Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Improbable Thief

Towards the end of his life, Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, stayed at the home of one his supporters. To the shock of his host, Rav Yisrael ordered that if he was taken ill on Shabbos he was not to do any prohibited labor to save his life. When his host asked what possible rationale he had for this, Rav Yisrael explained, “Our sages tell us that a professional thief is not saved with prohibited labor on Shabbos. Since I am afraid that I may be in this category, I beseech you not to violate this halachah and save me.”
“But why do you say that you suspect you might be a professional thief?” the man stuttered.
Rav Yisrael’s reply was astounding. “I am supported by people because they think I am a holy tzaddik. But the sad truth is that I am not at all. This means that the money given is theft and you may not violate Shabbos even if my life is in danger...”
The host was very reluctant to follow Rav Yisrael’s instructions but was equally hesitant about disregarding his psak without consulting a renowned posek. He chose Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spector, zt”l, who disagreed with Rav Yisrael. “Despite what he told you, you are obligated to violate Shabbos to save Rav Yisrael’s life.”
When Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, would recount this story he would comment, “Interestingly, Rav Yisrael was never in such a situation on Shabbos. His condition worsened on motzei Shabbos and he died on erev Shabbos. This is a prime example of a fulfillment of the verse, 'רצון יראיו יעשה'—‘Hashem does the will of those who fear Him.’”

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