Story #112 (s5760-12/Chanukah)

"The Highest Bid"

Only Reb Boruch the tinsmith could not accept the 'decree' about the lighting of the silver menorah




The Jews of Razhvanitz were mostly quite poor, but being Chassidim, their poverty did not dampen their inbred happy spirits. The secret of their joy lay on the other side of the Austrian-Gallicean border, for in the town of Sadigora lived their Rebbe, the tzadik, R. Avraham Yaakov.

To travel to the Rebbe in those days was very expensive, far beyond the modest means of most of the Chassidim. Instead, each one would make periodic small contributions to a special fund, dedicated for spending festivals and special occasions with the Rebbe. When the time came, the winner of a lottery would get an expenses-paid trip to the Rebbe as a representative of the entire congregation.

There, in Sadigora, this representative received special attention from the Rebbe. The tzadik would invite him to his house, and listen a detailed report on the personal situation of each of his chassidim in Razhvanitz. Also, before the representative departed for home, the Rebbe always gave him a coin of pure silver.

These coins were treated by the chassidim as a communal treasure. A special place was designated for them to be kept, and over the years a large number accumulated.

One year, a month before Chanukah, the leaders of the community called a special meeting in the shul (synagogue) to discuss a matter of major importance. When the senior trustee rose to speak, everyone in the crowded audience could see that he was pulsing with awe and excitement.

"As you know," he began after the appropriate salutations, "we now have quite a lot of the holy silver coins from the Rebbe and their total worth has become quite considerable. It is time to use them for a holy purpose. We propose taking them to a G-d-fearing silversmith, who will melt them together and fashion from them a giant, glorious Chanukah menorah."

The speaker paused. He seemed to be growing even more excited. As he drew a deep breath before he resumed, all the chassidim were on the edge of their seats.

"The menorah will have a prominent place in our shul. On Chanukah, the privilege of lighting it will be auctioned each night to the highest bidder. The money will be used for communal needs, including the various tzedakah (charity) funds for helping the poor and the sick and endowing brides."

The audience greeted the proposal with unanimous wild approval. When the first night of Chanukah arrived, both the men's and women's sections of the shul were packed, more even than on Yom Kippur. There was barely room to breathe, but who was interested in breathing?-everyone stared fixated at the southern wall of the shul, where the exquisitely crafted, magnificent silver menorah shone and sparkled.

The auction began. The bids rose steadily upward, and soon all the poorer people and even those of average means were forced to drop out. The wealthy continued to call out higher and higher amounts in spirited competition. In the end, the merit of lighting the first candle ever on the new menorah was acquired by Reb Lipa the timber merchant. In an emotionally charged voice he chanted the three blessings with intense concentration and fervor. Then, even before the chorus of loud 'Amen's had completely died down, he stretched out his right hand with the shammes candle to kindle the precious menorah.

The same story repeated itself for the next seven nights. The wealthy chassidim strove with fiery enthusiasm to outbid each other, while the poor majority resigned themselves that this merit would forever remain out of their reach. At least they were privileged to answer 'Amen' and to see the holy menorah alight.

One person only could not get himself to accept this 'decree.' That was Reb Boruch the tinsmith. He was a totally dedicated chassid who was bound by love and devotion to his Rebbe with all the strings of his soul. It pained him deeply that he could not have the opportunity to personally light the menorah made of the Rebbe's silver coins, not even a single time.

Chanukah passed. A dreary winter settled on the town, but not for Boruch, who energetically added hours to his already long working day. All the extra cash he was able to earn, he wrapped in a special bundle and dedicated to the fulfillment of his burning desire. The months sped by. Tishrei, with its many festivals and extra expenses came and went, and still Boruch remained with a significant stake, carefully preserved for the Festival of Light to come.

But then, just a month or so before Chanukah, Boruch's wife fell sick. The usual natural treatments and folk remedies were all tried, but nothing helped the seriously ailing woman. Boruch was forced to call a doctor from the big city, whose hefty fee took a sizable bite out of his precious horde. Was the remainder enough? He would never know. It all went to purchase quantities of the expensive medicines that the doctor prescribed. Thank G-d, his wife recovered fully, but financially the bankrupted tinsmith was back to the bottom rung.

Chanukah arrived. The auction began. Boruch's frustration kept building. He had been so close to attaining his heart's desire....

The second night. The third night. The fourth night. Boruch stared with burning eyes at the shining pure menorah.

The fifth night. The sixth night. The seventh night. He felt as if his heart was about to burst.

The bidding on the eighth night mounted quickly, as all those who could afford to take part reflected how it would be a whole year until the next opportunity. Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, Reb Boruch could be seen pushing his way through to the bima. He leapt up the steps of the platform and cried out fervently:

"My brothers and friends! This is the second year that I, a mere tinsmith, have been consumed with the desire to light our wonderful menorah. For a whole year I exhausted myself to put aside money, coin by coin, to acquire this unique privilege. Then, my wife got sick, and it all went for her medical expenses. Believe me, I can't bear it any more-my soul longs and thirsts. So now I have an idea. My little house is worth three hundred coins; I pledge my house to this holy congregation! I'll continue to live in it, but I'll pay monthly rent money to the community chest. Please accept my offer and my prayer, and restore to life the soul of a poor tinsmith."

The sincerity and innocence of Boruch's plea deeply touched everyone in the room. Virtually in unison they all called out, "Mazaltov! Sold to Reb Boruch!"

There was not a dry eye or an untrembling heart in the shul when R. Boruch lit the leftmost candle of the holy menorah. Many would say afterwards that the flames that rose from the eight wicks were outshone by the fire exploding from the depths of the tinsmith's heart.


Source: Translated and freely adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Sichat HaShavua #257.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman
(20 Cheshvan 1819-11 Elul 1883), the first of the Sadigorer dynasty, was the second son and successor of his famous father, the 'heiliker Rhyzhiner,' the holy R. Yisrael of Rhyzhin (1797-1850), who passed away in Sadigora. His elder son, R. Yitzchak (1849-1917), became the first Boyanner Rebbe. His younger son, Yisrael (1853-1907), succeeded him in Sadigora as the rebbe of tens of thousands.

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