The Passover haggadah reminds us to welcome the hungry and the needy to our seder, so that all might enjoy a taste of freedom. Each of the following tales focuses on the message of a well-known Jewish personality regarding the needs of the hungry.

1. Supervising the matzah baking

Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter [1] was most meticulous in the baking of matzot (unleavened bread) for Passover. To make certain that everything was done according to the strictest interpretation of Jewish Law, he personally undertook to supervise the baking.

One year he was bedridden and unable to go to the bakery. He instructed two pupils to go in his stead. As the pupils were about to depart for their assigned task, they asked their teacher: "Is there anything special that we should watch?"

"Yes," the rabbi replied, "See that the old woman who does the mixing is paid sufficiently. She is a poor widow."

2. Milk at the Seder

A local Jew came to Rabbi Akiva Eger of Posen [2] on the eve of Passover. "Rabbi, I've a ritual question to ask you," he said: "Is it permissible to use four cups of milk at the seder instead of four cups of wine?"

"Why would you want to substitute milk for wine? Are you, God forbid, ill?"

"No, rabbi, I am well but I can't afford to buy wine."

The discerning rabbi then said: "I'm sorry. It is forbidden to use a substitute for wine." Reaching into his pocket, he continued, "Take these twenty rubles and purchase wine."

After the Jew had left, the rabbi's wife angrily chided her husband:

"Why did you give him twenty rubles for wine? Two or three would have been sufficient."

"Don't be angry," the rabbi answered. "The fact that this poor man was prepared to drink milk at the seder is evidence that he also did not have money to buy meat and perhaps not even fish and matzot. With twenty rubles he will be able to observe the seder properly."

3. Baron Rothschild

The eve of Passover has arrived and Shmuel and his pious wife Rivkah were bemoaning their dire poverty and especially their lack of earthly goods required for the proper observance of the festival. They considered many ways to cope with the tragic plight, but none seemed suitable. Finally, Rivkah prevailed upon her husband to appeal directly tot he Almighty and to dispatch a letter Him explaining their predicament. Shmuel wrote an appropriate missive and cast it to the winds with a prayer on his lips that the message might soar aloft to His Heavenly Abode.

Baron Rothschild[3] happened to be riding in his carriage in the neighborhood and noticed the letter lying on the road. When he read the urgent appeal, his deepest sympathy was aroused. He send his servant with a hundred rubles for Shmuel.

The servant delivered the money in the name of Baron Rothschild. Without a word of appreciation to the servant or the Baron, Shmuel turned to his wife and said: "See, Rivkah. God has sent Baron Rothschild as His messenger, I wonder how much Rothschild deducted for expenses."


[1]Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter (Lituania and Germany, 1810-1833) was the founder of the Musar Movement that stress ethical behavior in addition to tradition study and observance. [back]

[2]Many popular legends surround Rabbi Akiva Eger (Germany 1761-1837) who was known for his modesty, humanity and benefience, which were admired even by his opponents. [back]

[3] Although several members of the Rothschild banking dynasty were titled "Baron," it is not certain that the Baron Rothschild referred to in this story refers to a specific historical figure. "Baron Rothschild" may be a prototype for the generous, wealthy Jew. [back]

excerpted From: The Passover Anthology, ed. Philip Goodman. Jewish Publication Society, 1993.

NISAN Table of Contents




Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend