Rabbi Shalom Shachna

A Destined Bride

R. Shlomo sent two emissaries to a certain town to arrange the match. Before they set out, he warned them: “On your way you will pass Prohovitch, where R. Nachum of Chernobyl lives. Do not stop.”

As they passed Prohovitch that Friday, while R. Nachum was napping, he was told in a dream, “Now is your chance to marry off your granddaughter to the Maggid’s grandson!” In the dream R. Avraham the Malach appeared, and shook R. Nachum’s hand in agreement.

When he awoke, R. Nachum asked those present, “Did a wagon just pass?” They replied that a wagon bearing two passengers had indeed just passed, traveling rapidly. He instructed someone to catch up with it and bring its passengers back to Prohovitch.

When R. Shlomo’s emissaries came to R. Nachum, he told them of the dream and convinced them that the shidduch had already been arranged Above between himself and R. Shalom’s father, and that any other arrangements were invalid.

Thus R. Shalom Shachna married Chavah, the daughter of R. Nachum’s daughter Malka. They settled in Prohovitch, where R. Nachum supported them.

A Special Guest

On their way to the wedding in Chernobyl, R. Shlomo and R. Shalom Shachna passed through Berditchev and R. Levi Yitzchak honored them with a festive meal.

When they left Berditchev, R. Levi Yitzchak sent musicians to escort them out of town and he himself danced before them. Later, his wife asked, “Why did you have to lower yourself by dancing like a child? Wasn’t it enough that you treated them to such a banquet?”

“How could I not dance before the groom,” replied R. Levi Yitzchak, “when Eliyahu the Prophet was dancing, too?”

A New Style of Life

R. Shalom Shachna blazed a new trail in Chassidus, which was broadened by his son, R. Yisrael of Rizhin, and followed by the Rebbes of the Rizhin-Sadigora dynasty. He conducted himself in a most regal fashion. Instead of the white, silken bekeshe of his forebears, he preferred a stylish woolen outfit, even though the chassidim shunned woolen garments for fear of sha’atnez (a forbidden admixture of wool and linen). He dressed before a mirror, an act permitted by the Talmud only to the descendants of Rabban Gamliel. His hair was styled, his peyos short, and instead of the old-fashioned pipe, he smoked expensive cigarettes. He lived in a beautiful, exquisitely furnished house and insisted that his wife dress fashionably.

Even his Avodas HaShem defied the norm. During the month of Elul, when everyone prayed and studied with unusual intensity in anticipation of judgment on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, R. Shalom Shachna spent most of the day in the forest. Only toward evening did he return home for his meal.

For anyone else, such behavior might have been suspect, but R. Nachum knew who R. Shalom Shachna was, even if he didn’t know why he adopted such practices.

His conduct aroused the wrath of R. Nachum’s chassidim. After several complaints, R. Nachum warned him, “Son, your path is a dangerous one, which your forefathers did not follow. You are treading on a razor’s edge, and one misstep could spell tragedy.”

R. Shalom Shachna responded with the following parable: “Once a chicken sat on some duck eggs. After they hatched, the ducklings thought they were chickens and followed their ‘mother’ around. When they came to a river, they jumped in and began to swim.

“‘Children,’ the chicken screamed, ‘you could drown!’

“‘Don’t be afraid,’ the ducklings answered. ‘This is where we belong.'”

Satisfied with this answer, R. Nachum told his chassidim to stop criticizing R. Shalom Shachna, for he was acting for the sake of Heaven.

The Chassidic movement grew ever stronger. Once the task of founding the Chassidic movement had been completed, with tens of thousands of faithful adherents following the tenets of the movement, R. Shalom Shachna paved the way for a national revival by restoring the crown of the exilarchs. In those troubled times, R. Shalom Shachna single-handedly built a royal house.

On another level, R. Shalom Shachna himself wrote: “When one dons fine clothes, he should do so to fulfill the verse, ‘Prepare [yourself] to greet your God, Israel’ [Amos 4:1]. When one appears before a king, he must dress well. How much more so before the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. Heaven forbid he should become haughty.”

Asked why his father, R. Shalom Shachna, chose such a perilous path of pomp and ostentation, R. Yisrael of Rizhin replied, “The Baal Shem Tov gave our patriarch, the Maggid, a precious jewel – the path of true Chassidus. The Maggid hid it in a fortress of Torah and prayer, but the thieves from Above, Satan and his cohorts, broke into the fortress to destroy the gem. My grandfather, R. Avraham the Malach, polished it and built it into a fortress of holiness and purity, by means of fasting and mortification. But the bandits persisted. So my father devised a new strategy – he hid the stone in a rubbish bin of pride, glory, and honor. This hiding place proved much safer, for the thieves never expected to find a precious jewel there.”

Chasidic tradition maintains that R. Shalom Shachna possessed a “spark” of King David’s soul and that his son R. Yisrael of Rizhin had a spark of King Solomon’s.

R. Shalom Shachna once experienced a spiritual elevation to the Upper World. There he entered a palace filled with marvelous treasures. On a table was a crown inlaid with indescribably beautiful jewels. A Tzaddik sat next to the crown. R. Shalom Shachna heard a voice proclaim, “This crown belongs to the Tzaddik seated next to it.”

“And why is it not resting on his head?” asked R. Shalom Shachna.

“The crown is the Tzaddik’s Torah and mitzvos,” the voice answered, “but since he acted severely and saddened people, he did not deserve to wear it.”

Rigor Amid Luxury

Despite his royal demeanor, R. Shalom Shachna ate as little as his father and enjoyed very little of the wealth with which he surrounded himself. “One should always eat and drink sparingly,” he contended. “A camel hardly eats but lives long, while a horse eats a lot and his days are few.”

R. Shalom Shachna and R. Nachum

As the grandson-in-law of R. Nachum of Chernobyl, R. Shalom Shachna had many valuable experiences. He both learned from, and taught, his father-in-law.

One erev Rosh HaShanah, despite valiant efforts, R. Shalom Shachna felt he couldn’t daven. Finally he mustered enough resources to pray like a simple person, thinking only of the meaning of the words. Afterward, R. Nachum approached him and said, “Son, what did you do today? Your prayers caused such a tumult Above that many souls were elevated.”

— original source: http://www.nishmas.org

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