“You’re missing the point here,” R’ Leib said softly, but his eyes were piercing. “There is no poritz, there is no tax, there are no gentiles in this entire city — there is only Hashem”
ne morning, R’ Leib Sarah’s heard someone banging on his door. Calmly as always, he opened the door to find the town gabbai standing there, red in the face.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, but I was sent by the other shul members with an urgent message. May I come in?”
“Of course, of course. Have a seat right here, and please tell me what is going on.”
“Thank you. I’ll get right to the point. The brutish poritz of our village is threatening to levy an enormous tax against the Jewish citizens of the city. This is on top of all the other extra taxes they already force us to pay for the “privilege” of living here. The poritz knows how this will end. Many of us will not be able to pay the required amount of money to satisfy his lust for money, and then he’ll start hauling us in for beatings, or worse, he’ll send us off to some labor camp. This rasha is going to ruin our lives, which are already so difficult under the yoke of these cruel gentiles. R’ Leib, what do we do?”
“I will go immediately to speak to him.”
“With all due respect, we’ve already spoken to him multiple times. We’ve pleaded with him, practically groveled at his feet, but his heart is made of stone. He’s going to cause so much harm to us, R’ Leib…”
“You’re missing the point here,” R’ Leib said softly, but his eyes were piercing. “There is no poritz, there is no tax, there are no gentiles in this entire city — there is only Hashem. Everything else is just messengers, relaying his decrees, carrying out his verdicts. Don’t look to the poritz with fear, as if he can do anything on his own. He cannot. Only Hashem is in charge. Only Hashem exists, truthfully. Do we not say ‘efes bilto?’ There is nothing except for Him. So do not despair. Daven, perform the basic, required hishtadlus, and rest assured that Hashem will help.”
R’ Leib swung on his coat and swept from the room. He looked no more nervous than before the gabbai had entered the room, but his footsteps were hurried. He was on a mission, a mitzvah to help his people.
The poritz’s house loomed ahead at the end of the street. It was of course the largest house in the entire city, and two drunken soldiers stood at the doorway, taking swigs from their flasks and casting menacing stares at whomever passed.
“Good day, gentlemen. I am here to see your master. I have an urgent matter to discuss with him.”
“Yeah, you and everyone else. What’s so urgent, eh?”
“That’s something I only want to discuss with him myself.”
Something about the elderly Jew’s fiery gaze shook their confidence somewhat, and they turned around to unlock the heavy wooden doors.
In they went, walking down thickly carpeted hallways and through opulent rooms. They encountered the poritz playing darts with sharp daggers, flinging the deadly blades across a long room into a massive map.
“What’s the rabbi doing here?”
“Said he needs to speak to you about something urgent.”
“And? You just let him in here?”
“We, uh… we thought, that, um…”
“Get out of here! And stop drinking for at least two minutes while you’re working for me. The next thing I know you’ll be letting in every vagrant in the city to come speak to me!”
The guards left, leaving R’ Leib alone with the poritz.
“So, what do you want?” Thud. Another dagger found its mark.
“I’ve come to appeal to your sense of mercy, on behalf of the Jewish community. We are already overtaxed and taxing us more will threaten to tear apart everything we’ve worked so hard to build up.”
“You could have saved yourself the walk, old Rabbi. The answer is no, and I think you already knew that.” Thud!
“You know something? Every person was put in their position by the One Above. And who knows why each person was selected for their role? Perhaps everything you’ve been given, all of this royalty, the luxury of playing darts on a cold day while millions slave outside in the cold to make a meager living, was so that you could actually assist the Jewish people, and certainly not oppress them more than they’ve already been persecuted.”
“Is that it? Is that the best you’ve got? I’m not moved by your words, sorry. Now leave before I turn this dagger on you!”
“Very well. You are making a grave mistake.”
R’ Leib turned to leave. The next thud did not come.
“Come here, Rabbi.”
R’ Leib turned and followed the poritz to the map.
“Look here, in the middle. That’s my biggest issue. You know I’m not only in charge of this city — I also hold very high government rankings and I’m supposed to be the loyal servant to the Czar, and all his pompous minions who think they can boss me around all the time. The truth is, I’m going to rebel against the Russian menace, and I’m going to lead my people in a grand revolution, resulting in our complete and total independence from them.”
The poritz backed up so that he was at a good throwing distance to the map once more. He plucked another dagger off the table, toying with its sharp tip and deep in thought.
“I know what the Jews say about you. They claim you’re a holy man, someone whom G-d listens to, someone who can perform miracles. Join me in my quest for independence from Russia. Lend me your support, your powerful prayers, and the backing of your people. What do you say?”
“My answer to you is this: never.”
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 919)
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