Be holy. For I, your G‑d, am holy. (19:2)

“Be holy”—sanctify yourself also concerning what is permitted.

Talmud, Yevamos 20b

The first thing we heard from the Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi) upon our arrival in Liozna was: “What is forbidden, one must not; and what is permitted, one need not.” Three or four years we toiled with this, until we made this approach part of our lives. Only then would we be received in a private audience (yechidus) with the Rebbe to ask about our individual paths in serving the Almighty.

—Rabbi Mordechai of Horodok

At a chassidic get-together (farbrengen) held in the early years of Chabad chassidism, Reb Shmuel Munkes was doing the honors. The merry chassid danced about the participants, pouring the vodka and serving the farbaisen platters spread with bites of food to follow up the l’chaims.

Among the dishes which had arrived from the kitchen of Reb Nosson the shochet (ritual slaughterer) was a bowl of roasted lung, a most tasty delicacy. But for some reason, Reb Shmuel was reluctant to part with this particular dish. Throughout the evening he pranced about, pouring the l’chaims and serving the food, with the bowl of roasted lung snug and elusive under his arm, deftly sidestepping all attempts to free it from his grasp.

Soon the chassidim grew weary of Reb Shmuel’s game and demanded outright that he hand over the bowl and its mouth-watering contents. But the waiting chassid ignored their angry demands and kept up his dodging dance. Finally, a few of the younger chassidim decided that Reb Shmuel’s prank had gone on long enough. They rose from the table, and soon the bowl and its bearer were cornered. But with a final leap and twist, Reb Shmuel dumped the roasted lung into the spittoon, and broke out in a merry kazatzka dance.

The younger chassidim sat to consider the gravity of Reb Shmuel’s crime, and decreed that a few well placed stripes were in order. Without batting an eye, Reb Shmuel stretched himself out on the table and received his due. He then set out in search of more farbaisen to keep the farbrengen going. But the hour was late, and the best he could come up with was a plate of pickled cabbage donated by one of the Liozna residents.

Upon seeing the replacement dish, the expressions on the faces of those who had already imagined the taste of roasted lung grew as sour as the kraut set before them. But soon a commotion was heard in the hallway. The town’s butcher ran in, a most stricken look on his face: “Jews! Don’t eat the lung!” he cried. “There has been a terrible mistake.” It seems that the butcher had been out of town, and the butcher’s wife mistakenly gave the shochet’s wife a non-kosher lung to roast for the farbrengen.

Now it was the elder chassidim who sat in judgement upon Reb Shmuel. The audacity of a chassid to play the wonder-rabbi! By what rights had Reb Shmuel taken it upon himself to work miracles? Up onto the table with you, Reb Shmuel, decreed the court.

After receiving his due for the second time that night, Reb Shmuel explained: “G‑d forbid, I had no inside information regarding the roasted lung. But when I entered into yechidus with the Rebbe for the first time, I resolved that no material desire would ever dictate to me. So I trained myself not to allow anything physical to overly attract me.

“When the bowl of roasted lung arrived, I found that my appetite was most powerfully roused. I also noticed that the same was true of many around the table. To be so strongly drawn by a mere piece of meat? I understood that something was not right.”

When the czar’s soldiers came to arrest Rabbi Schneur Zalman in 1798, the rebbe consulted with Rabbi Shmuel Munkes: should he go into hiding or allow himself to be taken to Petersburg? Reb Shmuel advised his rebbe not to resist. “Why?” asked Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Answered Reb Shmuel: “One or the other. If you are truly a rebbe, then no harm will befall you. And if you are not—you deserve it! How dared you deprive thousands of Jews of their pleasure in the material world?”