The Rebbe Reb Bunim MiPeshischa related that once when he met R' Moshe Leib of Sassov, the latter posed to him a profound and difficult kushya on the words of the Rosh. He then proceeded to explain and solve the difficulty with amazing sharpness.
When he had finished, the Sassover remarked to R' Bunim, "You probably think that I had a question and then the answer occurred to me, as it usually does. In this case I first thought of this peirush and then found the question that it clarifies. Why am I telling you this?" continued the Sassover, and then answered, "Because I want you to be aware that occasionally this is the way to learn.
"In my opinion, when the Rambam wrote his sefer Moreh Nevuchim, where he expounds and clarifies all the doubts and uncertainties a person can have regarding his belief in Hashem, he must have worked this way. Since it is obvious that the Rambam had no doubt in his emunah, chas vesholom, we must conclude that he knew all the answers clearly and then fitted them to the questions that befall those who are confused."
The Rebbe Reb Bunim realized that R' Moshe Leib was hinting something to him personally. Immediately he sat down to learn the Moreh Nevuchim of the Rambam as it had been compiled to begin with: learning first all the principles of faith and all the answers and only then looking at the doubts and questions.
In the book Chassidism (Marcus), an incident is related whereby Rabbeinu was in Cracow in the shul of the Megaleh Amukos. There he heard a group of budding talmidei chachomim learning Moreh Nevuchim in a chaburah.
"Do you have doubts in your belief in Hashem that you find it necessary to learn a sefer that was written for those of confused minds and warped opinions," he rebuked them. "It's preferable not to go into the sfeikos and you won't need the answers."
The group was surprised and more than a little annoyed at this stranger who dared to approach them in such a manner. They considered it an affront to kvod Hashem and duly punished him.
The town of Nicholsburg was engaged in feverish preparation for the arrival of their new rov, the Rebbe Reb Schmelke, due to arrive in a number of days. Meanwhile, the carriage of Reb Schmelke was making its way across Poland. Deep in Torah discussion, Reb Schmelke and his talmid muvhak Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov traveled the length and breadth of many sugyos as the miles sped by beneath the wheels of their carriage.
Every time they reached a town with a notable Jewish community, they were welcomed with excitement and awe and naturally Reb Schmelke was asked to give a drosho. On one such occasion, Reb Schmelke began his speech with a difficult kushya. Immediately, his learned audience began to take it to pieces.
With a snap of his fingers, the Rebbe signaled to his accompanying talmid, R' Moshe Leib, to ascend to the pulpit. The young man opened his mouth in profound wisdom, explaining his Rebbe's question with such clarity that all arguments were stilled.
The pattern repeated itself with all the ten questions that the Rebbe used to introduce his subject until R' Moshe Leib had presented his Rebbe's case in all its strength. Subsequently, R' Schmelke began to expound and answer, captivating the hearts and minds of the lomdim present.
His days and nights were spent in Torah and avodoh as the inscription on his matzeivoh testifies: "He is called `holy.' He dedicated nights as the days in serving Hashem and his Torah and doing His mitzvos."
Several years after his marriage, his father-in-law suggested that the time had come for him to travel to the business fair and try his hand at earning a parnossoh. Rabbeinu dutifully set off with the wad of money his father-in-law entrusted him and, together with the seasoned traders, he traveled to the fair.
Upon arrival, R' Moshe Leib asked one of the dealers to direct him to the nearest beis medrash for he wished to daven. Following the tefilloh, Rabbeinu reckoned that he simply couldn't go to the fair without having first learning a little Torah. His few minutes however, continued until after nightfall and, before he knew it, his fellow travelers were at the shul to fetch him and accompany him home. Left with no choice, R' Moshe Leib mounted the carriage.
The clip-clop of horses' hooves and the wheels of a coach's arrival drew the children of R' Moshe Leib running out of the house. "Tatte, Tatte, what did you bring with you from the market?" they cried excitedly.
