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July 23, 2014 / 25 Tammuz, 5774
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Stories Of Pesach


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Pesach is synonymous with aiding the poor and the needy. In the city of Kovno where the great Reb Yisroel Salanter was the chief rabbi, there was a special house set aside for the very poor; there they were housed and given food. Unfortunately, the house was a dilapidated one and in massive disrepair. Reb Yisroel knew its wretched condition, and he tried many times to get people to contribute to its upkeep. But too few people heeded his plea, and the condition of the building got worse with each passing day. One Seder night, Reb Yisroel put on his coat and left his warm and comfortable house. The hours flew by and he did not return. His wife was frantic, and she rushed out for help in trying to discover what had happened to him.

The people searched every house in the city, and only when they came to the poor people’s building did they find him. 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 Reb Yisroel to leave the dilapidated building and to 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 an uproar. Imagine! The rav of the city, the greatest of his generation, lying in such filth! And on the night of the Seder, too! “Please, Rebbe,” they begged, “please come home. This is no place for you to be.” 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 people. One Bedikas Chometz night, after the chometz (leaven) had been searched for and burned, he took his shamash 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 rav 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: “How can you suspect me of such a thing? Do I dare have chometz on the eve of Pesach!”

Reb Levi Yitzhak paused and lifted his eyes to the heavens and said: “Behold, Master 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!”

*************

Rav Akiva Eiger was a man of extraordinary humility and sensitivity. Every Pesach he would invite the poor to come and eat at his table. One year, as they were dining, one of the poor guests accidentally knocked over a cup of wine, staining the tablecloth. The man turned red with shame and Rav Akiva saw this. Without hesitation, he also knocked over his cup.

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