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Shmerl's Seder

Shmerl's Seder


It was well past midnight on the first night of Passover, and the great Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev had just concluded enacting the Passover Seder in the presence of his disciples. They had recited the Haggadah, recounting the story of the Exodus and discussing the deeper meanings implicit in each of its passages; they drank the four cups of wine, dipped the karpas in the salt water and the bitter herbs in charoset, ate the matzah, the korech and the afikoman, sang the psalms of praise and gratitude — all in accordance with the letter of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) and the esoteric principles found in the awesome mystical works of the saintly "Ari".

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's disciples had participated in many of their Rebbe's seders in the past, but this one surpassed them all. The Rebbe and all those present felt transported into a different world, as though they had risen above their bodily limitations and into a world of pure G‑dliness.

Suddenly the room filled with the sound of a deep rumbling like thunder, and from within the thunder an awesome voice announced: "Levi Yitzchak's seder was pleasing to G‑d, but there is a Jew in Berdichev called Shmerl the Tailor whose seder reached even higher!"

The Rebbe looked around him. It was obvious that only he had heard the heavenly announcement.

"Has anyone heard of a tzaddik (righteous person) called Shmerl the Tailor?" he asked his Chassidim. No one had.

After several minutes of silence one of the elderly Chassidim offered: "There is one Shmerl here in Berdichev that I know of, and he used to be a tailor about thirty years ago, but he's certainly no tzaddik. In fact he's pretty far from that. They call him now 'Shmerl the Shikker' (drunkard) and he lives with his wife in a old large shipping on the edge of town."

But Rabbi Levi Yitchak was thinking to himself, "Ahah! this must be one of the hidden tzaddikim. And he lives right here, in Berdichev, while I knew nothing about him!"

It was two o'clock in the morning when the Rebbe stood at the door of old Shmerl's hovel.

An old Jewish woman answered his soft knock. "Good Yom Tov!" said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak quietly. "Please excuse me for the late hour. Is your husband Shmerl at home?" "Good Yom Tov," She answered. "Just wait one minute please, Rebbe, wait right here."

She disappeared into the house, and the unmistakable sound of a bucket being filled with water was heard from inside. Then a minute or two of silence and suddenly... SPLASH! She threw the bucket of water on her sleeping husband.

"Aaahh! Oyyy! Where am I? Ooiy vai!" he screamed, and then his wife was heard shouting, "Get up you drunk! The Rebbe has come to punish you! Wake up, you good-for-nothing!"

Poor Shmerl staggered, sopping wet, to the door. When he saw that it really was the Rebbe standing there at his door in the middle of the night, he fell at Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's feet and began weeping, "Please, Rebbe don't punish me. It's not my fault... I didn't know any better... Please, have mercy..."

The Rebbe of Berdichev was completely astounded at this bizarre scene. Could it be that this man's seder was loftier than his own?

He bent down, lifted poor Shmerl to his feet and said, "Listen, Shmerl, I didn't come to punish you. In fact I don't even know what you are talking about. Please let me in, let's sit down and talk. I only want to ask you something. Go put on a dry shirt and we'll talk."

Minutes later they sat facing each other over Shmerl's small table. The Rebbe looked at him kindly and said: "Shmerl, listen. I want you to tell me how you conducted your seder last night. Don't worry, I promise that I'm not going to punish you, I promise."

"Oy!" moaned Shmerl and began weeping again. "My seder! But Rebbe, I really didn't know any better... Oooy!"

Gradually he calmed down and began speaking. "Early this morning, that is... yesterday morning, I'm walking in the street and suddenly I notice that people are rushing about. This one has a broom over his shoulder, that one is carrying a box, the other one something else, everyone is scurrying about — except me.

"So I stopped someone I recognized and asked him, 'What is everyone rushing for? Where are they all going?'

"So he answers me, 'Oy Shmerl, are you so drunk that you forgot that tonight is Pesach? Tonight is Pesach! Do you remember what Pesach is?'

"I tried thinking but my mind wouldn't work. Pesach, Pesach, I... I can't remember. It sounds very important though; I remember something about Matzos... and Egypt. 'Please,' I begged the man, 'do me a favor and tell me what it is again.'

"The man looked at me in a strange way, and answered 'Listen, Shmerl, tonight you have to make a seder. You know, recite the Haggadah, eat three matzos, bitter herbs, four cups of wine. You'll enjoy the wine Shmerl,' he said with a sad smile, 'though I guess you won't enjoy abstaining from your foul vodka for eight days...'

"'Eight days!' I cried. 'Why? Why can't I drink for eight days?' I was trembling and beginning to remember a little.

