Chassidic Story #234

story #234 (s5762-30 / 28 Nissan 5762)
First Class
The Rebbe Maharash didnt give him a chance to speak. As soon as he saw him he said, Go home! Right away! Catch the morning train, which is leaving soon."


(This Saturday night, 2 Iyar, we reach "tiferet sh'b'tiferet" in the Counting of the Omer, the date of the birthday of "the Rebbe Maharash.")

A certain chassid who lived in a remote village in Russia made his living as the owner and manager of a tavern. The local priest was a vicious Jew-hater. It annoyed him no end that this Jew was "getting rich" (an obvious exaggeration) from his parishioners, so he plotted how to get rid of him, or at least to sabotage his business.

After discarding one scheme after another, he finally decided to open his own tavern in competition. The first Sunday after he did so, he raved and cursed about Jews in his sermon in church, and in particular against the greedy, conniving local innkeeper. He then announced that in order to save them from the enemy in their midst he had opened a tavern too, so everyone should buy their liquor and other supplies only from him, and thereby defeat the Jew.

It didn't work. Nobody wanted to get drunk in front of the priest, so most of them continued to do their drinking and eating at the Jew's inn.

At this turn of events, the priest's ire was roused even further. He launched another plan. He walked over to the inn of the Jew and offered to make peace. Saying that since there was not enough business to support two taverns, he would give the Jew some money so that he would move out, or else the Jew should pay him to close his tavern.

"I've been living here many years already," said the Jew. "This inn is my only source of income. Where would I go? You, on the other hand, have your church, and in addition you own fields and other properties."

By now many of the gentile customers were taking an interest in the conversation. Making sure they could hear him, the priest addressed the owner, "Okay, I'll close mine. But since this is like a new beginning between us, let's drink to the new relationship, and let's have everyone join us."

The Jew, relieved his livelihood was saved, agreed with alacrity and went to fetch a few bottles of vodka to distribute free drinks to everyone present. The priest, finding a moment when no one was looking, quickly secreted one of the bottles in his robe and replaced it with one that he had brought with him. Opening it, he poured a drink for one of the locals.

The man drank it down and almost immediately doubled over in pain. Gasping, he collapsed on the floor. People ran over to help, but he was already dead!

The priest began to scream that the Jew had put deadly poison in the vodka, and called the police. They came, wrote everything down, and brought the file to court. A trial date was set.

From that day on, the gentiles stopped patronizing the Jew's tavern. They were too afraid.

The day of the trial loomed near. The innkeeper didn't know what to do.He decided to make the long train trip to Lubavitch to consult with the Rebbe Maharash. When he got there he explained his situation to the Rebbe's attendant, saying that since the trial was so soon, he needed to be admitted to the Rebbe right away, ahead of the other chassidim that were already waiting. The attendant said that he understood and that he would tell the Rebbe everything, but of course it was still up to the Rebbe to decide.

The attendant went into the Rebbe's room and told him the whole story. The Rebbe said, "Look, there are other visitors before him."

Disappointed, the innkeeper went back to the room he had rented. The next day, the same thing happened. When the attendant spoke up on his behalf, the Rebbe pushed him off again.

The third day, before he even set out for the Rebbe's house, the attendant came knocking on his door. The Rebbe wanted him to come right away!

He hurried over. The Rebbe didn't even give him a chance to speak. As soon as he saw him he said, "Go home! Right away! Be sure to ride first-class. May G-d Al-mighty grant you success."

First-class train tickets were very expensive. The Rebbe sensed this might cause a problem, so he gave him money for the outlay, much to the innkeeper's amazement. Reiterating that he should be sure to go right away and to travel first-class, the Rebbe turned and left the room.

The innkeeper packed and left as fast as he could, and managed to catch the next train. Of course, he bought a first-class ticket which entitled him to a private compartment, as the Rebbe had instructed. As he hadn't yet prayed, he retired to his compartment and wrapped himself in his tallis and tefillin. He started to pray, but then he began thinking about his desperate situation. Though he had already wasted a week on this trip, it seemed the Rebbe hadn't make any suggestions about how to disprove the false accusation, nor advised him at all what he could do to save himself.

