Passed: 4 Shevat 1807
Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov was one of the leading disciple of Reb Shmelke of Nickolsburg. He also learned from the Maggid of Mezritch and from Elimelech of Lizhensk. Subsequently a Rebbe in his own right with many followers, he was famous primarily for his love of his fellow Jews and his constant work to ransom Jewish prisoners from prison. His teachings are contained in the books, Likutei RaMal, Toras ReMaL, Hashalem, and Chidushei RaMal
A particular Jewish innkeeper lived in an isolated hamlet for so long that he barely remembered that he was a Jew. Shabbos was a word he dimly recalled. Day and night he served the Polish peasants who bought drinks in his little inn. Nothing new ever happened and each year slipped unnoticed into the next.
One day a tall, stately-looking Jew entered his inn and disturbed the inkeeper’s quiet existence. This visitor was none other than the famous tzadik, Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov , who had leased a hut in the middle of a forest in order to meditate and pray in the stillness of the woods. However, from time to time he would come to the village to purchase food, and that is how he happened to meet our inkeeper.
When the tzadik first entered his inn, something deep inside the innkeeper stirred and prompted him to say to the rabbi, “You know, sir, I too am a Jew.”
“How can you live in a place where there are no other Jews?” the tzadik inquired. “It seems you have even forgotten our holy traditions. My poor brother, even the animals of Jews refrain from work on the Shabbos. How can you do less than that?”
Although the innkeeper was ashamed of his behavior he replied, “But, Rabbi, I have to stay open on Shabbos or the peasants will buy their drinks elsewhere, and I will be destitute!”
“Nevertheless,” Rabbi Moshe Leib insisted, “you must close on Shabbos. How can a holy Jewish neshama do less than the donkey of a Jew who refrains from working on the Shabbos day?”
When the innkeeper saw that the tzadik was adamant, he began to consider the matter more seriously. Finally, he resolved to close the inn on Shabbos.
The innkeeper’s announcement provoked a bitter reaction from his customers. “If you refuse to sell us liquor, we’ll complain to the poritz (feudal landlord)! He’ll throw you out! You can’t do this to us!”
The innkeeper knew full well that they would follow through on their threat (especially since it involved the issue of alcoholic beverages). He walked deep into the forest until he found the hut of the tzadik. “The peasants are threatening to ruin me,” he cried.
“Don’t worry,” replied Rabbi Moshe Leib. “Bolt the doors to your tavern. If the landlord questions you, do not hesitate to tell him that you are Jewish and the God of the Jews commanded Jews to keep the Shabbos day holy.”
The innkeeper was very frightened, but he still resolved to do as the tzadik said. Shabbos arrived and the innkeeper bolted the door of his inn. The peasants arrived and began to pound on the door and windows trying to get in. Finally, the voice of the poritz could be heard outside, demanding that the innkeeper open the door.
Having no choice but to accommodate him, the innkeeper opened the door. The furious nobleman entered the inn and screamed, “Who do you think you are, denying your customers drinks of alcohol?! Why else did I lease this inn to you except to make a profit?”
“Sire,” began the frightened Innkeeper, “surely you know that I am a Jew. Just recently I was told by a holy Jew that our Torah forbids us to work on the Shabbos day. That is why I have closed the inn today.”
The directness of the reply intrigued the landowner. “Where is this person? Bring him to me!”
Soon, Rabbi Moshe Leib was standing before the landlord. “Tell me, Jew, does this prohibition against working apply to a Jew who is in danger of losing his livelihood?” he asked in a cutting tone.
“Sire, it applies even in such a case,” was the tzadik’s reply.
“How can you allow yourself to torment this man? I am most certain that your answer would not be the same if it were your livelihood that was involved. If you are really sincere, I will permit the innkeeper to close on the Shabbos.” The landlord dismissed the rabbi, a plan to test his sincerity hatching in his mind.
The following Shabbos, the landowner rode into the forest with a bag of gold coins. He scattered the coins on the ground near the tzadik’s hut and waited to see what would happen. At first the tzadik passed right by the coins barely glancing at them, but then he returned and examined them closely. The landlord waited gleefully for the fatal moment when the Jew would eagerly scoop them into his hands. But no, the tzadik averted his eyes and continued walking.
The landowner rushed out of his hiding place. “I am truly impressed and I will keep my end of the deal. But tell me, why did you first ignore the money and then bend down to examine it?”
“I will explain,” began Rabbi Moshe Leib. “At first, I ignored the money, for it was Shabbos. But then, I began to think how I needed the money to rescue many imprisoned Jews. I considered that perhaps the mitzvah of redeeming captives and saving lives overrides the prohibitions of the Shabbos. I became confused, and then I prayed to Hashem to give me direction. It suddenly became clear to me that if I had taken or hidden the money, you would not have understood my motives. You would have assumed that I was taking it for my own desires. I realized that Hashem is certainly capable to provide me with the money I needed in a permissible way. I have always scrupulously observed the Shabbos, and now Heaven has protected me from coming to any harm. Surely, now you can see how important it is for a Jew to keep the holiness of the Shabbos.”
Reb Moshe Leib would frequently go to various landlords who had imprisoned their Jewish tenants on account of nonpayment of the rent, to persuade them to release “their Jews,” be it with money bribes or at times just verbal cajoling and pleading.
One irate poritz became so incensed at the Rebbe’s incessant pleading that he warned him never to come back and escorted him off of his property none too politely. Several days later, he was walking his dogs and all of a sudden he saw the Rebbe coming towards him yet again. With a low whistle, he commanded his dogs to “go, get him.” Snarling and gnashing their teeth, the wild animals bounded towards the Rebbe.
As the dogs closed in on him, R’ Moshe Leib fearlessly raised his hand, saying to the dogs, “If you are Heaven sent, then come and tear my flesh to pieces.” The dogs stopped abruptly in their tracks and trotted back on their heels to their master.
The bewildered landlord ran to R’ Moshe Leib, calling to him, “Go Rabbi, just go, and take all the imprisoned tenants of mine!”
His devotion and warmth in his service of Hashem transcended anything physical.
Once, after a long week of running from one wealthy person to another in order to raise funds to release a captive Jew, he came to bring the landlord the money he had collected. Reb Moshe Leib had been so involved in raising money he had barely eaten all week. The wealthy landlord was about to eat and the aromas of the luscious meal being prepared wafted into the study.
The tantalizing aromas filling his lungs and empty stomach were torment to R’ Moshe Leib, so much so that it was almost sakanos nefashos (dangerous to the point of dying). Closing his eyes in intense concentration, he recalled the prayer of Nishmas that he had recited the previous Shabbos with great devotion and fervor and what great spiritual satisfaction it gave him. By the time he had finished his recollection, his fervor and the sweet taste of the memories satisfied him, relieving him of his hunger completely!
Zchuso yagein alienu, May the merit of the great tzadik watch over us and protect us. Amein.