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Tainted Soup

Tainted Soup

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It appeared to be a holiday in the Jewish community of Lumzha. The streets were freshly cleaned, the windows of the houses facing the street were sparkling, and everyone was dressed in their best clothing.

What was the occasion? One of the most important Torah scholars of the generation was coming for a brief visit, so the entire community was poised at the entrance of the city to greet the esteemed sage, Rabbi Akiva Eiger.

A wave of emotion and joy rolled through the waiting crowd when Rabbi Eiger climbed down from his carriage and glanced warmly along the rows of his crowded reception committee. Many called out a cheery Shalom aleichem, while those in the very front thrust out their right hands to try to give a welcoming handshake.

For the duration of the great Rabbi's stay in Lumzha, a long line of petitioners stood in front of the house where he was lodging. Among them were Torah scholars who sought his help in resolving difficulties that arose in their studies, while others came to receive his blessing or advice about matters in their personal lives.

One woman, Ettel, burst into copious tears as soon as she entered the famous scholar's room. She had nine sons, eight of whom were both dedicated and successful in their Torah studies in the yeshivah. But she was upset about Moshe-Noach, her fifteen-year-old, who was floundering in the study of Talmud. Nobody could understand why, since he was a clever lad, who did excellently in his secular subjects, such as grammar and math.

Rabbi Eiger listened carefully to her report. He thought for a few moments and then said, "The greatest authorities in Jewish law have written that one must be exceedingly careful that young children should not taste any forbidden foods, since such foods can dull and coarsen the mind towards Torah."

Ettel was startled at the implication that her son could have eaten something not kosher, but she did her best to keep her face impassive. The rabbi nevertheless picked up on her thought and said gently, "Perhaps it happened once without you knowing it, and that is why he has so much trouble understanding the Gemara."

"What can we do about it then?" asked Ettel, still shocked at the idea.

"Let him persevere in toiling in the study of Torah, despite his hardships, and G‑d will help him," responded the great rabbi.

Ettel's husband was disturbed to hear the words of the illustrious Rabbi Akiva Eiger about their son. How could it be? Their children never ate anything other than what they received at home. He immediately summoned Moshe-Noach and questioned him as to whether he had ever eaten anything outside of the house. The lad answered that he never had, but his father insisted that he think about it more thoroughly. Finally, Moshe-Noach remembered that once, many years before when he was much younger, something had happened on Chanukah.

He and his friends were returning from school earlier than usual, in order to be on time for the kindling of the Chanukah lights. When they passed the town hotel, they saw that a wedding was about to take place. One of the members of the wedding party noticed them, invited them to come in, and offered them something to eat. To the best of his memory, he took a bit of chicken-lentil soup.

His parents were surprised to hear about the incident, especially after so many years had intervened, but they did not see how it offered a solution to the puzzle the Torah luminary had presented them. Both the owner of the hotel and the shochet (ritual slaughterer) who slaughtered meat for him were known to be punctilious in their observance of the kashrut laws and true G‑d-fearing men.

Nevertheless, the father was determined to pursue the matter till the end. He hurried over to the hotel and discussed the matter with the owner. The latter willingly took out his old record books to try to identity exactly whose wedding it was that took place on that day of Chanukah years before.

It turned out to not be so difficult after all. In the curling pages of a ledger nearly a decade old he found it clearly written that on the 26th of Kislev, the second day of Chanukah, in the year 5566 (1805), was catered the wedding of Yekutiel Alpert -- his second marriage. It was also recorded that the groom had paid the entire bill in advance.

The father of Moshe-Noach knew Mr. Yekutiel Alpert very well. He was an uncouth man, not exceptionally observant, who lived in a house at the outskirts of town. Nevertheless, this information still did not solve the family's mystery. The food had been prepared under the control of the hotel, not the married couple.

So the father decided to go next to the house of the shochet. The latter received him politely asked what was the occasion for the surprise visit. Upon hearing that the matter concerned the wedding of Yekutiel Alpert, the shochet was visibly distressed.

"Oy, oy!" he cried out. "Once again I have to rake that open wound?!"

Moshe-Noach's father was startled by his words. His ears picked up as the shochet proceeded to supply details.

"I erred in the slaughter of the chickens for that wedding. Not that I actually made any mistakes in the procedures," he hastened to explain. "But something was very wrong. Only, I didn't know it at the time. Not until a few days after that wedding.

"Walking in the street, I encountered one of the chassidim of Lumzha, an important member of the Chabad community. As I passed by him he gave me a hard stare and said, 'Who would have thought? A respected Jew sells his soul in pursuit of monetary gain! Unbelievable!'

