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Barrels in the Snow

Barrels in the Snow

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The story is told about a chassid who, every year on the first day of Elul, would begin walking by foot to his rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789–1866), in order to spend the High Holidays with the Rebbe.

Now this was no easy task, because the weather was usually freezing and snowy at that time of year in Russia. It became even more difficult as our chassid grew progressively older each year, but he kept it up. Until finally, one year, on a lonely road in the middle of some snowy forest, his “batteries” finally ran out; his legs simply would not move another step.

Nu, at least I’m dying on the way to the rebbe,” he consoled himself. “I just hope I’ll get a Jewish burial, and that the animals don’t eat me.” He was on the verge of collapsing in the snow, when suddenly he heard something in the distance.

It was a wagon! It sounded far away, but the sounds were unmistakable: wheels crunching on the snow and the plodding of horses. Occasionally, the wind wafted a few notes of the song the driver was singing. It didn’t take long until it reached him; it was a wagon filled with large barrels, and it stopped before the freezing Jew. “Hey, Moshke!” the wagon driver yelled (that is what the non-Jews called all the Jews). “Hey! Want a ride? If you can find a place, jump in!” he said as he stuck out his hand. With renewed strength the old chassid gratefully grabbed the hand, pulled himself up onto the wagon, then onto the barrels, and finally wedged himself down between them, as the wagon began to move.

But his gratitude did not keep him warm. After a few minutes huddled between the barrels, he was abruptly reminded that he was freezing, and not being able to move didn’t help any.

That was when he noticed a small spigot sticking out of one of the barrels.

“Maybe it’s wine, or vinegar, or maybe something else,” he thought to himself. “But, it might be . . .”

With a shivering hand he turned the handle over the spigot. No, it wasn’t wine or oil, not vinegar or anything else. It was . . . vodka! “Ivan,” he yelled to the driver, “I need a little of your merchandise here; I’m freezing! I’ll pay, I promise. Can I take a small cup?”

“Of course, my friend,” shouted the driver over his shoulder. “As much as you need! Sure is cold out here!”

The second cup was better than the first, and in a minute he was warm. He was happy! He was going to the rebbe! G‑d had made him a miracle! He began singing. In no time the driver was singing with him and, needless to say, the ten-hour drive passed like minutes.

Before he knew it, they had reached Lubavitch. The driver helped him out of his “seat,” gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, and they warmly parted. Our chassid made straight for the shul (synagogue), where he immediately gathered everyone around him and said he wanted to tell them something.

“Today I learned a very great lesson,” he began, occasionally rubbing his hands to warm them up. “You know that the Torah is compared to water, right? But the Torah is supposed to make you warm and happy, and that is why the Baal Shem Tov and all the rebbes began teaching Chassidus—to make Jews warm and happy, right? Torah includes all kinds of water, so Chassidus must be the vodka of Torah, right? The part of Torah that makes you warm and happy, right?” No one knew exactly what he was getting at, but everyone respected him because of his age, and waited for him to continue. “Well, I just discovered that a chassid can be surrounded by barrels of Chassidus, by a sea of Torah, and still be cold, even freezing to death.

“But . . . if just a little bit goes inside . . . ahhh. That is a completely different story! Then he becomes warm and alive. In fact, then he can even warm up the whole world around him as well . . .”

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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Ilku September 18, 2017

The driver gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and they warmly parted he had given freely of what he had, perhaps he had become part of the awe. Reply

Anonymous brooklyn, ny May 7, 2012

Barrels of Torah... Very beautiful. Reply

Sima Grove Brooklyn, NY via chabader.com February 14, 2007

the story about the elderly chassid Thank you for sharing such a story. my eyes started to form tears. A little warmth can go a long way! Reply

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