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Not So Innocent: The Peddler, the Postman, and the Priest

The Rav’s Confession to the Priest

The following scene unfolded one morning in the home of R’ Shimon Yessel, a resident of the Moravian town of Leipnik1Lipník nad Bečvou, Moravia, Czech Republic. during the early years of the nineteenth century: “Shimon, how come you’re back from your peddling route already? It’s still early. In fact, our sons have just gone to shul for shacharis.

“Rochel, you have no idea what just happened. Hashem has heard your prayers and sent us our salvation!”

“Shimon, dear, what on earth are you talking about?”

“Baruch Hashem, we were helped in the most amazing way, don’t even ask!”

“I am asking — please explain what’s going on!”

“Listen, I was traveling to the next town, and as the post-wagon passed by on the road as we rounded  a bend, the wagon tipped over slightly, and several letters fell out.”

“You returned them, right?”

“Of course, of course, I returned them! Except…”

“Except what?”

“Except for one little parcel!”

“What???? Have you become a thief?”

“Now why do you say that? After all, it was lying on the ground, free for the taking! And it’s full of cash!”

“Free for the taking? It’s addressed to someone, is it not?”

“Whether it’s addressed or not, it stays in my hands!”

“Shimon, soon the police will come knocking at our door! They could arrest you in the blink of an eye! Oy vey!”

Raymer the Postman

“De postkoets” – oude Engelse gravure

Shimon stealthily moved aside a small cupboard and lifted a loose tile from the floor below it, revealing a small cavity. He slipped the bulging envelope inside it and replaced the tile and the cupboard.

No sooner had he finished hiding the parcel, then there was an urgent-sounding knock on the door! Shimon opened the door, feigning calm, and there stood two policemen, with the postman between them.

“Raymer, is this the Mister Yessel you were talking about?”

“Yes, it is.” Raymer the postman told the two officials, “I know Mister Yessel, we meet each other every other day.  He’s been an honest, trustworthy person for as long as I have known him. Not only that, he even returned the parcels that fell!”

“Be quiet, Raymer!” one of the policemen said sharply,  “No one asked you!”

“I’m telling you, you are accusing the wrong person,” the postman muttered under his breath.

Sir Ernest Roderich’s Mail

The burly policeman stroked his handlebar mustache, “Mr. Yessel, a package addressed to Sir Ernest Roderich, containing 30,000 Kronen, has disappeared. Do you know anything about it?”

“M…m…me? I don’t know of a…a…anything! Some envelopes and a parcel fell off the wagon. I gave them straight back to Mister Raymer.”

“What did you do with the second package?” the other policeman interjected in a suspicious tone.

“Second package?” Shimon asked, a blank expression on his face, “I don’t know of another parcel.”

“Okay, I hear what you say. Hmmm…. Tell me, Mister Yessel? You said that you were out at work from dawn, so what are you doing here?  Shouldn’t you be peddling now in the nearby villages?” Pulling himself up to his full height, the policeman looked straight at Shimon and demanded an answer to his question: “Why are you back home so early?”

But Shimon wasn’t thrown at all by the implied accusation.

“I came home to tell my wife about this interesting story and how I returned the lost goods!” he countered in a defiantly righteous tone.

Shimon is Placed Under Arrest

The policemen searched Shimon’s house thoroughly.

After coming up empty-handed, they announced, “In the name of the law, you are under arrest!”  They prepared to take Shimon into custody right then.

“Me? Arrested? I am innocent, I tell you!”

“If that’s the case, there is no need to worry. You will be released and be allowed to return home soon!”

“Excuse me, can I take leave of my wife?”

“All right then, but don’t dilly-dally! We’ve got things to do!”

Taking his wife off to the side and out of earshot, he whispered, “You are always right, my dear Rochel! Try to give back the money, without putting us at any further risk. If you’re not able to do so, go to the Rav…”

“Enough already, let’s move,” came the command, and away they went with Shimon. He soon found himself in a prison cell at the police station, together with Raymer the postman.

When the news of Shimon Yessel’s arrest spread in town, people were incredulous. They knew that the anti-Semitic police were always looking to play cruel jokes on the hapless Jews and they were sure that Shimon was the latest victim. The loss of the package of Ernest Roderich of Budweis had given the local police an opportunity to frame yet another innocent Jew.

