The hour for sounding the shofar in the synagogue of the “Seer of Lublin” (Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, d. 1815) had long passed on that Rosh HaShanah morning, yet the great Chassidic sage remained secluded in his study. Finally, one of the Seer’s disciples, Rabbi Dovid of Lelov, was dispatched on the fearful mission of knocking on his master’s door to ask what was amiss.
The Seer’s face, as glimpsed beyond the partially opened door, was pale with terror and his eyes red with weeping.
“I see a terrible decree ordained in the Heavenly court for the people of Israel this year,” he told his disciple. “I’ve been praying and pleading all morning, amassing all my merits in Heaven in my efforts to nullify the decree, but to no avail.”
Noticing a young boy with Rabbi Dovid, the Seer asked: “Who is the lad?”
“His name is Yitzchak,” said Rabbi Dovid. “He is an orphan whom I’ve taken into my home.”
“Come inside,” said the Seer to the two of them, opening wide the door to his study.
Much to Rabbi Dovid’s surprise, the Seer launched into a Talmudic discussion with the boy. “What are you learning these days?” he inquired.
“We have just concluded a Talmudic section dealing with the laws of witnesses,” replied the young student, who would later be renowned as the Chassidic sage Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki.
“So, tell me a chiddush (an original insight) that you’ve come up with in the course of your learning,” prompted the Seer.
The boy said that he had been puzzled by the law that a person cannot serve as a witness in a case involving a relative of his, whether his testimony is for his relative’s benefit or to his detriment. Understandably, a witness cannot be believed when he testifies in support of his relative; but why do we not accept his testimony against his relative?
“Well, do you also have an answer to your question?” asked the Seer of Lublin.
“Yes,” said the boy. “I thought of the verse, ‘And the two persons shall stand … before the judges,’ which the Talmud interprets as a reference to the witnesses. The Torah is saying that only ‘persons’ are qualified to serve as witnesses. Someone who is prepared to testify against his own brother, father or child is not a ‘person.’”
“My son!” exclaimed the Seer. “With this argument we shall win our case in the Heavenly court. We shall remind G-d that He is our father. And what father can possibly condemn his own children? Come, let us go hear the sounding of the shofar.”
. Deuteronomy 19:17; Talmud, Shevuot 30a.