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A Pound of Candles

A Pound of Candles

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In his youth, the famed Maggid of Zlotchov, Rabbi Yechiel Michel, lived in a certain town, where he would sit all day in the local Beit Midrash (study hall and synagogue) and pursue his studies.

In that town there lived a simple Jew who earned his livelihood by transporting travelers and merchandise in his wagon. One day, the wagon driver came to the local rabbi in a state of great distress. "Help me, Rebbe!" he wept. "I have committed a terrible sin. I have desecrated the holy Shabbat. How can I atone for my transgression?"

"How did this come to pass?" asked the Rabbi.

"Last Friday," the man explained, "I was returning from the marketplace with a wagonload of merchandise when I lost my way in the forest. By the time I found my way to the outskirts of the city, the sun had already set. So preoccupied was I with my worry over the merchandise, that I failed to realize that the Shabbat had arrived until it was too late..."

Seeing how broken-hearted the man was, the rabbi comforted him and said: "My son, the gates of repentance are never closed. Donate a pound of candles to the synagogue and your transgression will be forgiven."

The young prodigy, Rabbi Michel, overheard this exchange, and was displeased by the rabbi's approach. "A pound of candles to atone for violating the Shabbat?" he thought to himself. "The Shabbat is one of the most important mitzvot of the Torah. Why is the rabbi treating the matter so lightly?"

That Friday afternoon, the wagon driver brought the candles to the synagogue. As Rabbi Michel watched disapprovingly from his table against the back wall, he placed them on the lectern for the synagogue beadle to light in honor of the Shabbat. But this was not to be. Before the beadle arrived, a stray dog carried off the candles and ate them.

The distraught penitent ran to report the incident to the rabbi. "Woe is me!" he wept. "My repentance has been rejected in Heaven! What shall I do?!"

"You're making too much of the matter," the rabbi reassured him. "These things happen -- there's no reason to deduce that G‑d is rejecting your repentance. Bring another pound of candles to the synagogue next week, and everything will be alright.".

But when the beadle lit the candles on the following Friday afternoon, they inexplicably melted down, so that by the time Shabbat commenced, nothing was left of them. And upon his third attempt on the week after that, a strong wind suddenly blow out the candles just when Shabbat began and it was not possible to relight them.

The rabbi, too, realized, that something was amiss, and advised the wagon driver to seek the counsel of the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov.

"Hmm..." said the Baal Shem Tov, upon hearing the man's story. "It seems that a certain young scholar in your town finds fault with the path to repentance that the rabbi has prescribed for you. Never mind. Next week, donate another pound of candles to the synagogue. This time, I promise you that everything will be alright. And tell Rabbi Michel that I would be honored if he could trouble himself to come visit me."

Rabbi Michel wasted no time in abiding by the Baal Shem Tov's request. But no sooner had he and his coachman set out that all sorts of troubles beset their journey. First, the wagon tumbled into a ditch. Then, an axle broke many miles from the nearest town. After which they lost their way altogether. When they finally found the road to Mezhibuzh it was late Friday afternoon and the sun was about to set. They were forced to abandon the wagon and continue on foot.

Rabbi Michel arrived at the Baal Shem Tov's door an hour into Shabbat, weary and traumatized by his near-violation of the holy day. "Good Shabbat, Reb Michel," Rabbi Israel greeted him, "come in and warm yourself by the fire. You, Reb Michel, have never tasted sin, so you did not comprehend the remorse a Jew feels at having transgressed the will of his Father in Heaven. I trust that you now understand something of the agony that our friend experienced. Believe me, his remorse alone more than atoned for his unwitting transgression..."

