A talmid and dear friend of Reb Hillel Paritcher, Reb Betzalel Azaritcher was an esteemed chossid and shadar of the Tzemach Tzedek. Yet, he felt unworthy when he did not recognize the shepherd boy.
Reb Betzalel Azaritzer was a talmid of Reb Hillel Paritcher and was of those yungeleit who were guided in Chassidus by the Mitteler Rebbe. He was of the great chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek and served as his Shadar. The Frierdiker Rebbe praised Reb Betzalel for his ability to learn from any person.
Reb Betzalel used to say that he does not understand why people think it is hard to be a chossid. “The first thing is ‘taporu da plachu’ (lit. ‘the ax on the wood’) – which means action. Then one can become an oved Hashem through davening, learning, Torah and mitzvos.”
Reb Hillel Paritcher and Reb Betzalel were very close friends. They would visit one another every week, alternating between Reb Hillel travelling to Reb Betzalel and vice versa.
Once, Reb Betzalel was not well and did not visit Reb Hillel. Reb Hillel sensed there was something wrong and decided to travel to see Reb Betzalel. The travel fare was a hefty six ruble, and Reb Hillel’s wife protested. “Why are you wasting six ruble for a wagon?!” she said, “It is anyways not your week to visit him! We won’t have the money that we need for our needs!” Reb Hillel was insistent and went on his way.
This was Thursday. Reb Hillel traveled with a minyan of chassidim and when they arrived at the house, Reb Hillel saw that his intuition was justified; Reb Betzalel was seriously ill. The visitors spent Shabbos there, staying in one room, while Reb Betzalel lay in the adjacent room. At Seudah Shelishis, as was his custom, Reb Hillel said Chassidus three times, each prefaced by three niggunim.
At that time, they heard that Reb Betzalel was nearing death. Reb Hillel went in to Reb Betzalel’s room and said, “Tzalkeh! What’s happening with you?” He placed the sefer Kesser Shem Tov on Reb Betzalel’s heart and said, “Look at the oisyos of the Baal Shem Tov”.
With that, Reb Betzalel’s neshama left his body.
Reb Betzalel once lodged at the home of a Jewish villager whom he had encountered in the course of his travels. His host told him that he employed a youth to shepherd his flocks all day long. At night he would come home and lie down to rest in his favorite nook high up on the huge stone fireplace, and early in the morning he would go out to the fields. True enough, he was a trustworthy young man, but his host said that he had never once seen him washing his hands for bread or saying a bracha.
Approaching the fireplace, Reb Betzalel found the shepherd eating beans. He asked him gently: “Why do you not wash your hands and say a bracha as one should?” “What difference does it make to you?” the young man answered. Since his further questions all received the same response, Reb Betzalel left the fireplace disappointed.
When he had the occasion to pass through that region a year later, his host said:
“Let me tell you something remarkable about that young man whom you met a year ago. One day I decided to go out to see for myself just what that young man did out there in the fields, to see whether he was looking after my flocks, at least.
“I found myself a hiding place under a bush, where he could not possibly see me. And as I listened, I heard him reading the words of Tehillim, one melodious phrase after another, in a measured voice that gradually rose in holy ecstasy. This was clearly not the ordinary peasant that I had imagined him to be. I revealed nothing of what I had seen to anyone, but from the greater respect that I now showed him, he must have sensed that I had discovered what manner of man he was.
“Then one Friday night soon after, ten goyim burst into my house to take this young man off for military service. They said that they were acting on orders issued by the conscription authorities in the neighboring town. I begged them to give him a reprieve at least until the end of Shabbos. You see, I thought that I would then be able to speak to the leading Jewish citizens of that town, and tell them about this young man, and perhaps induce them to make efforts to have him released. But those ten goyim took absolutely no notice of my entreaties, and took him away.
“Distressed at my failure to save him I waited impatiently for Shabbos to pass, and then, as soon as I had recited Havdalah, I set out for that town to see what I could perhaps still do for him. But when I spoke of this case to the regional conscription authorities there, it turned out that they didn’t know what I was talking about. They had never sent anyone to my village, and they had never heard of this young man!”
Reb Betzalel wept on hearing this story, and said: “How gross and unspiritual are our eyes, that we sensed nothing and knew nothing!”
For sources, visit TheWeeklyFarbrengen.com