By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
It was well after midnight on the night of Passover, and the great Tzaddik Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bredichev, sitting at the head of table, had just finished his Passover Seder with all his pupils, according to all the mystical and esoteric principles found in the awesome mystical works of the Arizal.
Those present had never experienced such a thing, they felt they had been transported into a different world, as though they had gone out of all their limitations and into a world of pure G-dliness.
Suddenly the room filled with a deep rumbling sound of massive thunder, and an awesome voice announced:
“Levi Yitzchak of Bredichev, your Seder was pleasing to G-d! But that of Shmerl-the-Sandler of Bredichev, was better!!!!”
The Rebbe looked around him, and it was obvious that only he had heard the heavenly announcement.
“Has anyone heard of a tzaddik here in our town called Shmerl the Sandler?” He asked his Chassidim… No answer.
After several minutes of silence one of the elderly Chassidim piped up and said, “There is one Shmerl here that I know of, and he used to be a shoemaker about thirty years ago, but was only for a few weeks and he’s certainly no Tzadik. In fact he’s pretty far from that. They call him Shmerl-the-Shikker (drunkard) and he lives with his wife in a few old large shipping crates near the railroad tracks.”
Rav Levi Yitchak was thinking, ‘Aha, this must be one of the hidden Tzadikim living here in my town and I knew nothing about it!’
He left the room and a few minutes later and at two in the morning was standing in front of Shmerl’s door. He knocked gently, the door opened and an old Jewish lady poked her head out.
“Good Yom Tov!” Rabbi Levi said quietly,” Please excuse me for the late hour. Is your husband Shmerl at home? Is he awake?”
“Oh! It’s the Rabbi!” She exclaimed as she made sure her hair was covered. “Good Yom Tov.” She answered, “Ahh! You came to curse my husband Just wait one minute please, Rebbe, wait right here.”
She disappeared back into the house and the unmistakable sound of a bucket being filled with water was heard from inside. Then a minute or two of silence and suddenly… SPLASH! She threw the bucket of water on her sleeping husband!!
“Aaahh!!! Oyyy!!! Where am I?? Oy Vay!!! I’m drowning!! We’re sinking!!” He screamed, and then his wife chimed in shouting “Get up you drunk!!! The Rabbi has come to punish you!!! Wake up you good for nothing!!!!”
Poor Shmerl staggered, sopping wet, to the door, and when he saw that it really was the Rabbi, he fell to his knees and began weeping, “Please Rabbi don’t punish me I didn’t know better! I’m sorry! Please have mercy!!!”
The Rabbi was completely astounded at this bizarre scene. Could this be the man whose Seder was better than his own?
He lifted poor Shmerl to his feet and said, “Listen, Shmerl, I didn’t come to punish you, in fact I don’t even know what you are talking about. I only want to ask you something. Please let me in. Go put on a dry shirt an we’ll talk.”
Minutes later they sat facing each other over Shmerl’s small table. Rav Levi looked at him kindly and softly said: “Shmerl, don’t worry, I’m not going to punish you, I promise. I want you to tell me what you did in your Seder last night.”
“Oooy!” moaned Shmerl and began weeping again, “I didn’t mean it, I don’t know any better, oooy!” It was obvious that he was drunk.
Gradually he calmed down and began speaking. “Well. When I was young my parents died. So I lived by my relatives here and there. I wasn’t so good in school either so …. Well… I didn’t really learn to read and all that. When I got older, they found me a wife and I even learned shoemaking. But that lasted a week or so. I put the nails in the wrong places. Anyway, I discovered that one thing I was good at, was getting drunk. I used to ask for charity, give half to my wife and drink the rest.
“Well, early this morning, that is… yesterday morning, I’m walking in the street and suddenly I notice that people are rushing, rushing around. This one has a broom this one is carrying a box, this one a bag or something else, everyone is rushing except me.
So I stopped someone I knew and asked him, what is everyone rushing for?’
So he answers me, ‘Oy Shmerl, you forgot that tonight is Pesach?! Tonight is Pesach! Do you remember what Pesach is?? Everyone is getting ready for Pesach.’
I tried thinking but my mind wouldn’t work, ‘Pesach, Pesach, I couldn’t’ remember.
The man said, ‘Listen, Shmerl, tonight and tomorrow night is Pesach, you can’t eat bread, and tonight and in a few hours, you have to make a Seder. You remember? Eat three matzos, four cups of wine. But what is really important to you is… you can’t drink vodka… for eight days.”
‘Eight days!!!’ I said, ‘Why?? Why can’t I drink for eight days?’ I was trembling and beginning to remember a little.
‘Because that’s the law! That’s what G-d says’ he answered, ‘Eight days you can’t eat Chumatz and Vodka is Chumatz”. Then he gave me some money and told me to buy meat, fish, Matzot, wine, wished me a Happy Holiday’ shook my hand and hurried away.
I was stunned. But I knew I had to act fast, so I took the money, bought what he told me, took it home to my wife and with what money was left I bought two bottles of Vodka and drank the entire thing…. Enough for eight days. Then I came home and fell asleep.
Well. That night, that is …. just a few hours ago, I was sleeping in my bed when suddenly my wife throws a bucket of water on me, you saw how she does it, and starts screaming: ‘Shmerl, you bum! You drunk! You good for nothing! All the Jewish men in the world are making a Pesach Seder tonight and YOU are laying there like a dead cow. Wake up and make a Seder!!!!’.
So I staggered to my feet, put on some dry clothes and sat down at the table.
I looked around and it was like heaven. Everything was new, clean, I felt so different. My wife was in a new dress sitting like a queen. The table was with a white tablecloth, candles were shining and sparkling from the plates and silverware.
“There was wine and the Matzot, the Haggada (prayer book for Passover night) was open in front of me, and my wife was sitting in her place opposite me smiling. Everything was so quiet. She said, ‘Shmerl, make the seder.”
“Then you know what I did? I mean, I don’t really even know how to read, so you know what I did?
“I looked up and I started talking to G-d. Just like I’m talking to you now. I said, ‘G-d… listen… I don’t know you, but you know me. You know that I don’t know how to read this book, in fact I can’t read anything! And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do tonight either; in fact, I never really know what to do.
“But one thing I do know is that a long time ago the Jews were in trouble in Egypt and You sent Moshe to take them out. And I’m SURE that you will send Moshiach to take us out of all our troubles now!!’
Then I drank the four cups, ate some Matzas and went back to sleep. That is what I did. Please don’t be mad Rabbi.”
Rav Levi Yitzchak closed his eyes and began rocking from side to side.
“Now I know why your Seder was better than mine.
“In my Seder I had other things on my mind like all the deep meanings and secrets of the words. But you thought, with your whole heart only of the redemption. That is what Passover is really about!”
May the prayers of Jews for thousands of years be answered now and nay this Pesach be celebrated with all Am Yisroel together in Jerusalem in the Holy Temple.
And we can make it happen by just one more good deed, word or even thought.
Wishing all our readers a Kosher and Happy Pesach with Moshiach now!
Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim
Kfar Chabad, Israel