From Rabbi S. Y. Zevin’s Sippurei Chassidim; translation/adaptation by Yanki Tauber.
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marc steven weiner ventnor city, NJ August 1, 2014

Forgiveness from transgressions against HIM. Thank U chabad.org. I consider myself a BaalTeshuva and I have to engage in many tenuous situations everyday in order to stay on track. without Hashem^s assistance, I would be committed to a mental institution and placed in a rotten boarding home thus denying me the option to become the best person that G-D Iintended me to be with my G-D-given potential. I mean no one any harm although since I^m not perfect occasionally I hurt those who have done me no harm. And I am remorseful to the extent that I hope I^m forgiven. Reply

marc steven weiner ventnor city, nj o8406 September 20, 2014

Forgiveness from transgressions against HIM. Thank U chabad.org. I consider myself a BaalTeshuva and I have to engage in many tenuous situations everyday in order to stay on track. without Hashem^s assistance, I would be committed to a mental institution and placed in a rotten boarding home thus denying me the option to become the best person that G-D Iintended me to be with my G-D-given potential. I mean no one any harm although since I^m not perfect occasionally I hurt those who have done me no harm. And I am remorseful to the extent that I hope I^m forgiven. Reply

Rishe Deitsch Brooklyn December 23, 2012

love chabad.org I needed a story about Shabbos for a talk I had to give, so naturally turned to my beloved chabad.org. found many great stories, chose this one. just wanted to say hello to Natana Pesya Kulakofski because i'm also from Worcester... lived on South Lenox Street. so sorry about your miserable and frustrating experience. i know how incredibly slow traffic can be over there esp when roads are slippery, and Worcester is very hilly. Reply

Mike Fruit land park, FL October 27, 2012

Compassion v.s. Heartless passion May this be a lesson to us all. Passion without compassion (in my opinion) is wrong. Reply

Anonymous chicago, il May 7, 2010

Divine Providence funny, i'm listening to R' Michel's nigun (melody) right now. Reply

Natana Pesya Kulakofski Worcester, MA USA September 1, 2009

The Snow Storm that Kept me from Shabbos bh
Years ago I left work at 2 p.m as a snow storm was just starting on a New England Friday afternoon. I thought that surely 2 1/2 hours would be sufficient for me to get home before candle-lighting I was wrong.
The traffic had slowed to a mere crawl, and by the time I got into Worcester, it was already Shabbat. I was crying hysterically behind the wheel, screaming at the car in front of me to MOVE! It wasn't THAT slippery, I felt, and he was making me ever later!
When I sheepishly pulled into my synagogue's parking lot and entered the sanctuary, they were starting maariv. I was broken-hearted that I had broken Shabbos.
At the end of the davening, I stood at the back of the men's section and motioned to the rabbi that I had to speak with him. Instead of immediately starting his class, he came over, and I told him my tale of woe, my face streaked with tears.
"Just be more careful planning your time, and I'm sure G-d will forgive you."
I smiled and walked home, relieved. Reply

James Hilden-Minton Decatur, GA May 19, 2008

Bearing the sin of another This amazing story suggests to me that it was the sin of Rabbi Michel that was the source of the continued problems for the simple Jew. Is there any Chassidic teaching on how sin is interconnected in community?

It seems that if one does not acknowlege the repentance and forgiveness of another, then the whole community will bear the weight of that sin. There were no Shabbat candles, no light for the whole synagogue as long as Rabbi Michel's heart was harden against the wagon driver. Reply

Joel Ross Elnora, NY June 8, 2007

"pound of candles" An excellent parable to remind some who are self-righteous that following the spirit of the Law is superior to following the letter of the Law inflexibly, without compassion & empathy for others' travails. Reply

Shana Fairfax, VA October 17, 2005

Beautiful story. Thank you! Reply

Anonymous Phoenix, AZ via chabadaz.com May 12, 2005

Great Story Nice story. Reply

gitel g. brooklyn, y. May 11, 2005

Your article made me realize once again that it is the great and holy ones who sympathize and empathisize with the simple, downtrodden ones. no negative judgementalisim there.... too much love for that to happen....

thank you for the reminder Reply

mushmash coral springs, USA May 11, 2005

blahhhh it is soooooooooooooooooo awesome!!!!!! Reply

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