Sunday, April 29, 2007
THE ONION PLOT of the ROPSHITZER
Dont forget to check out last year's post on him: Rebbe Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz: Breaking the Ice…, for lots more about his wisdom on Negina.
This year's story comes to us by courtesy of my good friend Yrachmiel at the Ascent website. I have edited it somewhat, including some info gleaned from the L'Chaim website version of this story. I'd also like to thank A Talmid of the Zchus Avos blog for reminding me of the Ascent version. Enjoy!
Blizzards and storm winds had pounded Lublin and the surrounding countryside for several weeks. The roads were piled so high with snow that no one was able to go anywhere. This meant that the farmers weren't able to reach the city with their produce and food supplies were dwindling rapidly.
Many items were completely lacking, such as onions. There weren't even any onions to use in the tasty foods prepared in honor of Shabbos. This fact constituted a near tragedy, because in Lublin, the mixture of chopped eggs and onions, known in Yiddish as eiyr-un-tzibl, was considered a nearly indispensable ingredient of the holy day. The Jews of Lublin could remember occasions when there was no meat, or no fish, but whoever heard of being without onions?
The household of the famous tzaddik, the Chozeh [Seer] of Lublin, was particularly distraught. After all, Chassidic tradition attaches great significance to this humble dish. They tried to secure some onions by every means they could think of, but to no avail. Someone even managed to plod his way through the snowdrifts to a few of the local farmers, but they didn't have any onions either.
On Friday morning, one of the leading disciples of the Chozeh, Rebbe Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz, rose early as usual to make his way to the Rebbe's shul and pour out his heart in prayer to the Creator. On his way home afterwards he passed through the marketplace, where he unexpectedly came upon a peasant farmer with a sack filled with onions! "Wow!" said Reb Naftali to himself, struck by a bold idea. "This is exactly the opportunity I've been waiting for! Baruch Hashem!"
But that wasn't the end of the surprises. "I'd like to buy your sheepskin coat and furry hat too," the Ropshitzer added. The farmer couldn't believe his ears. Astonished, he refused. How could he possibly return home in the freezing cold without his coat and hat?
Later that day, a farmer appeared outside the Chozeh's door. His body was swaddled inside a thick sheepskin coat, and his furry hat obscured most of his face. His boots were covered with mud, obviously trekked in from the countryside. In the language and intonation of a gentile farmer he called out, "Onions! Onions for sale!"
Chassidim came pouring from every direction. Everyone wanted onions in honor of the holy Shabbos. They crowded around the onion-seller, attempting to bargain with him. He refused to budge from his price. Then, suddenly, he announced that he was stopping for the day. No more onions!
The Chassidim pleaded with him. "But we still have to get some for the Rebbe. He is a great, holy man. Blessings will shower upon you, if only you will allow us to buy onions for him."
"If he is as special as you say, I'll do it," rejoined the farmer, "but only if I can sell them to the holy man directly, in person, face-to-face."
The Chassidim were shaken. How could they bring such an unrefined character to the Rebbe? After a few moments of confusion, they realized they had no choice. A solemn delegation led the onion-laden farmer to the Chozeh's house.
Many rumors surrounded this Kiddush cup and its history. It was said that the Chozeh had inherited it from one of the great Chassidic masters of the previous generation, and whoever was privileged to make a blessing over its contents and drink from it benefited infinitely.
When his Chassidim brought in the gentile with his sack, the Chozeh understood the reason at once. "How much do you want for your onions?" he queried the farmer.
"One moment. Not so fast," the farmer replied coarsely, holding up his hand as if to ward off the Rebbe's offer. "I'm frozen stiff. I need a proper drink to warm me up."
It was clear that such a person didn't have in mind a cup of tea. The Chozeh instructed his attendant to serve the man some whiskey and a brimming shot glass was quickly set down in front of the farmer.
"That's all?" cried out the farmer, as if insulted. "Just this little cup?"
"Give him the whole bottle and let him do as he likes," said the Rebbe, turning away.
Now the onion seller seemed mortally offended. "What! You think I'm a drunkard?" he shouted angrily. "I'll show you! I'll go home. I won't sell you anything!" He tied up the sack and fastened his garments, as if preparing to leave.
The Chassidim hurriedly attempted to soothe him, anxiously muttering words of appeasement. Finally he calmed down. Then he smirked. "I tell you what," he offered. "I'll sell you my onions if, and only if, you fill this goblet with whiskey for me to drink." He pointed at the Rebbe's golden cup shining on the table.
The Chassidim drew back, aghast. From this holy Kiddush cup which no one dared touch except the tzaddik, this uncircumcised drunken peasant should imbibe his crude booze? They offered him other cups and glasses, bigger ones, singly and in combination, but he was stubborn. "Only from this one, like I told you. Otherwise I go home."
They tried again to dissuade him, but nothing worked. He simply refused to budge. With trembling hands and heavy heart, the Chozeh himself filled the precious vessel with the coarse fluid and, with a helpless shrug, presented it to the farmer.
Everyone was shocked speechless. Only the Chozeh, after a quick stare, realized what had taken place. A broad smile spread across his face. "L’Chaim, Reb Naftali! You are so clever, and truly deserve to drink from this cup. L’Chaim u'livracha! [May it be for life and for blessing!]"