The best way for a person to secure himself a good place in the world to come is to have compassion for a fellow Jew. A compassionate person who helps others not only earns a lofty place in Heaven after his 120 years on earth, but according to Chassidic tradition, he has the power to empty out Gehennom, or purgatory. Let me share a story with you about the great tzaddik Rebbe Moshe Leib Sassover, of saintly and blessed memory, where you'll see exactly what we're talking about:
Rebbe Moshe Leib Sassover traversed half of the Ukraine by horse and wagon to visit his beloved rabbi and mentor, Rebbe Shmelke of Nickolsburg, who was one of the most important disciples of the holy Maggid of Mezeritch. Rebbe Shmelke gave Moshe Leib his wholehearted blessing; in addition, he gave his gifted and righteous pupil three presents - a loaf of bread, a golden rand (coin worth about two hundred rubles back then), and a white kaftan, the ceremonial coat that Rebeb Shmelke would wear on Shabbat and the holidays.
Above image: a typical Ukrainian nobleman's estate from 250 years ago - image courtesy of Emuna Outreach
Elated and uplifted, Rebbe Moshe Leib took leave of his Rebbe and began the journey home. After traveling a few hours down the bumpy country roads of Podolia district in the Ukraine, he encountered a poor man by the side of the road, completely down and out. The man sobbed like a child; his sobs pierced Rebbe Moshe Leib's heart, for more than anything, Rebbe Moshe Leib had unlimited compassion for every single Jew. The Rebbe motioned to the wagon-master to pull back on the reins. The wagon stopped and he stepped down. He asked the poor man, "Dear brother, what troubles you so?"
The poor man answered between sobs, "I can't bear the troubles that have fallen on my head all at once; I'm hungry, penniless, and now without a means to make a living. I can't muster the strength to live another minute..."
"...but what happened to you?"
"For years, I ran the inn on the Poritz's estate. He's the nobleman who owns all the villages in this area. I eked out a meager living for myself and my family, but at least it was a roof over our heads and we never starved. But now, the Poritz has thrown me out, with no notice...", and he continued to cry.
Rebbe Moshe Leib the asked, "Where does he live? I will go talk to him on your behalf." Moshe Leib took out the loaf of bread that his Rebbe had givem him, and passed it to the poor man. "First of all, eat this - it will sustain you."
The poor man gave Rebbe Moshe Leib directions to the Poritz's house and warned, "Be careful! He is not only a Jew-hater, but he's the law here too. He can shoot a person at whim."
Moshe Leib smiled with confidence. "Hashem will protect us!"
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Undaunted, Rebbe Moshe Leib donned the white kaftan that Rebbe Shmelke gave him and walked right in the Poritz's front door. "Honorable Poritz, Good afternoon! Please, if you don't mind telling me, why did you cast your innkeeper away, leaving him homeless, jobless and penniless?"
The Poritz had an urge to reach for his pistol and to put a bullet in the eyes of this cheeky Jew. Where does he get the gall to barge in on me like this? But the Jew looked like an angel; an awesome white light seemed to envelop him. As if paralyzed, the Poritz answered, "He should be happy I didn't shoot him. He owes me 500 rubles in back rent!"
Rebbe Moshe Leib reached in his pocket and pulled out the golden coin that his mentor Rebbe Shmelke gave him. "Here, take this - it will pay for the rent." He passed the coin to the Poritz.
At first, the Poritz turned up his nose. True, this was a golden rand worth 200 rubles, but that didn't cover even half of the innkeeper's debt. He wanted to throw the coin back at Rebbe Moshe Leib, but he couldn't let go of it. It dazzled like the sun - he never saw a piece of gold like this before. "Go, tell the innkeeper that he can return with his family. he can have six months rent free as well..."
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The astonished innkeeper didn't know how to thank Rebbe Moshe Leib Sassover. "It's enough for me to see you smile, with a roof over your head and a way to make a living," said the Rebbe, as he departed from the man and to continue his journey home.
But our story is not over. A few years later, Rebbe Moshe Leib took leave of the physical world. He was granted an immediate place in the upper portals of Heaven. Yet, he surprised the Heavenly Court by using one of Hashem's Holy Names that enabled him to enter purgatory, sneaking right past the nose of Duma, the guardian angel of Gehennom, Purgatory.
"How dare you come down here, Moshe Leib," yelled Duma, with bolts of lighting and fire coming out of his mouth at each utterance. "Return to Heaven, where you are supposed to be!"
"Not until I take every Jewish soul out of here with me!"
"You'll pay dearly for this insolence!" roared Duma. He immediately lodged a severe complaint with the Heavenly Court, accusing Rebbe Moshe Leib of trespassing and attempted theft, both heinous transgressions of Torah.
The Heavenly Tribunal summoned the angel in charge of archives. "Check and see if Moshe Leib Sassover never passed up an opportunity to help a fellow Jew. If he did, then he must be punished as Duma says. But if he did not, he may take whatever souls he likes out of Gehennom, and bring them with him to Gan Eden, to Heaven.
Just as Moshe Leib Sassover helped every Jew he could during his lifetime, according to Chassidic tradition, he was allowed to help every single Jewish soul in the next world too. To Duma's dismay, he emptied Gehennom.
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Breslever tradition goes one step further. Rebbe Moshe Leib Sassover had the power to empty purgatory. But Rebbe Nachman of Breslev won't let a person fall in there in the first place.
Let's make the job of the great tzaddikim a lot easier. When we help one another, Hashem has indescribable gratification. Not only will he make purgatory obsolete, but he'll bring us Moshiach and our rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem, speedy and in our days, amen!
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