Weekly Chasidic Story #478 - 27 Tevet 5767 (Dec. 2007) --> Story #478b - 7 Nissan 5780 (Apr. 1, 2020)


Story in PDF format for more convenient printing.

The Holy Slop Bucket

I promised to send around this well-known story from my files (see date above) as it contains good positive advice for the China Virus pandemic. I revised and hopefully improved it somewhat this week on April 1, and added an interesting Editor's Note at the end which I hope at least some of you will find useful.


The two saintly brothers, Rebbe Zusha and Rebbe Elimelech, who lived in 18th century Poland, wandered for years disguised as beggars, seeking to refine their characters and encourage their deprived brethren.

In one town, the two brothers, who later became famous mentors to many thousands of Jews, earned the wrath of a "real" beggar who informed the local police, who cast them into prison for the night.

As they awoke in their prison cell, R. Zusha noticed his brother weeping silently. "Why do you cry?" asked R. Zusha.

R. Elimelech pointed to the pail situated in the corner of the room which the inmates used for a toilet. "Jewish law forbids one to pray in a room inundated with such a repulsive odor," he told his brother. "This will be the first day in my life in which I will not have the opportunity to pray."

"And why are you upset about this?" asked R. Zusha.

"What do you mean?" responded his brother. "How can I begin my day without connecting to G-d? No prayer, no tefillin, no Torah study; all because of the foul smell."

"But you are connecting to G-d," insisted R. Zusha. "The same G-d who commanded you to pray each morning, also commanded you to abstain from prayer under such circumstances. In a location such as this, you connect to G-d by the absence of prayer."

His brother's viewpoint, allowing him to view his problem as part and parcel of his relationship with G-d, elated R. Elimelech's heart. A new way to serve G-d: not to pray!

The awareness that the waste-filled pail in the corner of the room allowed him the opportunity to enjoy an intimate -- though different…and rare! -- type of relationship with G-d inspired him so deeply that he began to dance. R. Zusha quickly joined him and the two brothers vigorously danced round and round in celebration of their newly discovered relationship with their Father in heaven.

The non-Jewish inmates imprisoned in the same cell were so moved by the sight, that they soon joined the circle. It did not take long before the entire room was swept away by an electrifying energy of joy, as dozens of prisoners were dancing and jumping around ecstatically.

When the prison guard heard the commotion coming from the cell, he burst open the gate, only to be stunned by the inmates enjoying such a lively dance. In his fury, he attempted to stop the dancing, but to no avail: The prisoners were by now totally consumed by an awesome happiness, stemming from a very deep place within their souls. The guarded summoned the prison warden.

The warden pulled aside one of the inmates, demanding from him an explanation for what was going on.

The frightened prisoner related that the outburst was not his fault, nor was it the fault of the other inmates. It was rather the two Jews dancing in the center of the circle who triggered the trouble

"And what inspired the two Jews to go into such a dance?" thundered the warden.

The prisoner pointed to the pail in the corner of the room. "It is the pail, they claim, that brought about the joy in their heart; they discovered some new type of relationship with their Lord through the pail."

"If that's the case, I will teach them a lesson that they will remember for a very long time," shouted the furious warden. He took the pail and thrust it out of the cell.

R. Zusha turned to R, Elimelech and happily said: "And now, my dear brother, you can begin your prayers."

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles, starting from the rendition of Rabbi YY Jacobson.

EDITOR'S NOTE: By now everyone knows that by the decree both of most governments and of leading rabbis, Jews should not attend synagogues or even form a private minyan (quorem of at least ten males, aged 13 and over) for prayer at a home or outdoors. Other religious observances (in all religions) have been restricted as well, with the most difficult and painful one for Jews is that relatives living in different homes should not join together for Passover "Seder." This has saddened or even depressed many of us, which may be inevitable but also unfortunate. Sadness and depression are dangerous negative emotions that can lead to undesirable negative actions. Instead, we should be inspired and well-advised by the two holy brothers of the episode above to reframe (at least) the religious aspects of the current situation as a rare way to give pleasure to our Creator and to ourselves.
Jewish social media is flourishing with suggestions how to accomplish this - and not just with WuhanVirus / Passover jokes. Perhaps a site or a group already exists for this? Right now let me take the opportunity to wish each one of you,

A great Shabbat Hagadol and a joyous, successful, kosher Passover Seder and Festival

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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