To Live for Others: Chapter 2| January 31, 2023
“Wait, wait — before you brush that question off, just take a moment please… I want you to be honest with me”
he chassid leaned forward onto the countertop with a sigh.
“Reb Yid, there’s no question in my mind that you are a special, erlicher Yid. But there are many righteous men who work on this block, who share the same special qualities you just enumerated. This city is filled with Yidden who are honest in business, who try to utilize free moments from their busy day to serve their Creator through Torah and tefillah.”
“I agree 100 percent.” The butcher shrugged his large shoulders. “I know personally that the men who work here are all G-d fearing, upright men. I’ve known them for years. Like myself, they love Hashem, and serve Him to the best of their abilities. Like I said previously, if you are looking for something special about me, well, I don’t think you’re going to find it.”
At this point, the butcher chuckled heartily, his eyes sparkling.
“If you are searching for a hidden tzaddik, something out of the stories of the Baal Shem Tov where incredible talmidei chachamim were uncovered in the most unlikely of places, you are not going to find that here. Just me, a simple Jew — or as simple as a Jew can be, anyhow, as we are all royal sons of the Master of the World.”
The chassid did not budge. “Think back to the past… perhaps there is something you are forgetting about. When you were a youngster, perhaps? There must have been an act of chesed you did that surpassed normal human comprehension. Wait, wait — before you brush that question off, just take a moment please… I want you to be honest with me.”
A commotion outside the store made both the butcher and the chassid lift their eyes and peer outside the windows. Someone’s wagon had gotten stuck in the mud, and a crowd of people were trying to drag the wagon out of the mess.
The butcher’s eyes clouded over, tears filming around the outer layer of his eyes.
The chassid noticed.
“Reb Yid, I see there is something you are not sharing with me.”
“There was another day, many years ago, when a wagon got stuck in the mud outside my store….”
The butcher swung his gaze from the trapped wagon to the chassid’s face.
“I’ve never told anyone this story. I would prefer to keep it to myself. But since I see how much it means to you, I will tell you what occurred to me many years ago….”
As the butcher spoke, his voice soft and hoarse with emotion, the chassid felt himself being sent back, to another time, but the same place….
The butcher rushed to his store on that fateful morning, his feet slipping and sliding through the muddy roads. He was late to open his store, and time was of the essence. He fumbled with his keys as he opened his store, the line of people outside grumbling and voicing their complaints.
“Please be moichel me, everyone. I’m no malach. Timeliness is not one of my strong character traits. Everyone gets a small discount from their meats today, how’s that?”
The grumbling instantly quieted down, and everyone filed into the store, following at the butcher’s heels.
The butcher donned his apron, expertly tying the straps behind his back without looking, moving with the expertise that only years of work can buy. Cleaver in hand, his gaze landed on the first eager customer.
“Good morning! What can I get for you?”
The cleaver sliced away efficiently, the butcher’s large hands delicately weighing each piece of meat on his carefully calibrated scales.
“Don’t forget the discount….”
“Of course, of course.”
The butcher’s son came into the store.
“Zalman! Good timing. Give me a hand behind the counter. These Yidden all have somewhere important to be.”
Together, father and son quickly took care of each of their customers.
Then, there was a commotion outside the store. The butcher and his son glanced outside.
“Oy… this seems to happen at least every week.”
“The mud on this block is like quicksand… and people are still trying to take their wagons through here.…”
The butcher watched as the wagon driver began screaming, shaking his fists in rage at no one in particular.
“Not a Yid. Doesn’t look like a local goy, either. Must be passing through.”
Then, two large men, with hardened expressions on their faces, emerged from the back of the wagon. They got to work, alternating between pulling at the wagon wheels and aiming harsh kicks into the side of the poor horse attached to the wagon.
The butcher put down his cleaver, took off his apron, and threw it over the countertop. He walked out of the store, and the first sounds he heard were the vulgar words streaming from the angry men.
“Can I help you?”
The butcher kneeled down as the men worked in the mud, getting themselves filthy as they tugged uselessly at the wagon wheels that seemed cemented into the ground.
“Yeah, you can help. Grab the wheels and start pulling!”
The butcher shook his head.
“That won’t do anything. You need rope.”
“You have any?”
“I can search my store.”
The butcher shook his head at the lack of middos of these harsh, coarse men. Nonetheless, perhaps out of compassion for the wounded horse buckling underneath the pain of so many kicks, the butcher went back into his store.
“Zalman, please go look in the back room and see if we have any more rope left.”
The butcher turned back toward the wagon.
He suddenly heard pitiful crying from inside the wagon. It was a bitter wail of mourning, of pain and sorrow.
“It sounds like someone’s crying inside….”
One of the men looked up, his eyes cold as ice.
“Mind your own business!”
The butcher could have. Many would have. But some people don’t look away when someone is in distress. Some people take the initiative to help those who need it, not waiting for others to step in. The butcher was one such man.
Circling around to the back of the carriage, the butcher peeled back the canvas and saw a young girl sitting on the bench. She was crying incessantly.
The girl turned around.
“You shouldn’t talk to me. Those men can hurt you. They’re very dangerous people.”
“Don’t worry about me. Why are you crying?”
“These men kidnapped me. I’m a Jewish girl from a nearby village.… So why shouldn’t I cry? My fate is doomed.”
The butcher felt his heart breaking in two. He steadied himself and said,
“No, no it’s not….”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 947)
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