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To Live for Others: Chapter 1    

“How could a butcher be compared to someone who utilized every moment to learn Torah?”


There once lived a very holy man, let us call him “the chassid,” who spent his life immersed in learning. He would toil over the Torah, exerting himself to understand the holy words. He also taught others, and between his own learning and his teaching, he barely had any time to rest.

When people would ask the chassid how he survived, he would shrug and brush off their question.

“I survive on Torah. You could as well, if you train your body when you are young. Then, when you’re an old man, it will become like second nature to cast sleep from your eyes and drag your weary bones to your sefer.”

And the chassid would always add, a twinkle in his eye,

“Besides, for what do I need so much sleep? After I have passed on to the world of truth, my body will have a nice long time to rest, comfortable and secure in the grave.…”

But even when the chassid did finally lay his head down to rest on his flimsy pillow and rickety cot, his mind would often soar to the upper realms. Sometimes he was able to travel further than others, but it was quite often that he was able to perceive and communicate with the happenings of the higher worlds, which most people are not even aware of.

And then, one night, the chassid had an incredible dream. He was somewhere in Shamayim, his soul untethered momentarily from his earthly body, and he took the opportunity to inquire about something which he had often wondered about.

“Who will be with me, on my level, in Gan Eden?”

The response shook the chassid to his core.

“The butcher will be on your level.”

“The butcher?!”

The chassid awoke, and he was not pleased at all. The butcher was to be his neighbor in Shamayim? He, the chassid, who sacrificed his bodily pleasures and indulgences to engage in ruchniyus, immersed in Torah and tefillah all day long? How could he be equated with a butcher? The butcher may very well have been shomer Shabbos, but there are levels to spiritual achievement, are there not?

The entire day, the chassid found the dream pestering him, robbing him of his menuchas hanefesh. Dreams are just dreams, not always a reflection of true reality, the chassid tried to console himself. Sometimes messages given over in dreams are not even transmitted through pure sources, and sometimes bad forces try to confuse and antagonize someone through dreams. The chassid thought about all of this, but he could not make himself feel better. This dream had indeed felt real, and the message had thrown him off-kilter.

It did not help when the chassid returned to sleep that following night and dreamed the same exact dream. This time he remained in the Shamayim a bit longer.

“Why? Please explain to me why a butcher will be with me? How could a butcher be compared to someone who utilized every moment to learn Torah?”

No answer was forthcoming. It was a secret, something that could not be revealed to those who were not privy to the information, the chassid was told. But the chassid was determined. He would find out about this butcher, one way or the other.

He performed a taanis chalom, following a certain procedure where one could try to attain a special dream in which his question would be answered. His dream that followed was indeed otherworldly, but Heaven would not permit him to understand the reasoning behind the butcher’s special placement in Gan Eden.

A few more nights like these followed, and more taaniyos chalom, but no answers.

The chassid decided he would try a different route. If they would not provide him with the explanation in Heaven, then perhaps someone on Earth would enlighten him. He donned his cloak early the next morning and went to the butcher store to investigate.

He stood by the window watching the butcher with interest. Hmmm…. He looked like a nice, erlicher yid, but nothing special. After a few hours, the chassid realized he wasn’t going to be seeing anything too exceptional. If he wanted answers, he would have to ask the butcher himself. The chassid entered the store and greeted the butcher.

“Shalom aleichem, Reb Yid.”

“Aleichem shalom.”

The butcher bowed his head respectfully. He had a long, red, frizzy beard, and wore a bloodied apron around his torso. In one hand he held a huge slab of meat, and in the other, a sharp cleaver.

“To what do I owe the honor of receiving such an esteemed guest?”

“Well, my friend, it seems that you are the one who is an esteemed individual.”

“Me? I’m just a simple butcher.”

“No, apparently you are much more than simple. Tell me, please, what types of things do you do outside of your work?”

“I don’t understand…”

“Walk me through a typical day in your life.”

“Well….” The butcher placed the cleaver and meat down on the counter. He wiped his large hands on his apron, his eyes staring out the window, his expression thoughtful. “I suppose I try to live my life according to the Torah. Even when it is very hard, and times are difficult financially, I make sure my scales and weighing instruments are always calibrated to the best extent possible. I would rather suffer a loss than allow customers to walk away having been given a lesser amount of meat than they paid for, even if it’s a miniscule amount.

“Let me see now.… What else can I say about my life? Well, I make sure to go to shul to daven with a minyan three times a day, and whenever I have free time to learn I try to maximize the opportunity. I give tzedakah as well.…”

The butcher stared at the chassid and said point blank.

“To be completely honest, I am not much different than any of the other shopkeepers here. They can also claim the same good deeds that I just enumerated. I’m not sure what you’re trying to discover, but I can assure you, there’s nothing extraordinary about me or my life whatsoever.”

The chassid frowned. Something in his heart told him that the butcher was not being forthcoming. There was a story here just waiting to be told. The chassid was sure of it…

to be continued… 


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 946)

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