He began to cry. The more he thought about it the sorrier he felt for himself and he broke down in sobs even more. Finally, he was crying so loudly he knew they could hear him in the next compartment, yet he couldn't regain control of himself.

The several men in the next compartment were startled to hear the sounds of a man weeping. One of them rose, went over, and opened the door. He was amazed by the sight that greeted his eyes. There was a Jew, covered with tallis and tefillin, consumed in tears. "What's the matter?" he asked, concerned. The chassid, at this point completely broken and bewildered, poured his heart out.

As he spoke through his tears, the other passengers from the adjoining compartment also came in to listen. He told how he had been charged with the murder of one of his customers, even though he had nothing to do with it and knew nothing about it. It was easy for them to recognize that he was indeed innocent and was telling the truth. They asked him several questions and he related to them the entire story.

What they did not tell him was that they themselves were the judges and special investigators assigned to his case! It was actually a common practice in Russia then for them to arrive a few days before the trial. They would come in cognito, dressed in civilian clothing, in order to find out as much as possible on the scene. After hearing the chassid's account, they decided that they would arrange to lodge with the priest himself, and see what they could get him to reveal.

The priest owned a large, spacious house. When the band of distinguished, obviously important, gentlemen came to his house and requested lodging, he treated them with great respect. They explained that they had come on important business that necessitated them being in the area for several days, and as there was no hotel in the village, they were prepared to pay him premium rates to let them stay with him.

The priest agreed, happily. He told them he would even set out a specially elegant welcoming meal in their honor, which he himself would host.

It goes without saying that the table included a large assortment of excellent intoxicating beverages. The guests, seeing that the priest had no hesitation about indulging, took turns pouring him generous cups. Who knew what he might reveal under the influence?

When they saw he was well along the way, they guided the conversation to the topic of the Jews, and how many of them that lived in rural areas were especially corrupt. They asked him if any Jews lived in his village.

He told them there was one, he owned a tavern and had been there many years. Then he added, with a nasty smile, "But I've fixed him alright; he won't be a thorn in my eyes any more."

"Really?" they said. "How did you to that? We know it is not so easy to get rid of these people. Tell us." they encouraged him.

By now the priest was quite drunk. He proudly told them the whole story, including how he had put lethal poison in a bottle of vodka and exchanged it with one of the Jew's without anyone being aware of what he had done.

"Wow!" they said respectfully. "You are quite a clever person." Then they shifted the conversation to a different subject.

Two days later the trialbegan. The chassid was summoned, and some of the villagers who had been in the inn at the time. The priest was summoned too, of course, as he was the main witness. When he entered the courtroom, he was shocked to see that the judges were none other than some of his dinner companions from three nights before, but he kept his composure.

When he was called to the stand, they questioned him in great detail about the events leading up to the death. Finally he got to the part about how the Jew had brought out vodka to celebrate their agreement, and the victim died as soon as he drank from it.

The judges interrupted. "Don't you remember what you told us when we ate at your house a few nights ago?"

The priest began to sweat. He insisted he didn't know what they were talking about, and he denied that he had said anything of significance; and anyway his brain had been muddled by alcohol, so it didn't matter what he had said anyway.

But the judges were not swayed. They knew the truth. They cross-examined and pressured the priest, and barraged him with sharp questions, until finally he was forced to confess that indeed he himself had administered the poison which had caused the victim's death.

Because he was a priest they didn't execute him, but he was sentenced to hard labor at prison camp. All the local gentiles congratulated the Jew, and soon business was booming again.

[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Likutei Sipurim, pp. 163-166. You may pass on this email rendition to whomever you wish as long as you give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet addresses.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (2 Iyar 1834-13 Tishrei 1882), the fourth Lubavitch Rebbe, known as the Rebbe Maharash, was the sixth and youngest son of his predecessor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Tsemach Tsedek.


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