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Mar152019

THE DECREE THAT WAS (NOT) ABOLISHED

It was an old custom in Jewish communities to perform a “Purim shpiel” on Purim. A “Purim Rav” was appointed, along with judges, guards, leaders and enemies of Israel at that time. In the performance, they would abolish decrees and add an abundance of good for the Jews. It was amusing and funny, but exceedingly serious. There were tzaddikim who brought about miracles through these plays, for Purim is a great day, auspicious for salvation.

One Purim, in the beis medrash of the holy Rabbi Tzvi of Ziditchov, it was very joyous. Children were in costume, there was mashke in abundance, and there were heartwarming divrei Torah and endless dancing. Then it was time for the Purim shpiel.

Rav Koppel, Rabbi Tzvi’s nephew, was chosen as the governor, the one who makes laws (not necessarily good for the Jews).

Rav Koppel appointed advisors. From among the Chassidim he chose the best, G-d-fearing ones. These advisors gave Rav Koppel honor due to a king, as was fitting for his position.

They all put on the appropriate costumes and the joyous group set out for the home of the tzaddik, Rabbi Tzvi. You can be sure they had all drunk plenty and were all in jolly moods.

After knocking at the tzaddik’s door, he opened it and invited them in. The governor and his advisors introduced themselves.

That year, the Jews had to contend with harsh decrees, high taxes on meat and candles. The gentiles knew which items the Jews needed and would heavily tax them. Meat and candles grace every Jewish table on Shabbos and holidays. Rich Jews managed but the poor ones found the high prices difficult to pay each week.

Another serious decree was the draft for young Jews. The danger was not only for their lives but mainly for their souls.

Now, at the Purim shpiel, R’ Tzvi decided to abolish these decrees. He said to his nephew who played the governor, “Please governor, cancel the taxes you placed on candles and meat and please cancel the order to take Jews to the army.”

The governor, who was R’ Koppel, thought a bit, straightened his majestic hat and his tie and said, “Ummm … a good idea. I will cancel the tax on meat and candles right away.”

“What about canceling the draft?” asked R’ Tzvi.

The governor’s face became harsh. He looked angrily at the tzaddik and said, “I will not cancel that!”

The Rebbe blanched and tried to persuade the governor, saying, “Please, surely you have a compassionate heart. Cancel this order and say they should no longer take Jews as soldiers.”

But the governor, as though forgetting that he was in a play and that it was Purim, looked tough and exclaimed, “No, no!”

The Chassidim, who were present, realized that something otherworldly was taking place before their eyes. They did not understand why R’ Koppel was so stubborn when his master, who was also his uncle, was pleading with him to cancel this harsh decree. It was a golden opportunity; why was he refusing?

The Chassidim also tried to convince him. “Why don’t you cancel the decree? Cancel it!” they said, gently at first, but when this did not help, more roughly. “Cancel it! Cancel the decree!”

The more they tried, the more stubborn he became. For a long time, the Rebbe and the Chassidim begged him, but to no avail.

When the Rebbe saw that the governor, R’ Koppel, refused to cancel the draft law, he stopped asking him. The Rebbe looked sad and worried. The Chassidim knew this was not merely a performance and that what they had witnessed was very serious.

R’ Tzvi turned angrily away from his nephew and refused to look at him the rest of that Purim.

***

Purim was over. The tables in the beis medrash were full of leftover food and many empty bottles of mashke. The gabbaim slowly removed the garbage, cleaned the floor and restored the beis medrash to its usual state.

The Chassidim returned home in a happy frame of mind. Those who were drunk, fell into a sweet sleep. R’ Koppel also slept.

The next day, after R’ Koppel had slept off the effects of the wine, he got up like a new man. When Chassidim met him, they asked, “R’ Koppel, what happened to you yesterday? Why did you refuse to cancel the decree that drafts the Jews?”

“What? What are you talking about?” he asked.

“Don’t you remember? R’ Tzvi pleaded that you cancel the decree, and we also tried to convince you, but you were stubborn and refused to do so.”

R’ Koppel could not recall any of this and was sorry to hear what happened. He had been drunk and did not know what he had said.

You can probably guess the end of the story. That year, the tax on meat and candles was abolished but the decree about the draft remained in place. Everyone saw the Hand of Hashem.

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