In honor of the upcoming birthday of my father-in-law, HaRav Moshe Pesach ben Chana Goldman l’arichus yomim v’shonim tovim, I am posting one of his favorite Pesach stories, a story he often related at the seder.
Every chossid has his special day or Yom Tov which he spends with his Rebbe. With some it is Rosh Hashanah, when he can hear the Rebbe’s tekios (blowing of the shofar), and with others it is Simchas Torah, when he can participate in the Rebbe’s hakafos. In Lubavitch, Shavuos was known as Chag Hama”tzos, as that was the Yom Tov for which Rabbonim (who are called moreh tzedek, the acronym of which is ma”tzos) would be able to take leave of their community and come to the Rebbe in Lubavitch.
The chossid of our story, whom we will call Shimon, would come to his Rebbe every year for Pesach. (Perhaps this was because as an innkeeper who ran a tavern, this was the only time of the year when he closed his doors, as all of his whiskey was chometz.) In addition to participating generously in his community’s maos chittim fund for the poor, he would take a sizeable amount of money to give to the Rebbe to distribute as he saw fit. He would begin cleaning his house early enough so that it would be ready for Pesach when he left. His married children would lead the seder for his family, and he would be in seventh heaven, spending Pesach with the Rebbe.
Every year, shortly after Maariv on the first night of Pesach, the gabbai would enter the shul and read a list of twenty visitors who were invited to participate as the Rebbe’s guests at his seder. There were a number of people who were always among the honored individuals, and Shimon was one of them. Everyone knew that Shimon was one of the Rebbe’s devoted chassidim who gave extremely generously to the Rebbe’s causes.
On the second night of Pesach, another group of twenty people would be invited. Shimon would join the seder that had been arranged for all of the chassidim who had not been invited to the Rebbe’s seder. Shimon would review for them the thoughts, insights, and stories that the Rebbe had related at the seder on the first night. In addition to being quite wealthy, Shimon was also a talmid chochom and he had a wonderful way of explaining the Rebbe’s teachings and insights.
After Pesach, he would take leave of his Rebbe, and at that time the Rebbe would bless him with longevity and continued success. He would come home invigorated and enriched in his appreciation of his Rebbe’s greatness, and he would conduct his life accordingly.
One year, as soon as he arrived at the Rebbe’s court as usual, he gave the gabbai an envelope containing his yearly generous participation in the Rebbe’s tzedakos (charitable causes). He then went to his friend’s house where he was given a room to use for the duration of his stay. He proceeded to help his hosts for Pesach as well, by giving them financial assistance as well as personally participating in preparing for Yom Tov.
The first night of Pesach arrived, and Shimon took a place next to the bimah, waiting for when he would hear the gabbai call out his name. After Maariv, as soon as the gabbai re-entered the beis hamidrash everyone became silent and waited with bated breath to hear who had merited that the Rebbe had invited him this year. The gabbai ascended the bimah and began announcing the names, reading from the paper in his hand.
Each time a name was announced, the chossid’s face shone with happiness, and was congratulated by his fellow chassidim. He had merited to be invited to the Rebbe’s seder! Shimon was smiling from the beginning, expecting to hear his name as usual. However, that night, as the gabbai reached the last few names on the list, Shimon began feeling uneasy. Something was wrong here. There must have been a mistake. The Rebbe always invited him!
The gabbai concluded reading the names of the Rebbe’s guests whom he invited to his seder, and began to leave the shul. Shimon stopped him and asked if he had missed mentioning his name by mistake. “After all,” Shimon added, “for the last fourteen years the Rebbe has always included me on his list!”
The gabbai opened the paper and looked at all the names again. “No, the Rebbe did not include you on the list this year,” he stated. Seeing the look of disbelief written all over Shimon’s face, he allowed Shimon himself to look at the paper, which the Rebbe had personally written. To his surprise, he saw that his name indeed did not appear on the list.
Shimon couldn’t believe it. “It must be a mistake!” he blurted out.
Before he could continue, the gabbai replied: “The Rebbe doesn’t make a mistake. If your name is not on the list, it is because the Rebbe wants you to eat today’s seder with all of the other guests who also were not invited.”
“Perhaps the Rebbe doesn’t know that I am here,” Shimon said. “Did you give the Rebbe my envelope and letter?”
“Yes, Reb Shimon,” replied the gabbai. “The Rebbe knows you are here. I gave him your envelope and letter and I saw him read it. He certainly knows you arrived, as he happily stated, “Now we can help many additional people for the Yom Tov.” But as I said before, the Rebbe doesn’t make a mistake. If he didn’t put you on the list, he has a reason for it. The Rebbe knows what he is doing!”
Hearing those words, Shimon was confused. What the gabbai had said was indeed true. He himself would often say those very words to others. The Rebbe is a malach elokim, (a G-dly individual), and doesn’t make mistakes; all of his actions are correct and precise. But it just didn’t feel right. Why had the Rebbe excluded him from his seder this year?!
