Over a hundred years ago, in honor of 7 Adar—the day when G‑d Himself buried Moses, which is celebrated annually by the members of some Chevra Kadishas (Burial Societies) with fasting followed by feasting—the women of the Old City of Jerusalem gathered to cook and bake.

Suddenly a strong gust of wind blew open a window and knocked over a jug of milk on the sill. It spilled into the large pot of meat that was cooking on the stove.

Now, the pious and learned women of Jerusalem knew the rule of thumb: Unless the stew was sixty times greater in volume than the milk, the entire mixture was treif, unkosher.

As a result, they reasoned, the celebration would have to be canceled or postponed. After all, could one hold a feast with the main dish missing?

One of the women insisted that they present the question to the city’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Salant (1816-1909), in case he might be able to find an allowance.

To their surprise, the rabbi requested that they return in an hour to allow him to consider their question. They were even more surprised when, after the hour had passed, he answered that the stew was indeed unquestionably kosher, but he could not tell them why.

To demonstrate that he stood by his decision, he attended the gathering himself and partook of the food. Seeing that the rabbi was eating the stew, the assembled ate as well, and the evening was an uplifting and enjoyable event for all.

Many years later the reason for the rabbi’s delay and his surprising answer was finally revealed.

On his deathbed, the venerable milkman of Jerusalem called the Chevra Kadisha to arrange for his burial. When they arrived, he shared with them what happened that day: “The rabbi came to visit me and inquired if I ever watered down the milk, perhaps if there was a shortage or to increase my profit. I admitted to the rabbi that I did so on occasion, including that very morning. The Rabbi reassured me that he would keep my secret so that my reputation would not be damaged, on condition that I would refrain from doing so in the future.”

Armed with the knowledge that the milk in the pitcher contained a fair amount of water, the rabbi calculated the proportions and concluded that the stew was indeed 60 times greater in volume than the amount of milk that had spilled in, rendering the mixture kosher.

They now understood the rabbi’s answer and why he had not explained his reasoning at the time.

Food for thought: Do we always think of all possibilities before we pass judgment? Are we ready to preserve the dignity of another person even when our reputation is at stake?