One day, Reb Zusyah of Hanipoli found his rebbitzin crying softly. “What is the matter?” he asked. She hesitated to say, but at his urging she told him that even her finest dress was tattered and frayed and could no longer honor the Shabbos as it had done for so many years. Understanding her desire to honor the Shabbos, the rebbe raised the money and bought the cloth for a new dress. She was delighted and took it to the tailor, who promised her it would be ready Friday afternoon, hours before the start of the Sabbath.
That Friday afternoon, the rebbe expected to see his wife aglow with the joy of honoring the Shabbos in her new dress, but instead he found her wearing the old dress. Seeing his surprise, she said, “The tailor himself came by with the dress. It was exquisite. But he looked very distressed. I asked him what troubled him, and he told me that his future son-in-law had seen him working on my dress and assumed it was for his daughter’s wedding. He even went so far as to tell his kallah the good news. Oy, what could I do? If the girl found out the dress was not for her, she would be so disappointed, and her father so ashamed, so I gave the tailor the dress as a gift for his daughter’s wedding.”
“And did you pay him?” the rebbe asked.
“Pay him? Why no, I gave him the dress.”
“As a gift, you gave it to him. All week long he anticipated payment. Now we have robbed him of his due.”
“You are right,” the rebbitzin said, “but I have given all our money to tzedakah.”
“Then we must raise more,” Reb Zusya said, “and quickly, for it is almost Shabbos.”
The rebbitzin then raced out of the house, borrowed the money from a friend, and paid the tailor for his work just before Shabbos.
Rebbitzin: The wife of a rabbi.
Shabbos: The Sabbath. It is customary to wear one’s finer clothes on the Sabbath as a sign of respect for the day.
Tzedakah: Generosity, from the Hebrew tzedek, “justice.” Every Jew is obligated to give 10 percent of his or her earnings to help the needy. It is customary to do this with the week’s earnings before Shabbat. Hasidic rebbes and rebbitzins were often noted for giving all their money away before Shabbat.
What are your obligations to others?
There are two kinds of people who argue that you have no obligations to others. The first argues from the absolute: There is no “other,” and therefore nothing to be done. The second argues from the relative: We must work out our own fate by ourselves.
There are two kinds of people who argue that you are obligated to others. The first argues from the absolute: God is the other and thus must be honored. The second argues from the relative: Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.
Reb Zusyah and his wife show you another way: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But, if I am only for myself, what [kind of a person] am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirke Avot 1:14). Right now, you must be for self and other. This is the way of the Hasidim. Self and other are both real, but neither is separate from the other. Each moment you are asked to find a path of action that honors both self and other. How do you respond to that call?