The Redemption of Captives
TOLD BY RAPHAEL HERBEST TO MOSHE RIVLIN
In the great synagogue of Vilna, one Rosh Hashanah many years ago, when the rebbe of the synagogue, the righteous Rebbe Joshua (of blessed memory), got up to blow the shofar*—precisely at that moment Satan entered, and the rebbe could not get a sound out of the shofar, no matter how hard he tried. This astonished everyone, because the righteous Rebbe Joshua had been blowing the shofar for more than fifty years and never before had he been unable to get a sound out of it. What was going on here, the people wondered. What was the reason? There had to be something here. It could not be a matter of chance. An hour passed and then two, but he was still unable to blow the shofar. Other people tried, but none of them could produce a sound either.
When the righteous Rebbe Joshua saw what was happening, he begged the congregation's indulgence. He said he hoped that he would be able to blow the shofar soon, but asked to go off by himself so that he could try to find out why none of them could get a note out of it. The congregation agreed to his request, because of their reverence for the righteous man.
The righteous Rebbe Joshua went home quickly, because he knew the congregation was waiting for him, to pray alone for the short period he had asked them to wait for him. When he arrived in front of his house he saw Monish, the poor Jewish cobbler, the simplest Jew in all of Vilna, an unlettered ignoramus who was never friendly to anyone, with a crying young girl in his arms. He was comforting her and offering her sweets. When the righteous Rebbe Joshua saw this he remembered that he had encountered the same scene on his way to the synagogue that morning, but then it had not occurred to him to ask Monish the cobbler what was going on. Now he wondered whether this was why he could not blow the shofar.
So the righteous Rebbe Joshua went over to Monish the cobbler. "What's the matter?" he asked him. "Why is the girl crying?"
*Ram's horn, traditionally blown for celebration and communication, most notably on the High Holy
Days—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.