In his sefer Tiferes Shlomo (Parshas Tzav) the Rebbe of Radomsk zt"l writes that a person may constantly strive to greater heights with Torah and mitzvos yet still not reach his soul's perfection until he acquires a rebbe who teaches him the correct path. As an example, he cites the tzaddik R' Chaike of Amdure, who fasted and performed self-affliction all his life, often fasting from Shabbos to Shabbos. He would deprive himself of sleep and stay awake all night learning Torah. However, he did not feel that he had reached his life's tikkun until he found his rebbe, the Maggid of Mezeritch, zt"l.
There are some variations of the story how Rabbenu found his rebbe, each of them with a lot to teach.
In the sefer Gedolos HaTzaddikim, it is brought as follows:
Rabbi Aharon Hagodol of Karlin would travel from place to place arousing and exhorting Jews to do teshuva. Upon reaching the beis medrash of Amdure, he observed Rabbi Chaike, who was then learning incessantly while keeping a week-long fast. Rabbi Aharon knew immediately that this man must go to his rebbe, the Maggid of Mezeritch.
Meanwhile, word had spread around town that Rabbi Aharon Hagodol of Karlin was to give a droshoh. An eager crowd flocked to the shul. Who had not heard of this great tzaddik and orator who would give a fiery speech, leaving everyone moved to tears of pure remorse and repentance?
Rabbi Chaike too heard the reports and joined the packed audience. When Rabbi Aharon saw that Rabbi Chaike was among his listeners, he diverted from his usual style. Instead, he ascended the pulpit as the people waited with bated breath. "Rabbosai," his voice rang out clear. "I want you to know that whoever doesn't become better becomes worse." With that, his droshoh was done and Rabbi Aharon stepped down.
His words found their target and Rabbi Chaike felt they were directed to him. He ran out of the shul after the guest and begged him to direct him and guide him in his avodas Hashem.
"I cannot tell you everything," replied R' Aharon with a smile. "For I am but a talmid. But if you like, you can travel to my esteemed rebbe in Mezeritch."
"Someone as great as the Rabbi of Karlin has a rebbe?" Rabbi Chaike wondered aloud.
"Yes, we all still need a rebbe!"
And together they traveled to Mezeritch.
In another version, it is told that the Maggid called R' Aharon of Karlin, telling him, "Somewhere out there is a golden menorah already prepared with wicks and oil. It's just waiting to be lit. I would like you to travel around, find that menorah and bring it to me." The Rebbe of Karlin set out on his way and on one of his stops he found R' Chaike sitting and learning.
"What are you busy with?" R' Aharon inquired of the young man.
"I am osek baTorah lishmoh," was the simple reply.
"Well, the Tana Rabbi Meir says that is not true," countered R' Aharon. "In Pirkei Ovos Rabbi Meir says, `Anyone who learns Torah lishmoh merits many things.' Where are your many things young man?" And so saying, he left the beis medrash.
Left alone to ponder his words, Rabbi Chaike found in them the light of truth. Immediately he left the beis medrash to find the stranger. Catching sight of his back, he broke into a run, calling after the receding figure.
"Reb Yid, you're right, but what do I do?"
Turning around, R' Aharon smiled, "I can't do anything for you, but come with me to my rebbe and he'll help you."
And together they traveled to Mezeritch.
For most of his life, Rabbi Chaike continued his practice of abstention from worldly pleasures and fasting. Nevertheless, as HaRav Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch once noted, "It's amazing to see that a man who fasts most of his days has such pure simchah radiating from his face!"
Once on an erev Shabbos at minchah, culminating a week's fast, Rabbeinu felt that he had attained high madreigos from Heaven, beyond his true worth. As he thought into the matter, he decided that perhaps this was because his body sensed that soon he would eat, causing him to be calm, relaxed and in a state of joy (a prerequisite for the presence of the Shechinah).
He therefore decided that on Shabbos, too, he would only eat the minimum kezayis required at all three meals, only so as to fulfill the mitzvah and not more.
In the sefer Nesiv Mitzvosecha of the Rav of Komarna zt"l, we find: In the medrash in Vayikra it is brought that a man was called a "merutah" (bald) for he had lost all his hair out of sheer fright. There he cites as an example Rabbi Chaike of Amdure, whose hair all fell out due to his fear and awe of Hashem yisborach.
Chassidim would relate many tales of the Rebbe's humility.
Once when an ant crawled onto his robe, the Rebbe commented in a friendly tone, "Aren't we both creatures of the Almighty?"
One night when Rabbi Chaike was reciting Krias Shema, he reached the words, "beyodecho afkid ruchi," and fell in a faint. His frightened family tended to him and when he came to, Rabbi Chaike explained, "I just thought of a moshol. It's like a king who commands all his loyal citizens to bring all their possessions to him for he wants to inspect them. Among the throngs was a poor, destitute fellow, his meager belongings tied up in a forlorn bundle. Seeing all the ministers, lords and wealthy citizens with all their precious-looking cargo, the man took a glance at his own knapsack and was overcome with shame.
"I, too," continued R' Chaike, "when I said the words `beyodecho afkid ruchi,' in my mind I envisioned the holy mal'ochim and fiery seraphim, how they do the will of Hashem, and what does my lowly neshomoh look like when I hand it up there to Heaven? I was overcome with bushoh and passed out."
One of his fellow townspeople came to R' Chaike and complained that he was finding it so hard to earn a livelihood and was living on a tight budget, while his gentile neighbors enjoyed a wealthy life.
"Are they then better than me?" he asked Rabbenu bitterly. Rabbenu answered him with a moshol.
"The king's only son was struck with an ailment. The specialist who was called warned the king that the prince was dangerously allergic to fish and on no account should he eat it. Disobeying could prove fatal. Missing his favorite dish, the crown prince cried to his father, complaining bitterly, `It's only out of stinginess that you're refusing me this delicacy.' What did the king do? Taking hold of a large container of fish, he threw it to the dogs. Then turning to his son, he explained, `You see my son, I'm not concerned about the expense of the fish. It's only out of my love for you that I follow the doctor's instructions.'"
Rabbenu continued straight on to the nimshol, "Our Father in heaven gives us various trials of hardship and poverty. To prevent us from thinking that, chas vesholom. He hasn't enough or is stingy, Hashem showers our gentile neighbors with plenty and we must understand that Hashem, in His boundless love is doing what is best for us."