Reb Shmuel Munkis entered the travelling preacher's room,
carring with him a long knife and a stone with which to sharpen it.
During the month of Elul, a maggid (traveling preacher) came to Beshenkovitz, where Reb Shmuel Munkes' lived. Reb Shmuel was a beloved chasid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism. Though known for his sharp wit and "chasidic pranks," Reb Shmuel was no empty joker. He was a deep personality, one who could abide no falsehood, and whose own ego was completely nullified to perform the will of his Creator.
The townspeople saw the maggid's letter of introduction which referred to him as a great tzadik (righteous person), who traveled from town to town only to arouse and inspire Jews. Being G-d-fearing people, they immediately invited him to speak and inspire them to serve G-d better.
The maggid began his speech. Over and over again, he accused his audience of committing terrible sins. His entire speech was filled with accusations and descriptions of the terrible punishments awaiting them because their evil behavior had aroused G-d's anger. Only if they would wholeheartedly repent would they possibly have a chance to be spared. The townspeople were utterly broken by the maggid's harsh words, and they cried bitterly, fearing the awesome punishment.
After his speech, the maggid, satisfied with himself, retired to the room that the community had arranged for him.
A short while later, Reb Shmuel entered the maggid's room. He carried with him a long knife and a stone with which to sharpen it. Reb Shmuel closed the door behind him and then bolted it. Without saying a word, Reb Shmuel began to sharpen his knife.
A few tense moments passed. Finally the maggid broke the silence and asked in astonishment, "Sir, could you please tell me what you are doing?"
Without glancing up from the knife he was sharpening, Reb Shmuel answered, "As the honorable, great maggid knows, we are very simple people in this town. Perhaps, it is because of our unintentional sins that we have never merited to have a great, righteous, G-d-fearing scholar in our midst."
Not knowing what to make of this answer, the maggid replied, "Yes, that is true. Nevertheless, what does that have to do with sharpening the knife?"
Reb Shmuel answered simply, "We were taught by our parents that before Rosh Hashana, one is supposed to pray at the graves of the righteous."
Still unsure of what Reb Shmuel's point was, the maggid asked, "That is correct. But why are you sharpening that knife?"
"Oh, that is very simple," explained Reb Shmuel. "The nearest grave site of a righteous person is very far from our town. For some of us it is extremely troublesome and difficult to make such a long journey."
With these additional words, the maggid began to feel uneasy. He started sweating and ventured, "But you still have not explained why you are sharpening your knife in this room!"
Reb Shmuel answered, "Quite simply, I am sharpening my knife here because the townspeople want a very righteous person buried in this town."
Now the maggid had not even a shadow of a doubt as to what Reb Shmuel's intentions seemed to be. The maggid stammered, "But I am not completely righteous. I have also done some small sins, such as ..."
Reb Shmuel dismissed the maggid's revelation, saying, "Honored maggid, you are still a very righteous and learned person. As for the sins that you mentioned, I did not even know that they were transgressions."
The maggid trembled and stuttered, "But I did some transgressions that were much more serious, such as ..."
Concerning this revelation, as well, Reb Shmuel shrugged, insisting, "But to us you are still a tzadik; for us, you are quite good enough."
This strange dialogue continued for some time with the maggid, mentioning more and more severe transgressions and Reb Shmuel telling him, "But you are still acceptable to us, since you are far better than we are."
Finally, the maggid admitted to some extremely serious transgressions and that he was not really the great righteous man that his letter of introduction and credentials claimed him to be. In essence, he was saying, "I am an impostor."
Now, Reb Shmuel no longer played the simpleton. After putting away the knife,
he began chastising the maggid for causing the Jews of the town so much pain
and sorrow. After making sure the maggid fully understood how one is
to talk to and treat another Jew, Reb Shmuel unbolted the door and let the maggid
go on his way, much the wiser and more sensitive than before.
Biographical note: Rabbi Shmuel Munkes (1834-1882)], an elder disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Chabad, was known for his fervent and creative Chasidic service. Stories abound of his sharp wit and "chasidic pranks". He lived in Beshenkovitz and then in Kalisk (or the reverse?) in (or near?) the district of Polotz.
Connection: Seasonal-This is the first full week of Elul, the final month of
the Jewish year.
To receive the Story by e-mail every Wednesday--sign up here!
A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.
FLASH! "Saturday Night, Full Moon" by the first of 3 books by Yerachmiel Tilles, the Ascent storyteller, featuring 33 of his best stories, is
back to Top back
to this year's Story Index Stories
home page Stories Archives