The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
Not long ago there lived a rabbi who in all his life had scarcely lifted his head from the study of the holy books, and who was so strict in his observance of every last dot in the ritual that he would scarcely raise his eyes to heaven without first seeking a law that might tell him whether it was permitted at that moment and hour to raise one's eyes to heaven. And in all the world there was nothing that angered him so much as the practices of those who were called Chassidim, for in their wild prayer, in their miracles of healing, and in their carelessness of the strictures of the law, he saw the hand of the evil one. And when he found men in his own village going over to the ways of the Chassidim, the rabbi became bitter against them, and he fought with all his strength to prevent another soul from being lost to the erring ones, and he thought, "After I am dead, there will be none to prevent them, and they will all go and become followers of the mad, howling tsadikim, who disgrace the Sabbath with their loud singing and lusty dancing, and who scarcely know how to read in the holy books." The rabbi longed for a son who would continue after him to keep the people to the observance of the holy law.
When a son was born to him in his old age, he took it joyfully as a sign from above that his way was the only path to heaven, and that the way would not be left without a guide. The rabbi thought, "My son will be a great light against the chassidim; he will destroy them entirely, with their ignorant tsadikim,
their mad chanting in the woods, and their magic tricks of healing." He was watchful over the boy every instant of day and night, that the child might not touch even the shadow of an impurity.
The youth that grew was remarkable in learning. He sat on a high stool near the table, and studied the books that were before him. But as the young boy sat on the stool, he would sometimes lift his eyes from the pages of the holy books, and his gaze would reach through the window out into the fields, into the distance that was yellow and green with leaves; then his soul would glide forth upon the path of his gaze, and his soul would hover like a bird in the free air.
At those moments the boy felt himself drawn as toward a singing voice, and he was very happy. But then he would remember his books, and force his eyes back upon the page, and hold his head down with both his hands, that he might not err.
More often the longing came upon him, and his soul went out to the call of a song, as a bird answering the song of its mate. And in that time the boy was alight with a holiness that made bright the entire room, and joy was all about him. But when he returned to his books he felt himself dragged down to listen to the mouths of the dead, and there was a yearning and a longing in him for he knew not what.
The flame and the yearning consumed him, his body became weak, and he was as a trembling candle-flame that may die with every puff of the wind. Still he did not know what he desired, but his yearning was as that of the unborn souls that await their embodiment on earth.
The rabbi saw that his son was becoming weak, and
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he spoke with him of all the wonders of the law's myriad commands, and of his life that was needed to combat the Chassidim on earth. But in all the things that the rabbi said, there was no help for the boy; only when his father spoke of the evil of the Chassidim, only then he felt a trembling within him, and a sudden warmth.
Among the young scholars with whom he sometimes studied, there were two who went secretly among the Chassidim; and when they saw the rabbi's son become so pale, and losing his heart for learning, they said, "What is it that is ill with you?"
He told them, "I feel a longing for something, and I cannot tell what it is."
Then they said to him, "Only one man can help you, and he is the great Tsadik who lives one day's journey from here. You must go to him, for he has the power to release your soul to its destiny."
"Is he pure?" asked the rabbi's son.
"We do not know whether he is pure," they told him, "for he does not keep himself from contact with the sinful. But we do know that he never leaves any one until he has taken his burden from him."
"Is he learned?" asked the rabbi's son.
"We do not know whether he is learned," they answered, "for he lives in a hut in the forest, and works as a wood-cutter. But he knows the song that the sparrow sings to heaven."
Then the boy went to his father the rabbi and said, "Let me go to see a Tsadik who lives in a little town a day away."
The rabbi was deeply pained at his son's words, for he knew that the Tsadik was but a simple man, a
leader of the Chassidim. "What help can he be to you, my son," the rabbi asked, "when you yourself have more learning than he?"
The boy returned to his studies, but again he felt the terrible longing come over his soul and his eyes lifted, and he looked into the distance. Then he went to his father and begged him, "Let me go."
The rabbi saw his son become more frail and wan each day, until when the boy asked him a third time, the rabbi said, "You may not go alone to him, for it may be the evil one who is drawing you on this way. But I will go with you to this ignorant man, that you may see him and forget him."
When they had put the horses to the cart, the rabbi said, "Let us see whether there will be a sign from heaven upon this journey. If nothing happens to delay the journey, it is a sign that this is a true pilgrimage; but if we should be stopped on our way, it is a sign that we must turn back, and we will return."
So they rode forth, and all went well until they came to a shallow brook, but as the cart was crossing the brook, one of the horses slipped and fell and overturned the cart, so that the rabbi and his son were thrown into the water.
