Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Poor Man and the Astrologer

The Poor Man and the Astrologer
From Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender's
Siach Sarfei Kodesh
Translated by Dovid Sears

This story reflects Rebbe Nachman's emphasis on bechirah, or freedom of choice. Although divine providence vs. human free will must remain a paradox, as he states in Likutey Moharan I, 21, in the existential situation, free will is quite real, and ultimately we are not slaves of our circumstances.

Our master, Rabbi Nachman, of blessed memory, told the following story: Once an itinerant astrologer came to a certain town, and all the townspeople came to ask his advice concerning their business affairs and their hardships. In this town dwelt a poor man who was exceedingly God-fearing. He spent all his days occupied in Torah study and divine service. After the astrologer's name achieved renown, along with tales of his wondrous salvations and advice, the poor man's wife began to importune him to go to the astrologer, too. Maybe he would receive some good advice in order to extricate himself from his grinding poverty. Since he feared God and was a man of faith, he paid no mind to her words. However, she would not relent. Again and again she urged him, until he could not stand up to her anymore. "Whether you want to or not, just go!" In Yiddish: Yoh gevohlt, nisht gevohlt, un fohrt gegahngen!

After hearing his story, the astrologer told him: "Your stars have determined that you must become a thief!"

At this, the poor man ran out of the room and went straight back to the Beis HaMedrash (study hall) to resume his Torah studies, as before.

When he came home, his wife asked, "What did the astrologer tell you?"

"Nothing at all!" he replied.

In the middle of his meal, he began to laugh to himself.

"To be sure, the astrologer told you something!" his wife exclaimed. "You just don't want to tell me!" She began to berate him: "Whether you want to or not, tell me!" Yoh gevohlt, nisht gevohlt, un zohg mir!

So he confessed what the astrologer had advised him to do. The woman was deeply shaken by the strange instruction the astrologer had given her husband, who was such a chassid (devoutly religious man).

He went to the Beis HaMedrash as in the past, and returned to his holy books and divine service. After awhile, hunger began to gnaw at the poor couple. Finally, the wife turned to her husband and said, "I am already willing for you to go out and steal, as long as we don't have to starve like this anymore!"

Day after day, she kept this up, urging him to go out and steal just once - only as much as they would need to stay alive. "Whether you want to or not, just go!" Yoh gevohlt, nisht gevohlt, un fohrt gegahngen!

The poor man made up his mind that he had no choice, since his family was starving. He would go and steal from the richest man in town; however, he would take only the smallest amount, just enough to stay alive. Upon entering the rich man's place of business, he found the guards sound asleep. No one asked him a thing. He went from room to room until he came to the safe, pocketed an extremely small amount, and brought his ill-gotten gains back to his wife.

"See!" he declared. "This one time I have fulfilled your wishes!" - but he resolved never to go back and commit such an act of theft.

Time passed, and the pangs of hunger began to afflict them again. The poor man's wife begged him to steal some small amount, just one more time. "Whether you want to or not, just go!" Yoh gevohlt, nisht gevohlt, un fohrt gegahngen! Again the man was successful; and again and again, he continued to steal.

Soon there was a great hue and cry in town. There was a thief among them of such consummate skill that he would steal the slightest amount whenever he wished, and never be caught. This was a source of amazement even to the other thieves, for none of the local thieves was familiar with this talented fellow. They wanted to initiate him into their band. Therefore, they resolved to search for him until they captured him. Since these thieves, too, were born under a good star for stealing, they caught him - and it was a wonder in their eyes who the master thief turned out to be! The poor man became their friend and partner in crime.

One day the thieves came to him and told him that in the king's palace were some extremely precious garments, ornamented with precious stones and pearls. If they could steal them, they would become very rich. For a long time, the thieves had bemoaned the fact that they could not steal the precious garments because the latter were so well guarded. However, since their new comrade's skills in thievery were so great, he surely could purloin the king's clothes. "Whether you want to or not, just go!" Yoh gevohlt, nisht gevohlt, un fohrt gegahngen!

He entered the palace, and because his stars were favorable, he managed to steal the precious garments. When he left the palace and brought them back to the robbers' lair, however, the former chassid and the thieves began to bicker. As soon as they sat down to divide the spoils, each side demanded a greater share. The other thieves objected, "It was our idea, therefore, we deserve the greater portion!" The former chassid argued, "If not for the fact that my stars were so auspicious, there would be nothing to talk about!" Since he had risked his life to steal the precious garments from the royal palace, the greater portion belonged to him.

