It was a depressing sight. The small boy stood in the bare room—long stripped of its furniture and warmth—looking down at the pale man between the sheets. There was no use denying the inevitable: his father’s death was imminent.

“My dear Berish,” whispered his father, his voice barely audible. “I know we struggled, and although we were forced to sell almost everything else, the menorah I didn’t touch. An inheritance in our family for generations, I leave it to you.”

“Please, Berish,” said the dying man, closing his eyes, “protect it as though your life depends on it. No matter how bad things get, don’t sell it...” His voice trailed off, and with his heart’s final beat, that was it. Berish’s father had uttered his last words.

It hadn’t always been this bad. In fact, Berish’s parents had once been among the wealthiest citizens of Szerencs, Hungary. But when his father’s business suffered setback after setback, furniture disappeared for money, even the food became scarce and bland, and life was gloomy. Unable to cope, Berish’s mother died when he was only eight.It hadn’t always been this bad. In fact, Berish’s parents had once been among the wealthiest citizens of Szerencs, Hungary. Just two years later, he witnessed his father’s death, leaving him an orphan.

Kind neighbors invited the boy to live with them. They sent him to sit and learn in yeshivah, and though Berish tried his best, his studies never stuck with him. Feeling he would perhaps be better suited to handiwork, his foster parents set up an apprenticeship with Chaim, the local carpenter. The idea excited Berish, who found he enjoyed—and was good at—whittling wood. In fact, he excelled. Years passed, and when Chaim was ready to retire, he sold his shop to Berish, who kept things running smoothly.

When Berish married a young woman from Teglas, 80 kilometers to the south, he closed the workshop and moved to his wife’s hometown, where they lived close to her parents. He had hoped to set up a new workshop, but an impressive and successful one was already operating there, leaving no room for fresh competition.

With no work, the young couple struggled to get by, and they lived off their savings until there was nothing left. After consulting with his wife, Berish decided to return to Szerencs, where he hoped to reopen his shop. Unfortunately for him, Berish found a different carpenter already servicing the area.

Left with no recourse, Berish wandered from town to town, hoping to find an area he could service with his carpentry. He made sure to send occasional letters to his family, reassuring them that everything was fine and that he was still looking. But his search took him further than he had ever imagined; he was far away in Paris when Berish decided to abandon hope of ever reopening his carpentry shop.

By this point, the fruitlessness had driven him to near madness, which he would drown with spirits.

One day, Berish was offered a job as a waiter. He seized the opportunity to escape the destructive cycle of alcoholism, but the job was in an inn frequented by unruly characters, and the unsavory atmosphere only added to his struggles. Little by little, Berish dropped Jewish observance, forgetting the wife and little ones left behind too.

Back home, the young woman found no solace and poured her misery out in tears. It was as if the earth had swallowed her beloved husband. She tried whatever means she had at her disposal, approaching strangers traveling through town and grilling them about her husband’s whereabouts, without success. No one had seen him.

The young woman’s neighbor relayed her plight to Rabbi Yechezkel of Sieniawa (Shineva), who was passing through Teglas. Rabbi Yechezkel listened without saying a word. He sighed and handed the neighbor something for the young woman: a pouch full of bills.

The desperate young woman wanted more. Was this really the tzaddik’s response? Giving the pouch a reproachful glance, the young woman burst into tears and stormed into Reb Yechezkel’s lodgings, demanding action.

“Do you really think some money is a substitute from my husband? I want him back!”

Seriousness clouded Reb Yechezkel’s features. “Don’t you have an old menorah in your house? Light it for the first seven days of Chanukah as usual. On the eighth, however, make sure to keep the menorah burning through the night. If necessary, have someone refill it with oil as needed.”

It was evening as Berish made his way down the stairs. Rowdy as usual, the inn swelled with patrons who had quickly finished the bar’s stock of drink, forcing him to get more from the cellar. He suddenly felt a strong grip on his shoulder. Berish spun around to see an old Jew staring at him in the dim light.

“How dare you abandon your wife? Return home immediately!”

Forgetting the bottles, Berish fled up the stairs, fearing the strange apparition. But a look down into the dark cellar revealed no one, much less an elderly Jew. He didn’t feel any better after telling his boss, who roared with laughter at his tale.

A few days later, Berish was confronted by the unhappy Jew once more. This time, the man sounded ominous, promising unpleasant things if Berish failed to follow his instructions.

Berish’s boss discovered him splayed on the floor, unconscious. Doctors suspected the hallucinations were a result of his crushing workload, and ordered rest. But Berish had no intention of doing so. Telling his boss he needed to leave town for several days, he began the long journey back to Teglas.

Drenched and chilled to the bone, Berish stared down the pitch-black and muddy street, barely able to discern the houses. He had arrived in Teglas late at night, in the midst of strong rain that made the streets run with brown sludge. Nothing seemed familiar. Finding his erstwhile home in these circumstances was impossible, but something in the distance caught his eye. Berish slogged through the thick mud, knocked at the door, and waited, his heart pounding. Barely a flicker in the rain, a light shone from behind a window. Berish slogged through the thick mud, knocked at the door, and waited, his heart pounding.

The door opened a crack and Berish invited himself inside to huddle near the stove. As feeling returned to his fingers, he looked around and found the source of the light: his father’s silver menorah twinkling merrily on the windowsill.

Realizing he was, in fact, in his own home, Berish lifted his eyes to meet his wife’s.

With tears and remorse, he tried to explain his struggles over the past years to his wife. “Would you be kind enough to forgive me?” he implored.

For a while, neither spoke. Berish broke the silence with another question.

“Why is my father’s menorah lit at such a late hour?”

His wife explained everything, and in time, they settled back into the life they had shared several years prior.

At one point, Berish wanted to meet Rabbi Yechezkel, whose counsel had guided him home. When they came face to face, he could hardly contain his shock: before him stood the strange old Jew who had confronted him in the cellar of the inn in Paris.

Adapted from Sichat Hashavua #1303