The Trial

The Trial

A Chassidic Folktale


Last year (1963) the Jewish literary world celebrated the centenary of Anski’s birth. His name is most closely linked with The Dybbuk, a mystery play of deep symbolical significance, which was made famous by the Vilna Troupe (in the original Yiddish) and Habimah (in the Hebrew translation by Bialik). Shlomo Zanwill Rappaport, the author's real name, wrote many other poems, stories and plays, in addition to being a collector and interpreter of Yiddish folklore, and translator from other languages. His Collected Works comprise fifteen volumes.

Translated from the Yiddish by Jacob Sonntag


... And it came to pass

in the days not long ago

when the world resounded

with the wonders which Reb Elimelech,

the Righteous one, performed.

In an ill-fated hour for Jews

the Rumanian King decreed

that after three weeks from the day

not a single Jew should be allowed

to remain within his empire.

Naturally, the Jews when faced

with a disaster great as this,

proclaimed a public fast.

They wept, lamented, cried.

They stormed the ancient graves,

praying and protesting—

all in vain.

For those evil spirits

hunting Jews

ever since the Holy Temple

was destroyed,

did all they could,

with a kind of wild obsession,

to prevent both tears and prayers

from reaching the High Heavens.

Only one Jew in all Rumania

did neither fast nor cry.

It was Reb Feivel, well-known

for his age and wisdom.

All his life he’d spent

in the House of Learning,

studying the Talmud

and the Commentaries.

When Reb Feivel heard the news,

he was terrified at first

and near to tears, like everyone.

But suddenly his mind was struck

by a thought profound.

With trembling hands he grasped

one of the holy books, the Chumash,

to find his thought confirmed

and printed black on white.


—Why?—he instantly exclaimed—

What is all this about?

This Emperor's decree?

According to our Holy Scripture

it is null and void!

And quickly, with an arrow’s speed,

he hurried to the Rabbi.

(The Rabbi in those days,

who reigned throughout the land,

was Baal Shem Tov’s great disciple,

the famous Rabbi Elimelech.)


It was late at night when Feivel

reached the Rabbi's house.

He woke him from his slumber,

and at once began with heat:

“Pronounce your Judgment, Rabbi!

It is written in our Torah—

clear as daylight, is it not?—

that as Jews we are the servants

of the Creator of the World.

Now then, how dares an emperor

To issue decrees against the Jews?

And, in particular, I ask you, Rabbi,

how on earth does God permit

such gross and strange injustice?”

—Listen, my son—

said Elimelech quietly—

I must tell you frankly,

I consider it

as sheer impudence on your part

to accuse Almighty God

of breaking His own Law.

Besides, to put God to the test of a Torah Trial

smacks of many dangers

But on the other hand, I'm well aware

that for the sake of Jews,

a great and holy congregation,

you are prepared for risks.

Therefore, I accept your challenge

to arrange the trial.

But, of course, this time of day

is unsuited for the purpose.

Come back tomorrow, after dawn,

That very night, quite unexpected,

three Rabbis, wise and saintly men,

came to visit Rabbi Elimelech,

and among them was the world-renowned

Rav of Apta, the Baal Shem’s beloved

pupil. Elimelech promptly asked them

to join him and to act as Judges.


Next morning, when Reb Feivel

arrived at the appointed time,

the Rabbis donned their prayer shawls

and the Holy Tribunal

proceeded with the Trial.

The Apter was the first to speak.

“Reb Feivel!”—he called out—

“Four Rabbis solemnly command you

to state your case against the One on High,

the Nameless One, Creator of All Things.”


But Reb Feivel stood there, pale,

confused and full of fear.

“No, my Lords, I can’t!”—he mumbled—

“Nothing’s left of last night’s passion,

and all my courage’s gone!”

Whereupon the Rav of Apta, sternly,

stressing every word, made this reply:

“I, the Apter, do hereby restore

your strength, with wisdom, knowledge, passion.

You can be certain of the justice of this court!”


And Reb Feivel, seized with passion

Once again, began his plea:

First he quoted from the Scripture,

then presented passages from the Gemarah,

proving irrefutably that God Almighty

was absolutely bound not to allow

the emperor’s decree.

At this point one of the Judges

intervened reproachfully:

“Perhaps, Reb Feivel, you’ll concede

to blame the emperor, instead of God?”

“Why the Emperor?” Reb Feivel shouted

angrily. “What is he to me?