Knowing Shimon’s dire financial situation, an appeal was made within the Jewish community to provide for the needs of the Yessel family, which had lost its breadwinner.

A Delegation Reassures Mrs. Yessel

Description: The former shul in Leipnik. Today it’s being desecrated, as it’s being used as a church. We have edited the image and deleted the cross from the building.

It wasn’t long before a delegation of Leipnik’s communal leaders made its way to the Yessel home.

“Mrs. Yessel,” they said to R’ Shimon’s wife, “what is happening here is a terrible travesty on the part of the police, and injustice perpetrated not only on your innocent husband but on the entire Jewish community! We will give you anything you need, and we will work to make sure your husband is released as soon as possible.” Rochel bit her lip as she heard these words, knowing what no one else did, about just how ‘innocent’ her husband was.

That afternoon, the town crier rang his bell in the center of Leipnik, to draw attention to his message; “An envelope of cash has been lost. The envelope contains 30,000 Kronen and it is addressed to Ernest Roderich from Budweis. Whoever returns the envelope will receive 500 Kronen as a reward!”     

The town of Leipnik came to life, with people gathering everywhere to discuss the news: On the street, in the marketplace, and in the coffee house, over a coffee and apfelstrudel. All anyone talked about was the robbery; poor, innocent Shimon’s fate; and of course, the reward.

There was one place, however, where the story was not being discussed and dissected, and that was at the home of Leipnik’s rav, the renowned gaon, Rav Baruch Frankel, a scion of the famous Teomim family.  He sat in his study, deeply engrossed in Torah, and involved with his students’ progress, unmindful of events swirling about outside.

A Suspicious Object

Several weeks later at the Rav’s house, on a sunny day.

It was a hot day, and all the windows in the Rav’s house had been thrown wide open. Suddenly, a small parcel came hurtling through the window. Yet, with everyone inside the home engaged in learning, no one even noticed the mysterious item that had just appeared from nowhere.

After concluding their learning for the day, everyone left, and R’ Baruch Frankel circled the table, putting things in their place as he thought over the topics they had begun tidying up the room as he continued to review in his mind that day’s learning. And that’s when he noticed the parcel.

“From where did this package come?” He bent down to retrieve it, his mind still on his learning. “What’s in it? One minute…this is addressed to Ernest Roderich of Budweis.2České Budějovice, Bohemia, Czech Republic. Why, this is the stolen parcel for which poor Shimon is being held in jail, as if he were a common criminal!”

As the Rav stood there with the parcel in his hands, his head began to throb. “Who threw this in?  Maybe it is somebody who wants to implicate the whole Jewish community in the scandal!”  He carefully placed the parcel aside, where nobody would see it.

“I need to go outdoors for some fresh air, and try to clear my mind a bit, ” he thought.

The rav put on his coat, as he prepared to leave his home. Then he hesitated. “if this is indeed a libel, then the police will be coming by shortly.  Let me put the parcel back, exactly where it fell under the open window. In this way, the police won’t be able to accuse me.”  The Rav placed the parcel next to the window and went out.

As he was walking, Reinhold, the local Catholic priest, came towards him.

“Hello, Rabbiner.”

“Good afternoon, Priest.”

“I see that the Rabbiner is going for a walk by himself, in the middle of the day, which is unusual. Is something wrong, and can I help?

A genuinely original idea formed in the Rav’s mind.

“Tell me, Priest Reinhold, in your religion, it is customary that one can come to the priest for confession, is that not so?

“Yes, but does the Rabbiner want to come to me for confession?!”

“Actually, yes!”

A Good Idea Based on Chochmas Nashim

Description: Gravestone of Rabbi Baruch Fränkel in Leipnik

Earlier, on that same summer morning.

As time passed following Shimon’s arrest, his plight began to fade from view for Leipnik’s townspeople. But not having found the thief or the parcel, the police kept Shimon imprisoned, and in the home of Family Yessel, the situation started to become ever more difficult. There was no money coming in, and the financial help they had been receiving began to dwindle as people started to accept the reality that Shimon Yessel was staying in prison.

“I have to manage,” Rochel thought to herself, as she paced her small, bare kitchen. “If I take the parcel to the post office myself, then they will see straight away that Shimon is guilty and then he will never leave prison. How can I get the parcel to the post office without anyone being suspicious or laying blame?”

