Although Hershele Ostropolier was a scholar, he was better known as a jester, and more than once he would refer to the Gemara (Ta’anis 22a) where Eliyahu HaNavi pointed to two men and told Rabi Beroka, “These two men have a share in the World to Come.” Rabi Beroka approached them and asked, “What are your occupations?”
They replied, “We are jesters. When we see depressed people, we cheer them up.”
When Hershele Ostropolier came to Reb Baruch of Medzhibez to cheer him up and lighten his burden, he was met with hostile stares from the rav’s wife. She used every opportunity to abuse him and make his life miserable. Once, when he tried to defend himself, she turned her back on him insultingly and said, “Your excuses make me deaf – you are making so much noise that I can’t hear you!”
Hershele smarted under this abuse, but he kept quiet.
Sometime afterwards, the rav’s wife said to him, “I’d like to get to know your wife. Ask her to come visit me.”
“She’ll regard it as a great honor,” replied Hershele. “But I must warn you, she is hard of hearing and you will have to shout.”
“I understand,” replied the rav’s wife. “But I will manage.”
Both Women Meet
When the two women met, they began to shout and scream at each other. They shouted so loud that their screams reached the rav’s study where he was closeted with his disciples. Frightened, the rav rushed into his wife’s room. Imagine his amazement when he saw the two women shouting at each other. Their voices were hoarse and they were both at the point of collapse.
“What is the meaning of this?” cried Reb Baruch. “Why are you shouting at each other?”
“Hershele’s wife is hard of hearing,” gasped his wife, “and I had to scream to make her hear me.”
“And why do you shout?” the rav asked Hershele’s wife.
“What could I do? Your wife is hard of hearing,” whispered the poor woman barely able to talk.
“My wife is hard of hearing deaf?” cried the rav. “Who told you that?”
“Hershele did,” she replied. Hershele, in the meantime, stood near the rav, enjoying himself.
“You impudent person,” said Reb Baruch. “Explain yourself, what kind of a joke is this?”
“I am innocent,” replied Hershele. “You can blame your wife. The other day she claimed that I was making her deaf with my excuses. Well, what did you expect? I shouldn’t believe her? One must never doubt a rav’s wife and, accordingly, I had to warn my wife about her.”
“But why did you tell me that your wife was hard of hearing?” whispered Reb Baruch’s wife in a hoarse voice.
“What a foolish question,” replied Hershele. “Imagine, if after only a few months I made you deaf with my excuses, how deaf do you think I’ve made my wife after being married 20 years to her? Don’t either of you say that I didn’t warn you!”
Kept His Word
It seems that Hershele’s life consisted of only one problem – raising enough money to feed his wife and children. One day, as Hershele walked into his home, his wife greeted him at the door with one word, “Money!”
Hershele replied, “I have no money.”
“I must have it,” she replied, “or the children will go hungry tonight. I don’t care how you do it, but I must have money to buy food.”
Calling his oldest son over, Hershele said to him in a stern voice, “Go to our next door neighbor and borrow a whip.”