At the festive meal following a circumcision, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, the “Chidushei HaRim” of Gur, once asked a certain chassid to tell a story he knew concerning Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev and circumcision.
“One of the disciples of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak,” began the chassid, “was a dealer in oxen. It so happened that the price once dropped at a time when he had many head of cattle to sell, so, anticipating heavy losses, he traveled to Berditchev to ask Rabbi Levi Yitzchak for advice and a blessing.
“‘Is there one particular mitzvah that you especially engage in from time to time?’ asked the Rebbe.
“‘Yes,’ answered the dealer, ‘I am a mohel.’
“And what do you do,’ resumed the rebbe, ‘if (G-d forbid) the bleeding does not stop after you have circumcised an infant?’
“The mohel duly enumerated the various kinds of medication he used.
“‘I will give you a certain herb,’ said the tzaddik. ‘If (G-d forbid) you should again be confronted by such a situation, then apply this herb to the source of the bleeding and, with the Almighty’s help, it will heal at once.’
“‘And what shall I do about the cattle business?’ asked the merchant.
“‘But I have already told you,’ answered the tzaddik, ‘that whenever a newly circumcised child bleeds profusely you should apply this herb, and with G-d’s help the incision will heal immediately.’
“The merchant took his leave and traveled home.”
At this point in the chassid’s story the Chidushei HaRim stopped him for a moment, and said: “From this it is clear that this merchant was a chassid, for he did not persist with his query about the oxen, believing instead that his rebbe’s words no doubt included an answer to the question that had brought him there, even though he did not understand how this could be the case.”
The chassid continued his story. “On his way home this dealer stopped at an inn, and found out incidentally that the innkeeper’s infant son was not circumcised. He therefore approached him and asked: ‘Why have you not yet had your son circumcised?’
“The father answered that two earlier sons of his had died as a result of their circumcision (Heaven forfend!), because the bleeding could not be stopped.
“Recalling the words of the tzaddik of Berdichev, the merchant asked his host: ‘What would you give if a solution were to be found to this problem?’
“‘If it were possible to circumcise my son without danger,’ he answered, ‘I would be prepared to pay four hundred silver rubles.’
“‘I will circumcise him on my responsibility,’ said the merchant, ‘and will deposit with you four hundred silver rubles of my own, to be forfeited in case (G-d forbid) of misfortune.’
“The innkeeper agreed, provided the mohel remained on the premises for four weeks, until the child was sure to be out of danger. The circumcision in fact caused the infant to bleed heavily, but the mohel applied the herb which he had been given, and the bleeding stopped immediately.
“After some days news reached the village that the price of oxen had risen, and the mohel wanted to hurry home to sell his livestock, but his host held him to his promise to stay in the village for four weeks.
“Several days later he heard that the price was soaring even higher, but the innkeeper ignored his pleas. Only after the full four weeks had reluctantly moved on did he allow the merchant to get back to his business, not forgetting to pay him first his fee of four hundred silver rubles and to return him his deposit of another four hundred.
“Arriving home, the merchant sold his oxen for a price that exceeded his wildest hopes and made a handsome profit.
“It was now time to visit his rebbe. He rode off to Berdichev, and said to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak: ‘Rebbe, the fee of four hundred rubles belongs to you without a question, and a certain proportion of the profit I made on the sale of my livestock rightly belongs to you likewise.”
[Selected and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by our esteemed colleague Uri Kaploun from Sipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.]
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg/Alter (1789 – 23 Adar 1866) of Gur was the successor to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk and the founder of the Gur dynasty. He was popularly known as the Chidushei HaRim, the title of his classic work of Torah analysis and interpretation. His charisma and concern for the masses resulted in Gerrer chasidut having a very large following.
Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.