June 2009 - Vol. 31
Rabbi Who Ascends to Heaven
early 20th century Eastern European short story by I.L. Peretz
This story is true. So the Russian villagers of Nemirov swear. Every Friday morning he vanished! The rabbi that is. He was nowhere to be found. Not in the synagogue, not in the library, nor in the park. Nobody in the village worried however. They say: "The Rabbi, blessed be God, ascends to heaven every Friday morning where he talks with God."
"Ascends to heaven?" scoffed a skeptical Litvak who visited the village on occasion. "Nonesense! I will solve this mystery once and for all." So the disbelieving Litvak devised a scheme to trap the Rabbi. Sorry to disrupt the story here. You do not know what a Litvak is? A Litvak who knows his Talmud well will tell you plainly that nobody ascends to heaven. Not even Moses ascended to heaven during his lifetime.
Well, the Litvak hid behind the Rabbi's house one Friday morning. And waited to see what this Rabbi would do. As usual, the Rabbi rose, said his prayers very devoutly, washed his face, combed his lengthy beard, and then slid into his dark black boots. Before he left the house he grabbed an axe and a thick piece of rope. And off he went away from the village.
The Litvak drew a deep breath and then began to follow the Rabbi. Secretly of course. He didn't want the Rabbi to know that he was spying on him! The Rabbi headed into a thick woods and began to chop down a tree. He cut the limbs into numerous pieces and made a large bundle with his rope. Strapping the axe to his belt, he hoisted the large bundle of wood onto his back and headed towards the end of the woods. Near the edge of the village stood a little house, barely room enough for two. Inside dwelt an old feeble woman and her sick son. The Rabbi left the wood near the door. The bundle was just enough for a whole week's supply of fuel. As he left the widow's house the Litvak could hear him mumble some prayers, no doubt for the widow and her son.
Well, the Litvak became the Rabbi's friend and even his disciple! He went to his synagogue every Friday evening before dinner and came to his house weekly so he could learn more about God and his holy word. Now, whenever any of the villagers say that "our Rabbi ascends all the way to heaven on Friday mornings," the Litvak quietly adds, "If not higher!"
Isaac Leib Peretz, best known as I.L. Peretz, (May 18, 1852 - 3 April, 1915) grew up in Poland in an Orthodox Jewish family. He wrote a number of Yiddish language short stories and plays.
Don Schwager is a member of the Servants of the Word and author of Daily Scripture Readings and Meditations.
Photo of Morning Mist, Bois Blanc Island, Michigan, USA by Greg Schwager
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