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The Czar’s Army’s Iron Pots

The Czar’s Army’s Iron Pots

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The Czarist Army (courtesy of the Library of Congress)
The Czarist Army (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Zalman was a successful businessman. He had made millions of rubles in his metal business, but now that same business was threatening to end his life.

Several months earlier, he had landed an immense government contract to supply all the cooking utensils for the czar’s army. The deal was worth a fortune, a real blessing from G‑d . . . until he received a summons to appear in the imperial court on charges of thievery and treason!

It seems that someone reported to the government that Zalman was making the pots a bit thinner than promised. He had received funds for 100,000 tons of iron, but really only used 90,000, thus cheating the government out of a pretty penny.

To make matters worse, the report was true! He did it. Everyone did it. That’s how things were in czarist Russia.

But that didn’t change anything. If he would be found guilty, which he almost certainly would be, it would be the end of him.

Zalman did not give up, however; there was still a ray of hope. Being a follower of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, he would go to him and hope for a miracle.

But when he arrived, he was told that the rebbe wasn’t receiving visitors until further notice. This meant that the doors could open any minute, or it could take several days.

With no other choice, Zalman sat in the waiting room, with about twenty other people who had come for help, reading Tehillim (Psalms).

The Rebbe had seven sons, and the youngest, Shmuel, who was seven years old at the time (and eventually would become the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe), was wandering around the room, occasionally talking to the visitors. When he came to our businessman and asked him why he was there, the latter, hoping that maybe somehow it might help him get in to the rebbe, told the child his entire story, finishing with a sad word about how his only hope is the rebbe, and now the rebbe won’t see him.

The boy listened carefully, promised that he would see what he could do, left the waiting room, and entered his father’s study.

Minutes later he returned, approached the businessman, and told him quietly: “You see that man sitting near the door, also reading Tehillim? He needs one thousand rubles for his daughter’s wedding. Give him the money he needs, and G‑d will take care of your upcoming trial.”

Of course our hero promptly gave the charity. Sure of victory, he told the boy to thank his father for the blessing, and left the premises a new man, full of optimism and hope.

One month later, Zalman was standing confidently in the courtroom before the judge. He didn’t even bother hiring a lawyer. After all the Rebbe said that G‑d would take care of everything; and, in any case, the best lawyer in the world couldn’t help anyway.

The judge examined all the papers, first those of the prosecution, then of the defendant, pausing several times to look up at the litigants. Finally he removed his reading glasses, held his head erect, and declared, “Very severe accusations, very severe indeed. If the accused is guilty as charged, the punishment will be at least twenty years, do you understand?” The prosecutor nodded his head, as did the defendant, who was beginning to worry.

The judge put his spectacles on once more, silently read the briefs again, and again looked up, pushed his glasses up onto his forehead, thought for a while, and announced: “The only way to settle this is to actually weigh all the pots and pans.”

“But, your excellency,” exclaimed the prosecutor, “that will take months, and at such expense to the country. Your excellency has before him the testimony of reliable witnesses . . .”

Our hero was really sweating now. If the pots were weighed, he was finished.

“That is my decision!” said the judge. “Tomorrow the army will send one hundred wagons to bring all the vessels to the courtroom for weighing.” He raised his gavel, pounded it on the huge table before him, and announced, “Court adjourned!”

It took over a week to organize the wagons, travel to the factory and load them all up, and then another week or so to bring them to the court, weigh them and record the results. But when it was all finished and the results were brought to the courtroom, the tension was so thick you could almost cut the air with a knife. Word of the trial reached the newspapers, and the courtroom was packed.

The judge entered after everyone was seated, took his place behind his huge desk, picked up the papers and read carefully. The courtroom was silent.

After several minutes he looked up at the defendant, squinted his eyes as though in sheer hatred, and spoke almost theatrically.

“Mr. Zalman, you . . . you lied to the government!”

The Judge was holding the papers in both hands and leaning forward on his desk, peering over them at the accused, almost completely out of his chair. Zalman was swooning. He wiped his brow with his handkerchief. He thought he was about to faint.

The guards moved a few steps closer to him. The prosecutors looked at each other from the corners of their eyes and faintly smiled.

“You declared to the Russian Government that you needed one hundred thousand tons of iron. You took funds for one hundred thousand tons of iron!

The judge was now standing, leaning with his entire body over the table, holding the papers in one hand, shaking them in the air as he spoke, and almost whispering, hissing at poor Zalman . . . “And you really used . . . one hundred and twenty thousand tons! Those pots weighed twenty thousand tons more than you reported.

“Mr. Zalman, you are a patriot!”

Two days later our hero was waiting again in the rebbe’s front room, this time to thank him for the miracle. But when he was finally sitting opposite the rebbe and began thanking him, the rebbe was surprised. He didn’t remember ever giving such a blessing.

“But your son, Shmuel, told me . . .” said the businessman.

The rebbe summoned his son, who admitted that he had done the whole thing on his own.

“But how did you give him such a blessing? How could you have been sure that it would be all right?” his father asked.

“Simple,” answered the boy. “I saw in heaven all the weight of that charity jumping onto his pots on the scale. It was obvious that it would be more than a few thousand tons . . .”

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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Kayo Tokyo, Japan July 17, 2010

Adorable An adorable little boy came to my mind. Reply

Anonymous melbourne, australia May 12, 2005

What a great uplifting story, just goes to show what ruach hakodesh our tzaddikim had, may we all try to do something good once a day for someone else and hope in their tzchus we can merit to see moshiach now. Thank you to Rabbi Tuvia Bolton for always writing such wonderful stories we would not miss them at our shabbos table every friday night. Reply

Eric Portland, Oregon May 11, 2005

The Pots and Pans Story The Jewish contractor who was supposed to provide the finished goods to the Czar's army lied and cheated. It was wrong for him to do that. He violated the Mitzvah requirement of equal weights and measures, and he set a bad example in terms of his business practices. "Everyone else was doing it" is never an acceptable excuse. This aspect of his behavior and its inappropriate nature should have been addressed in your printing of the story as well. Reply

Anonymous johannesburg, south africa May 11, 2005

A truely remarkable, inspiring story Reply

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