Rabbi Aryeh Leib, the famed Shpoler Zeide (the “Grandfather from Shpoli,” ?–1811) had been rebbe in the town of Shpoli for three years when a terrible famine struck the area. Grain prices soared, and none but the very rich could afford a bit of bread to still their hunger. Rabbi Leib, whose love for his fellow Jews was unbounded, was sick with heartache for the plight of the poor and needy, the widowed and the orphaned.

As the famine spread to the furthest provinces of Russia, rebbes from other starving communities in the area wrote to Shpoli, begging the Zeide to raise a storm in the heavens that the deadly decree be rescinded. For who, if not he, a holy man known to work wonders, could accomplish this?

Rabbi Leib, on his part, wrote to ten of the greatest tzaddikim of his time—including Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon of Shipitovka, and Rabbi Ze’ev of Zhitomir—requesting that they come to Shpoli immediately.

“I am summoning the Almighty to a Din Torah, a lawsuit in rabbinical court.” They all complied and soon arrived. After they were seated at the long table of the Shpoler Zeide, they heard his awesome words: “Honored rabbis, my masters, I am summoning the Almighty to a Din Torah, a lawsuit in rabbinical court, and you are to serve as the judges. It is true that, according to the law of the Torah, the plaintiff must take his suit to the defendant’s locale; but since in this unique case ‘there is no place devoid of His presence,’1 and since, more particularly, ‘wherever ten are assembled the Divine Presence rests,’2 we will hold the court case here.”

The holy minyan (quorum of ten) of rebbes accepted the Zeide’s argument. They then joined in prayer, their fervent supplications battering the gates of heaven.

The Shpoler Zeide then instructed his aide to announce: “By the order of those gathered here, I hereby proclaim that Aryeh Leib the son of Rachel summons the Almighty to a lawsuit which will be duly conducted in this Beit Din courtroom of Shpoli in three days.”

The holy rebbes spent the next three days together in fasting and prayer; no one was permitted to interrupt their devotions. On the fourth day, after they had concluded the morning prayers and were still wrapped in tallit and adorned by tefillin, the Shpoler Zeide solemnly signaled his aide to announce that the court case was about to begin.

“In the name of all the women and children of the Jews of Russia,” Reb Leib declared, “I hereby state my claim against the Defendant. Why does the Creator of the Universe not provide them with food, thereby preventing their death (G‑d forbid) of hunger? Does not the Torah itself say, ‘For unto Me are the Children of Israel bondsmen; they are My bondsmen’3? Do we not have His promise, recorded by the prophet Ezekiel, that even if His children should someday desire to go in the ways of the nations of the world, they will never succeed in doing so? One is forced to draw the conclusion that the Children of Israel are the Almighty’s servants for all eternity.

“Can the Almighty violate his own Torah so blatantly?” “In that case, they should, at least, be in the category of a ‘Jewish bondsman,’ regarding whom Torah law ordains that his master is required to provide for his bondsman’s wife and children.4 Can the Almighty violate his own Torah so blatantly?

“Now, I’m well aware that some clever prosecuting angel will argue in defense of the Creator, saying that these servants are remiss in their service, that they don’t serve their Master as well as they should. But to this argument I have two replies.

“Firstly, where is it written that if a bondsman is lazy and doesn’t work properly, his wife and children may be deprived of their sustenance?

“Secondly, if these servants are slack in their performance, their Master can fault no one but Himself. For who else gave each servant an evil inclination whose whole job and purpose it is to drive them to abandon their loyalty and to destroy their desire to serve? Why, I can swear that if this evil inclination, which the Master Himself created, would cease to exist, they would become the most perfect servants there could possibly be!”

The ten judges searched their tomes of Torah to ascertain the correct verdict for this unusual claim. After the passage of some time they stood to deliver their unanimous ruling:

May the Heavenly Court above agree and support the verdict of this court in the World Below . . . “This court finds in favor of Aryeh Leib the son of Rachel. The Almighty is accordingly required, by whatever means at His disposal (and the whole world is His), to provide for the women and children of His People. And may the Heavenly Court above agree and support the verdict of this court in the World Below.”

The court pronounced its verdict three times.

The Shpoler Zeide then asked to have vodka and refreshments served. The tzaddikim toasted l’chaim and ate together in a joyous mood before departing for home.

Five days after the momentous verdict had been reached, the government announced a shipment of thousands of tons of grain. Immediately the grain prices fell, and before long, there were ample fresh supplies of food at reasonable prices. And during the entire following year, bread was bountiful for all.