Some rabbis have a particularly deep connection to specific holidays – and for Reb Tzvi, the Grand Rabbi of Mezhiditchov, it was Purim. This was the holiday in which his emotions of joy came to the fore, emphasizing his special and unique service of G-d. His followers would often tell of the copious preparations that took place every year in the days before Purim in his home and among his helpers – preparations both spiritual and material. No end of cakes piled up, together with meat, fish, fine wines and more, for distribution for Mishloach Manot [gifts of food sent on Purim among friends and neighbors] – and for the traditional grand Purim feast that the Rebbe held for his followers. That annual feast was one thing that everyone made sure not to miss!
But perhaps most splendid of all were the costumes. Alongside from the many cooks engaged in preparing the Purim feast were a host of righteous women busy sewing the holiday attire and get-up for the community leaders to wear. This was in keeping with Jewish custom to masquerade on the holiday – showing that, just as the topsy-turvy Purim story itself, things are not actually as they appear on the outside. These costumes were not of the regular type that Jewish children around the world either prepare or have their parents purchase. Rather, the Rebbe himself would draw up a list of costumes to be prepared that year and for whom. He also gave precise instructions as to how to sew the apparel – for one set had to be fit for a king, quite literally, and others had to be prepared for the king's ministers and advisors.
The seamstresses knew how important these clothing were for the Rebbe – for in the afternoon hours of the holy day, the Rebbe had a fascinating and dramatic custom: He would gather together the "royal ministers" to accompany and escort one of his great Hassidim [followers], who was to serve that day as the "King of the Country" – and then together, the Rebbe and the "King" would run and determine the affairs of the country for the coming year.
For the Rebbe knew how to utilize the greatness of the holy day and use it to the best advantage of the Jewish community. For the Sages have taught us that "Purim is like [Yom HaKi]-purim," or Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement; just like on Yom Kippur the Jewish People can influence the Heavenly Court from above, so too on Purim they can influence it from below.
And this is how it worked, on the Purim of that year in which this story took place: The Rebbe had chosen Reb Dovid, one of his very top students, to be King – and Reb Dovid well understood the importance of the mission assigned to him. So did the others who had been carefully chosen to serve as the "ministers," each according to the specific function he was to take on.
The great day came. The Rebbe sat on the throne-like chair reserved especially for Purim, and greeted his followers one by one. Abruptly was heard a series of trumpet blasts. All the Hassidim quickly made way, standing to the sides of the long hall to watch their beloved Rebbe perform the holy service and conduct the affairs of state for the coming year.
The "ministers" marched in, heralding the arrival of "King" Reb Dovid, dressed in royal attire just barely different from the real thing. Though his demeanor was close to that of one who truly internalized the gravity of the situation, it was also clear that he had already begun fulfilling another of the mitzvot of the day, that of drinking oneself to confusion. In fact, a Jew on Purim is mandated to drink most generously of fine, festive wine, to the point that he can no longer distinguish between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman."
The Rebbe arose in his honor, shook his hand warmly, and invited Reb Dovid to sit on another luxurious chair that had been prepared in advance for royalty. The Rebbe then began to list off for King Reb Dovid the details of the sufferings of the Jews that year. He began by noting the Candles Decree, which required the Jews to pay a heavy tax for every candle they lit on the Sabbath and other occasions. The "King" listened attentively, and then proceeded to order his "advisors" to cancel the decree.
The Rebbe then listed off other decrees or difficulties, and the "King" annulled them or ordered them rectified. Very soon, almost everything the Jews suffered from had been turned into a blessing of some sort.
The Rebbe then announced: "We've now come to the worst decree of all, and the King must surely cancel it, once and for all! It is the decree of the forced drafting of young Jewish boys into the army. We can no longer bear this evil edict!"
At this, King Reb Dovid turned in his seat away from the Rebbe, and said, "No! This decree I will not overturn!"
A hush came over the hall. Such a thing had never happened. The Rebbe signaled to his assistant to quickly bring over to Reb Dovid another generous glass of wine. The "King" downed it quickly, licked his lips, and said – "No! I will not rescind it!"
The Rebbe began to explain how difficult was this decree for his flock, and how young Jews drafted into a foreign army could barely, if at all, withstand such tests. Reb Dovid ignored him. The Rebbe's face was filled with sweat, and he summoned another glass of wine for the erstwhile ruler, and he yelled at him, and begged him, and threatened him – all to no avail. The Hassidim stood around, in shock at the brazenness of the Rebbe's prize student in refusing his express commands. The negotiations continued on for a while, until finally the "King" simply fell asleep on his plush chair.
The Rebbe, with a pale face, signaled that it was time to begin the Grace After Meals – after which he got up without a word and retired to his room.
The next day, Reb Dovid arose from his drunken stupor, and was horrified to hear how he had behaved the day before. The more he heard, the more resolved he became to leave the town and go into exile until his sin was atoned for. But the Rebbe had other plans. When heard that Reb Dovid had awoken, he went to him and offered him his hand with a smile – not as broad as usual, but a smile nonetheless: "Don't worry, Reb Dovid! You were just an agent by which the decrees would be rescinded - or not. We, for our parts, did whatever we could to cancel the army decree, but apparently in Heaven, that was not what was to happen. Our young sons will be drafted into the army, and we must prepare ourselves to deal with this calamity in other ways."
And in fact, that very year, the authorities canceled the Candles Decree and the others that the Rebbe had ordered rescinded – but the army continued to draft young Jewish boys.