What business have I got

with the Rumanian king? Who is he,

anyway? A man, a human being!

My dispute is with the One on High!”


At this the Apter rose

from his Judge’s throne,

and calmly and with pride


Let God Almighty, the Creator,

give us a clear answer

to Reb Feivel’s clear complaints!

Said Rabbi Elimelech:

The answer I will give you.

There is no doubt, Reb Feivel’s right

in saying that the Jews, our brothers,

are the Creator’s servants,

and that none except Himself

may rightly punish them.

This being so, however, may He not

cause punishment to be delivered

by a stranger’s hands?


“No! He may not!” Reb Feivel

interrupted heatedly.

“Are we then servants only?

Did you forget that it is also written:

‘For you who are my children’.

That is to say, we are God’s children, too.

Now then, a father, if he wants

to punish his own children,

does so himself, not with the help of others.”


—If so, how comes that Titus

was made to burn the Holy Temple?

—persisted Elimelech.

“Well said! The Holy Temple—was it not

God’s dwelling place, His Own? If so,

He could destroy it at His Will.

And don’t we know that since that day

the One on High regrets what He has done?

‘Woe to me’—thus he laments—

‘with my own hands I have destroyed

my dwelling place, and laid it waste and bare!’”


—Let it be!—replied Reb Elimelech—

I'll grant you the Destruction

of the Holy Temple. But can you deny,

for instance, that the Jews are sinning?

How often has Almighty God admonished them,

both by persuasion and by threats,

to give up their evil doings and repent?

And did it help? It was of no avail!

In the end Almighty God grew angry with His Jews

and lost His temper . . .


“What does it mean: ‘He lost His temper’?

What kind of talk is this?

If we should allow it,

He could one day,

today or any other day,

in His boundless rage,

destroy the world—

this and all the worlds He has created—

and exterminate the Jews...”


—He could, you know—

Reb Elimelech put in calmly.


“No! He could not and he mustn't!

—Reb Feivel staunchly demanded.

“Is there no Judge nor Justice?

Have we not our Law, our Torah? Listen, my Lords, I say,

I shall not move from here

until you will pronounce your Judgment,

binding the Creator to fulfil.

and follow all the Laws

of our Torah, equally with us!”

But the Apter put a stop

to further arguments.

Rising from his seat,

he stroked his beard

and spoke up with great force:

“The case is clear! Enough of talk!”

And then he added:

“It is customary in a court

for both parties in the case,

after it has been presented,

to leave the court room.

If one of them refuses,

he must pay a penalty

and then is dragged away

by the court’s official

in disgrace…

Therefore, Reb Feivel,

do you mind…

Lord of the Universe, you too

must remove yourself from here ...”


Jumped up Elimelech:

“How is that? Is it not written

clearly—'His Glory fills the World’?

How can God, I ask you,

take His leave from us,

even for a moment?”

After a brief silence,

the Apter raised an angry,

grey and bushy eye-brow

and then murmured quietly:

“Since it’s written clearly,

‘Your Glory fills the world’,

we give you our permission

to stay on for a while.

But I must warn you strictly

that our holy verdict

will not be affected by Your presence

You must remember that the Torah

is no longer in the Heavens,

since you gave it up to us…”


For three full days and three full nights

the court remained in session.

Arguments were tossed about

like thunder bolts and lightning.

Proofs and counter-proofs

flew through the air,

with precedents and quotes

from the Cabalah and the Zohar,

interspersed with secret hints

and sacred words,

derived from hidden sources,

and with sparks of wisdom

from the sayings few in number,

of the Great Baal Shem Tov.


For three full days

the great debate continued.

The learned Rabbis

shouted, quarrelled,

sparing neither threats nor spite,

calling each other names such as

‘ignoramus’, ‘fool’ and ‘scoundrel’,

But in the end they did arrive

at a compromise

and the following conclusions:

that it was by sheer mistake

that God Almighty did permit

the Rumanian king’s decree.

(He translated wrongly the related verse

and did not fully understand

the deeper meaning of a phrase

in the Holy Zohar).

Therefore, the decree

was null and void

and was to be revoked at once.

A scribe wrote down the verdict

on a piece of parchment,

and the holy Rabbis

signed it, one by one.

And the parchment with the verdict

was placed among the Torah Scrolls

in the Holy Ark.


Before another day had passed.

the emperor's decree

was null and void

and by order of the king

revoked at once. AMEN!