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In the Balance

Yeruchem Yitzchak Landesman

The evil clerk had him over a barrel. Would he cash in his own Shabbos treasure to save the funds of his friends?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

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QUESTION OF TRUST Yisrael Baruch suddenly felt dizzy and his vision blurred. If he wouldn’t sign, he would not be able to reap the profits from this contract, and he would have nowhere from where to return the deposits to those people who trusted him. And yet if he signed, he would desecrate Shabbos

T he Jews of Skala were ecstatic over the news. In just two weeks, the holy tzaddik, Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin, would arrive to spend Shabbos. The Rebbe had been to the city before — on his flight from Czar Nicholas I, who had him framed for murder and imprisoned for two years. Even after his release from prison, Czar Nicholas planned to have the Rebbe exiled to Siberia on treason charges for attempting to create a “Jewish kingdom.” His plight caused an international stir, as influential Jews throughout Europe petitioned to save the Rebbe from a frozen exile. He was eventually spirited over the Russian border to Moravia and into Austria, passing through Skala before permanently settling in Sadigura, where he rebuilt his majestic chassidic court.

The rav in Skala at the time was Rav Shlomo Drimmer, author of Beis Shlomo and one of the eminent poskim of that generation. He was also thrilled to hear the news that the tzaddik of Ruzhin would be spending a few days in his city. The Rav asked that the Rebbe be housed close to his own home so that he could spend as much time as possible in his company.

For a week, the heads of the community worked tirelessly on plans for the upcoming visit. Accommodations for the Rebbe were arranged, as were schedules for davening and receiving the public. They also made plans to ensure that all the city’s Jews would be able to see him and observe his holy service during the tishen.

When the tzaddik arrived on Wednesday, the city turned out in full force to greet him with singing and dancing. The first two days passed quickly, and then it was Erev Shabbos. Everyone waited outside the house where the Ruzhiner Rebbe was staying. In a short time, he would emerge and head for Minchah. It would be an opportunity to gaze at his holy visage for more than just a fleeting few minutes.

They waited and waited, but the Rebbe didn’t emerge. The gabbaim couldn’t understand what was happening. The Rebbe might be delayed, they murmured to themselves, but the sun waited for no one and was rapidly moving across the horizon to the west, where it was hanging low in the sky. It would soon be Shabbos. The Rebbe, seemingly unfazed by the late hour, asked that Rav Shlomo Drimmer, the rav of the city, be summoned. The Ruzhiner Rebbe welcomed him warmly and asked him if he had time for a story.

“We were able to effect that his verdict be rendered in This World,” the Rebbe told Rav Drimmer. “The keys to this ruling are in your hands. Please render a verdict for this poor man.”

Rav Drimmer, who was well versed in the ways of tzaddikim, didn’t even bother to respond. If the Rebbe was asking such a question, it meant his job was to listen, even if he didn’t understand what was going on, or why it couldn’t wait.

The Holy Ruzhiner related the story of Yisrael Baruch, a wealthy, respected Jew, who was both a seasoned merchant and a fair, honest, and generous businessman. Everyone admired him and trusted him implicitly. He earned a reputation for giving sage financial advice, and many flocked to him to hear his opinions about how they should invest their money — or if they should hold onto it and stash it away in a safe place. Yisrael Baruch provided another service as well. Many people deposited their money with him, sure that he would guard it well and knowing that he would return it immediately upon their request. His safe had huge sums of ruble bills and promissory notes belonging to laymen, as well as widows, orphans, and people who had come upon bad luck and had deposited the little money they had left in order to save it from their creditors.

Of course, this businessman made sure to worry about himself too. He forged ties with government figures in the hope that he’d get one of their tenders. And it turned out that those contacts soon paid off.

An intriguing rumor reached Yisrael Baruch’s ears from St. Petersburg. He heard that the government had decided to build a network of roads that would feed into the big city, and that the state treasury had allocated a huge sum for the complex project. Many viewed it as a pipe dream, but as soon as the Czar himself signed on an order to execute the project, it would become reality. And so a tender was issued, with the promise of huge profits and preferred status for future deals for the winning contract…

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