Monday, March 07, 2005
Sipurei Tzaddikim they are called; Chassidic Tales. During Melave Malka, Saturday-night, a meal Chassidim believe is almost as holy as a Shabbos one, it is customary to tell inspirational tales of past Chassidic Rebbes. Lore has it that the fires of Hell, extinguished during the shabbos, are only rekindled when the last Jew finishes Melave Malka so it is actually a good deed to make it last as long as possible.
To some Chassidim these stories take on the status of Torah almost, while those like me, of a more questioning nature, prefer to take them with a pinch of salt. It is acceptable to doubt the veracity of the actual stories providing you accept that the Rebbe was capable of doing whatever the story says he did. In the language of Chassidim “You don’t have to believe it is true but you do have to believe it could have been true.”
Reb Avraham Yehoshua Hershel was a great tzaddik. He lived in Poland between 1755 and 1825. For a while he was Rabbi in a small town called Apt and has entered the Chassidic annals as the Apter Rav. This story about him, that I recently heard at a Melave Malka, both inspired and disturbed me.
A Chassid once came to him for advice. His daughter needed a dowry to get married and he had no money.
“How much money do you need for a dowry, and how much do you already have?” the Rebbe asked
“A thousand Rubles I need.” He replied. “And I have one!”
“Go out my son,” the Rebbe said, “and accept the first deal you are offered.”
The Chassid left his Rebbe to return home. On the way he stopped off at an inn. (Chassidim in those days were allowed to do that. Indeed it seems almost all Chassidic tales happened in inns. My Rosh Yeshiva wanted to have me expelled from the yeshiva for visiting one, but that is a different story.)
This fine Chassid was drinking his beer and at the next table a group of Jewish merchants were drinking theirs. They had had a few and were looking to have some fun at someone else’s expense. Our Reb Chassid seemed a perfect candidate.
“Nu Reb Yid,” one shouted across at him, “What are you dealing?”
“Anything you want.”
“Azoy, anything?” It was obvious that a fish had dropped into their net. “How much money do you have for this ‘anything’?”
“Eh.. One Ruble.”
The merchant burst into drunken laughter.
“One Ruble eh? For one Ruble, my friend, I will sell you my Olam Haba.” (portion in the Kingdom Come)
The hapless Chassid probably realised they were making fun of him. He had his instructions however and if the Rebbe told him to accept the first gescheft that arose then this was it.
“OK I accept.”
The group of merchants must have been in stitches as the paperwork was drawn up and the Chassid became poorer by his one Ruble and richer by one (hardly used) Olam Haba. They were still laughing drunkenly when the wife of the merchant walked in to fetch her mate. Seeing the merriment all round she asked for the reason and was told her husband had just sold his Olam Haba for a Ruble. She was not at all amused.
“I am not going to be married to a man with no Olam Haba. When you come home it had better be with your Olam Haba because without it you ain’t going to be seeing any Olam Hazeh (pleasure in this life) with me.”
This was a powerful argument to any man, even in his state, and it sobered him up immediately. He went sheepishly over to the Chassid and asked him for the document back.
“One thousand Rubles and you can have it back.”
“A thousand Rubles?” he screamed. “Are you mad?!”
The Chassid remained adamant.
“My Rebbe told me to accept the first deal I was offered and I would make a thousand Rubles, I did and I will.”
The wife was understandably bitter when her husband told her how much he had paid to get his Olam Haba (and Olam Hazeh) back and, being the powerful woman she obviously was, insisted on going back to the pub, to have this out with the man, herself. He simply referred her to his Rebbe and scarpered off home to marry his daughter off. Mrs Merchant was no quitter and she flounced off to the Rebbe to object the massive injustice that had been done.
The Rebbe listened to her argument and answered her thus.
“You are right. It does seem wrong that something bought for a Ruble should be sold back minutes later for a thousand. However if the truth were known it is fairer than you can imagine. For at the moment your husband sold his Olam Haba it was not even worth the Ruble he got for it. But the moment he paid a thousand to get it back it was worth many times that sum.”