None darker than the story of the Chozeh/Khoyzeh of Lublin, often referred to in English as the holy Seer of Lublin, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak. Disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, he also studied under R. Shmelke of Nikolsburg and Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. He had thousands of followers and great powers. He could look into a forehead and read out character, past deeds, and the root of a person’s soul.
He also had a worthy detractor. His detractor implied that the Chozeh was a phony. The Chozeh said people followed him, he didn’t ask them to. So his detractor challenged him: tell your people you aren’t a Rebbe at all and they’ll stop following you. He did that, told his people how lowly he was and they only thought he was extra humble and loved him more. Chassidim love humility, said his detractor, so tell them you’re a big shot, a real tzaddik. Moishe Gross. See if that works.
The Chozeh said to his detractor, of course you’re right. I’m no rebbe. But I’m no liar. I just can’t do that. In the end, his detractor came to regret opposing him.
There is an exceedingly mysterious story told about him. A dark tale; when it is told, it is told reluctantly. There is a story with messianic and visionary qualities and another version of a much more mundane nature.
In 1814, in Lublin (today Poland). Lublin — one of the more dynamic centers of Chassidus. Simchas Torah that year something out of the ordinary was happening.
They had come from far away places to rejoice with the Holy Seer of Lublin. The shul had never known such crowds or such fervor. The Holy Seer of Lublin said, let’s forget all our troubles. They sang and danced around their Master and worked themselves up into a heat.
Just before the holiday that year, the Holy Seer of Lublin had sent emissaries around the countryside inviting everyone to attend.
And so to all who came to the shul that night in 1814 to celebrate, the Holy Seer of Lublin said, drink and celebrate! If it’s pure enough, contagious enough, it will last forever–I promise you.
He was in his late sixties but he led the congregation that night with extra vigor. They celebrated that night with more intensity; they felt as if something important was hanging in the balance, as if something big depended on their actions that evening.
“Sisu vesimchu b’Simchat Torah!” howled the Seer. And so they did that night: they rejoiced and celebrated in the joy of the Torah. They danced and sang and hardly noticed when the Holy Seer stole away out of the room, and upstairs into his private study.
What he did there is not known.
What is told is this: his wife heard strange noises coming from his study, sounds like those of a child weeping. She rushed into the room and the room was empty. She screamed.
They heard the scream below. They ran upstairs and she was crying and repeating, he told me to keep an eye on him. Now he’s gone. He’s been taken away.
More she would not say.
The single window in the room was too narrow for a man to pass through, and there were empty bottles on the window sill which had not been disturbed.
Everyone ran out into the street. They searched for him all over Lublin. Hours passed. Then about only 50 feet away from the shul, a certain Reb Eliezer of Chmelnik heard a weak moaning in the shadows. He came close and saw a man lying on the ground, twisting with pain. He didn’t recognize him but it was the Seer of Lublin. He looked awful.
It’s me, Yaakov Yitzchak, son of Meitil, the holy Seer whispered.
They carried him inside. Reb Shmuel held his head and heard him repeating these words, “the abyss and another abyss.”
They put him to bed.
There’s a kind of conspiracy of silence around this story. Some sources refer to the story cryptically as the Great Fall (HaNefilah HaGedolah), without details. Usually the sources add the expression (ka-yadua) “as everybody knows” which means nobody knows, or is supposed to know.
Most sources feel that the Great Fall has some sort of mystical or metaphysical implications.
Another version come to light recently and seized by his detractors is he was drunk and he jumped.
He never recovered. He stayed in bed for 44 weeks. When he died, the entire Chassidic world went into mourning. He died on Tisha B’Av.
Why am I telling this story as if to a group of campers huddled around a camp fire listening to a ghost story?
Because it’s a ghost story. The world of the Holy Seer of Lublin and his progeny have all gone up in ghosts. Hitler generously assisted by the great cultures of Europe delivered that entire world to the ghosts. They are all ghosts.
The Holy Seer Promised on that night that if your ecstasy is pure enough, it will last forever. It didn’t even last for him, sick, he never recovered, passed some 44 weeks later. The abyss, the abyss, he whispered.
The Seer of Lublin was called a chozeh because he saw things. Visions. He may even have seen things he was not conscious of seeing. There is a level of nevuah (prophecy) that does not recognize itself, it is not self conscious.
The ecstasy would never be pure enough, and his world would only last for another couple of generations. Maybe the holy Seer of Lublin was granted a glimpse into the future, a glimpse into the abyss, the abyss of the total conflagration of the world he knew. He saw into the future but how far did he see? If he looked and saw only to the conflagration it was a sight too devastating to recover from. The abyss.
How far did the Holy Seer of Lublin see? Did he see the end of his world in the Forties, the vision so horrifying that he saw no further?
I am writing this from Jerusalem, here in this place where we rejoice in spite of our past, where we do not despair, we lift ourselves up all the way dragging God back into the world reluctant reluctant, and this year on the ninth of Av, the day the Chozeh died, I remember the Seer of Lublin tell his story and witness beyond where his vision may have settled. Out of the dark vision, light. Out of death, birth birth birth.