The Seder of the Ignorant Man

Once Rabbi Levi Yitzhak held the seder of the first night of Passover so devoutly, that every word and every rite glowed at the zaddik's[1] table, with all the holiness of its secret significance. In the dawn after the celebration Rabbi Levi Yitzhak sat in his room, joyful and proud that he had performed so successful a service. But, of a sudden, he heard a voice saying, "More pleasing to me than your seder is that of Hayyim, the water-carrier."

The rabbi summoned the people in his house and his disciples, and inquired about the man whose name he had heard. Nobody knew him. At the zaddik's bidding, some of his disciples went in search of him. They had to ask around for a long time before — at the outskirts of the city, where only poor people lived — they were shown the house of Hayyim, the water-carrier. They knocked at the door. A woman came out and asked what they wanted. When they told her she was amazed. "Yes," she said, "Hayyim, the water-carrier is my husband. But he cannot go with you because he drank a lot yesterday and is sleeping it off now. If you wake him you will find that he cannot manage to lift his feet."

All they said in reply was: "It is the rabbi's orders." They went and shook him from his sleep. He only blinked at them, could not understand what they wanted him for, and attempted to turn over and go on sleeping. But they raised him from his bed, took hold of him, and between them brought him to the zaddik, all but carrying him on their shoulders. The rabbi had him put in a chair near him. When he was seated, silent and bewildered, Levi Yitzhak leaned toward him and said: "Rabbi Hayyim, dear heart, what mystic invention was in your mind when you gathered what is leavened?"[2]

The water-carrier looked at him dully, shook his head, and replied: "Master, I just looked into every corner, and gathered it together."

The astonished zaddik continued questioning him: "And what consecration did you think upon in the burning of it?"

The man pondered, looked distressed, and said hesitatingly: "Master, I forgot to burn it — it is all still lying on the shelf."

When Rabbi Levi Yitzhak heard this, he grew more and more uncertain, but he continued asking. "And tell me, Rabbi Hayyim, how did you celebrate the seder?"

Then something seemed to quicken in the eyes and limbs of the man, and he replied in humble tones: "Rabbi, I shall tell you the truth. You see, I always heard that it is forbidden to drink brandy the eight days of the festival, so yesterday morning I drank enough to last me eight days. And so I got tired and fell asleep. Then my wife woke me, and it was evening, and she said to me: 'Why don't you celebrate the seder like all others Jews?' Said I: 'What do you want with me? I am an ignorant man, and my father was an ignorant man, and I don't know what to do and what not to do. But one think I know: Our fathers and mothers were in captivity in the land of the Egyptians, and we have a God, and he led them out, and into freedom. And see: now we are again in captivity and I know, and I tell you that God will lead us to freedom too.'

"And then I saw before me a table, and the cloth gleamed like the sun, and on it were platters with matzot and eggs and other dishes, and bottles of red wine. I ate of the matzot and eggs, and drank of the wine, and gave my wife to eat and to drink. And then I was overcome with joy, and lifted my cup to God, and said: 'See, God, I drink this cup to you! And do you lean down to us and make us free!' So we sat and drank and rejoiced before God. And then I felt tired, lay down, and fell asleep."

footnotes [1] charismatic leader of a hasidic community, lit. "righteous one." [Back]

[2] In fulfillment of the biblical injunction to remove all leaven from one's house during the week of Passover (Exodus 12:15) a search for leaven is conducted by candlelight in all nooks and crannies in the household (bedikat hametz) after dark on the eve of the 14th of Nisan. The following morning the leaven is burned and a blessing is recited (bi'ur hametz). [Back]
From: Tales of the Hasidim by Martin Buber (transl. Olga Marx), Schocken Books, 1975

author Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev (c.1740-1810), hasidic zaddik and rabbi; one of the most famous personalities in the third generation of the hasidic movement. The founder of Hasidism in central Poland, Levi Yitzhak consolidated the movement in Lithuania and furthered it in the Ukraine.



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