Stories Of Pesach
House of the Poor
The holiday of Pesach has become synonymous with aiding the poor and the needy. In the city of Kovno where the great Reb Yisroel Salanter was chief rabbi, there was a special house set aside to house and provide food for the very poor.
Unfortunately, the house was dilapidated and in great disrepair. Reb Yisroel tried many times to get people to contribute to its upkeep, however, too few people heeded his plea, and the condition of the build-ing got worse with each passing day.
One Pesach, before the seder began, Reb Yisroel put on his coat and left his warm and comfortable house. The hours flew by and still he did not return. His wife was frantic, and rushed out for help in trying to discover what had happened to him.
Refuses To Leave
The people searched every house in the city for Reb Yisroel, and only found him when they came to the house set aside for the poor. To their horror, he was lying flat on the floor amid the squalor and dirt sound asleep. Next to him, the poor people also lay. They had no choice, for all the beds were broken.
The people begged Rabbi Yisroel to leave the dilapidated building and return home. However, he adamantly refused.
"I will not go home," he kept saying over and over again.
Soon, word of the incident spread throughout the city and it created quite an uproar. Imagine! The rabbi of the city, the greatest rabbi of his generation, lying in such filth! And on the night of the seder, too!
"Please, rabbi," they begged, "Please come home. This is no place for you to be on the night of Pesach."
But Reb Yisroel stood firm. "No, I will not go home until this house is repaired and made fit for people to live in. Are these people any worse than me?"
His words made a deep impression on the community and within hours, enough money was pledged to guarantee that the building would be repaired and made into a decent place in which to live.
Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev was known as the great "defense attorney" for the Jewish people. Under any and all circumstances, he was able to find a good word to say about his special nation.
One Pesach eve, after the chometz (bread) had been searched for and burned, he took his shamash (assistant) with him for a walk through the streets of the town.
Meeting a peasant, he stopped him and asked quietly, "Tell me, would you perhaps have a little smuggled silk to sell? I need it very badly."
"Indeed, I do," replied the peasant. "I have as much as you want"
The rabbi thanked him and continued on his way to the amazement of his dumb-founded shamash.
Reb Levi Yitzhak continued on his way, and met a Jew trudging along the street.
"Shalom Aleichem," he said. "Tell me my friend, perhaps you can let me have some chometz?"
The Jew looked at him in horror and said: "Rebbe, how can you suspect me of such a thing? Do I dare have chometz on the eve of Pesach, G-d forbid!"
Reb Levi Yitzhak paused and lifted his eyes to the heavens and said:
"Behold, O L-rd of the Universe, what a great people are our children, Israel. The Russian czar is a fierce and mighty ruler. He prohibits the smuggling of goods into his land and posts soldiers and police with deadly weapons to watch the frontiers day and night. If anyone is caught he is brought before a judge and immediately sentenced to a severe prison term.
"Nevertheless, all kinds of goods are smuggled in and the peasants defy him almost openly.
"You, on the other hand, wrote a few words in your Holy Torah, saying: 'And no leavened bread shall be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven found in all thy borders.'
"There are no soldiers to guard against violating this law and no judges and prisons to punish the violators. Still, as soon as the hour of prohibition arrives, not a crumb is to be found in a Jewish home!"
Peas For Pesach
The rabbi of Byalostok, the great Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver, used to make sure that Jewish soldiers in the Czar's army who were stationed near his city would be supplied with kosher food so as not to have to eat from the general army rations.
One week before Passover, he was approached by a delegation of wealthy men from the city who said:
"Rabbi, we have a problem. The price of meat is very high this year. We shall be unable to pay for the meals of the Jewish soldiers this year."
When Rabbi Shmuel heard this, he said:
"Very well, I will call together the Bet Din (the rabbinical court) and we will allow the use of peas this Pesach. "
"Excellent," replied the head of the city. "I was very worried about what the poor soldiers would eat. Now you have come up with an excellent solution; they can eat peas."
"Who said anything about the soldiers eating peas?" asked the rabbi. You, I, and the entire city will eat peas, but the soldiers will eat our meat.”
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Page last updated - 03/20/2009