Blizzards and storm winds had pounded Lublin and the surrounding countryside for several weeks. The roads were piled so high with snow that no one was able to go anywhere.This meant that the farmers weren’t able to reach the city with their produce and food supplies were dwindling rapidly.
Many items were completely lacking, such as onions. There weren’t even any onions to use in the tasty foods prepared in honor of Shabbat. This fact constituted a near tragedy, because in Lublin the mixture of chopped eggs and onions, known in Yiddish as eiyr un tzibl, was considered a nearly indispensable ingredient of the holy day. The Jews of Lublin could remember occasions when there was no meat, or no fish, but whoever heard of being without onions?
The household of the famous Tzadik, the Seer of Lublin*, was particularly distraught. After all, Chassidic tradition attaches great significance to this humble dish. They tried to secure some onions by every means they could think of, but to no avail. Someone even managed to plod his way through the snowdrifts to a few of the local farmers, but they didn’t have any onions either.
On Friday morning, one of the leading disciples of the Seer, Rabbi Naftali of Rofshitz*, rose early as usual to make his way to the Rebbe’s synagogue and pour out his heart in prayer to the Creator. On his way home he passed through the market, and unexpectedly came upon a peasant farmer with a sack filled with onions!
“Wow!” said Reb Naftali to himself, struck by a bold idea. “This is exactly the opportunity I’ve been waiting for! Blessed is G-d!” He approached the gentile and offered to buy the entire sack.
The farmer knew very well the value of his precious merchandise and had been looking forward to making a tidy profit. He wasn’t going to compromise now. No wholesale discounts! He stated an outrageously high price. To his great surprise, Rabbi Naftali instantly agreed and handed him the money. But that wasn’t the end of the surprises.
“I’d like to buy your fur coat and hat too,” the Rofshitzer added. The farmer couldn’t believe his ears. Astonished, he refused. How could he possibly return home in the freezing cold without his coat and hat? But the thick wad of bills in his customer’s hand argued persuasively, and the second deal was quickly struck. Reb Naftoli strode home with his sack of onions and unusual new items of apparel.
Later that day, a farmer appeared outside the Seer’s door. He was clothed in furs, peasant style, with a huge hat covering his forehead and upper face, and boots covered with mud. In the language and intonation of a gentile farmer he called out, “Onions! Onions for sale!”
Chassidim came pouring from every direction Everyone wanted onions in honor of the holy Shabbat. They crowded around the onion seller attempting to bargain with him. Then, suddenly he announced that he was stopping for the day. No more onions! The Chassidim pleaded with him. “But we still have to get some for the Rebbe. He is a great and holy man. Blessings will shower upon you if only you will allow us to buy onions for him.”
“If he is as special as you say, I’ll do it,” rejoined the farmer, “but only if I can sell them to the holy man myself, in person, face to face.”
The Chassidim were shaken. How could they bring such an unrefined character to the Rebbe? After a few moments of confusion, they realized they had no choice. A solemn delegation led the onion-laden farmer to the Seer’s house. When they came in, the Seer was busy polishing his unique kiddush cup as he did every Friday before Shabbat. This was an extraordinary chalice exquisitely crafted of pure gold with intricate engravings depicting famous sites in the Holy Land such as the Western Wall, the Tower of David, and the Mount of Olives.
Many rumors surrounded this kiddush cup and its history. It was said that the Seer had inherited it from one of the great Chassidic masters of the previous generation and whoever was privileged to make a blessing over its contents and drink from it benefited infinitely. Not that this merit was easy to come by. The Seer did not allow anyone to use it or even touch it. The whole week it stood in a locked cabinet until Friday when he would work on it until it glistened and sparkled on the white Shabbat tablecloth.
When his Chasidim brought in the gentile with his sack, the Seer understood the reason at once. “How much do you want for your onions?” he queried the farmer.
“One moment. Not so fast,” the farmer replied coarsely holding up his hand as if to ward off the Rebbe’s offer. “I’m frozen stiff. I need a proper drink to warm me up.”
It was clear that he didn’t have in mind a cup of tea. The Seer instructed his attendant to serve the man some whisky and a brimming shot glass was quickly set down in front of the farmer.
“That’s all?” cried the farmer as if insulted. “Just this little cup?
“Give him the whole bottle and let him do as he likes, “said the Rebbe turning away.
Now the onion seller seemed mortally offended.
“What! You think I’m a drunkard?” he shouted angrily. “I’ll show you! I’ll go home. I won’t sell you anything!”
He tied up the sack and fastened his garments as if preparing to leave. The Chassidim hurriedly attempted to soothe him, anxiously muttering words of appeasement. Finally, he calmed down. Then he smirked.
“I tell you what,” he offered. “I’ll sell you my onions if and only if you fill this goblet with whisky for me to drink.” He pointed at the Rebbe’s golden cup shining on the table.
The Chassidim drew back, aghast. From this holy kiddush cup which no one dared touch except the Tzadik, this uncircumcised drunken peasant should imbibe his crude booze? They offered him other cups and glasses, bigger ones, singly and in combination but he was stubborn.
“Only from this one, like I told you. Otherwise, I go home.” They tried again to dissuade him, but nothing worked. He simply refused to budge. With trembling hands and a heavy heart, the Seer himself filled the precious vessel with the fluid and presented it to the farmer. The latter lifted it with his right hand, squeezed his eyes shut and with great concentration and intensity called out,
“Baruch atah… shehakol neheye bidvaro.” (Blessing on drink)
Everyone was shocked speechless. Only the Seer, after a quick stare, realized what had take n place. A broad smile spread across his face.
“L’chaim, Reb Naftali!” You are so clever it must be that you deserve to drink from this cup. “L’chaim u’livracha” – May it be for life and for blessing.”
From Living Jewish #829 – translated and adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Sichat Hashavua #74.
*Seer of Lublin – 1745-1815 Reb Yaakov Yitzchak haLevi of Lublin is one of the truly beloved figures of Chassidism. He merited the name Chozeh, which means seer or visionary because of his ability to see from one end of the world to the other. He was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch and Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk. When he moved to Lublin, many thousands flocked to him for his Torah teachings, blessings, and guidance. As a Chassidic rebbe from Poland, he became a leading figure in the early Chassidic movement.
*Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz – 1760-1827. He became the rebbe of many thousands of Chassidim in his own right. He was known for his sharp wit and humor and his shining aphorisms. Many stories about him appear in the book, Ohel Naftoli. Some of his teachings are collected in his works, Zera Kodesh, Ayalah Shelucha, and Imrei Shefer.
From Hadracha and Chabad.org