When they had come out of the water, and righted the cart, the rabbi said: "You see, my son, heaven has sent us a sign to turn back, for this is an evil journey." So they returned home, and the boy sat again over his books. But soon the heaviness returned to his heart, and he felt the call of the distance. He feared to speak to his father, for he remembered the omen on their journey. Days passed, and each day the boy became weaker, until he was as a dying man
who no longer fears what may be said on earth. "Father," he cried, "I must go and speak with the Tsadik!"
Once more the rabbi consented, and they rode on their way. But when they had ridden two-thirds of a day, the cart went over a great stone, and both axles of the cart were broken.
"This Tsadik must surely be an impostor," the rabbi declared, "for we have had another omen, and our journey to him is barred." They mended the wagon, and returned home.
But the boy's soul was more than ever unquiet, until he prevailed upon the rabbi to set out for, a third time upon the journey. "But father," he begged, "let us not take what may befall by chance as an omen from heaven. If the horse slips, or the wagon breaks, have we proof that the Tsadik is sinful?"
The rabbi said, "But if there is a sign of sin against him alone, will you obey?"
"I will obey, and return home, and never ask to go to him again."
They set out on their third journey. All went well; at night they came to an inn not far from the village of the Tsadik. As they sat over their evening meal, the boy dreamy and lost in awaited happiness, the rabbi began to speak with a merchant who sat at a near-by table.
"Where does a rabbi travel?" the merchant enquired.
"On his way," said the rabbi, for he was ashamed to say that he was going to consult a man of no learning. "And you?" he asked.
"I am a merchant; I have just been to a village," said the stranger. And he spoke the name of the Tsadik's place.
Then, as one who remembers the sounds of a name, the rabbi said: "I have heard that many people come to consult with a wonder-worker who lives in that same village."
At this, the merchant laughed out loud. "Don't speak of him!" he shouted. "I have just come from that very man's house!"
The boy raised his head, as one who listens in a dream, and his wide eyes pierced the stranger.
"Is it indeed true," the rabbi asked, "that he is a holy man?"
"A holy man!" the stranger laughed. "He is an impostor and an agent of the evil one! I myself saw him defile the Sabbath!"
Then the rabbi turned to his son and said, "You have heard what the stranger has told us, in all innocence, not knowing where we were bound."
"I have heard," the boy replied, and his voice was as the voice of the dead.
They returned home.
Soon after, the boy died.
One night, as the grieving rabbi slept, his son appeared to him in a dream; the youth was wrapped in anger, and as the rabbi asked him, "My son, why are you angry?" the boy cried, "Go to that Tsadik to whom I longed to go!" The rabbi awoke, and remembered his dream, and said to himself, "Perhaps it was a chance dream," and did not go.
But again his son appeared to him as he slept, and the boy wore the form of the Angel of Wrath. And
he cried, "Go to the Tsadik! Go!" This time the rabbi thought, "The dream is the work of the evil one." But when his son appeared to him a third time, the rabbi knew that he must go.
And as he came to that same inn where he had stopped with his son, he entered, to pass the night. He sat alone in the room, and did not touch the food that was placed before him; his heart was heavy. Then a voice spoke, a voice of laughter, saying, "Ah, the rabbi is here again."
The rabbi looked up, and saw the same merchant whom he had met that other night when he had stopped at the inn.
"The rabbi is here again," the merchant said, "and this time he is alone!"
"Are you not that merchant whom I met here once before?" the rabbi asked.
"Indeed I am!" said the stranger, and laughing he opened wide his mouth and cried, "If you like, I'll swallow you alive."
The rabbi started with fright. "Who are you!" he murmured, trembling.
"Do you remember," the stranger said, "how you and your son once rode to see the Tsadik, and on the way your horse tripped and fell in the brook? Yet your son made you go again on the way to that holy man, but the second time the axles of your wagon were broken? And the third time you met me here, and I told you that the man was not holy, but an impostor who sinned on Sabbath? Then you turned back once more, and so your son died of loneliness and grief? Go, rabbi! now that I have got rid of your son you may go on your way to the Chassid; for know
that in your son there lived the power of the lesser flame, and the power of the greater flame was in the Tsadik, and if they two had come together on this earth, Messiah would have descended! But I placed obstacles in your way, until your son was dead; and now, rabbi, you can go to see the Tsadik!"
With these words, the stranger vanished.
And the rabbi continued on his journey, and came to the hut of the Chassid. And there he wept, "Alas, for him who is lost unto us, and cannot be found again!"