He joined the numerous other chassidim at their seder, but he did not join them in their joy. They were rejoicing that they had merited to spend this special Yom Tov with the Rebbe, but Shimon was perturbed, lost in thought: “Why wasn’t I invited this year, to be at the Rebbe’s table? Did I perhaps do something wrong? How can I rectify it?”
After some time, he concluded: “Perhaps the Rebbe plans to invite me to the second seder tomorrow night. Perhaps the Rebbe does certain things on the second night differently than on the first night, and he wants to give me a chance to experience those unique moments.” Convincing himself that this indeed was the reason and confident that he would be invited for the second seder, Shimon forced himself to smile and participate in the singing and joy. Yes, it would be good.
The next day he made sure to stand where the Rebbe would notice him when the Rebbe entered the shul to daven. That way, just in case he wasn’t on the written list (which was prepared before Yom Tov), maybe the Rebbe would verbally instruct the gabbai to invite him as well.
Once again, after Maariv Shimon stood next to the bimah, except that this time he was apprehensive. Would his name be called out or not? He tried to make eye contact with the gabbai to receive some assurance, but to no avail. The gabbai began reading the list, and once again he was not included.
Shimon was dumbfounded and aghast. Something was definitely wrong. Once again, he went to the gabbai and asked, this time in a subdued tone: “Are you sure I am not on the list?”
The gabbai showed the second list to Shimon, and after going over it, his world turned dark. Indeed, his name was not on the list! Unable to control his anguish, he once again blurted out: “This must be a mistake!”
The gabbai saw Shimon’s disappointment and grief. Trying to console him, he replied: “Reb Shimon, you know how great our Rebbe is. The Rebbe doesn’t make a mistake. There must be a good reason why you weren’t invited this year. But who are we to understand the Rebbe? The Rebbe sees things that we don’t. Reb Shimon, have a freilichen Yom Tov.”
To Shimon, it was more like Tisha B’av and the deep reflections of Yom Kippur, than Pesach. He concluded that the Rebbe must have seen a gezeirah (heavenly decree) against him, and therefore he didn’t invite him. “It must be,” he thought, “that the gezeirah is so severe that the Rebbe can’t nullify it with his tremendous tefillos. I am doomed. I must do teshuvah (repent)! Maybe Hashem with His tremendous compassion, will accept my teshuvah.”
The other chassidim saved his regular place for him at one of the main tables, where this year he would be able hear from the lucky individuals what had transpired last night at the Rebbe’s seder. They were hoping that Reb Shimon would elucidate the Rebbe’s teachings, as he has done in the previous years. However, Shimon wasn’t in the mood of doing so. He sat at a table in the corner of the room, immersed in his painful thoughts. He tried to recall any incident that may have caused this gezeirah to befall him. What terrible thing had he done? Gone was any façade of happiness and joy of Yom Tov. Instead, it was replaced with noticeable apprehension and despair of some impending tragedy.
While the chassidim were in the midst of reading and discussing the haggadah, the gabbai suddenly entered. “Where is Shimon?” he asked frantically. “The Rebbe is calling for him!”
Shimon was so depressed and lost in thought that he didn’t hear the gabbai’s words, until many of the chassidim began saying loudly: “Reb Shimon, the Rebbe is waiting for you!”
Hearing this, Shimon began to smile. “This must mean that the Rebbe noticed I am not at his seder,” he thought, “and he realizes that I should be there. That is why the Rebbe sent his gabbai to call me! Boruch Hashem.” He got up from his place, and, with happiness in his heart, he swiftly followed the gabbai.
As soon as Shimon entered the room, the Rebbe motioned that he should come over to him. When he came close to the Rebbe, the Rebbe handed Shimon an empty bottle and asked him to hold it. Then, to his shock and horror, the Rebbe began to pour the wine of the eser makkos (ten plagues) into it. When he concluded pouring it, the Rebbe took the cap and secured the bottle tightly, saying: “Shimon, keep this with you and safeguard it. You may now return to your seder. Gut Yom Tov!”
If Shimon was sad and depressed before this, now he was heartbroken and devastated. He thought: “The Rebbe is giving me all of the curses associated with the wine that is poured out from the becher (cup) while mentioning each of the ten plagues. This must mean that there is a real and terrible gezeirah against me!” Returning to his place, he mustered all of his strength to control himself from breaking out in tears on Yom Tov.
After Yom Tov, the Rebbe blessed him with a safe trip and wished him that all should be well. But Shimon was far from relaxed. He felt as if his world was collapsing and that he needed to do teshuvah. However, he resolved to conceal his anxiety from his family as much as possible.
When he returned home, he repeated to his family and fellow chassidim a few insights and teachings he had overheard or that he remembered from previous years, but he didn’t inform anyone that he hadn’t been invited to participate in the Rebbe’s seder. They all assumed that he had joined in the Rebbe’s seder as usual.
