Rabbeinu was born in the year 5490 (1730). His father Rabbi
Moshe was a close disciple of the holy Baal Sheim Tov, and
took the young Mendele to his Rebbe.
The Baal Sheim Hakodosh related to the boy a long story with
many distinctive details, a story which, towards the end of
his days Reb Menachem Mendel revealed, hinted at all the
episodes which would occur to him and all the experiences he
would endure throughout his lifetime. Included therein was
the fact that he would eventually reach Eretz Yisroel
and reside there.
Rabbeinu was the talmid of the Maggid Rabbi Dov Ber of
The story is told of a time when Reb Menachem Mendel was
falsely accused of a crime. He was promptly incarcerated in
a dank prison with the lowest and most debased of society as
On the first day when the time came to daven, Rabbeinu
sought out a secluded corner and began to pray with great
fervor. Throughout the tefilloh he sensed that someone
was watching him closely, and upon finishing he turned round
to find a fellow inmate staring at him in awe.
When he had recovered from his trance, the prisoner
approached Reb Mendele and asked if he could serve as the
holy man's attendant, promising that he would see to his
"Who are you?" asked Reb Mendele gently, "and what are you
"I am a Jew. Nochum is my name."
Resignedly, Nochum told Reb Mendele that although usually
when a Jew is imprisoned the community rallies together to
collect money for pidyon shevuyim, in his case it was
different. He was so far gone from anything Jewish, having
become a notorious thief, that the kehilloh had not
noticed his absence at all and would have no interest in
redeeming him anyway. As far as the wretched Nochum could
see, his future lay within the prison walls.
With his indomitable faith in the inherent value of every
Yid, Reb Mendele began to teach Nochum how to serve Hashem.
With the passage of time and under the Rebbe's guidance, the
former thief truly regretted his past and began fulfilling
some mitzvos right there in the prison. Once again he donned
tefillin and the long-forgotten laws of kosher food
became part of his daily fare. He was careful to refrain
from eating forbidden foods and became a true baal
"This is only the start," encouraged the Rebbe. "Once we
leave this jail, I will take you to my Rebbe and teacher the
Maggid of Mezritch where you will attain your true
No sooner had Reb Mendele finished speaking than the prison
officer entered, seeking the Rabbi. He duly informed him
that the accusation against him had been proved false and he
was now free to leave.
To his surprise Rabbeinu did not walk out, but insisted that
he would not leave unless the long-term prisoner Nochum was
dismissed with him.
"That vagabond? No way!"
But Rabbeinu was adamant. "If he stays here, so do I."
It seemed the only solution was to bring the strange case
before a judge. There in the courtroom Reb Mendele vouched
for the newfound integrity and sincerity of the former
thief, pledging to be his guarantor.
The two were released together.
At that point Rabbeinu exclaimed that he now knew why Heaven
had sent him to be imprisoned in the first place.
From then on whenever a Yid poured out his heart to him over
tzoros that had befallen him, Rabbeinu would relate
this episode, pointing out that one must be firm in
emunoh for "you never know why a tzoroh befalls
you and who may be saved through it."
Nochum joined Reb Menachem Mendel on his journey to
Immediately upon their entry to the Maggid, the latter
announced joyfully, "I've been waiting a long time for this
soul to return!"
In time Nochum became one of the Maggid's most distinguished
Prior to Reb Menachem Mendel's departure for Eretz
Yisroel, he went to take leave and receive the blessings
of his close friends, the gedolei hador.
His name preceded him wherever he went, and Reb Mendele was
received with the honor accorded to royalty.
At the port, Rabbeinu chose to set sail on an old
dilapidated ship that hardly looked seaworthy, much to
everyone's wonder and concern.
Sure enough, out on the high seas a storm broke out, tossing
the vulnerable ship dangerously in its high winds and
The captain, a veteran seafarer, begged the Rebbe to pray on
behalf of the ship and its passengers. Above the roar of the
mighty waves crashing against the ship's hull, he related
how, forty years previously, he had steered this very same
vessel with the great Rabbi Elozor Rokeach (author of
Maaseh Rokeach) on board. He vividly recalled how the
ship had almost sunk in a storm, but was saved by the
prayers of the Rabbi.
Rabbeinu stood on the deck and called out:
Ribono Shel Olom! You surely know that when I took
leave of all my friends I was accorded the greatest honor.
Lavish praises and noble titles were showered upon me. Yet
despite the fact that these made my stomach churn and I felt
ill, I was ready to suffer just so that I could reach
Eretz Yisroel and glorify Your Name there. I beseech
You in this zchus that the fury of the sea subside and
we reach safe shores.
The ship and its captain witnessed a second miracle as the
storm abated and their voyage continued without further
The humility of Reb Mendele seen in the instances noted
above extended to a degree of true self-deprecation.
In his letters, Rabbeinu would sign before his name,
"hashofol be'emes," which chassidim say he began to
add after coming to Eretz Yisroel, in line with
profound reasons al pi chassidus.
When the holy Ruzhiner Rebbe zt"l was asked how Reb
Menachem Mendel could exhibit openly and in so great measure
his middoh of anovoh, the tzaddik
answered, "With Reb Mendele who was an onov with
each of his limbs, this signature was not a sign of an
exalted character or an extra trait. For him it was
mamash part of his name."
The Rachmastrivke Rebbe shlita tells that when Reb
Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk first arrived in Eretz Yisroel
he chose to reside in Peki'in, saying that if he would
succeed in living there for a whole year, he would bring
The Satan however, hearing his words, brought wolves and
fierce animals to the area, endangering the Arabs who lived
there. The latter attributed the sudden influx of wild
animals to the arrival of their strange new neighbor and
they drove him away.
Subsequently, Rabbeinu settled in Tiveria. The reason for
his choice was given by Tiveria's later Rov, HaRav Moshe
Kliers zt"l. It was due to the heat and harsh climate
of Tiveria that Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk chose to live
there. As he himself would say, "In Tzfas you can eat cool
fresh vegetables with your bread, whereas in Tiveria even
this is denied and one can disassociate oneself completely
from physical pleasures. For this reason I will settle in