#338 (s5764-30/ 23 Nisan)

Rabbi Power

Ethel's husband was disturbed to hear the words of the illustrious Rabbi Akiva Eiger about their son.

Rabbi Power

It appeared to be a holiday in the Jewish community of Lumzha. The streets were freshly cleaned, the windows of houses facing the street were sparkling, and everyone was dressed in their best clothing.

What was the occasion? One of the most important Torah scholars of the generation was coming for a brief visit, so the entire community was poised at the entrance to the city to greet the esteemed sage, Rabbi Akiva Eiger.

A wave of emotion and joy rolled over the waiting crowd when Rabbi Eiger descended from his carriage and glanced warmly along the rows of his crowded reception committee. Many called out a cheery "Shalom aleichem," while those in the very front thrust out their right hands to try to give a welcoming handshake.

For the duration of the great Rabbi's stay in Lumzha, a long line of petitioners stood in front of the house where he was lodging. Among them were Torah scholars who sought his help in resolving difficulties that arose in their studies, while others came to receive his blessing or advice about matters in their personal lives.

One woman, Ettel, burst into copious tears as soon as she entered the famous scholar's room. She had nine sons, eight of whom were both dedicated and successful in their yeshiva studies. But she was upset about Moshe-Noach, her fifteen-year-old, who was floundering in the study of Talmud. Nobody could understand why, since he was a clever lad, who did excellently in his secular subjects, such as grammar and math.

Rabbi Eiger listened carefully to her report. He thought for a few moments and then said, "The greatest authorities in Jewish law have written that one must be exceedingly careful that young children should not taste any forbidden foods, since such foods can dull and coarsen the mind towards Torah concepts."

Ettel was startled at the implication that her son could have eaten something not kosher, but she did her best to keep her face impassive. The rabbi nevertheless picked up on her thought and said gently, "Perhaps it happened once without you knowing it, and that his why he has so much trouble understanding the Gemora."

"What can we do about it then?" asked Ettel, still shocked at the idea.

"Let him persevere in toiling in the study of Torah, undergoing hardships, and G-d will help him," responded the great rabbi.

Ettel's husband was disturbed to hear the words of the illustrious Rabbi Akiva Eiger about their son. How could it be? Their children never ate anything other than what they received at home. He immediately summoned Moshe-Noach and questioned him as to whether he had ever eaten anything outside of the house. The lad answered that he never had, but his father insisted that he think about it more thoroughly. Moshe-Noach continued to insist that he never ate anything outside of the house, but then he remembered that once, many years before when he was much younger, something had happened on Chanukah.

He and his friends were returning from school earlier than usual, in order to be on time for the Chanukah lights. When they passed by the town hotel, they saw that a wedding was about to take place. One of the members of the wedding party noticed them, invited them to come in, and when they did offered them something to eat. To the best of his memory, he took a bit of chicken-lentil soup.

His parents were surprised to hear about the incident, especially after so many years had intervened, but they did not see how it offered a solution to the puzzle the Torah luminary had presented them. Both the owner of the hotel and the shochet (kosher slaughterer) who slaughtered meat for him were known to be punctilious in their observance of the kashrut laws and true G-d-fearing men.

Nevertheless, the father was determined to pursue the matter till the end. He hurried over to the hotel and discussed the matter with the owner. The latter willingly took out his old record books to try to identity exactly whose wedding it was that took place on that day of Chanukah years before.

It turned out to not be so difficult after all. In the curling pages of a beaten ledger nearly a decade old he found it clearly written that on the 26th of Kislev, the second day of Chanukah, in the year 5566 (1805), was catered the wedding of Yekutiel Alpert -- his second marriage. It was also recorded that the groom had paid the entire bill in advance.

The father of Moshe-Noach knew Mr. Yekutiel Alpert very well. He was an uncouth man, not exceptionally observant, who lived in a house at the outskirts of town. Nevertheless, this information still did not solve the family's mystery; the food had been under the control of the hotel, not the wedding couple.

So the father decided to go next to the house of the shochet. The latter received him pleasantly and politely asked what was the occasion for the surprise visit. When the father told him that he wanted to ask a few questions about the wedding of Yekutiel Alpert, the shochet was visibly distressed.

"Oy, oy!" he cried out. "Once again I have to rake that open wound?"

The father was startled by his words. His ears picked up as the shochet proceeded to supply details.

"I erred in the slaughter of the chickens for that wedding. Not that I actually made any mistakes in the procedures," he hastened to explain. "But something was wrong. Only, I didn't know it at the time. Not until a few days after that wedding

"Walking in the street, I encountered one of the chasidim of Lumzha, an important member of the Chabad community. As I passed by him he gave me a hard stare and said, 'Who would have thought? A respected Jew sells his soul in pursuit of monetary gain. Unbelievable!'

"I was shocked to hear such words directed at me. I stared at him, seeking clarification. He said, 'We heard that you were the one who slaughtered chickens for the wedding of Alpert. Surely you knew that some of the most important rabbis of our time, including Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Chabad Rebbe, issued a decree forbidding him to remarry until he redid the divorce of his first wife, in which the get, the bill of divorce, turned out to be invalid.'

"My whole body began to tremble involuntarily as the chasid took out of his pocket a copy of the letter from Rabbi Shneur Zalman. It said:
'I was astonished and disturbed to hear of this deed which should never be done among Jews, which was done close to your borders. How can a divorce be sanctioned if the get is invalid according to the Torah? …Therefore you must take upon yourselves to prevent this man from marrying another woman, Heaven forbid, until the problem is fixed; and if, Heaven protect us, such a wedding should be announced, to decree upon all the shochtim in the area a rabbinical prohibition against slaughtering any animals or fowl. If they should transgress and slaughter, all the meat is to be considered treif and forbidden to eat.'

"When I saw that letter with my own eyes," continued the shochet, "I was beside myself with horror. Even though I had known nothing and heard nothing about the problem with the divorce, I was mortified with guilt at having transgressed the instructions of a leading rabbi of our generation. I decided to undergo dozens of fasts, which I did, but I still don't feel as if I have atoned for my sin."

The next day the entire story spread quickly through Lumzha. Everyone was amazed by both the power of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's decree and the acute Divine inspiration of Rabbi Akiva Eiger.

[Translated-adapted from the Hebrew weekly, Sichat HaShavua, #348 (and first published on www.chabad.org). You may distribute this e-mail as long as full attribution is given, including Ascent's email and internet addresses.]

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed and KabbalaOnline websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Akiva Eiger [1761-1837], the chief rabbi of Posen, Prussia for 23 years, was an acclaimed scholar whose analyses of and innovative insights into the Gemora are studied in nearly all yeshivas.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman [18 Elul 1745-24 Tevet 1812], one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, is the founder of the Chabad-Chassidic movement. He is the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya as well as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.

back to Top   back to Index   Stories home page
Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION