Sunday, September 09, 2007
The Sar Shalom Peeks...THROUGH THE WINDOW
Read more on him in last year’s posts: A Shul is Built in Belz, and Gems from the Sar Shalom.
As we [Ashkenaz Jews] have just began to say Selichos, this story, from our good friend Yrachmiel of Ascent in Tzfas, is most appropriate.
On the first night of Selichos over one hundred years ago, instead of going to the large Shul to signal the beginning of the prayers, Rebbe Shalom of Belz, ordered his attendant to harness the horses. He said they would be going into the woods.
The astonished attendant wanted to remind the Rebbe that thousands of Chassidim were waiting in the Shul, but he knew better than to ask questions and went out to prepare the wagon. After a half-hour drive the Rebbe signaled him to stop. They alighted and walked down a narrow path till they saw a small hut in the distance. The Rebbe signaled the attendant to wait for him, and then tiptoed alone up to the window and peeked in.
An old Jewish man was sitting alone at a table. On the table was a bottle of vodka and two small cups, one in front of him and the other before the empty seat opposite him.
Through the window the Rebbe couldn’t hear what the old man was saying, but he saw him raise his cup in a toast, drink it, and then drink the second cup as well. This he repeated two more times, after which the Rebbe tiptoed back to the attendant. They walked quickly to the wagon and the Rebbe motioned him to drive back to Belz.
Meanwhile the Chassidim had been waiting for over an hour and were becoming worried. But when the doors of the Synagogue opened and the Rebbe entered, the congregation fell silent. All eyes followed him to his place at the front of the Shul, and the room burst into prayer as they began Selichos.
When the prayer ended the Rebbe turned to his secretary and said, "There is an old man that came in after everyone and I’m sure he will finish after everyone also. He’s the one I saw in the house in the woods. Please wait for him to finish. Tell him I want him to come to my study and speak to him alone."
Half an hour later the simple Jew was standing in fear and trepidation before the Holy Rebbe.
"Sit down, Zelig," said the Rebbe, "I want you to tell me what you did in your house before you came here tonight. What were those two cups of vodka for and that strange L'Chaim you made?"
"The Rebbe knows that?" he exclaimed, his eyes bulging out in amazement. Then he started to shake. "How does the Rebbe know?"
"I sensed that something important was going to happen," the Rebbe answered, "so I drove to the woods and peeked in your window. But I want to understand what you were doing."
"The Rebbe peeked in my window! How could it be? I am a nothing!"
Now the poor Chassid was really confused. He was silent for a moment. Then, realizing that there was no alternative, he sank down onto a chair and began to explain.
"I’m a poor man, Rebbe, I have no children and my wife passed on years ago. I just live alone with my few farm animals, that’s all. That is, until a few months ago when my cow became sick. So I prayed to G-d to heal the cow. 'After all', I said to G-d, 'You create the entire world and everything in it, certainly you can heal one cow!'
"But the cow got worse. So I said 'Listen G-d, if You don’t heal that cow I’m not going to the shul any more!' I figured that if G-d doesn’t care about me - I mean, it’s nothing for Him to heal one old cow - so why should I care about His place?
"But the cow died and so I, I got mad and … and… I stopped going to synagogue. Then my goat got sick! I said to G-d, 'What! You haven’t had enough? Do you think I’m bluffing? Listen, if this goat dies I’m not putting on tefillin any more!' So the goat died and I stopped putting on tefillin.
"Next, my chickens got ill and I told G-d that if they die I’m not going to recite Kiddush or keep Shabbos. Well, a week later I was without chickens and G-d was without my Shabbos.
"I held out for over a week until suddenly I realized that the time for Selichos was approaching. I thought to myself, 'What, Zelig, you aren’t going to go say Selichos with the Rebbe? What, are you crazy?' But on the other hand I was angry at G-d and vowed I wasn’t going to the shul.
"But then I remembered that once I had an argument with Shmerel the butcher. For about a month we didn’t even say hello. Then one night he came to my house with a bottle of vodka and said, 'Let’s forget the past and be friends, enough enemies we have among the goyim; why be enemies.' So we made three L'Chaims, shook hands and even danced around a little together and we were friends again.
"So I figured I would do the same thing with G-d. I invited Him to sit opposite me, poured us two cups and said, 'Listen, G-d, you forget my faults and I’ll forget yours. All right? A deal?' L'Chaim!
"So I drank my cup and understood that since G-d doesn’t drink, He probably wanted me to drink His. And after we did it twice more I stood up and we danced together! Then I felt better and came to Selichos."
The Rebbe looked deeply into Zelig’s innocent eyes. In a serious tone, he said, "Listen to me, Zelig. Before we began Selichos I saw that in heaven there was a terrible decree on our holy congregation, because the Chassidim were saying the words in the prayer book but they weren’t really praying seriously to G-d. Of course, there are a lot of distractions and other excuses; nevertheless this terrible decree was looming.
"But you, Zelig, you talked to G-d like He is your friend. Zelig, your sincerity saved the entire congregation!"
Zechuso yagein Aleinu - May the Sar Shalom's merits protect us!