "Now tell us everything that happened to you."
After the young man related what had happened, the rebbe said:
"Surely you wonder why I stood up. The Talmud tells us that the great sage Abayei was orphaned of both parents. His father had passed away soon after his mother had conceived, and his mother died in childbirth. How, then, could he fulfill the command of honoring one's parents, which is one of the Ten Commandments? Therefore, whenever anyone fulfills this mitzvah properly, Abayei accompanies him.
"Since you fulfilled this mitzvah," said the Holy Jew to the fatherless student, "Abayei went with you. When you came here, Abayei came along with you, and I stood up in his honor. And it was he who gave me the answer to the difficult question . . ."
Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org