The following story is told about Rav Moshe Leib Sassover zt”l (early chasidic rebbe in 18th century Eastern Galicia, now in Ukraine), when he moved the first time from Sassov to the city of Apt. As Rav Moshe Leib and his family were traveling in their carriage, they came across two men in a horse and wagon. Rav Moshe Leib was told that this was a poor father accompanying his son who was getting married to the daughter of the shamash of Apt. He went out to greet them and was struck by the sad expressions on their faces. It didn’t take long for him to realize that the unfortunate man had no money for even the basic wedding festivities. Right then and there, Rav Moshe Leib decided to sponsor the wedding. He dressed the chasan in his own clothes, fed him from his own provisions, sat him in his own carriage, and sang and danced the wedding party into Apt. Eventually, the chasan’s family alighted from the carriage and joined them in their singing. As they made their way down the main street of Apt, throngs of passersby were pulled into the amazing celebratory circle of song and dance, until they reached the kallah’s house.
Once they reached the kallah’s home, the celebration continued. Rav Moshe Leib’s wife cared for the kallah, giving her beautiful clothing and jewelry, and preparing a sumptuous wedding feast for them. The Klezmer musicians of Apt, some of the finest in the entire region, heard the commotion, and came out to investigate. Only the wealthy Jews from Apt and the surrounding towns could afford to hire them to play at their children’s weddings. However, that night, although there was no wealthy man’s wedding for these musicians to play at, when they saw that the entire town had assembled at the wedding of this poor boy and the daughter of the Apter shamash, they decided to come with their instruments as well.
There was tremendous rejoicing in the town of Apt that night. It was surely an evening to remember. In the middle of the s’udah, the band struck up a particularly beautiful song and the entire assemblage was mesmerized. Afterwards, Rav Moshe Leib congratulated the band and uttered a cryptic statement: “If only this niggun could be played as I leave this world – how much it can accomplish!” The wedding feast went on and the cryptic statement was soon forgotten.
Years passed, and Rav Moshe Leib returned to Sassov, his hometown, with which his name was associated. He was already older and, before long, he became sick and his end was near. The morning of his death, Rav Moshe Leib davened his last Shacharis, and as he was taking off his t’filin, one of the wealthy men in town came over and invited him to his daughter’s wedding, which was scheduled to take place that very evening in the main synagogue of Sassov. Rav Moshe Leib knew that he had little time left in this world, and he spoke to the man, and to the father of the groom, as well.
“I decree,” he said, mustering a great deal of strength, “that your simchah should not be affected in the least by me. Rejoice, and I will rejoice with you!” he declared. Minutes later, he passed away – on 4 Sh’vat 5567 (1807).
The Jews of Sassov and its surrounding villages all turned out for the funeral of Rav Moshe Leib. On the way to the cemetery, two wagons full of people were coming towards them. It was the musicians from Apt, with their assistants and instruments, who had come for the simchas chasan v’kallah. They had been hired to perform that night at the wedding of the wealthy man’s daughter! Noticing the throngs of people, they inquired as to whose funeral it was. When they found out that it was none other than Rav Moshe Leib’s, they remembered his request of so many years before, at the wedding of the daughter of the Apter shamash: “If only this niggun could be played as I leave this world – how much it can accomplish!” So many years had passed since they had played that tune, and they had long since forgotten the incident along with the niggun!
But now, stopping at Rav Moshe Leib’s funeral, it all came back to them – the story and the niggun. They had to keep their promise! And so, an ad hoc beis din was convened at the cemetery, and it was decided that the niggun could indeed be played! “And I will rejoice with you,” Rav Moshe Leib had said. Picking up their instruments, the Klezmer band approached the open grave, which was surrounded on all sides. They began to sing and play their instruments, with that very niggun that they had played so many years before, at the wedding in Apt, and all those around them joined in.