Reb Shimon b’Reb Ber, who met Rebbe Nachman on the day of the Rebbe’s wedding, was Rebbe Nachman’s very first disciple. Reb Shimon proved to be a faithful devotee and shamash (personal assistant) throughout the Rebbe’s years as a leader and teacher. One question was always on his lips: “Will I merit to be your shamash in the next world, too?” Rebbe Nachman never gave him a clear answer, though.
Once Reb Shimon appealed yet again to Rebbe Nachman for assurance that he would be worthy of attending him in the World to Come. He reminded his mentor of one of the best examples of the extent of his self-sacrifice on Rebbe Nachman’s behalf:
It happened when the two were traveling in a horse-drawn carriage with a number of other passengers. As the carriage began to descend downhill, one of the wheels broke away. Not only did the carriage begin to race uncontrollably, but the road itself was filled with obstacles and boulders. The danger grew from instant to instant and all of the passengers were in danger of their lives.
Without a thought for his own safety, Reb Shimon jumped out of the carriage and flung himself against the side of the vehicle. Using his own body as a support in place of the missing wheel, he raced with the carriage downhill to keep it from overturning.
“Rebbe, did I not save your life that time in the carriage? Is that not enough to guarantee me a place by your side in the next world?”
Rebbe Nachman smiled and nodded. “You’re right—that time, you really did well!” This was the Rebbe’s way of acknowledging the debt of gratitude that he owed his student. Nonetheless, he didn’t promise that Reb Shimon’s request would be granted.
Soon afterward Reb Shimon appeared again before Rebbe Nachman with his usual refrain, and this time the Rebbe didn’t refuse him.
“Since I saw you last, my righteous mother appeared to me in a dream and she took me to task for not agreeing to your request,” the Rebbe told him. “So I promise you that you will indeed be my shamash in both this world and the next.”
Rabbi Nachman of Tulchin, Reb Noson’s great student, would add, “And even Reb Noson was jealous of Reb Shimon for having received that kind of a promise from Rebbe Nachman!”
Based on Or HaOrot I, pp. 123-125