To their shock and dismay, R' Moshe Leib's face drained of color and he fell in a faint on the floor. The town was in an uproar as everyone rushed in different directions to try to bring help. The young man's father-in-law was summoned and rushed to his aid. When he had been revived from his swoon, his father-in-law gently asked R' Moshe Leib if he had perhaps lost the money and therefore fainted?
"No, no," exclaimed the Sassover. "Here is your money. But," he added somberly, "when I was asked what I brought with me, it reminded me of the time to come when, having lived my life, I'll be brought to stand before the Heavenly Court, where they will ask me the same question, `Moshe Leib, what did you bring with you? What are your mitzvos and maasim tovim?' I so dread the thought that I'll have nothing to answer, and it was this that caused me to lose consciousness."
His soft heart couldn't bear to see a Jew in distress, no matter what his status.
Once, on his arrival in the city of Yaroslav, its rebbe, R' Shimon Yaroslaver zt"l, came to greet him with his blessing, "Shalom Aleichem, Mori Verabi."
"Leave the Mori Verabi," retorted R' Moshe Leib hastily, "and come with me. On the way here I heard about a woman who recently gave birth. Her poverty is so acute that she doesn't even have straw on which to lie and lay her baby."
Within a few minutes a strange sight could be seen in the streets of Yaroslav. R' Shimon and R' Moshe Leib together, each one dragging a pile of straw, made their way to the small, rundown dwelling at the far end of the town. There they spread the straw out to make a comfortable bed, saw to the poor woman's other needs and, only after assuring themselves that she was comfortable, did they leave as quietly as they had come. No muss, no fuss, just action!
On another occasion, the plight of a poor woman who had no money to buy fuel to warm her house was brought to the Rebbe's attention. Realizing that she and her children were freezing in the winter cold within their own home, the Rebbe disguised himself as a working Jew and brought a large tree trunk. Posing as a woodcutter, he knocked on the poor woman's door and offered to sell her the wood. Sadly, the woman informed him she had no money with which to buy it and even if she had, she had no one to cut the oversized planks to enable her to fill the fireplace.
"I must travel on," said R' Moshe Leib, "and have nothing to do with this wood. Come to think of it, I even have some spare time before I leave. I'll chop up the wood for you, too."
No sooner said than done and R' Moshe Leib was on his way out, leaving a family warmed in home and heart.
His benevolence and pity even extended to animals. It was no strange sight when the business fair took place in Sassov to see the Rebbe making his way between the wagons, feeding and giving drink to the tired horses that had been left standing in the sun for hours.
The Rebbe would frequently go the various landlords who had imprisoned their Jewish tenants on account of nonpayment of the rent, to persuade them to release "their Jews," be it with money bribes or even just verbal cajoling and pleading.
One irate poritz became so incensed at the Rebbe's incessant pleading that he warned him never to come back and escorted him out of his grounds none too politely. Several days later, he was walking his dogs when he spotted the Rebbe yet again coming towards him. With a low whistle, he commanded his dogs to "go, get him." Snarling and gnashing their teeth, the animals bounded in the Rebbe's direction.
As the dogs closed in on him, R' Moshe Leib fearlessly raised his hand, saying to the dogs, "If you are Heaven sent, then come and tear my flesh to pieces." The dogs stopped abruptly in their tracks and trotted back on their heels to their master.
The bewildered landlord ran to R' Moshe Leib, calling to him, "Go Rabbi, just go — you and all the imprisoned tenants of mine, together!"
His devotion and warmth in his service of Hashem transcended anything physical.
Once, after a long day of running from one poritz to the next during which time he had not eaten, he was seated in the estate of a wealthy landlord where the smell of a luscious meal being prepared wafted into the study.
The tantalizing aromas filling his lungs and empty stomach were torment to R' Moshe Leib. Closing his eyes in intense concentration, he began to recite the prayer of Nishmas. By the time he had finished his recital, his fervor and the sweet taste of the words satisfied him, relieving him of his hunger completely!
Author's Note: Last week we identified the Maharam Ash incorrectly. His name was HaRav Meir Eisenstadt, zt"l.