Tunisia, Africa, 1700s

A heavy rain swept across the land as the darkness of night reigned. Huddled comfortably inside their homes, the citizens of Tunisia slept peacefully. Only one man was awake, the great tzaddik Reb Tzemach Tzarfati.

“Light! I need light!” the tzaddik muttered to himself as he searched his house desperately for a lamp. He could not find the lamp that enabled him to sit for hours through the night and learn Torah.

“There’s no other choice,” he said, as he stared at the heavy rains sweeping across the ground outside his window. “I must go to one of my neighbors and borrow a lamp!”

With only a thin cloak to keep his bones warm, the tzaddik darted into the stormy night and raced to the neighboring house.

The tzaddik knocked on the door of an Arab neighbor. “Aibtaead ‘aw arhl! [Go away]” a gruff voice boomed in Arabic. “I’m trying to enjoy my midnight snack in peace!”

Ana asif! [I’m sorry]” the tzaddik replied. “I just need to borrow a lamp!”

The door swung open and a heavyset Arab man with a bristling handlebar mustache glared out at the tzaddik who stood in the pouring rain.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” the tzaddik repeated over the sound of the fierce storm. “I’m searching for a lamp.”

“And I’m searching for the delicious, spicy harissa my wife prepared for me,” the Arab fumed. “I have all of my snacks set up, spiced couscous, tender tajine, creamy hot lablabi… But it’s all going to taste bland without my harissa!”

“I-I’m sorry about your missing spice,” the tzaddik said.

“Being sorry for me won’t solve the problem!” the gluttonous Arab barked. Without another word he slammed the door shut.

House after house, the tzaddik received the same response.

“Aibtaead ‘aw arhl! [Go away]” all the sleepy Arab neighbors yelled.

Finally, at the last house, someone opened the door.

Maasā’ al-khayr [good evening]” a bleary-eyed Arab baker named Ali said, as he stared curiously at the tzaddik. “How can I help you?”

 

“Thank you for opening the door,” the tzaddik answered gratefully. “I’m in need of a lamp and fire. I cannot pursue my learning and prayers without sufficient light.”

“I understand,” Ali replied. He seemed deep in thought as he pondered whether to help the Jewish sage or not. Finally, he took a deep breath and said, “Wait here, please.”

A few minutes later he returned with a lamp.

“I can kindle a flame for you at my bakery,” Ali told the tzaddik. “Come.”

Braving the relentless downpour of freezing rain, the two men sloshed their way through the muddy streets. Ali fumbled with his keys as he struggled to open the heavy doors to his bakery. Eventually the key turned in the lock and they entered the sweet-smelling building.

Ali grunted and sweated as he started a fire inside one of his ovens. With a sigh of relief he lit the lamp and handed it to the tzaddik.

After thanking Ali profusely, the tzaddik left the bakery and began his journey home. Suddenly, a fierce wind snuffed out the small flame flickering inside the lamp. Ali was watching from his window and saw what had happened. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 711)