"I know someone who has an ardent desire to learn and know all of Shas. But upon reconsidering, he reckoned that if his intention is to create a nachas ruach for Hashem that He has someone in this world who knows all of Shas, why should he daven that this person be himself? Surely it would be better to daven that all the talmidim of Yeshivas Chachmei Tzorfas should know all of Shas."
So wrote Reb Yankele zt"l in a letter to a chossid.
The subject of the story was, of course, the Rebbe himself. This was the Rebbe's way of conveying his thoughts and messages in talks and letters. He would spell everything out in the name of "a person I know" so as not to reveal what came from him.
Although Reb Yankele was renowned for his holiness and ability to po'el yeshuos, he succeeded in concealing the full extent of his greatness in Torah. He would sit alone for hours on end, learning. Occasionally he would fill in the margins of his seforim with his own he'oros and it is from this that we can try to glean a glimpse of the breadth of his Torah knowledge.
Many stories have been told of the power of Reb Yankele's brochos. Even this he tried to conceal by often not directly giving the full blessing in the person's presence, but waiting until the person in trouble had left to intercede on his behalf.
The Rebbe invested much avodas hakodesh in imparting sippurei tzaddikim to his listeners, whether in his Chumash/Rashi shiur, Pirkei Ovos, or his daily shiur in Ein Yaakov. All were relevantly spiced with the correct story that brought the points home.
Thus, Reb Yankele would interpret the gemora that tells us, "When a person comes to the Heavenly court he will be asked, `Did you deal in business with emunah — faithfully?' " Said Rabbeinu, each of us will be asked: "Were you busy instilling emunoh in yourself and others during your lifetime?" This can be done through sippurei tzaddikim.
My father-in-law shlita, a prominent rov, once traveled to visit Reb Yankele zt"l who was at the time in a small town outside Antwerp. As they walked together, there poured out from him a long talk made up of divrei Torah and stories of tzaddikim.
All at once, their pleasant stroll was interrupted by an urgent call from London. A distraught Yid whose wife was going through a difficult childbirth gave over his wife's name to the gabbai. The Rebbe answered nothing. After a few minutes, he began to relate a story of his Rebbe, HaRav Hakodosh Reb Chonoh of Koloshitz. The name of a woman in labor was given to him and he replied that when his grandfather, the Shinover Rov, was asked to daven for a woman in labor, he in turn told of a similar case with Reb Meir'l of Premishlan:
In his old age it was very difficult to have an audience with R' Meir'l and receive his blessing, for he asked to be secluded most of the time. However, since at that time a house was being built for his family, R' Meir'l would go once in two weeks to inspect the work being carried out. On these occasions, people would grasp the opportunity to approach the Rebbe.
As R' Meir'l stood at the edge of the building site, a Yid came rushing up to the Rebbe and his attendants, begging the Rebbe to pray for his wife who was about to give birth and was in danger.
The Rebbe, R' Meir'l appeared as though he hadn't heard and, instead of answering, turned to the builders.
"Shisshe, shisshe," he urged them, meaning they should widen the opening in the ground for the foundations of the building.
When the panic-stricken man asked the Rebbe a second time to pray, Reb Meir'l answered, "I told them already to widen."
The news came not long after that the woman had given birth and both mother and child were healthy.
"When the Shinover Rov finished relating the story, a messenger informed him that the child had been born. So I was told by my Rebbe, the Koloshitzer Rov," said Reb Yankele.
"Then my Rebbe bentched Bircas Hamozone. As soon as he had finished, a man was shown in and joyfully reported that a healthy baby had been born."
This is where R' Yankele finished retelling the chain of stories to my father-in-law, shlita. The latter looked at his watch and noted that the time was 1:07.
That day, my father-in-law returned to London. When the young avreich who had phoned to Reb Yankele came to tell the Rov the mazel tov — a baby girl had been born — to his astonishment, my father-in-law eagerly responded, "Mazel Tov. At 1:07?"
Amazed, the happy father confirmed the time and asked how the Rav knew the exact moment the baby was born.
"I looked at my watch when Reb Yankele finished his story, for I understood that he intended to bring the yeshuo through his tale."
A young boy from Bnei Brak was diagnosed with a rare illness that the doctors in Israel did not know how to treat.
His anxious parents flew him to London for further tests, hoping to find a doctor who could offer them a cure.
After two weeks of chasing doctors, blood tests, and examinations, with no sign of the end in sight, the father, one of Bnei Brak's great talmidei chachomim, decided he must return to his yeshiva in Bnei Brak. His wife was left to deal with further appointments from doctor to doctor.
At her host's suggestion, she decided to go to Reb Yankele, who was then in London to preside at the dinner of the tzedokoh Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess.
Her kind host accompanied his guest and poured out her story before the Rebbe; the pain of the young boy, the anguish of the parents and still not a ray of hope.
The Rebbe blessed them with a refuah shleimoh and they turned to leave the room. Just then, they were called back and the Rebbe asked the mother for her son's name. He sat deep in thought and then announced that a new name should be added. Immediately, the Rebbe organized a 'Mi Shebeirach,' and before the woman knew it her son had an additional name.
Her mind whirling, the woman returned to her lodgings, confused and afraid. What would her husband say to the fact that his son had a new name without the father or mother's consent? Her fear was not unfounded. She was not one bit surprised at her husband's negative reaction. He insisted that the Rebbe had no right to add a name without his permission and had no intention of using it.
In an attempt to placate him, the woman tried another approach.
"Let's see," she suggested. "If the child recovers, we'll call him by his new name and if, chas vesholom, not, we'll just ignore it."
A week later, a professor initiated a treatment that was successful.
Several weeks later, the mother returned to Bnei Brak with a completely healthy son — who also had a new name!
The subjects of the following story are known to me personally.
After having had a childless marriage for seventeen years, a couple from Yerushalayim were in America and decided on their return journey to travel via London, where they could see yet another specialist.
They were considering at the time to perhaps move to London temporarily in the hope that meshaneh mokom meshaneh mazal.
They were torn between their desire to live in Eretz Yisroel their home, and their hope to be helped in London. They went to Reb Yankele, who was in London at the time, for advice.
In reply to their question, Reb Yankele cited the posuk, "Uletzion yei'omar ish ve'ish yulad boh" (Tehillim 87:5). Return to Tzion to the holy land and be'ezras Hashem the second part of the posuk too will be fulfilled.
They returned to Eretz Yisroel and less than a year later were blessed with a child.