The year was December 1700.It was a cold winter in Poland and a blanket of snow covered the country.
The streets were filled with people in fur coats and the countryside peasants were busy warming their homes with wood and themselves with vodka. The holiday season was approaching, and everyone was in good spirits.
But in the Jewish Ghetto in Krakow, gloom and fear filled the air and moaned from every corner. Persecuted by poverty and hate, the Jews of Krakow now had another travail to deal with. An epidemic was raging, and their beloved children were dying of smallpox. The doctors were helpless to stop it, and nothing seemed to help. Every day the town was visited with heartbreaking tragedies. The only one they could turn to was their Father in Heaven.
The rabbi of the community had declared a fast day, then another then three days of prayer and self-examination. But nothing seemed to work.
A week of supplication was announced. Then the elders of the community decided to make a sheailat chalom, a dream inquiry, employed by the masters of the secret wisdom of the Kabbalah. It was a drastic move, but they felt that they had no choice. They purified themselves, fasted, recited psalms all day, immersed in a mikvah, and then requested from Heaven, according to ancient Kabbalistic formulas, that they be given some sign that night in their sleep. And that night they all had the same dream. An old man in a white robe appeared to them and, “Shlomo, the butcher, should pray before the congregation.”
Early the next morning they met in the synagogue and related their dream to each other. It was clear what they had to do. The twenty of them solemnly walked to Shlomo’s home and knocked on the door. When his wife opened, she almost fainted at the sight of them.
“Yes?” she stammered, pushing her loose hair under the kerchief on her head.
“We want to speak to your husband. Is he home?” asked one of them, smiling and trying to be as pleasant as possible. “May we come in?” asked another.
Shlomo came to the door. He invited them in, shook everyone’s hand, ran around looking for chairs and when they were finally seated one of them began to speak.
“Shlomo, we made a sheailat chalom yesterday. We asked what to do about the epidemic, and we all had the same dream. We dreamt that you have to lead the prayers today.” Shlomo was dumbfounded. If it weren’t such a serious matter, he would have thought that this is some kind of joke.
“I should lead the prayers?” he said, “why I can’t even read properly. I mean what good will it possible do?”
“Shlomo,” the elders begged, “just come and do what you can. You can just pray in front of everyone, the best you can. Maybe there will be a miracle. Just come and give it a try. We have summoned everyone to the shul. Just come and say a few words. Anything is better than what we have now.”
So Shlomo, with no other choice, left his house and accompanied them. But as soon as they had entered the crowded synagogue and closed the door behind them, Shlomo suddenly broke away and ran back outside and down the street out of sight.
What could they do? He simply disappeared. They didn’t know where to look for him. They decided to wait. A few minutes later the door opened and in walked Shlomo pushing a wheelbarrow covered with a cloth. All eyes were on him as he went up to the podium, pulled off the cloth, and lifted an old set of scales out of the barrow. He’d brought his butcher’s scales into the synagogue! The scales were very heavy. But Shlomo lifted them high above his head, his face contorted with the effort. Tears streaming from his eyes, he looked Heavenward and proclaimed, “Here! Here, G-d! Take them! Take the scales! That must be why you want me to lead the prayers, right? So, take the scales and heal the children! Just heal the children. Okay?”
By now Shlomo was sobbing loudly and the whole place was silent. A wave of repentance entered their hearts and many cried with him. A few men rushed over and helped him put the scales on a table in the front of the room, and the congregation began reciting their prayers.
That evening the children were already getting better. You can imagine the joy and festivities that followed. They even made a glass case for the scales and left the whole thing in the synagogue permanently for all to see.
A few days later, when the excitement died down, the elders had to admit that they couldn’t figure it out. There were many shops that used scales in the Ghetto and all of them were owned by honest, G-d-fearing Jews. What could be so special about Shlomo’s scales?
The answer was soon in coming. When they went around checking all the other scales, they discovered that every one of them was a bit off. Certainly, never enough to constitute bad business, but inaccurate, nevertheless. It seems that Shlomo checked his scales twice every day while the others checked only occasionally.
“That’s what G-d wants,*” Shlomo explained.
The rabbi concluded, “The simple action of a simple Jew with sincerity can avert a horrible decree from an entire community.”
Legend has it that these scales remained on display in that Krakow synagogue for over 200 years.
“Simple action of a simple Jew with sincerity can avert a horrible decree for an entire community.”
Adapted from a story by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton as presented by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles of Ascent , Tzfat.