The thieves did not know how to resolve their dispute. Finally, the man made a startling proposition. "Since the king is such a great sage," he suggested, "I will go back to the palace and ask him to decide for us!"

His comrades were shocked by this idea. "How could you appear in person before the king and ask such a question?"

"The king has a royal storyteller," he replied. "Whenever the king has trouble sleeping because of his many problems of state, the royal storyteller tells him a tale until sleep overcomes him. Through him I will accomplish my purpose!"

The next day, he entered into the royal palace. Late at night, he crept into the king's bedchamber and began to disturb the bed until the king awoke. Immediately he commanded the royal storyteller to tell him a story. However, the storyteller, too, was asleep. So the burglar impersonated the hapless fellow, and began to recount the tale of his predicament to the king, albeit in a disguised way. When he was through, he asked the king for his opinion about the dispute.

"What's the question?" the king exclaimed in indignation. "Without a doubt, the larger portion should go to lucky thief! It was his good star that enabled him to pilfer the royal palace!"

A little while later, the heinous theft was discovered, and there was a great uproar about the fact that someone could enter the royal treasury undetected and commit such an act. The king particularly was astonished, for he remembered the story and the question he was asked, and how he himself had given an answer. He was so astounded, in fact, that he had it proclaimed throughout the streets of the capital that if the daring thief would present himself before the king, he would not punish him in any way. The king merely wished to see such an amazing thief. "Whether you want to or not, just come!" Yoh gevohlt, nisht gevohlt, un fohrt gegahngen!

The former chassid acceded to the king's request, and told him the entire story from beginning to end. The royal ministers and judges, however, informed the king that notwithstanding his personal forgiveness, the thief must be tried for breaking the law of the land. They judged his case, and ruled that the thief be executed by hanging.

As they were taking him to the gallows, he saw in the distance his old acquaintance, the astrologer, carrying a large sack of torn shoes (Yiddish: shkrohbes) on his back. He called out to him, "Look where they are taking me! Didn't you tell me that my destiny was to become a thief?"

The astrologer mirthfully laughed at him and said, "Take a good look at the sack on my back, full of torn shoes. These are the shoes I wore out in all my travels, until at last I succeeded in catching you in my trap!"

For he was actually the Baal Davar, the Evil Inclination that had laid in wait in order to lead him to stumble through various forms of persuasion, until he captured him and ultimately brought about his death.

Breslov tradition has it that while telling this tale, the Rebbe repeated emphatically, "Whether you like it or not…" Yoh gevohlt, un nisht gevohlt... For this was the poor man's shortcoming: he entered into dialogue with his Evil Inclination as to whether or not he should do something wrong. If he had remained firm in his resolve from beginning to end, he would have been saved from temptation and lived a long and good life, serving God according to his former way.

There is an allusion to this in the biblical story of the temptation of Joseph by the wife of Potiphar, the Egyptian minister. It is written "And he resisted (vayi'ma-ein)…" (Genesis 39:8). The traditional musical notation for this word is a shalsheles ("chain"); that is, the Torah reader prolongs the last syllable by repeating the same descending melodic ornament three times. This corresponds to three stages of one continuous refusal. This is why Joseph was victorious in his spiritual test, and eventually became the king's viceroy. It was as if to say: "I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't want to - and it won't happen!" Nisht Gevohlt, un nisht gevohlt, un nisht gevohlt - un nisht vellen! (III, 98)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Chanukah Food For the Needy Campaign in Tsfas

Chanukah is a very special time for giving Tzedakah. The custom of giving our children "Chanukah Gelt" is in order to teach them the importance of Tzedakah. At this time when we renew our connection to the Mitzvos and yearn for the re-dedication of the Temple, what better way to connect with these two Mitzvos than helping the impoverished families of the Holy Land?

Last year, Eizer L'Shabbos was fortunate enough to give out food to hundreds of needy families. Hundreds of children celebrated Chanukah with hearts full of joy, due to the packages Eizer L'Shabbos gave out. Unfortunately, this year there is only enough money for a small number of families. So many children are desperately counting on your donation. Please give what you can, so we can spread the light of Chanukah in the Holy City of Tsfas.

The Zohar teaches, "One whom Hashem loves, He sends him a gift: A poor man, so that he can acquire the Mitzvah of helping him."

May the merit of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai protect us this Chanukah. Amen.

