When the Avnei Neizer, Rav Avraham Bornstein zt”l, moved to the Polish city of Sochatchov and became Rebbe, he was very reluctant to alter his regular schedule of shiurim and he insisted that his learning seder was not to be interrupted. After a while, his chasidim noticed that while he answered each petitioner concisely, he did not spend much time with them. When questioned about this, the Rebbe responded, “You should know that for every second that I am disrupted in my learning, these people have losses at home. It is to their advantage that I only hold brief audiences with them!”
Of course, the saintliness of the Sochatchover Rebbe and the power of his blessings drew people to him on a constant basis. One of his devout chasidim was a man who had not been blessed with children for many years. On numerous occasions, he entreated the Rebbe to bless him with children but, for no reason that was apparent to him, the Sochatchover demurred from granting a blessing. No matter how often the chasid asked for a blessing, the answer was always no.
This continued for quite some time until the chasid came up with a plan. He perceived that on Simchas Torah, the Rebbe would reach a level of spiritual elevation, a time when his sense of joy would be incredibly intense. This was the time to ask – no, to demand – that the Rebbe grant him the blessing of children. Well, that year, as the Avnei Neizer danced fervently, his face aglow with an otherworldly joy, the chasid made his move! Throwing caution to the wind, he pushed his way to the front of the shul, quickly approached the Sochatchover Rebbe and held onto his hand. Then, he cried, “Rebbe, I am not leaving this place until the Rebbe grants my wish. I need a blessing to have children!”
The Rebbe was in a state of intense meditation, but he stopped for a moment and looked deeply into his chasid’s pained eyes. With trepidation, he said, “Do you want me to bless you with a son who will become a priest?”
The chasid’s face fell and he became ashen. He knew his situation was hopeless. Obviously, the Rebbe had perceived with Divine intuition that any child he was destined to have would not be a proper Jew but would become a priest! This is why he had refused to bless him! From that moment on, he never again asked the Avnei Neizer for a blessing to have children.
Upon Rav Avraham’s death in 5670 (1910), Rav Shmuel Bornstein zt”l (Sheim MiShmuel) succeeded his father as Av Beis Din and as the second Sochatchover Rebbe. He was accepted as Rebbe by all his father’s chasidim and was widely recognized as one of the greatest Rebbes of his generation. Rav Shmuel knew about the chasid’s situation and the pain he lived with over his inability to have children. He wished to help the man. The following year, on Simchas Torah, after the Sheim MiShmuel had finished dancing with great joy, he sent someone to call the chasid. The man approached and the Rebbe said with great enthusiasm and emotion, “I wish to bless you that this year you will become a father!”
The chasid stood there speechless. He not only refrained from responding with a resounding Amen, but to avoid affirming the blessing, he actually turned ashen and appeared ready to faint. The Sheim MiShmuel was shocked at his reaction and asked why he didn’t answer Amen to the blessing and why he suddenly turned so pale.
The man hesitated before explaining that the Rebbe’s father had once told him that if he would have a son, he would become a priest. From that moment on, he no longer wished to have children and the subject became a closed matter.
Rav Shmuel listened quietly. Then, he spoke up with even more enthusiasm. “Nevertheless, I want you to be blessed.”
This time, the chasid responded with “Amen” and lo and behold, five children were born to the chasid and his wife.
When World War II broke out, this chasid lost four of his children to the flames. One son survived and established a beautiful family of Torah scholars and G-d-fearing children and grandchildren. How did he survive? Apparently, he was fluent in a number of languages, and he disguised himself as a Catholic priest. Using his disguise, he was able to elude detection and survived the Holocaust. After the war, he moved to Eretz Yisrael and reestablished his Jewish identity.
The Avnei Neizer saw that Heaven had issued a harsh judgment against the chasid, but his son, the Sheim MiShmuel, was able to overturn the curse and turn it into a blessing. The “priest” that his son became was what saved his life!