(This Shabbat, the one preceding Passover, is called Shabbat haGadol.
Two widespread customs on it are to hear the Rabbi speak in the afternoon,
and after the Afternoon Prayer, to read the Hagaddah)
IN THE PRESENT TENSE
A Jew in a village near Kolbisov, Poland,
made his living as an innkeeper, renting the inn and the privilege
to run it from the feudal lord who owned all the land of the village
and the surrounding area. At first, everything went as he had hoped:
the local peasants drank and paid for the large amounts of hard liquor
they consumed, and so he was always able to pay the rent and the percentages
to his landlord and still make a reasonable profit.
Time passed. Business at the tavern took a downturn. Many of his
regular customers stopped coming. The innkeeper began to be late in
his seasonal payments. The first few times the village landlord was
somewhat tolerant of the delay. But when it started to become a regular
pattern he lost all patience, and finally told his tenant in a rage:
"I won't listen to any more excuses. The next time you are late
to pay me, I'll send some of my men down; they know very well how
to deal with the likes of you."
Unfortunately it did not take long for his threat to come to fruition.
The next due date fell on a Shabbat. That morning, most of the family
was still in bed as the innkeeper prepared to go to shul. Suddenly,
a group of drunken peasants burst through the front door. With a glint
of hatred in their eyes, they began to wreck the house. They broke,
they shattered, they smashed-whatever they could put their hands on,
they destroyed. Not even the hot cholent stew on the Shabbat
stove was spared, that was dumped all over the floor in the midst
of the rest of the wreckage.
The unfortunate family looked on helplessly in shock as their home
was destroyed in front of their eyes. It was clear that these thugs
had been sent by their landlord. As the peasants slammed the door
in satisfaction upon their departure, the innkeeper's wife and children
finally broke down in bitter tears. He himself tried to restore a
little order from the mess, did his best to comfort the others, and
then hurried off to shul.
It was very difficult for the innkeeper to maintain any spirit of
Shabbat. The whole day he was deeply worried about what would be.
He knew this was just the beginning; he still didn't have the money,
so he could expect an even worse follow-up.
Immediately after Shabbat ended, he set off for nearby Kolbisov,
where he knew the Rebbe would be sitting at the Melaveh Malka
meal with his Chassidim. Hopefully, the tsaddik, Rabbi Avraham
Yehoshua Heschel (1745-1825, subsequently to be famed as the
Apter Rebbe), would be able to help him.
When he arrived, the Rebbe was just finishing some words of Torah.
He didn't get to hear too much, but just when he entered, this is
what he managed to hear the Rebbe saying.
Two different blessings mention the redemption of Israel. One, ga'al
yisrael, is in past tense -"Blessed are You...who redeemed
Israel." We say it when reciting the Haggadah on Passover
Seder night (and in the blessing following Shma Yisrael morning
and evening). It refers to the redemption from Egypt, a past event.
There is also a blessing, go'al yisrael, in the present tense-"Blessed
are You...who redeems Israel." We say it three times every day
in the Amidah prayer. It begins, "Please behold our affliction
and wage our battle."
At this point the tsaddik gave a small sigh, raised his eyes
towards the entrance of the shul where the anguished tenant
had just come in, and then returned to his talk.
"This blessing is expressed in the present tense because it
refers to the divine redemption that takes place at every moment.
Therefore, even if there is a Jew in a village who is unable to pay
his rent on time and the landlord sends Cossack bullies to wreck havoc
in his house, the Master of the Universe will arrange redemption and
salvation for this Jew too."
The innkeeper, an unlearned Jew, did not understand all that the
Rebbe said, but these final words penetrated his heart. He knew well
that it was he who the Rebbe was referring to. When he arrived home,
he was full of joy. He tried to encourage and cheer up his still-grieving
family, even though he couldn't remember the Rebbe's exact words.
"The Rebbe said 'Go'al yisroel'! The Rebbe said 'He redeems
Israel!'" he kept happily repeating to his bewildered family.
They just couldn't understand his remarkable reversal of mood.
that Saturday night, the Duke sent his henchmen again, to keep up
the pressure on the Jew and see if he had learned his lesson properly.
They were astonished to see their victim singing and dancing in vigorous
joy. "He is acting like someone who found a hidden treasure,"
they reported back to their disbelieving master. "Bring him to
me immediately," he ordered.
The tenant bounded in to the castle with a beaming face. The Duke
gave him a fierce look and demanded his money, but the empty-handed
Jew, confident in the Rebbe's blessing, just grinned even wider and
The Duke, startled, began to wonder. Could it be that from all the
suffering and pressure his tenant's mind had snapped? It certainly
seemed like it. How could he act so carefree and happy when his situation
was so desperate? But it had never been his intention to do any permanent
damage to the Jew. He just wanted his money.
As he stared at the grinning Jew and pondered the situation, he began
to feel sorry for the poor bemused innkeeper. "Listen to me,
Moishke," he addressed his tenant in a more gentle voice, "Why
are you such a failure at the inn? Look at you: you are impoverished,
you can't pay your debts, you can't even afford to replenish your
stock of liquor so that maybe you could turn a little profit."
"So what should I do?" asked the innkeeper, shrugging cheerfully.
"I'll tell you," replied the Duke. "Go to the wholesaler.
I'll give you a note telling him to sell you several crates of bottles
on credit. You can make good business with them at the tavern. Just
be careful to put money aside to pay off the purchase and of course
to pay me what you owe me!"
What a deal! The innkeeper took his landlord's offer with alacrity.
In a relatively short period he was able to pay all his debts. After
that he made large profits. The whole while he was clear in his mind
that his sudden turn of fortune and everything connected with it was
in the merit of the Rebbe's blessing. After some time, when he was
able to return to Kolbisov to see the Rebbe, he brought with him a
pouch filled with silver. He presented it to the tsaddik, saying,
"Rebbe, here is 'He redeems Israel' money."
[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published
in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Sichat HaShavua
#552 You may pass on this email rendition to whomever you wish as
long as you give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet
Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (?- 5 Nissan 1825) the Apter
Rebbe, was a main disciple of the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhinsk. He
is also often referred to as "the Ohev Yisrael," both after
the title of the famous book of his teachings, and also because its
meaning ( "Lover of Jews") fits him so aptly.