The stories concerning Rav Naftali of Ropshitz are quite numerous and reveal his sharp biting wit. Rav Naftali was often persecuted and sneered at by misnagdim but the sharp mind with which he was blessed always served him in good stead in finding proper answers.
It happened once that a misnaged, seeking to annoy and tease Rav Naftali, asked him:
“What do you think? Will Moshiach be a misnaged or a chassid?”
To the surprise of everyone who was listening, including the mocking misnaged, Rav Naftali answered:
“I would imagine that Moshiach will probably prove to be a misnaged.”
The crowd looked at the rav in astonishment and asked: “How can the Rebbe say such a thing?”
Rav Naftali smiled and answered: “It is simple. If Moshiach would turn out to be a chassid, the misnagdim would not believe in him even if he turned out to be as great as Moshe Rabbeinu. Chassidim, however, are prepared to believe in anyone who is sincerely a G-d fearing person…”
Why Always Whiskey?
Yet another time, a misnaged asked Rav Naftali: “Rav, something has always puzzled me about the customs of the chassidim and perhaps you can enlighten me.
“It is the custom of the chassidim to drink whiskey at all joyous occasions – a wedding, a bris or a pidyon haben.
“On the other hand, should there be, G-d forbid, a tragic time, for example, a yahrzeit, they drink whiskey as well. How is it possible that the two contradictory events, happiness and tragedy, evoke the same reaction?”
It Is The Blessing Which Counts
Rav Naftali replied: “Let me explain it to you. It is not the drinking of the whiskey that is important, but rather the opportunity to say the bracha before drinking the whiskey, which, as you know, is Shehakol – Blessed be Thou … at Whose word everything was created.
“You know that chazal have taught us that a man is obligated to make a bracha in times of tragedy just as in times of happiness, and this concept is embodied in the bracha of Shehakol, and this is why we drink whiskey on all occasions.”
“But Rebbe,” the man asked, “if the whole purpose is to be able to say the blessing of Shehakol, why drink whiskey? The same blessing is said before drinking water, too.”
“That is true,” replied Rav Naftali with a smile, “but let me ask you this. When a chassid is so holy and good in that he disregards tragedy and praises his maker even in his sadness – is he not entitled to a glass of whiskey…?”
But Not A Fool…
Rav Naftali was constantly trying to uplift his chassidim and teach them not to be foolish. Once he was asked:
“In the Haggadah we find that there are four kinds of sons mentioned and they are described: One is a wise one and one is a wicked one…
“Is this not a strange and incorrect form? After all, the opposite of a ‘wise’ person is not a ‘wicked’ person but a ‘foolish’ person?”
To which Rav Naftali answered: “The reason is this. The wise son prayed to the Almighty and said: ‘Sovereign of the universe, I would prefer that You put me next to a wicked person just so long as you keep me away from a fool.’ ”
In a similar vein, another chassid asked Rav Naftali: “Why is the order of the four sons in the Haggadah as follows: Wise, wicked, simple, and unable to ask? Why is the wicked son placed before the simple one?”
“Because,” replied Rav Naftali, “the wicked son has a possibility of changing and becoming even greater than the wise son. He need only repent from his evil ways and he will be truly great, as chazal said: ‘In the place where the repentant stands, not even the totally righteous can stand.’ But the simple son, who has no brains, has no possibility of ever becoming better…”