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On Strike

By Doug Lipman

Rabbi Pesach Mendel was on strike.

Early that morning, one of the women baking matzah had arrived to tell him that it was time to come bless the Passover matzah. To her amazement, he refused. "You are not the one who needs to ask me," he said. And he would say no more.

Flustered, she went back and told the other women what had happened. One by one, they went to the rabbi. He listened to each of them patiently, but only replied, "You are not the one who needs to ask me."

Within an hour, the old men in the House of Study were keeping a list of who had not yet asked the rabbi. As soon as they found someone on the list, they sent him to Rabbi Pesach Mendel's house. At last, there was only one person in the entire village who had not yet asked the rabbi.

They hated to bother the rich man - but everyone else had already tried. So they sent a messenger to his house.

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Some weeks before, the wife of the fish seller came to Rabbi Pesach Mendel. "My husband has been arrested," she sobbed. "The tax collector tripled his taxes overnight, then took him away in chains when he couldn't pay immediately. You must help us, Rabbi!"

Rabbi Pesach Mendel was disturbed, but not truly surprised. It was common for landowners to have a Jew arrested on contrived charges, then expect the Jewish community to pay a fine to buy the Jew's freedom.

So Rabbi Pesach Mendel went from door to door. He asked ordinary people to give what they could. He asked some of the other merchants in town to contribute. He asked the rich man to give, too.

When the rabbi had enough money to free the fish seller, he sent a note to all who had given: "Please come with me to deliver our brother from bondage."

All agreed but the rich man. "You have my money already," he replied. "You don't need my time, too. Go without me!"

At the time, Rabbi Pesach Mendel said nothing.

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The sun was dangerously near the horizon when, at last, the rich man entered the small office of Rabbi Pesach Mendel.

He lost no time stating his case. "Rabbi, you have to do your duties! If you don't bless the matzah, we won't be able to fulfill the commandment for the Passover seder. We won't be able to taste the bread of affliction. That means we won't fulfill the commandment to re-experience the journey from slavery to freedom every year. None of us can make the journey out of slavery until we all do it together!"

Rabbi Pesach Mendel grinned. He said, "Exactly!"

For a moment the rich man looked confused. Then the realization spread over his face, starting with a slight unfurrowing of his forehead. Next, his eyes began to gleam. Finally, he smiled.

Later that night, at the Passover seder, Rabbi Pesach Mendel broke in two the first piece of holy matzah. He offered half of it to the man sitting at his right side. The rich man took it, and they tasted it at the same moment. Together, they began the ritual journey into freedom.

Note: Rabbi Pesach Mendel is a fictitious rabbi created by Doug Lipman.

New! This story will be recorded on Can You Hear the Silence? - Hasidic Stories for the 21st Century, a recording of new Hasidic stories and songs that speak to the joy, humor, mystery, and wisdom we've come to love in Jewish mystical stories - presented in a form that's accessible to listeners of any background. Pre-order in the next 7 days, and save up to 34%! Buy three (great gifts!) and save up to $22.20! Read more at http://storydynamics.com/cyhs.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 5, 2003
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