Erev Yom Kippur in the Jewish communities of once-upon-a-time Poland was kept much as it is now as well. Wherever there are Yidden, the day shares the awesome atmosphere of the coming holy day. Eating and drinking also take a great part in the preparation for Yom Kippur. In Poland it was customary to drink a strong mead which, although it could induce drunkenness, was reputed to give strength for the upcoming fast.
Due to the delay in his entire day's program, the Amshinover Rebbe zt"l ended up drinking a lot of the intoxicating beverage very close to Yom Kippur. Yet — report his chassidim who were witness first hand — when the time came to say Kol Nidrei, the Rebbe would stand to the side for several minutes. His complexion would then blanch completely and any sign of the drink was gone without a trace, as the awe and dread of the Yom Hadin overcame him.
The chassidim of Kotsk enjoyed relating how the Amshinover's greatness was manifested. As a young man, Reb Yaakov Dovid once traveled to Kotsk to participate in a sheva brochos.
As is common with the Kotsker, wine was drunk in quantities and the Amshinover guest was served glass after glass. Upon seeing that the wine seemed to have no effect on him, the chassidim kept pouring more wine into Reb Yaakov Dovid's glass to test the level of his endurance. He kept showed no effects all the way through and left for his lodgings in Kotsk.
Curious, a few of the "sharfer chassidim" following him stealthily. Would the vast amount of wine tire Rabbeinu out or would it choliloh adversely affect his behavior? To their immense surprise they saw Reb Yaakov Dovid sitting in his host's house and receiving the many people who came to him for brochos and advice.
His grandson, the Admor Reb Yitzchok of Amshinov, added the following explanation to the above. The gemora tells us that Nodov and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, entered the Mishkon after having drunk wine and were therefore burned. Obviously they were on the madreigoh of being able to contain the wine and its effects and immediately direct their thoughts and feelings to Hashem. But the Torah wants to show us that even with this ability "we cannot digress from the halocho." If one may not enter the Mikdosh having drunk wine, then it is so even if that particular person has the ability to control it.
To the superficial onlooker, the Rebbe's lofty madreigoh was hardly noticeable. At a seudas Rosh Chodesh the Rebbe had a guest, namely the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Grodzinsk zt"l. The latter was wont to daven lengthy tefillos, whereas Rabbeinu only did so in his private room. In this case the Rebbe davened fast as he always did in public and was soon finished. After the Rebbe of Grodzinsk had finished praying, he turned to his host with a question.
"Amshinover Rebbe, when do you daven?"
Rabbeinu was quick to reply:
"`Vayevorech Dovid es Hashem,' Dovid (referring to his own name) davens properly when it's only to Hashem. However, `le'einei kol hakohol,' when everyone is present and looking, then `vayomer Dovid,' Dovid just says it quickly, `Er git a zog op!' "
After Reb Avrohom of Tchechenow zt"l was niftar, some of his chassidim came to Rabbeinu with a shailoh: shall they begin to daven in the nusach sefarad as all the chassidim do, or is it better to continue as they did when their Rebbe was alive, according to his custom of using nusach Ashkenaz?
In his classic sharp style, the Amshinover replied, "First of all daven! Then you can begin to decide which nusach to daven."
R' Sholom was very distraught. By nature of his business, he was forced to work before tefillos shacharis. Instead of rising early to learn and then davening shacharis with all the chassidim as he would have liked, he was forced to rush to work and, somewhere in the middle, grab an opportune half-hour to daven. The chassid went to pour out his heart to the Amshinover Rebbe.
The Rebbe saw before him a broken man. So depressed was R' Sholom that the Rebbe saw he was on the verge of giving up his tefilloh altogether. In that event he would choliloh plummet rapidly and who knew where the story would end.
In his warm, encouraging way, the Rebbe spoke gently.
"Do you know the value of that broken `krechtz' that escapes your lips every day during work. Can you estimate the worth of a sigh that comes from the heart of a pious Jew whose sole yearning is to daven as he should? It is for this krechtz that they wait in Heaven every day!"
The man was comforted and strengthened by the Rebbe's words and remained true to Torah and mitzvos.
Although Rabbeinu hardly ate, he set aside six or seven hours each night for sleep or so it seemed. His attendant related that during these `sleeping hours,' the Rebbe would jump up every half hour as though someone had woken him. He would wash his hands and then either leave his bed to sit and concentrate or work through his learning while still lying down. This went on through the six or seven hours, every half hour on the clock!
The chassidim once invited the Rebbe to break his fast and join them in a siyum masechta. After having washed, the Rebbe was served challah and then chicken soup.
"What about fish?" asked the Rebbe.
The chassidim replied that strangely the fisherman had not been able to catch a single fish that day.
Rabbeinu immediately pushed his plate of soup aside.
Something was amiss and the chassidim were determined to find out what. Rushing through the streets, they descended on the town's butcher, demanding to know what had happened to the chicken that day to cause the Rebbe to reject the soup.
The butcher shrugged his shoulders as though he knew nothing. The chassidim, however, were persistent and after a while he told them the truth. The shochet had been absent that morning and, when the chassidim came with their order of chickens for the siyum, he had slaughtered the chicken himself!
When the chassidim returned to the Rebbe to report the `mofes', he explained in earnest humility, "I knew nothing. I don't have ruach hakodesh as you may think. It's just logical. When I asked you where is the customary fish for the seudas mitzvah, you replied that the fisherman found none. I understood that probably the chicken is treif and the fish have no desire to be served on the same table as treif meat."
Before his passing, Reb Yaakov Dovid felt unwell and traveled to Italy to a specialist. Several times he hinted to the fact that he would pass away there in Italy. However, he went ahead and traveled to the doctor. His son, the Admor Reb Menachem, used to say that his father was well-versed in medicine and knew that chances were high he would not return, yet he also knew that al-pi-Torah he was obliged to fulfill the mitzvah of venishmartem me'od lenafshoseichem.
Following his petiroh in Italy, the chassidim somehow managed to return the Rebbe's holy body to Amshinov for kevurah.
Subsequently, a chassid who traveled to Italy on business wanted to visit the house where the neshomoh of his Rebbe had risen to Shomayim. He looked up the address, but upon arriving, found only burnt ruins. Seeing a strange Jew staring at the charred remains, a gentile neighbor explained to the chassid that in the house a saintly Jew had died and a day later the entire building mysteriously burnt down.
In the aftermath of the Rebbe's petiroh, some of the chassidim attempted to write the Toros that the Rebbe had taught during his lifetime, for it was known that the Rebbe had written nothing.
When his son the Admor Reb Menachem, zt'l, was asked why he doesn't write his father's wisdom, he replied sharply, "The bren of his words cannot be put onto paper and his words without this bren are not worth putting to paper."