Whatever story was told, the Radomsker rebbe would proceed to identify some lesson in the tale that would further the Divine service of his Hassidim.
It was the custom of Rabbi Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowicz of Radomsk (1801- 1866) to invite one his disciples to tell some tale at the post-Shabbat melaveh malka meal. The content and theme of the story didn’t matter; it could be a tall tale from a distant land or some current news item. Whatever story was told, the Radomsker rebbe would then proceed to identify some lesson in the tale that would further the Divine service of his Hassidim. At one melaveh malka meal, one of the disciples recounted the following tale:
There once was a king that set out together with a trusted companion to hunt in the forest. At first the journey proceeded without event, but then the sky began to cloud over. Within moments, darkness had descended on the forest and it began to drizzle. The drizzle turned into showers, the showers into rain, the rain into a torrent and before long the king and his aid were drenched. Lightning flashed across the sky, momentarily lighting up the forest before plunging the travelers back into darkness. The two men tried in vain to find some shelter, but the wind-swept rain continued unabated. Soon they had lost their way and were wandering through the forest, desperately trying to find a path.
Suddenly they noticed a small light flickering in the distance. They quickly made their way in that direction, finally reaching a dilapidated cabin. They knocked, and a disheveled man opened the door. His hair was long and uncombed and he was dressed in rags.
The king and his companion asked for shelter until the storm had passed and the man invited them in, apologizing that he was unable to properly host them. “This cabin was once an inn,” he told them, “but with time people stopped using the road through the forest and I went bankrupt. All l have is one goat. I can give you some milk, if you wish.”
The king and his companion were overjoyed at the prospect of some fresh, warm milk and they quickly accepted the host’s gracious offer. The host then offered them straw mats to lie down on. The travelers were weary from the journey, and though they were unaccustomed to sleeping on straw, they immediately fell asleep.
By the next morning, the rain had cleared and the travelers asked their host to point out the path that would take them out of the forest. They sincerely thanked their host, and within the hour the king was back in the royal palace.
A few days later, a regal carriage arrived at the derelict cabin. A well-dressed man jumped out, knocked at the door and invited the man to the king’s palace.
“What have I done?” wondered the man as he climbed into the carriage.
When he arrived at the palace, he was taken to the king’s chambers. The king embraced him: “Do you recognize me? You kindly gave us shelter from the raging storm.”
As the king was talking, tailors entered and began taking measurements. The king heaped gifts on the poor man – clothes, money and a new home not far from the palace.
The hassid finished his tale. Silence. Everyone turned to Rabbi Shlomo of Radomsk to hear his interpretation.
“Imagine that this man was to meet one of his friends who would ask him what the source of his sudden wealth was. ‘I gave the king goat’s milk and a straw mat,’ the man would say. If his friend believed him and tried to mimic him, the king would have his head for coming to the palace with such lowly gifts.”
The Radomsker Rebbe continued: “When the king is in trouble, far from his palace – even a cup of goat’s milk and a miserable straw mat makes him happy. But when the king is back in his home, even gold and silver do not interest him.”
“My dear brothers,” the rebbe called out unexpectedly, “As long as the Holy Presence is in exile, even the most insignificant service and the smallest effort – goat’s milk and hard straw mats – are cherished. Soon the redemption will come and the Holy Presence will return to its former glory, and then no matter how hard we toil we will not have anything substantial to offer.”
The Radomsker rebbe concluded: “Make haste, my children, and seize the opportunity before we are too late!”