Stories about Moishe Leib of Sasov, the rabbi who rescued prisoners

Jewish Link – One of the great successes of monotheistic religions is the emphasis they place on love of neighbor. Many times ideologies make the mistake of putting ideals above people and that leads to all kinds of authoritarianism. Unfortunately, religions also fall into this error when they give in to their fundamentalism, however, throughout history there have always been currents, writings, people who emphasize the importance of not losing the objective. Everything we do as a group should be directed towards the well-being of the individuals that make it up, not in spite of it.

The Hasidism It is a Jewish tradition that is based on the mystical experience of God, that is, on the encounter that exists between the individual and the Divinity: on the emotions that awaken it, on the relationship that can arise from seeking it through prayer or through through good deeds and in the service that the individual decides to do for her. It is also a highly hierarchical tradition of family lines and rabbinical dynasties. Among some of the social problems that this generates, one of its great advantages is that the tradition is transmitted in a living way and the example of the great rabbis remains not only in their teachings, in their writings, but also in the life they had and the stories that his disciples transmit to the world. There are hundreds of stories and legends about great rabbis in the Hasidic tradition and each one reflects the character or way of being of a certain rabbi. Together they give us examples of many ways to live our spirituality and approach Jewish values ​​and traditions.

Moishe Leib of Sasov

The following stories were compiled by Martin Buber about Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib Erblich, known as Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov, who was one of the leading Hasidic rabbis of the 17th century, he was the first Rabbi of Sasov and the founder of that rabbinic dynasty. He was also a student of Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg.
In the stories that are told about him, Martín Buber portrays him as an extremely compassionate man who cared about the well-being of those around him, and who, however, placed greater emphasis on the less favored social populations. They show us a man who was capable of endangering his own life by breaking a prisoner out of jail, a man who housed homeless people and drunks.

What is fascinating about these stories in particular is the simplicity with which the rabbi approaches the people he helps. He does not seek moral superiority, nor exaltation through his actions, part of the humility and love that he feels for other human beings. Knowing that what he has was given to him drives him to consistently give and do the right thing.

hasidic stories

After the Death

It is said that:

When Rabbi Moshe Leib died, he said to himself, “Now that I am not obligated to keep the commandments, what can I do to obey G-d’s will?” He thought for a while and concluded: “It is the will of God that I be punished for my multiple sins!” Instantly he ran with all his might and launched himself into hell. Heaven was deeply disturbed and the prince of hell was asked to stop the fire from him while Rabbi Sasov dwelled. For this reason, the prince begged the wise man to please go to Paradise, because clearly where he was was not the right place for someone like him. He did not think it appropriate to be forced to stop the hellish labors to satisfy the rabbi.

“If that is the case,” Moshe Leib said, “I will not move from here until all souls are allowed to come with me. On earth I accepted the mission of liberating prisoners, definitely, I will not let this crowd suffer inside this prison.” They say he achieved his goal.


The story has a somewhat cynical and playful tone. It is presented as knowledge acquired through legend, however, by using the words “they say” or “it is told” the narration itself accepts that the story cannot be taken as an absolute truth, but as a metaphor and a kind of ode to the life of the rabbi. There are several elements of his character that are highlighted in the story: the first is his determination to do what was right at all times and the desire for growth that attitude demonstrates. We see that with the ease and speed with which he runs to hell, the story in this event again plays with fiction and makes the rabbi interesting in a playful way.

The second aspect we learn about him is his enormous empathy that extends even beyond the confines of the living. The idea that every human being, no matter what their mistakes have been, has value in itself and matters at a transcendent level, is one of the greatest learnings that human beings had in modern times and that is constantly highlighted in stories. Hasidic.

Finally, I find the comparison between hell and today’s prisons extremely beautiful; through her there is a rejection of making a man suffer as a form of social punishment.

Imitatio Dei

On one occasion, the rabbi of Sasov gave his last coins to a man of ill repute. His disciples claimed him. He replied: “Should I be more picky than G-d Who gave it to me?”


This story is an apology for humility, the basis of humility in Judaism is knowing that everything you have was given to you. Very little of what we really are is built by us, so one has no reason to exalt oneself above others. In Rabbi Leib’s eyes he has as much right to those coins as the man who asked for them and it is his pleasure to give them to him. Another beautiful aspect of the story is that it reverses hierarchies, Rabbi Leib, being the chief rabbi, does not become arrogant because of it, nor does he accept the place that others are willing to give.

Denying God

Rabbi Moshe Leib said:

“There is no human quality or power that has been created without purpose. Even the lowest and most corrupt qualities can be elevated and used to serve God. For example, when pride is purified and elevated, it becomes the desire and joy of serving God. However, for what purpose was the possibility of denying God created? It can also be elevated through acts of kindness. For if someone approaches and asks for your help, you should not reject him with words of compassion saying: ‘Have faith and give your problems to God!’ [En cambio] You must act as if there is no God, as if there is only one person in the whole world who can help that man – only you.”


The great beauty of this story is that it uses spirituality to grow in the social responsibility that we have as human beings and not to evade it, as often happens. Under Jewish premises, the belief in God should lead us to act in the world and become better people, not to avoid what is presented to us; The story highlights the importance of listening to the people around us and making ourselves present when required.

Rabbi Leib [en una ocasión] He found a boy of around eight years old walking slowly along the river bank with his eyes and ears focused solely on the flock he was herding. Rabbi Leib followed him unseen and soon the boy began to sing a melody, he repeated the phrases over and over again:

“Shechina, Shechina, how far away you are, how far away you are!
Galut, Galut, how extensive you are!
If the Galut will end,
we could be together, together forever.”

[Nota: La Shejina es la Presencia Divina y el Galut el exilio judío.]

Rabbi Leib approached the boy and asked where he had heard the song. “All the shepherds here sing it,” replied the boy. “Do they really sing those words?” insisted the sage. “Well,” said the boy, “they say ‘beloved’ instead of ‘Shechina’ and ‘forest’ instead of Galut, but that’s silly. Well, who would be our beloved but the Shechina and everyone knows that the forest that separates us from her is the Galut, so why not say it from the beginning?


Many Hasidic stories take place in the forest in part because of the geography of Eastern Europe where Hasidism arose and in part precisely because of the metaphor presented here. By Jewish principle, each learning we obtain should help us to see our reality in a new way, and should encourage us to grow internally. The forest and the Galut (Exile) in the stories are not only metaphors of the social reality that we live daily, they are also metaphors of how we relate to reality. They are metaphors of the unknown, of the mystical experience, of loneliness and of the encounter with God; all of them taken to the level of personal experience.

The stories were taken and translated from Tales of the Hasidim

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Stories about Moishe Leib of Sasov, the rabbi who rescued prisoners