Shalom Aleichem and Eishet Chayil had already been sung. The candle flames reflected a yellow sun in the ruby wine of the decanter. A hush settled over the room as all edged closer to the Shabbat table to hear Father recite the kiddush. Father took a deep breath and . . . fell asleep in his seat!
“Tatteh! Tatteh! Father! Father!” the family called. No response. Mother put her hand on his shoulder and shook him, but that didn’t help either. “Wake up! Wake up!” the children screamed frantically. Deciding he had fainted, the adults also began to worry, and someone ran to get the doctor. He came, but he too found it impossible to either arouse him from his deep slumber or to understand what had happened to him. He suggested to let him sleep it off. Someone else would have to make kiddush.
The head of the family, a miller by trade, didn’t wake up till morning. He was astounded and embarrassed to hear what had happened. But the next Friday night it happened again. And again. And . . .
“Oh, no! Not again!” cried out the miller in frustration. He rose from his chair, where he had fallen asleep over the Shabbat table, and stretched his stiff limbs. “What is happening? Nothing helps! I can’t go on like this. Tomorrow I’m going to the rebbe!”
The next day he went to Zichlin, to his rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Abba, and told him the whole story. Bursting into tears, he begged to be cured from this bizarre affliction.
“It seems,” said the rebbe, “that you have somehow violated the Shabbat, which is why you are being prevented from honoring her.”
The chassid became even more upset. “I don’t understand. I’m so careful with the laws of Shabbat. Violating the Shabbat? I can’t imagine how that ever might have happened.”
Brokenhearted, the Jew returned home. When he told his family all the rebbe had said, they were astonished. Everyone knew how careful he was about keeping Shabbat.
But then, one of his older sons spoke up. “Father, I have to tell you that the rebbe’s words revealed genuine divine inspiration because, unfortunately, they are true. One Friday night, when I was up late, I saw you get up in the middle of the night. You were obviously still half asleep. I saw you light a candle so you could see your way to get a drink of water, and then you extinguished it when you were finished. The next morning it was clear that you had no recollection of what had happened, and not wanting to shame you or show disrespect, I never said anything. But now that the rebbe himself has referred to it, I realize I am obligated to divulge what I saw.”
The man immediately set forth for Zichlin again. He told the rebbe what his son had reported, and the rebbe said, “That’s it. How can a Jew allow himself to forget the holiness of Shabbat, under any circumstances? There are two primary obligations toward the Shabbat: to ‘remember’ it (Exodus 20:8) and to ‘safeguard’ it (Deuteronomy 5:12), both of which, our sages tell us, were declared by the Almighty ‘in a single utterance.’ ‘Remember’ is accomplished through speech, by expressing the holiness of Shabbat in the words of the kiddush. ‘Safeguard’ is for the mind and heart, to be continually aware of Shabbat’s holiness throughout the entire day, that it not be transgressed. But you failed to ‘safeguard’ the Shabbat, so you have forfeited the right to ‘remember’ her.”
“Please, Rebbe,” sobbed the man, “tell me how to repent. Give me a remedy. Save me from this unbearable affliction!”
“There is nothing I can do for you. The only ‘remedy’ there is for you is if you are challenged by a test in Shabbat observance, and you stand up to it. Then the Shabbat will be appeased of your insult.”
These final words made the chassid feel a little better. He trusted the rebbe, and resolved to stand up to the trial, no matter what it might be.
Shortly thereafter a summons came from his poritz, the nobleman from whom he leased his mill in exchange for an annual rent and a percentage of its income. The latter informed him that he planned to greatly expand the flour mill’s capacity, and that in order to recoup the large amount of money that he would have to invest, it would be necessary for the mill to operate on Saturdays as well, starting now.
“That’s impossible,” the Jew declared firmly. “I only work six days, never on Shabbat.”
“Oh, come on,” said the nobleman, “I know you Jews. You can get around it if you want to. I heard that a rabbi can make some kind of contract where you can stay home, but the mill stays open and I don’t lose the income.”
“I’ve never employed such a leniency in relation to Shabbat, and I never will,” the miller firmly declared.
The nobleman raised his voice. “Stubborn fool! I’ll give you the two months it will take to complete the renovations to start to operate the mill on Saturday. If you don’t, I’ll throw you out.”
The poritz carried out his threat, and evicted the miller. Bereft of his income, he and his family soon fell on to hard times. Even basic food for the children became hard to supply. What’s more, his “Shabbat disease” still afflicted him. But the chassid persisted in his determination not to fail the Shabbat again.
Meanwhile, the mill’s owner had completed the expansion of the mill, and had found a manager who was willing to work a seven-day week. But right from the start it didn’t work out. Unusual accidents kept occurring, and all sorts of problems arose. Huge losses piled up. The situation was bizarre, and everyone realized it.
The nobleman was forced to admit to himself that his problems must be connected to his having ruined the livelihood of the Jewish miller. So he sent for his former tenant and, after revealing the mill’s desperate situation, offered to lease it to him as before.
“And what about my Shabbat?” the chassid asked.
“Look,” he answered, “after all the unusual problems and sharp losses, I realize that G‑d is with you. Do however you see fit.”
So the Jew returned to the mill, and was soon blessed with more success than he had ever had. Also, his affliction disappeared at the same time, just as the rebbe had said. But even with his new wealth, reciting kiddush on Shabbat night remained his greatest pleasure.
Rabbi Shmuel Abba Zychlinski (1809–1879) was a disciple of the well-known chassidic master Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Peshischa, and subsequently a rebbe in his own right with a large following.