The Yom Kippur Drinker
The day before Yom Kippur the air in the city of Lubavitch was already permeated with the holiness of the day. Reb Shmuel, a respected scholar and chasid, sat in a corner of the shul swaying in prayer when the door swung open and a peddler entered the room. He threw himself down on a bench and tossed his pack on the floor. Reb Shmuel inquired, "How are you, brother?"
"Oy," sighed the man. "The exile is dark and terrible. Just today I was walking past the mansion of Squire Lobomirsky. Everyone knows his evil reputation. Whenever I pass that place, I walk as fast as I can to get away from it. Suddenly, some one cried out, 'Hey, Jew!' My blood ran cold. Thank G-d, it was only the squire's servant, who wanted to buy a scarf from me. He told me about a Jewish family imprisoned in the squire's dungeon. They owe him rent, and if they don't pay by tomorrow, they'll all be killed. If only I had that money...what a terrible and dark exile."
By the time the man had finished his tale, Reb Shmuel had left the shul; soon he was knocking at the gates of the squire's mansion. "I must speak with His Excellency," he said to the guard. He was allowed to enter and he proceeded to the room where Lobomirsky sat. When the squire saw the Jew, he was infuriated: "How dare you enter my house! What do you want, Jew?"
"I want to know what is the debt of that poor, unfortunate family you have imprisoned."
The ruthless landowner's eyes lit up with the thought of lining his pockets with the money. "Let me think about it," he smiled slyly and began to calculate: "Well, there's the debt, then there's all the money I put out to feed the whole brood, then there's the penalty payment; there's also the money required to cancel their hanging -- it would have provided good entertainment." At the end of his "calculations," Reb Shmuel was faced with an exorbitant sum.
"Somehow G-d will help me raise that sum," Shmuel replied to the smirking Lobomirsky.
It was getting late. Reb Shmuel went from door to door, telling everyone about the plight of the imprisoned family, and although they were as generous as possible, they themselves were poor. When he had finished his rounds, Reb Shmuel had a pitifully small sum in his hands. "This will never do," he thought to himself. "I must do something else, and fast."
He was walking aimlessly, thinking of his next move, when he looked up and found himself in front of a tavern. The sound of loud, drunken voices emerged from within, and Shmuel was seized with the thought that just perhaps his money was waiting for him inside, if only he could figure out how to get it. As soon as he entered, he was sickened by the smell of liquor and stale smoke. A group of card players looked up, surprised to see a Chasidic Jew in their midst. "What do you want, Jew?" "I am here on a mission of mercy. The lives of an entire family hang in the balance. I must raise a large sum of money." One of the players replied, "Well, if you can down this beaker of vodka, I just might give you this money," and he pointed to a towering stack of gold coins. Reb Shmuel was never much of a drinker, but what choice did he have? He downed the vodka, and true to his word, the card player handed over the money. In quick succession, the other players offered their winnings if he would drink two more huge cups of vodka.
Reb Shmuel's eyes were beginning to cross, but the glimmering piles of coins steadied his resolve. An hour after he had entered the tavern, he staggered out with his pockets bulging and stumbled in the direction of the squire's mansion.
The squire couldn't believe his eyes, but he greedily accepted the gold and released the grateful family who had barely escaped death.
Reb Shmuel could barely put one foot in front of the other; his eyes no longer focused, but, he still remembered the holy day. He managed to get to the shul, where he promptly collapsed in a heap. The worshippers were dressed in their white robes, looking so much like the ministering angels. They were startled to see Reb Shmuel snoring away, dressed in his weekday clothes which showed evidence of his tavern experience. "What could have come over him?" they wondered.
Reb Shmuel lay asleep throughout the evening of prayers which marked the beginning of the holiest day. His snoring provided a constant accompaniment to the heartfelt prayers rising from the congregation. The prayers ended, Psalms were recited, and the shul emptied out. Reb Shmuel slept on.
At the first morning light, the worshippers returned to the shul for the long day of prayers. Reb Shmuel was beginning to stir. They watched curiously as he opened his bleary eyes and stood up. Walking straight to the bima, Reb Shmuel banged on the wood with his fist, and in a booming voice, exclaimed: "Know that G-d, He is the L-rd; there is none other then Him."
The congregation fell into confusion. What was Reb Shmuel doing reciting the words of the Simchat Torah prayers?! Why, didn't he realize that today was Yom Kippur? Suddenly the rabbi rose and turned toward the congregation: "Leave Reb Shmuel alone. He has far outpaced us. With the great deed he has done, his atonement is complete, and he is waiting for us at Simchat Torah!"