Once, there was a rabbi who didn’t have any kids.
Finally, he had an only son, and he raised him and married him off.
This son would sit and study in a room upstairs, as the wealthy are wont to do. He would constantly study and pray. But he felt that something was lacking, although he didn’t know what. Somehow, he couldn’t feel any ‘taste’ in his studying and prayers. When he confided in two of his friends, they told him to go and visit a particular Tzaddik.
This young man had done a good deed that had caused him to become an aspect of the ‘lesser light’ [i.e. the moon].
This only son told his dad that he couldn’t ‘taste’ anything in his religious devotions, and because he felt this lack and he didn’t know why he felt it, he wanted to go and visit this Tzaddik.
“Why should you go and visit him?” his dad replied. “You’re a more accomplished scholar than he is. You have better yichus [lineage] than he does. It’s really not fitting for you to go and visit him. Please give up on this idea.”
The dad continued nagging in this way until he managed to dissuade his son from going.
The son returned to his studies, but again he felt something was lacking. He went back to his two friends, and they again advised him to go and see this Tzaddik. Again, the young man went to talk to his father about it, and again his father put him off the whole idea, and prevented him from going. This happened on a number of occasions.
The son continued to feel this lack, however, and he really yearned to fill it. He had no idea where is was coming from. Again, he came to his dad and kept on pestering him until finally the father was forced to make the trip with him. The father didn’t want his son to travel alone, because he was an only son.
“See!” exclaimed the dad. “I’m even coming with you! And I will show you there is nothing special about this Tzaddik.” With that, they harnessed their carriage and set off.
“Let’s make a test,” said the dad. “If everything goes smoothly, then this [trip] is from Heaven. And if not, then it’s not from Heaven and we’ll go back home.”
They continued travelling until they came to a small bridge where one horse lost its footing, and then the carriage overturned and they almost drowned.
“See!” said the dad. “Things didn’t go smoothly. Heaven doesn’t approve of us making this trip.”
And with that, they returned home, and the son again returned to his studies.
But once again, he saw that something was missing in himself, even though he couldn’t identify what exactly it was. He went and pestered his father, and his father again agreed to come with him [to visit the Tzaddik]. As they were travelling, his dad made another test, like he’d done the first time, about everything going smoothly.
As they were travelling, both of the carriage’s axels suddenly broke.
His dad exclaimed: “See! We’re being told not to continue! Is it normal for both axles to break at the same time? We’ve used this carriage many times before, and nothing like this has ever happened.”
Again, they went back home.
The son went back to his schedule of learning, but he felt that same lack again. His friends urged him to make the pilgrimage [to the Tzaddik], and he went and pestered his father again, who ended up coming with him again.
The son said that this time, they shouldn’t make another test. It was normal for a horse to occasionally slip, or for an axle to break. This time, they would continue on unless the ‘sign’ was really obvious.
They travelled on until they came to an inn, where they rested. They met a merchant, and started chatting to him, as merchants do, but they didn’t tell him where they were going. The rabbi was embarrassed to admit that he was going to visit this Tzaddik.
They continued to discuss politics and worldly affairs, until the conversation somehow came around to the subject of Tzaddikim, and how to find them. [The merchant] started telling the rabbi about a particular Tzaddik in a certain place, and about other [Tzaddikim] in other places, and they started discussing the Tzaddik who they were going to visit.
“Him?! He’s worthless!” exclaimed [the Merchant]. “I’m coming from him now, and I was there when he committed a sin!!!”
“My son!” said the rabbi. “See what this merchant is telling us, in all innocence!* And he’s just come from there!” And with that, they returned home.
Soon afterwards, the son passed away, and he came to his father, the rabbi, in a dream looking really angry.
[His dad] asked him why he was so angry.
“Go to the Tzaddik that I wanted to visit, and he’ll tell you why I’m so angry!” replied the son.
When [the dad] woke up, he said: “That [dream] was just a coincidence.” When he had the same dream again, he still said that it was just a meaningless dream. But once it happened for a third time, he realised that it was important, so he set out [to visit the Tzaddik].
On the way, he met the same merchant who he’d met whilst travelling with his son. He recognised him, and said:
“Aren’t you the one I met at the inn?” “You certainly did see me,” this other replied. Then he opened his mouth and said: “If you want, I’ll swallow you!”
“What are you talking about?!” [the rabbi] asked.
The merchant replied: “Do you remember when you were travelling with your son? First the horse slipped on the bridge, and you turned back. Then, the axles broke. Finally, you met me and I told you that [the Tzaddik] was worthless. Since I got rid of your son, now you can make the trip.
“[Your son] was an aspect of the Lesser Light. The Tzaddik was an aspect of the Great Light [i.e. the sun]. If the two had come together, the Moshiach would have come. But now that I caused him to pass away, you can make the pilgrimage.”
As he was speaking, [the merchant] vanished, and [the rabbi] was left talking to the air.
When [the rabbi] finally got to the Tzaddik, he screamed: “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who are lost and can no longer be found!” May God return our lost ones, Amen.
[Rav Natan comments:] The merchant in this story was the Evil One himself. He had disguised himself as a merchant in order to fool the rabbi. When he met the rabbi the second time, he tormented him for listening to his advice. This is his [i.e. the Evil One’s] way, as is known. May God only protect us!
* They did not consider that ‘the merchant’ might have had an ulterior motive, or might have been an opponent of the Tzaddik. (Rimzey Maasioth).
The moral of the story: Don’t listen to any lashon hara about true Tzaddikim, even if the person telling you the slanders appears to be a ‘big rabbi’ who claims he ‘knows people this happened to.’
Really? These people are just working to stop people from getting close to the true Tzaddikim, and are preventing Moshiach and the geula from coming.