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The Slap

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The anteroom adjoining the study of Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, founder of the chassidic dynasty of Gur, was filled with people waiting to be received by the Rebbe and to be helped by his counsel and blessing. Near the Rebbe’s door stood his personal secretary, Reb Bunim, who presided over the waiting list; as soon as the door opened and a chassid would emerge from the Rebbe’s room, all eyes would turn toward Reb Bunim, who would signal to the next in line to enter.

In the entranceway appeared a man, dressed in the manner of the wealthy Jewish merchants of the time: high boots of glossy leather, a heavy gold watch-chain draped across the vest, a fur-lined jacket enveloping a generous girth in defense against the Polish winter. But an anxious and care-worn face belied the luxurious attire; here was a man who had his troubles despite (or because?) of his wealth.

The man scanned the crowded room and a frown clouded his already despondent features. Impatiently, he made his way to the secretary. “I must see the Rebbe on an urgent matter,” he whispered. “How much longer is the man inside going to be?”

“Have a seat,” said Reb Bunim evenly, “and I’ll put you on the list. What is your name, Reb Yid?”

“You don’t understand,” said the man, certain that the secretary indeed did not understand. “I must see the Rebbe now. I have an important meeting tomorrow in Warsaw, and I must be on my way shortly.”

“But surely, Reb Yid, you don’t expect me to let you in before all these people,” said Reb Bunim. “Some of them have been waiting for hours…”

“That’s exactly my point,” said the visitor, who was beginning to lose his patience with the insolent servant. “I cannot wait for a hour, or even half an hour. I wish to speak with the Rebbe immediately. You can save your lists for people with more time on their hands.”

“I’m sorry,” said Reb Bunim somewhat heatedly, rising to the challenge on his authority. “You must wait like everyone else…”

The crack of the merchant’s palm against the face of the secretary resounded through the room, which fell into a shocked silence. It took Reb Bunim several seconds to realize he had been slapped, and when he did, he just stood there, unable to utter a word. Nothing like this had ever happened in the Rebbe’s waiting room, where no one dared even raise his voice at the Rebbe’s secretary. In fact, the only one in the room not paralyzed by incredulity was the assailant himself, who, satisfied that he had at last made himself understood, proceeded toward the Rebbe’s door.

At that very moment the door opened, and Rabbi Yitzchak Meir stood in the doorway. “How dare you raise a hand to a fellow Jew,” he thundered. “I shall not receive you,” he added, “until you have secured the forgiveness of the man you so unjustly attacked.” With that, he turned and closed the door behind him.

For a long second the merchant stood staring at the Rebbe’s closed door. Abruptly, he turned on his heels and fled from the room.

Something in the man’s face caught Reb Bunim’s eye and caused him to hurry outside after his assailant. There he found him leaning against his coach, his large body racked with sobs.

“You?” said the man, when he saw who had followed him outside. “What do you want of me now? You have destroyed our last hope.”

“Your last hope for what?” asked Reb Bunim quietly.

“For fifteen years we’ve been childless, my wife and I,” wept the man. “We’ve tried everything… We’ve been to all the doctors… I had hoped that the Rebbe would pray for us…”

“Come with me,” said Reb Bunim, grabbing hold of the merchant’s hand. Before the visitor knew what was happening, both were standing in the Rebbe’s room.

“Rebbe!” said Reb Bunim, “I swear that I will never forgive this man, not in this world and not in the world to come, unless the Rebbe promises that he and his wife will be blessed with a child!”

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir looked from the anguished face of the merchant to the determined face of his secretary. Slowly, a smile broke out on his face. “May it so be the will of G-d,” he finally said, “as Reb Bunim says…”

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