"I was shocked to hear such words directed at me. I stared at him, seeking clarification. He said, 'We heard that you were the one who slaughtered chickens for the wedding of Alpert. Surely you knew that some of the most important rabbis of our time, including Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, issued a decree forbidding him to remarry until he redid the divorce of his first wife, in which the get, the bill of divorce, turned out to be invalid.'

"My whole body began to tremble involuntarily as the chassid took out of his pocket a copy of the letter from Rabbi Shneur Zalman. It said:

I was astonished and disturbed to hear of this deed which should never be done among Jews, which was done in your domain. How can a divorce be sanctioned if the get is invalid according to the Torah? …Therefore you must take upon yourselves to prevent this man from marrying another woman, Heaven forbid, until the problem is fixed. And if, Heaven protect us, such a wedding should be announced, to decree upon all the shochtim in the area a rabbinical prohibition against slaughtering any animals or fowl. If they should transgress and slaughter, all the meat is to be considered treif and forbidden to eat.

"When I saw that letter with my own eyes," continued the shochet, "I was beside myself with horror. Even though I had known nothing and heard nothing about the problem with the divorce, I was mortified at having transgressed the instructions of a leading rabbi of our generation. I decided to undergo dozens of fasts, which I did, but I still don't feel as if I have atoned for my error."

The next day the entire story spread quickly through Lumzha. Everyone was amazed by both the power of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's decree, and the acute Divine inspiration of Rabbi Akiva Eiger.

Biographical Notes:
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1761-1837), the chief rabbi of Posen, Prussia for 23 years, was an acclaimed scholar whose analyses of and innovative insights into the Gemora are studied in nearly all yeshivas.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745- 1812), one of the primary disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, is the founder of the Chabad-Chassidic movement. He is the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya as well as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.

Translated-adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the Hebrew weekly Sichat HaShavua. Rabbi Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Dave Australia September 8, 2013

@ Mend - two questions I hope you had a good yom tov

Thanks for your reply. It raises other questions, though.
Rat poison is hardly comparable, since one is a physical act and the other is a case of of the Aibishter supporting the decre of a tsaddik.

I am not comfortable saying that such an outcome follows "naturally", since all is the hands of the A-mighty, not a single leaf grows without a divine voice saying "grow', and He would surely prevent harm to the innocent.

I wish you a g'mar chatimah tova

Dave Reply

Anonymous September 5, 2013

Sin? Show me in the Torah where it says any of this is a sin. Good luck finding it. Reply

Mend Long Island August 30, 2013

@ Dave - Two Questions What if someone, without knowing, would have added rat-poison to the soup? Would the people eating the soup be affected even though they didn't know that the soup was poisoned? Would the cook feel guilty for inadvertently adding the poison?

Its not a matter of blame, the reality of the food was changed by the decree and the outcome came on its own. Reply

Susan Levitsky August 29, 2013

This makes no sense I'm sure Chassidim see this as a great story but I am confused. Two innocent people are being punished for something that was beyond their control. The schochet performed his job according to the laws but didn't know about the decree. The child did not eat unkosher food, it just happened to be served in the wrong place. How was the get not according to Torah? Surely the writer of the get is the one who erred. The Rebbe who made this decree, before everyone could see it on the internet, should have known it was not possible to reliably warn everyone. Didn't the local Rabbis hold some guilt for this? Why wasn't the groom punished? The story illustrates how a famous Rebbe caused problems for totally innocent people when it was not likely or even possible for them to have know anything about the issues. This makes no sense. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 28, 2013

It's a Story! But it feels unlikely a young Torah scholar would be so affected by a little chicken soup in this way.

I "get" it. The point! Reply

Dave Sydney, Australia August 28, 2013

Two questions Why did Moshe-Noach suffer? He did nothing wrong. Why did the shochet feel guilty? He didn't know of the decree at the time. It is a fundamental principle that no-one is punished for another's sin (Dev. 24:16 and commentaries), so why did both these characters suffer for Alpert's sin? Reply

Anonymous Florida August 26, 2013

Oh to be an ethical vegetarian God works in mysterious ways to protect His innocent creatures! Reply

Anonymous July 31, 2013

thank you It's an amazing story! Amazing! It's very inspiring, too. Reply

Part 2 Brooklyn, NY December 20, 2011

to So--What happened I read in the book The Heavenly City by Menachem Gerlitz that his parents sent him off to the Holy Land (which is a holy enviroment) where Moshe Noach indeed managed to break thru these obstacles and became a great Rabbi. Reply

Anonymous Tzefat, Israel August 19, 2010

source The source is printed a few lines above your letter, in the credits. Reply

chaim new york August 18, 2010

source can you please post the source of this story Reply

Larry San Francisco, CA January 20, 2009

So -- What happened? Certainly, the schochet, who had no knowledge of the faulty divorce or the Alter Rebbe's decree, should get some kind of dispensation ... What about the wedding guests? What happened to Moshe-Noach? Reply