The Sar Shalom’s Youth
The Sar Shalom once said that before his soul was supposed to come down to this world it said that it doesn’t want to because the world is full of pitfalls. In response, they showed him all the reward he’ll get from all the Mitzvos he’ll be doing. The Sar Shalom still said no, he’d rather forgo the reward and not have the risk. Then they showed him all the Neshamos that are waiting for him to bring them closer to Hashem and rectify their souls. He still didn’t want, because he feared the pitfalls of this world. Until Hashem Himself vouched for him and said you’ll leave the world just like you came, clean of sins.
I’m bringing this story to illustrate that even when we discuss stories of Tzadikim to learn from them, we are really talking of levels that are beyond us. We can have some connection to them by telling the stories and learning whatever we can from them, but it does not mean we can wrap our minds around their greatness.
The Sar Shalom was a great Masmid in learning. Every evening he used to stay in Shul after Ma’ariv, many times throughout the night. At times he used to stand at the Amud – the lectern for the Chazan – and learn. When the early risers came to Shul, they scorned him saying “Yungerman, vacate the Amud!”. It didn’t dawn upon them that this Yungerman was there all night.
At one point the Sar Shalom and his Rebbetzin lived near a non-Jewish blacksmith who used to rise early to start his work. When he started banging with his hammer the Rebbetzin would wake up the Sar Shalom. Although when the Sar Shalom went to lay down, the blacksmith was sleeping for several hours, they still saw it as a sign that it’s not appropriate to wake up to serve Hashem later than the blacksmith’s work.
The Sar Shalom used to smoke a pipe. He once saw an individual in Shul filling his pipe in the middle of learning, in the time that the Sar Shalom learned a whole Daf Gemara. He said to himself that if the time to refill a pipe is worth a Daf Gemara, he will stop smoking. Since then he discontinued smoking till the end of his life.
When the Sar Shalom was a Yungerman he took upon himself with two friends to do one thousand consecutive all-nighters learning Torah. One of the men gave up after two hundred nights. The other prevailed until eight hundred nights. After that, the Sar Shalom was left alone but determined to reach the undertaking. When the last night came, there were very strong winds in the city and it was almost impossible to stay in Shul and learn. With his last strengths the Sar Shalom kept going hour after hour until at the end of the night Eliyahu Hanavi revealed himself to him and learned with him the Halachos of building a Beis Haknesses. Later the Sar Shalom brought what he learned that night in practice with building the great Beis Haknesses in the village of Belz.
Later in life, the Sar Shalom’s son, Maran Rav Yehosha, his successor as Rebbe, asked the Sar Shalom if the story was true. The Sar Shalom waved it off and said, “My child, you know, whendid I sleep?”, in a way to negate the significance of those thousand nights that it was natural for him not to sleep much.