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His Day in Court

Yeruchem Yitzchak Landesman

Jew!” the priest began with a sweet smile. “You see where your luck led you when you cleaved to the religion of your forebears! Your bitter life will change for the good, at once, if you make the wise decision to bring you and your family over to our Christian religion”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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HEARTFELT “We are starving for bread. We are wearing rags and live in a leaky hovel. The priest is offering something that we cannot refuse. A dignified parnassah and a good life. But we won’t really leave you, Ribbono Shel Olam. We will be Jews in our hearts.…”

T he city of Lublin had always been a citadel of the Jewish community, especially once the tzaddik Rav Yaakov Yitzchak — known as the Chozeh (Seer) — established his beis medrash in the town. He was like a prophet, with vision that reached from one end of the world to the other.

During the times of the Chozeh, Jews would stream to Lublin — and everyone found a place in his huge heart. Chassidim and bnei aliyah received guidance on how to reach greater spiritual heights. Simple Jews, and even ignorant villagers, shared their troubles while he compassionately guided and blessed them.

Such was Lemel, a wealthy Jew who had a large whiskey business. As wealthy as he was in money, he was poorly endowed when it came to wisdom or Torah knowledge. However, he did understand that it was worthwhile for him to visit the holy Chozeh from time to time. The brachos of the Seer of Lublin were important to him, as was the precious advice that the Rebbe gave him. The holy court in Lublin saw frequent visits from Lemel, and benefited from the carriage full of food and drink he would bring along to distribute to those holy men who sat in the Rebbe’s court learning or working on their own avodas Hashem. Lemel sincerely wished he could be like them, but his meager knowledge and lack of religious fervor prevented him from finding a place in the beis medrash. Instead, Lemel looked at himself as the Zevulun who supported the yoshvim in any way he could.

But the wheel of fortune goes up and down, and in time, someone informed on Lemel to the authorities, claiming he was concealing part of his income and accusing him of tax evasion. The police ignored their responsibility to actually investigate whether the allegations were true, and immediately set out to raid Lemel’s business. They ordered Lemel and his family out of their home and office, and informed him that his possessions had now been appropriated by the government in lieu of the taxes that he had failed to pay.

Lemel emerged from the shul, but knew he had to make one more stop before going to the priest’s house: the Rebbe of Lublin

Lemel couldn’t believe that the police officers knew everything about his possessions — those informers did their job cleaning him out of everything he owned. The police took everything, warning him not to dare approach his former home — woe to him if he was found trying to take drinks out of the business, or money out of the till.

Over the next few days, Lemel tried to use his connections to appeal this outright robbery in the guise of justice. But he quickly realized that there was no turning back; nothing was retrievable. “You should be thanking us for your freedom, that you were not handcuffed and imprisoned,” the clerks to whom he appealed for help told him.

Had Lemel been a man alone, he would have wallowed in his grief, taken meals at the Jewish soup kitchen and slept in the local hekdesh. But Lemel had a family, and he was driven by his responsibility to support them. Finally he found a new job — as a porter, carrying loads on his shoulders, packages and suitcases. Soon he became hunched over — and who knew if it was because of the physical loads he was forced to carry or due to the burden of grief and humiliation that weighed him down since he had been toppled from his financial perch.

Lemel would go to the market, offering his services to both merchants and customers. He spent hours sitting at the entrance to hotels and inns, asking the guests who alighted from their carriages if he could carry the luggage to their rooms. For all his hard work, his daily earnings didn’t add up to more than a few pennies, which sufficed to buy some bread and vegetables, and maybe a bit more for Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Among Lemel’s regular customers was the priest of the town where he lived. The priest found Lemel to be a faithful worker, yet he also knew about Lemel’s past, and would sympathize with feigned compassion.

“I understand you very well,” he would sigh to the sweating porter as he sat on his chair doing nothing. “You work so hard, and it’s even harder for you, given that you used to be the one ordering the porters around.”

Lemel listened with half an ear, just to be polite, lest he lose a steady customer. But the conniving priest had his scheme well planned out. He constantly empathized with the Jew and his sudden misfortune. “Too bad, too bad,” he clucked. “But you should know that not all hope is lost. A day will come when I will share with you a secret that will restore your wealth to you.”

Lemel began to listen with interest. The priest liked him. He didn’t see Lemel only as a porter, but also took an interest in his welfare and was hoping he’d become wealthy again.

Days passed, and the priest decided he’d already forged a path into the Jew’s heart and that the time had come to make his move. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 660)

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