Tax deductible contributions may be mailed to:

Eizer L'Shabbos
5014 Sixteenth Ave., Suite 319
Brooklyn, NY 11204

UPDATE: Please see the new Eizer L'Shabbos video here:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In Honor of Thanksgiving: The Turkey Prince

The Turkey Prince

From Tales From Reb Nachman (Artscroll / Mesorah)
Retold for children and illustrated by Dovid Sears

Once upon a time, there was a prince who decided that he was a turkey. So he took off his clothes and sat under the royal table. There he pecked at bones and crusts of bread - and even at people's legs. Sometimes he made turkey sounds so loud that everyone had to run out of the room holding his ears! Famous doctors from Austria tried to cure him, but they all gave up. His father the king didn't know what to do. All of his wealth and power didn't seem to matter any more.

At last, a wise man came to the palace. He wore a long black coat and hat, and his high boots were muddy and worn. His beard had been gray for many years, but he still seemed young and strong. I will cure the prince," he said. "But you must let me do it my way, even if it seems strange."

The king agreed. He ordered his servants to do everything the wise man said.

The next morning after breakfast, the wise man took off his clothes. He sat down under the royal table near the king's son. And he, too, pecked at crumbs and bones, as if he always ate this way.

"Who are you?" asked the prince. "And what are you doing here?"

"Who are you?" asked the wise man. "And what are you doing here?"

"I am a turkey," answered the prince.

"I am also a turkey," answered the wise man.

Then they both continued to crawl across the thick carpet on their hands and knees. They clucked and gobbled and looked for pieces of food. They did this together for many hours and became friends.

The next afternoon, after a lunch of corn flakes and dust, the wise man signaled the royal butler to bring two shirts. The wise man asked the prince, "Do you think turkeys can't wear shirts just like people? We can wear shirts and still be turkeys!" And they both put on shirts.

A day later he signaled again, and the butler brought them pants. As before, the wise man asked, "Do you think turkeys can't wear pants just like people? We can wear pants and still be turkeys!" The wise plan worked well. In a few days he and the prince were dressed like everyone else in the palace. But they still crawled and pecked at crumbs.

Now it was time for the second part of his plan. The wise man signaled again, and the servants brought platters of meat and potatoes, salads and fruits and sweet rolls from the table. "Do you think turkeys can't eat good food just like people?" asked the wise man. "We can eat everything people eat and still be turkeys!" So they still sat under the table, but they ate the same food as the royal family.

Finally, the wise man asked, "Do you think turkeys can't sit at the table just like people? We can sit at the table and still be turkeys!"

For many days the wise man continued talking to the king's son in this way. Then, finally, the prince awoke one morning and realized that he was not a turkey after all.


Deep down inside, we all want to be good people and live a holy life. But sometimes, we think we are so far from Hashem that we are like turkeys under the table, pecking at crumbs. That's why Hashem put tzaddikim in this world. They can help us see that we are really Hashem's children. Then we are able to sit at His royal table and taste the sweetness of His Torah. And that's where we really belong!

© 1987 Mesorah Publications

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yosef Karduner

Yosef Karduner continues his tour of the Greater New York community

Tuesday November 1st

The Lounge at Great Neck's
Torah Ohr Simcha Hall
575 MiddleNeck Road
Admission $15
Separate Seating

Thursday November 3rd

Cong. Ramath Orah
The ROC House
550 W. 110th St. (b/w Brdwy and Amsterdam)
doors 7:30pm / concert 8:00pm
Admission $18 / $15 Students
Separate Seating

Saturday night November 5th

Shulamith Theatre presents
1277 East 14th St.
(entrance on Chestnut St.)
Brooklyn, NY
Doors 7:30pm / Concert 8:30pm
Cover $15
Separate seating
More info and tickets at

Rabbi Chaim Kramer to Speak in Marine Park

Rabbi Chaim Kramer of Jerusalem, prolific author, teacher and founder/director of the Breslov Research Institute (BRI), will give a class this Wednesday evening, Nov. 2, at the home of Mr and Mrs Asher Wagh in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn.

Location: 1750 Coleman St.
Time: 8:15-until it ends

Rabbi Kramer also informs us that with the grace of Hashem, a second volume in his new series of Breslov teachings on the Chumash has been published. This volume covers Exodus and Leviticus, and advance copies will be available at the shiur. The series has already met with great enthusiasm and opens up new worlds of understanding the weekly Torah portion. Mazal tov to Rabbi Kramer and BRI for another great contribution to "Breslov in English" and English Judaica in general.