All the Way to Simchat Torah!

Contributed by Rabbi Daniel Lev, adapted from Reb Shlomo Carleback

Elyah the Chassidic shoe maker was in a quandary – what should he do!? Here he was on Erev Yom Kippur, on the eve of the holiday, and he had planned the whole day just right. He got up, dressed, and went to the Shul of his rebbe, Reb Shlomo the Shlivovitzer. After arriving, he donned his tallis and began doing a little Torah study before Davvening the morning service. After that, he planned to have a little breakfast, study a little more, and clean up his shoe shop before going home to help his wife prepare for the Holiday breakfast meal. He’d immerse in the mikvah towards the end of the day and sit in Shul meditating until Kol Nidrei would begin. He figured that this would prepare him for all the holidays that would eventually end with the joyful celebration of Simchat Torah.

But before he could say one word of prayer, in walked the Shmeriyahu the salesman, who was kvetching (wailing)! “Oy gevalt, gevalt! I just traveled three miles from the town of Shplotz and a terrible thing is happening there! A little Jewish family is being held captive in a pit at the house of the town Poretz (Landlord) and if they can’t come up with the overdue 10,000 ruble rent money, he will kill them!”

“When does he need the money?” asked Elyah.

“Oy, this is even worse – he needs it by sunset today!!”

What a quandary! Here is Elyah, already to prepare himself for the holy Kol Nidrei, and yet this family needed help. What could he do? He dropped everything and ran the three miles to Shplotz. Once there, he started going door-to-door in the Jewish quarter to ask for money to ransom the Jewish family. This is a big mitzvah in our tradition. Unfortunately, by the afternoon, he had only collected $1000, a sizable amount for a poor community, but not nearly enough.

As Elyah wandered into the town’s center, he saw three Jews sitting and drinking at a table outside the local Kretchmer (tavern). By the way they were dressed, with all three sporting uncovered heads, he understood that these were not just secular Jews, they were wealthy.

He felt emboldened by his mission to approach and ask them for a donation.

“Ha!” barked the one called Shimon. “You Chassidim are always asking for money to feed your greedy rebbes!”  He was a bit drunk yet good-hearted about his insult.

Elyah was not dissuaded, “No brothers, this money is for a family held captive by the town’s Poretz who has threatened to kill them if I don’t raise another nine-thousand rubles.

Suddenly, Reb Shimon had a sparkle in his Miyeskeit (trickster) eyes. He poured vodka into a large glass and said: “OK Chasid, you are famous for your drinking. So, if you drink this down right away, I will give you two-thousand rubles right here!”

Elyah allowed himself to forget that it would be Yom Kippur in just a few hours, and he downed the glass as fast as he could. He received the money from Reb Shimon and bit back a wave of nausea.

“No way Shimon – I can top that,” said Reb Arieh his drinking buddy. “Chassid, I will give you three-thousand rubles to drink another glass. Elyah took a deep breath and downed the second draft of vodka.  This time he had to hold onto the edge of the table with one hand as he received the money with his other.

Not to be outdone by his comrades, the third secular Jew, Reb Shoilem, offered Elyah four-thousand to drink one more glass. After Elyah did so, he collapsed nearly dead-drunk under the table. The three good-heartedly lifted him up and walked him to the house of the Poretz, who reluctantly took the money and released the family.

The three then took this intoxicated Chassid and directed him to the road that would take him to his town of Shlivovitz. They all shared a hearty laugh as he stumbled down the road, eventually falling over, sleeping a little, then raising himself up and doing it all over again. Finally, he reached the town just as the dark was coming.

Dressed in his dirty common clothes, Elyah entered the Shul a few minutes before the chanting of Kol Nidrei and plopped himself down in a chair. Most of the Chassidim ignored him, but as they brought the two Torah’s out for the service, Elyah, in his sweet state of inebriation, thought it was Simchat Torah, the holiday of joy that also brought Torahs out for ecstatic dances of celebration. He began joyously singing at the top of his lungs over and over, “Aneynu, Aneynu Vayom Careynu….”

As the congregants tried to silence him, the rebbe shouted out from the front of the Shul, “Stop! Let him sing! Because of what Reb Elyah did today he has reached way beyond the awe of Kol Nidrei – he’s already arrived at Simchat Torah!”