by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon
Dear readers, the first part of this weeks’ story is taken from my book on Reb Hillel Paritcher and the second part is from the upcoming expanded edition of Farbreng With Reb Hillel.
While there are some days designated by chassidim as auspicious times to farbreng, in truth, every day is a good day on which to farbreng. Sometimes a spacious and comfortable place is available, but other times, you make do with whatever is available. One time, some chassidim gathered together to farbreng in a cellar, as that was the only place available.
Understandably, the light there was extremely dim. When, in middle of the farbrengen, one of the chassidim entered, he commented on how dim and dark it was and that he could barely see who was next to him. One of the participants replied: “Don’t worry. After one is here for a while, he becomes accustomed to it; he is able to adjust to the darkness and see his way around.”
Hearing this, Reb Hillel responded, “That is the problem: becoming accustomed to darkness and thinking it is light. Always remember that you are in darkness and strive to elevate yourself above it.”
Mashpiim would ask, “At a certain level, are we not that person to whom Reb Hillel responded to?” and they would relate the following moshol to bring out this point.
There was an individual who rented an inn from the local Poritz (squire). Business was going quite good, so as his children married they remained there, taking on various responsibilities of running the inn and expanding it.
However, the wheel of fortune began turning and the inn was no longer generating enough money to support all of his children, but the ever optimistic innkeeper hoped this is only a temporary downturn. So at the end of the year, when he had to pay his rent and renew his lease, he asked the squire to allow him to use the rent money to upgrade the inn and the following year, he will pay for two years rent.
Being that he has always paid on time, the squire didn’t realize that the innkeeper didn’t have all the money, so he thought he is getting a double boon, an improved inn plus the full amount, and he agreed.
The innkeeper, indeed did make some cosmetic improvements, hoping it would draw in new customers. He painted the outside, put up nice shades for the windows etc., however, his token efforts did not succeed, and as the next year came to an end, and he now had to pay the rent fees for two years, but he didn’t have it. When he informed the squire that he couldn’t even pay the rent for one year, the squire was beside himself, and as often happened in such circumstances he ordered that the innkeeper and all of his descendants living there be thrown into a deep underground pit/cave.
His henchman wasted no time and before anyone could move away, they were arrested and placed into this pit until someone, a relative or a friend, would ransom them and pay the rent that they owe.
However, the squire wasn’t a wicked person, he instructed his servants to daily supply the prisoners with food and drink. He explained, they are there only in order that I receive the debt they owe, however, it is not a death sentence. So every day a servant would take a large basket of various foods and drinks from the palace kitchen and lower it down into the pit.
Time passed and one day the servant hears the cry of a newborn baby. Realizing that someone gave birth, he made sure to note that he has to begin bringing additional food, and so it continued. Sorry to say no one came to redeem the family and they languished there many years. However, as noted it wasn’t so bad, because each time another child was born miraculously additional food was provided.
Meanwhile the family in this underground pit realized they are there for the long haul and they began digging and exploring, and they realized this pit opens to an extremely large cave, where there is spacious room for each individual family to settle and take care of their personal needs.
As the years passed the elderly innkeeper and his wife passed on and were buried with due respect and life in the cave continued. Some of the grandchildren or great grandchildren came up with ingenious concepts and they were all comfortable. As the innkeepers children and older grandchildren began passing away, their descendants began having the following discussion.
We were born here, our parents were born here and so were our great-grandparents. This must be the entire civilization. And therefore our destiny is in our hands. Let us explore the ends of this endless cave and see if we can find and discover new horizons, after all we have to plan for the future.
While others responded and said, I remember hearing from my grandparents, who said that when they were youngsters they used to live in a big world, however, the family couldn’t pay the rent so they were placed in this dungeon, pit cave or whatever you want to call it. But I am telling you there is a bigger world and power outside of this place, and the proof to that is; every morning when we awake, we find numerous large baskets of food. Don’t you people realize that there must be someone else who is living out of here that is providing us with all our needs!
Come on, are you serious, they replied. Don’t you know this has happened for the past few hundred years, and that is what is called nature, that is how the world works, but this is the only place that people live in and we are responsible to ourselves and to no one else!
The others countered, just because you didn’t hear from your great grandparents this point that we stated in the name of our grandparents, doesn’t mean that what we said is not true. The fact is there is a bigger power than us; yes it is a power that is not apparently visible, but anyone with true vision will realize that what we said in the name of our ancestors is the truth!!
And this my friends is the discussion between Reb Hillel and the person who said you will get accustomed to it and it won’t be dark any longer.
We are living in a situation when to some the hand of Hashem is not apparent, but others remind us that even though it may not be apparent to us, that doesn’t take away the fact of the matter that He constantly recreates the world and supplies us with all our needs.
And as the Rebbe would often say, “The way we set ourselves on Shabbos Bereishis, so goes the entire year.” Let us realize there is light and dark, and light is light and dark is dark.
(Author’s note:) I usually don’t mention the lesson to be learned from a story or saying, but since the Rebbe taught the lesson to be learned from this story of Reb Hillel, I would be remiss were I not to mention it.
We are in golus — but after being in exile for so many years, one may, G‑d forbid, become accustomed, and indeed happy, in that situation. We must always remember that we are in golus — and no matter how good it is materialistically, golus is darkness. Only when we will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu will it be bright and light. We must endeavor every day to accomplish this.
The author can be contacted at email@example.com.