When he informed the older members of his family that he was planning to remain in shul every morning for one hour after Shacharis, they thought this was an instruction he had received from the Rebbe. No one realized that it was part of his self-imposed teshuvah regimen.
Shimon then proceeded to focus on the Rebbe’s directive to keep the bottle with him and safeguard it. He realized that in order to fulfill this instruction properly, he would need to put the bottle in a place where he alone could access it, but was still considered “with him.” It was an unsealed bottle, so if it would be left out in the open, one of his family workers might think that it was useable, and he didn’t want to tell anyone that this wine was from the Rebbe’s eser makkos.
After giving the matter some serious thought, he decided to put that bottle on the top shelf in his tavern, where the more expensive bottles were kept behind doors. Moreover, he decided to place it in a small compartment on that shelf which had its own door, and to place a small lock on the door so that no one would take it by mistake.
The next few weeks and months passed by uneventfully. Nevertheless, Shimon intensified his teshuvah, fearing that something harmful would happen to him or to a member of his family.
One very hot summer day, Shimon sat in his tavern, waiting for a customer to come in. Seeing that no one was coming, Shimon began saying Tehillim. He had almost concluded the entire sefer when three men entered the room.
Shimon took out his regular bottle to serve them, but one of the men said, “We would appreciate wine or whiskey of higher quality.” Pulling out a ten-ruble note (which was five times the price of a regular drink), he said, “Please bring us something better.”
Shimon was happy to hear this. These three customers might be his only visitors on this extremely hot day, but if they would take just a few more drinks, he might earn more from them than what he would usually earn from his regular customers! After sipping from their cups, they called him back and said: “That was good, but we want to enjoy something even better. Here is a twenty-ruble note.”
Shimon proceeded to take out a bottle from a higher shelf. After tasting it and paying him for it, they said: “Now please give us your best wine. Don’t worry about the cost; we have plenty of money.” To prove their point, one of them took a thick wad of bills out of his pocket.
Now Shimon was thrilled. This would indeed be a profitable day! He took a step stool and chose a bottle from among those on the top shelf. As he was pouring from it into their cups, two of the men suddenly stood up and grabbed him. Holding him tightly, they warned him not to scream or he would regret it. They then instructed him to sit down, took out a rope from their bag, and tied him up. Next, they stuffed his mouth with a napkin so he wouldn’t be able to scream.
The bandits went behind the counter, and, after emptying the cash register, they began eyeing the bottles on the higher shelves. They then noticed that one of the compartments had a lock on it. Thinking that a very expensive bottle must be behind that door, they broke the lock and removed the bottle.
They sat down next to him and began taunting him. “Aahh, this must be good stuff. Look, only one third of the bottle is left. You must have been saving it for a special occasion. Haha! Are we going to enjoy it!”
One of them brought three clean cups and divided the wine equally among them. Glancing at Shimon, they saw a look of horror on his face, fearful of what is going to happen. However, they took that as a sign of his anguish over his tremendous loss, proving to them that they had indeed discovered a truly special bottle of wine.
Adding insult to injury, one of them placed his cup next to Shimon’s nostrils and said: “We are good guys. We will share the wine with you. Here, take a whiff!” Shimon recoiled in fear and tried to speak, but his voice was muffled by the napkin in his mouth. After clicking their glasses together, they began to sip the wine, hoping to prolong their savoring of every drop.
As soon as they took their first sip, a heavy drowsiness overtook them and they fell into a deep slumber, dropping to the floor. Seeing that they were out cold, Shimon began wiggling around, trying to loosen the rope tied around his body. After a few minutes he succeeded in pushing out the napkin from his mouth and began shouting for help. A few moments passed, and a passerby heard his screams and entered the tavern. He immediately untied Shimon, and together they took the rope along with additional rope and tied up the three men securely. Then, the passerby rushed out to call the local police.
As soon as the officers saw the bandits, they declared: “These men have been terrorizing the area for some time. There is a large reward being offered for any information that leads to their capture, and you will receive it. But please tell us: How did you manage to catch them by yourself, and why are they in such a deep sleep?”
By then his entire family was informed of the close call and converged upon the inn, asking him how he was feeling.
Shimon related to them the entire story of what had transpired the past Pesach, and then added: “Yes, the Rebbe never makes a mistake. The Rebbe saw that I would be in danger and gave me this wine to save me. Perhaps he also saw that I needed to do teshuvah in order to merit to be saved, and therefore he didn’t invite me this year to his seder. What I thought was a punishment, was instead a blessing and indeed a tremendous blessing. How great is the Rebbe’s vision!”
Have a great yom tov.
Dear readers, being that crownheights.com no longer posts comments on stories or articles, if you have any comments or questions please email them to me. The feedback is much appreciated. I can also say that your tremendous interest in the saga of Malka, is one of the reasons that prompted her to share additional details, as she saw it benefited others. Obviously, if it is about her story I would forward them to her.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org