Off the Pulpit

He Didn’t Lie!

Two stories comment on one another. Once R. Levi Yizkhak of Berditchev, known as “the lover of Israel,” saw a man smoking on Yom Kippur. He said, “You must not have realized that today is Yom Kippur.” “No,” the man responded, “I know it is Yom Kippur.” “Then,” said the Rebbe, “you must not have realized that it is forbidden to smoke on Yom Kippur.” “No,” said the man, “I know it is forbidden.”

The Rebbe turned to the heavens and said, “See how good are Your people, O God. Even though I found him smoking on Yom Kippur, he refuses to lie!”

An echo of that story is told about the great Hebrew poet, Chaim Nahman Bialik. Once the Rabbi of the town walked by the house and saw him inside with two friends, smoking on Shabbat. The Rabbi walked in. One friend said, “I’m sorry, I forgot it was Shabbat.” The second said, “I’m sorry, I forgot it was forbidden to smoke on Shabbat.” Bialik said, “I’m sorry – I forgot to close the curtains.” We can imagine R. Levi Yizkhak saying of the famed poet – you see God, he wouldn’t lie!