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
ever since the Holy Temple
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
“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
“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?
“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
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
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!