Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Passover - Pesach
To dedicate this lesson

The Passover Guests Who Would Not Leave

The father took the volume in his hand and opened it. “Toldot Yaakov Yosef” by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonne, the foremost disciple of the Holy Baal Shem Tov. He was seized with horror, for his son-in-law belonged to the sect of the Hassidim.


Rabbi Shmuel Holshtein

Nissan 5768
The Torah commands us to refrain from work on the first day of Passover, as it is written, "The first day shall be a sacred holiday to you, when you may not do any service work" (Leviticus 23:7).

There was great excitement in the carriage, as the parents journeyed to visit their daughter for the first time since she was wed, a few months earlier. Their hearts were filled with the expectations of finding their daughter joyful and content.

However, when they arrived and saw a worried, unhappy expression on her face, they became filled with fear. They asked what was wrong, and she explained that although her husband was indeed a pleasant and virtuous man, she had begun to notice some strange practices on his part, and they had her concerned.

She told them that her husband wakes up at midnight, goes to the mikveh (ritual bath), prays in an unconventional manner, and reads each night from a mysterious book he keeps hidden away under his mattress.

The parents were alarmed, and they asked her to show them the book. The father took the volume in his hand, opened it, and read the title aloud, "Toldot Yaakov Yosef." Its author was Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonne, the foremost disciple of the Holy Baal Shem Tov. The father was seized with horror, for he understood that his son-in-law belonged to the sect of the Hassidim.

He ran to his young son-in-law and demanded that the latter give his daughter a divorce certificate on the grounds that they were not aware of his Hassidic beliefs when they agreed to the match. To his surprise, the son-in-law refused most adamantly, explaining that he would not think of parting with his righteous wife for no reason, and that all of the fathers' allegations against the Hassidic school stemmed from a lack of familiarity with Hassidic thought and its sages.

Their argument caused a crowd of townspeople - all of whom belonged to the anti-Hassidic camp - to gather. The debate intensified, becoming more and more vociferous.

Then, all of a sudden, everything became silent. The town overlord entered the crowed. The overlord, who was known for his fondness of the Jews, heard the tumult of the argument from his adjacent palace and decided to see for himself what it was that had the Jewish townspeople in such an uproar.

After he had seated himself in a chair brought in his honor, the Jews related to him the nature of the argument that had arisen between father and son-in-law as a result of the latter's Hassidic affiliation. When the elder landowner heard the name of the book the son-in-law made a covert practice of reading, he jumped up excitedly and began to relate a personal experience.

"I was a young officer in the Tzar's army at the time," said the overlord. "We were planning to relocate our troops, and it was necessary to take a count of the soldiers to be sure that all were present. As it turned out, three soldiers were missing. I sent out a party to search for them in the adjacent town, Polonne, and they returned a short time later, visibly shaken by something.

"They explained that they had indeed tracked down the missing soldiers in a certain house belonging to an old Jew. But the soldiers were entirely unable to move; they simply sat there next to the Jew, paralyzed.

"When I heard this, I assumed that our scouts had probably become intoxicated, and their imagination had gotten the best of them. I decided, then, to go investigate the matter myself.

"And, indeed, things were exactly as they had described them. I knocked at the door and the old man opened it. I told him that the three soldiers had to rejoin us and therefore requested that he let them go. He responded that they had apparently stolen something, and that so long as the goods remained in their possession, the soldiers would be unable to move.

"We searched them and, behold, they had indeed stolen a number of silver goblets. As soon as we removed the goods from their possession, they were again able to move, and they promptly fled from the house."

The overlord was visibly moved. He paused shortly and then continued, "The old man told me that it was Passover night, the night on which the Jewish people became a nation. On this night the Jews are granted special protection, and therefore the soldiers were unable to perpetrate their theft."

The overlord looked around at his intrigued audience and went on, "I then lowered my head before the old man and asked him to give me a blessing. The holy Jew blessed me with long life and other blessings, but he made this dependent upon the condition that I always behave kindly toward the Jews.

"Then he added, 'A day will come when a dispute will arise between Jews over my teachings. You will then be obliged to relate everything you saw here. Once you have done this, your blessing of long life will come to an end.'"

The elder landowner paused for a moment and then said, "I am aware that I have just now decreed my own death, but I owe this to the holy man regarding whom you are arguing - Rabbi Yaakov Yosef from Polonne."
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