"'Because that's the law!' he answered. 'For eight days, if you're a Jew, no chametz (leaven) passes your lips. Vodka is chametz. If you can't hold out for eight days, maybe go to Israel,' he laughed, 'there chametz is only forbidden seven days...'

"I was stunned. No vodka for eight days! I rushed home, took all the money I had, bought a big bottle of vodka, poured myself eight large cups one after the other, and drank them down... hoping that that would help me make it through the holiday.

"The next thing I remember is that I'm sleeping soundly in my bed when suddenly my wife throws a bucket of water on me — you saw how she does it — and starts screaming, 'Shmerl, you bum! You drunk! You good-for-nothing! All Jews all over the world are making the seder tonight, and you are lying there like a drunken ox. Wake up and make a seder!'

"So I staggered to my feet, put on some dry clothes and sat down at the beautifully set table.

"The candles were shining brightly and making the plates and silverware sparkle so nicely. Everything was new, clean. I felt so different, almost holy. The wine and the matzos were on the table, the Haggadah was open in front of me. My wife had even set up the seder plate with all its things like she remembered from her father. She herself was sitting in her place opposite me like a queen, and was even smiling. Everything was so beautiful.

"But then — I looked around me and didn't know what to do. The vodka was still swirling in my head, but, to be honest, Rebbe, even sober I don't know how to make a seder.

"So I took a large bowl, and put everything in there. The three matzos, the bitter herbs, the dish of charoset, all those little items my wife had set up on the seder plate, I poured in the four cups of wine, and swirled it all together.

"Then I lifted up my seder bowl and started talking to G‑d. Just like I'm talking to you now. I started talking to G‑d and I said, 'G‑d, listen... I don't know You, but You know me. You know that after my father got killed I had to work all the time and I never had a chance to learn, right? So I don't know how to read this book, in fact I can't read anything! And I don't know what I'm supposed to do with all this stuff either. But one thing I do know... I know that a long time ago You sent Moses to take us out of Egypt, and I'm sure that you will send Moshiach to take us out of all our troubles now!'

"And then I gulped down the whole thing."

A popular teacher, musician and storyteller, Rabbi Tuvia Bolton is co-director of Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel, and a senior lecturer there.
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Fro April 20, 2016

LOL. The unpretentious Shmerl and his seder. Coming before Heaven with all that he is. Thank you Reply

Moshe Bitton Tijuana BC Mexico April 16, 2016

An interesting story. This reminds us that sometimes we are so drunk in the things we do every day that we forget about the seasons and festivals of our Jewish Heritage. Let´s have a Great Yom Tov on this comming Pessach. Reply

Anonymous Mesa, AZ April 14, 2016

Shmerl's Seder Sweet and bitter story. My father was an alchoholic, we, his seven children suffered because of it, but I never blamed him or judge him, all I rememeber was that he used to cry a lot. Me as a child, asked myself why did he. Something auful most have happened to him for him to waste his life with a bottle. I know only a little. His father and all his family were Jews. His father and brother came to DR running away from the Inquisition of Spain and France. My older sister did not know they were Jews because they hid it from their children, but I found out after so many yrs. My grandmothers from both my parents suffered a lot too. It is in my heart and soul all their pain. Now they are all gone, I hope to be with them when Israel is redeemed. I shall go too. HaShem, blessed is He, looks into our heart and soul. He is a good G-d. Reply

inge reisinger zwickau April 12, 2016

thank you for this story i had to laugh and i am thinking on it seder evening, when drinking the wine Reply

Elba Vazquez Carolina April 12, 2016

Shmerl's Seder It was the man's heart that honored G-d. He was not able to follow the order but he told G-d the truth about himself. In the story, it is implied that G-d approved because he revealed it to the Rebbe. This imperfect man had a right heart for G-d because he came humbly and repentant to Him. I was blessed. Reply

Anita Zinn Scottsdale, AZ April 6, 2012

Schmerls seder beautiful story about how this addict tried his best and what a tzaddik that makes him.. Moral of the story: Just do your best Reply

Anonymous baltimore, md March 25, 2011

drunk seder this story touched me. it makes me want to suggest reading r' shais taub's book to gain a better understanding of addiction. in this story i see a full blown addict trying to reach out to g-d. it is painful and touching all at the same time. thank you. Reply

herman philadelphia, pa April 8, 2009

Shmerl's seder I like the story and am going to read it aloud at our seder tonight.
I hope it is not too long, and i suspect people will still be talking as they do during every seder. Reply

Valerie-Jael via April 7, 2009

Schmerls Seder A wonderful story Reply

Shimon April 5, 2007

Thanks for the story. It's great! Reply

Anonymous santa fe, NM April 9, 2006

i like this story! Reply

Anonymous April 23, 2005

This is the first time I recall laughing and crying at the same time. Thank you for publishing this story online so I could read it after seder. Reply

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