Rochel thought about Shimon’s parting message. “Shimon told me to go to the Rav. But how can I get the Rav involved in this mess? He would have to tell the police how it got to him, and I can’t put the Rav in the position of having to lie! ”

But then, an idea formed in her mind.

“I know what I’ll do. I’ll walk by R’ Baruch’s house and throw the package through the open window, and this way, the Rav will not know where it’s coming from. The Rav is wise, he’ll know what to do with the parcel!”

The more she thought about it, the better her plan sounded to her. The parcel would reach its intended recipient with the Rav’s help, and her husband could come home safely, and without implicating either the Rav or the Jewish community.

The Rav and the Priest

Later that day…

“The Rabbiner isn’t really thinking of coming and talking to me, is he?”

“Why, yes, I am!” said R’ Baruch to the bewildered priest.

“Ah! It will be my pleasure to cleanse the Rabbiner from all the bad deeds he’s done! The church is not far from here. There we have a special confessional booth!”

“Is it really necessary to do it in the church?  Maybe we can do it in your house?”

“Yes, we can do that. I have a confessional booth at home too!”

“Without the confessional booth it doesn’t work?”

“For the Jewish Rabbiner, we can arrange that it should work, while sitting on a regular chair as well,” the priest confirmed, itching to know what the Rabbiner’s big ‘sins’ were.

“Fine, so I will come to you in a half-hour.”

“See you then!”

The Confession at the Priest’s Home

A half-hour later, in the priest’s house.

“Let me just clarify one thing. When someone speaks to you in confession, his sins stay secret.  You are not permitted to tell anyone, correct?”

“Yes,” the priest replied, his curiosity growing by the minute as to what the Rabbiner would reveal.

“Even to the police?”

“Yes! Your secret comes with me to the grave.”

“Very good.  That’s where it should go. Listen carefully. This morning, somebody threw a parcel through my open window.  It’s that same parcel that the police have been searching for weeks now, the very same one over which Mister Yessel has been held in jail.  I have no idea who threw it into my window or why.”

“That is what the Rabbiner wants to ‘confess’? How can I help with that?”

“Were I to inform the police of this, they would insist on interrogating me, whereas you can simply explain that someone came to confess their sins and then returned the parcel to you.”

“Ehh… technically, yes, you’re right.”

“Okay great, here you have the parcel.  Please return it to the post office.”

The priest took the parcel, amazed at the wisdom, although disappointed to learn what his ‘sin’ turned out to be. “I will take it right over to the post office,” he assured R’ Baruch, “and hopefully they will let the innocent Mister Yessel go free.”

The Priest Stops by the Rav’s Home

That evening, after a day of excitement and good news.

Baruch Matir Asirim! Baruch Hashem, Shimon you are now free. Tomorrow in shul you should bentsh gomel!

“Yes, R’ Baruch. I wanted to…” Shimon had long ago regretted his actions but before he could say anything more to the Rav, someone came to tell him that there was a guest.

“Greetings, Priest Reinhold. To what do I owe the honor of such a prestigious visit, here at home?” The astonished rav greeted the priest.

“Very simple.  You came to me on a visit worth 30,000 kronen, so I came to return the visit. But I don’t have 30,000 kronen, instead I’ll give you the 500 kronen that I received for returning the parcel.  You deserve it!”

“Why are you giving it to me? You keep it, you took it to the post office.”

“Let’s give it to Shimon! After all, he is the one who sat in jail for no reason.”

The priest gave the money over to R’ Baruch and went on his way, leaving Shimon alone once again with the Rav.

At last, Shimon poured his heart out to the Rav. He told R’ Baruch that he had become a thief and that he was full of regret and wanted to repent.

“You are not a thief!”

“I am not a thief?! But I am the one who took the parcel that fell from the wagon!”

“A thief is someone who steals again and again without regretting it.  You stumbled on one sin, and that doesn’t qualify you as a thief.”

“Yes, on that point the Rav is right. So, I am not a thief! Even before I was put in the cell, I had already regretted what I had done.”

“You see, you sat in jail. You went through more than you had to. Luckily, you have a clever wife.  Now, take the 500 Kronen, and without telling anyone how you came to possess so much money, open a business. In this way, you’ll be able to make a living without needing to go around as a peddler anymore.”

And indeed, Shimon Yessel opened a fur store with the money, and Hashem blessed him with great success.

Source: Ohel Baruch, Łódź 1933 , page 21

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