Marvin Lurie

It Happened In Amstibov (A very short story after Issac Bishevas Singer)

Reb Shmuel was a pious man and frail. He made his way in this world by delivering documents, letters, accounts and other important papers for the businessmen of Amstibov.

Just in this same way he also began to carry the burden of the dishonest dealings that were sometimes recorded in those papers. It happened when Shmuel draped his prayer shawl across his narrow shoulders and his tallis became freighted with the weight of the transgressions.

The candle maker who mixed a little plain wax dyed yellow into his Havdallah candles but charged for 100% golden beeswax was concerned briefly in the beginning that people would notice because Shmuel's tallis became a little heavier with worry of the candle maker. Also added was the disquiet of the wealthy landowner who took a little too much rent and put the extra coins in his shoe so they would not be in his breast pocket next to his heart. There was the secrecy of the dairyman who made out his invoices for pure cream even when there was a little milk left in.

All the great and small businessmen of Amstibov grew ever more assured that they did not have to carry the burden of guilt and anxiety about their dishonest dealings and continued to do business in this way, and even more so, because they knew that when they prayed, the weight would be carried by Shmuel. So Shmuel's tallis became so heavy that he was bent over almost to the floor of the shul when he prayed.

One morning, when he came to the shul to make a minyon, because as is said ,“ nine men cannot raise their voices to heaven, but ten men can talk to God,” and the businessmen of the city were davening, Shmuel's legs failed him under the weight of his prayer shawl and he sat down. In the presence of the Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Shmuel sat down.

The men of Amstibov became afraid . They looked at each other to see who might relieve Shmuel of his burden, each waiting for another to do so.

The candle maker worried that the fake and real beeswax in his candles would begin to melt differently and people would notice that he has cheated them. The landlord was upset thinking he might begin to limp and people would ask him what he had in his shoe. The dairyman was afraid that his cream would sour too fast and housewives would complain.

At that moment the doors of the shul opened and a stranger with a red beard walked in. His coat was thin and worn and his shoes were scuffed as if he had walked a long way. Shmuel trembled and tears ran into his beard because he feared that the Angel of Death had come to take him away. But the man sat next to Shmuel and put his arm across Shmuel's shoulders and pulled him close as one might who had come to comfort a man who had lost a spouse or a child.

With his other hand he began to take the heavy words that were the guilty feelings and the names of the the transgressions done by the businessmen of the village from Shmuel's tallis and put them in his pockets. As many of these that he put in his pockets, his pockets were never full and his coat was never heavier.

When all the weight had been lifted from Shmuel's shoulders, the man put his hand under Shmuel's elbow to raise him up and, side by side, they walked out of the shul. Reb Shmuel was never again seen in Amstibov. And from that day forward the businessmen of Amstibov had to carry their own documents and the weight of their transgressions.


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