A Story About a Salesman and Life’s Purpose-Jewish Stories

A Story About a Salesman and Life’s Purpose-Jewish Stories

By Leibel Gniwisch

The haze was thicker than usual—a mixture of cigarette and furnace smoke—but Rabbi Shmuel could see the man. It was Belarus in the 19th century and Jewish-run inns dotted the rural areas like poppy seeds on a bagel. Rabbi Shmuel didn’t frequent inns; he preferred the comfort of his straw bed at home. But his people needed him so from time to time he swapped his wife’s cooking for the stuff they called food here.

You know when you see an interesting stranger and want to approach him but don’t because you’re afraid of the awkwardness and rejection? Rabbi Shmuel felt the same.On the first night of his stay, Rabbi Shmuel noticed an interesting stranger. Rabbi Shmuel couldn’t help but analyze him: “He’s stately, well dressed. He has an inner calm that I don’t see often.” But Rabbi Shmuel was most impressed by the man’s glow; he sensed a holiness in the man. While Rabbi Shmuel wanted to know the source of the man’s aura, he couldn’t approach him. Speaking with strangers can be difficult.

Night two at the inn found Rabbi Shmuel tired from a long day of activities on behalf of the Jewish community. Weary, he opened his Talmud to learn before he retired. “Why would the defendant be obligated to take an oath in this case?…” There the man was again. Sorting through documents in his attache case, his presence illuminated by contentment. “I must approach him tonight,” Rabbi Shmuel decided. But he didn’t because he wanted to finish learning and by the time he was done, the man had gone back to his room. “Tomorrow night,” Rabbi Shmuel said. He would discover the source of this man’s holiness.

The haze was thicker than usual, a mixture of cigarette and furnace smoke, but Rabbi Shmuel had no trouble finding the man. “Sweet Yid! Vos macht a Yid? (How are you?)” Rabbi Shmuel asked, approaching the man with slow determination.

The man looked up. He was eating soup. “I’m doing well, Rabbi.” He noticed that Rabbi Shmuel was a rabbi. “Can I ask you something?” the Rabbi asked.

“Of course!”

“Who are you?”

The man wasn’t perturbed by Rabbi Shmuel’s forwardness. “I’m a simple man. I sell shoes for a living. I’m doing well, thank G‑d.”

“I mean, what do you do spiritually?” He was concerned with the man’s holiness. “How long do you pray? How much Torah do you study?”

“I don’t pray. I mean, I try to but I don’t know how to read so I’m able to say the Shema by heart but nothing else. Same goes for learning.” The man cast his gaze downward.

Rabbi Shmuel didn’t judge the man. How could he? “I’m sorry to ask, but can you tell me about your day? I see something in you that I don’t usually see.”

“Of course, Rabbi. But I’m afraid that I’m quite ordinary. I wake up at 5 am every morning…” said the man as he launched into a detailed review of his day. He was nearing late afternoon and Rabbi Shmuel was still at a loss. Why did the man glow?

The man concluded, “And before I go to sleep I say to G‑d:

“Master of the world, I ask only one thing from you. If I don’t have what it takes to fulfill the mission for which you created me, don’t wake me up tomorrow. Wake me up only if you believe I can do everything you need me to do in the world.”

Rabbi Shmuel had his answer.

As heard from Rabbi Shlomo Katz. Rabbi Shmuel is Rabbi Shmuel Weinberg of Slonim (1850-1916), author of Divrei Shmuel.

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