Short Fiction: Uproar Over Chalukas Hashas

The suddenness of it all, along with the question that sounded more like an accusation, frightened R. Moshe Shimon who had been facing the wall. Hands trembling, R. Moshe Shimon lost his grip, dropped the case, and the glass shattered to pieces over the floor. Short fiction by Reb Shieh Lipkin a”h.

A short story by Reb Shieh Lipkin

From Anash Magazine – published by

Reb Shieh Lipkin was a unique personality. A bookkeeper for the Diskin orphanage in Yerushalayim and a mashpia of the Chabad shul in Meah She’arim – where he chazered a maamar of the Rebbe every Shabbos – Reb Shieh was also a talented fiction writer.

His stories portray characters and scenes that were close to his heart. They are printed in books Dmus Chassidis and B’Oisiyois Shel Mashpia.


R. Moshe Shimon Gritzer was a man of precision – quiet, sincere, conscientious, and exceptionally modest. 

In his grocery, everyone knew that they could rely on R. Moshe Shimon’s honesty. The prices he set for any given product were its precise value and worth. It was commonplace to hear him tell a customer “this product isn’t fresh” or “this isn’t the best out there.” Everyone appreciated his honesty, and preferred his store over others.

When it came to matters of “bein adam l’makom,” man and G-d, he was all the more modest. He exemplified the Navi’s directive of “hatzneia leches im elokecha,” walking modestly with Hashem. In his community, they called him “the sealed mouth,” given his outstanding silence.

At warm community farbrengens, as things were coming to an end, and the mashpia had touched the hearts of his listeners, most of the crowd, who were after l’chaims, were open about their feelings. People expressed themselves. R. Moshe on the other hand remained silent. With the tears in his eyes, it was obvious that he was touched and feeling emotional no less. Yet, on the outside he remained still, without any motion. Only when they would sing the slow and solemn nigunim did he open his mouth and sing along, as well as to say “l’chaim”, humbly, accompanied with a sigh.

For the community’s annual chalukas hashas on Yud Tes Kislev, R. Moshe would shy away from taking a mesechta. When offered to choose one, he would politely refuse and say, “I don’t think I’ll end up learning it.”

One Yud Tes Kislev, they needed someone to take Bava Basra, the longest masecha in Shas. Incidentally, R. Moshe Shimon had recently been spotted learning that mesecha. Given his honest nature, he would not deny that he was indeed planning to learn the entire thing. This time, R. Moshe Shimon could not get out of it.

Thus, for the first time, R. Moshe Shimon’s name appeared – against his will – on the list of names for the chalukas hashas. As in previous years, the list was adorned with a gold-lettered heading “Crown of Torah,” and the names of participants and their chosen mesechtas beneath it. The list was displayed prominently on the shul’s north-east wall for all to see. And near mesechta “Bava Basra” was the name “Harav Hachosid Reb Moshe Shimon Gritzer” – the honorable titles, demonstrating the community’s high regard for the quiet shopkeeper.


It was a late winter night, and R. Moshe Shimon was sitting alone in shul learning his mesechta. The room was dark, with a single lamp on the table where he was learning, spreading glimmers of light around him, with shades of the Gemara on the floor. In the silence, one could hear the clock ticking and the table and chair rocking alongside R. Moshe Shimon’s voice. “The Rashbam would indeed be right,” he spoke, “if the claimant had witnesses…” Then silence, as he sat immersed in contemplation. “But Tosefos argues with Rashbam!” his voice gently resurfaced.

R. Moshe Shimon was in the midst of a lengthy Tosefos, but can’t move ahead. He already restarted the Tosefos several times, but he kept on getting stuck at the same place, thrown like a ship between heavy waves. With one hand rubbing his forehead, and the other stroking his beard, he sat quietly, thinking. 

A couple of white hairs from his beard fell onto the Gemara page, and a thought entered R. Moshe Shimon’s mind, taking him away from the Tosefos. His white hairs on the black, small letters of Tosefos reminded him of the possuk, “straw (teven) is not given to your slaves, and bricks (leveinim) they tell us to make” (Shemos 5:16). The chasiddishe pshat reads into the possuk how we lack proper understanding (tevunah) and our white hair (loiven) remind us to do teshuvah… 

This thought expressed his exact feelings, as he grappled with the difficult Tosefos. The years are going by, the beard is getting whiter, and he ought to prepare himself for the next world. Chazal say: Praiseworthy is he who comes to the next world with his learning in hand. “But what should one do when his head won’t grasp the learning…” he thought to himself. 

Feeling unsettled, he began to pace the length of the shul, thoughtlessly humming the niggun, “esen est zich, trinken trinkt zich, vos zol men tun as es lernt zich nit…” (we eat well, we drink well, but what should be done that we can’t learn…).

As he paced, he suddenly caught sight of the chalukas hashas list. In the dim lighting, he could make out his name under the gold heading. Although he initially did not want his name included, perhaps, he wondered, he did feel satisfaction once his name was added. 

“Isn’t this the reason that my head won’t grasp the Tosefos?” he thought. “After all, doesn’t the Alter Rebbe write that one must be humble, ‘my soul is like dust before all,’ in order to achieve the following line, ‘open my heart to your Torah’?”

A decision was made. He climbed up on a bench and removed the list with its glass casing from the wall. Climbing down from the bench, he removed the list from its case and erased his name from it as though he was fulfilling the mitzvah to wipe out Amalek. For R. Moshe Shimon this was one and the same, as explained in Chassidus that Amalek represents arrogance and haughtiness. After erasing his name, he returned the list to its casing, and back on the wall it went.

This gave him a sense of relief and calm. His mind now felt clear, and he was able to reapproach the Tosefos, victoriously.


The next morning after shachris, someone in shul noticed that R. Moshe Shimon’s name was crossed off from the list, and a great commotion ensued. “Shocking!” they all shouted at once, “Why would someone want to bother a peaceful man who never hurts a soul?” The suspicion fell upon a certain local youth, a troublemaker with a reputation for tricks and pranks.

Despite the uproar, the community members made sure that word of it would not reach R. Moshe Shimon. Wishing to spare him pain, they didn’t want him to hear what happened. They decided to quickly fix the issue by repasting his name onto the list without making a fuss. R. Moshe Shimon, from his end, acted oblivious.

That night, when returning to the shul to learn, R. Moshe Shimon promptly went over to the wall, removed the list from the case and erased his name. After returning the list to its place, he was ready to open his Gemara and learn with zest.

The next morning, upon realizing the repeated offence, the commotion in shul grew even greater. Furious, members of the shul approached the suspect youth and warned him that he would face serious consequences. But the youngster pleaded not guilty and denied any knowledge of what happened.

“Do I have nothing better to do then to wipe R. Moshe Shimon’s name from the list?” he cried.

“Then who did it? Who else could have done it?” they argued.

Seeing his predicament, the young man asked for a chance to catch the culprit himself. “You wait, you’ll see!” he promised.

They granted him a chance to find out who was behind the act, and in the meantime, they once again pasted R. Moshe Shimon’s name in its rightful space on the list.


The youth was committed to revealing the true offender. Considering that the offence was repeated twice, it was likely to happen again. He decided to stay in shul and catch the culprit in the act. He hid himself in the ezras noshim, lying in a position from where he could peak through the mechitzah, with the list in his line of vision. After the last man left shul that night, he remained. 

Despite the young man’s courageous character, fear crept upon him. The hour was late, and aside for the single ner tomid, the room was dark. But determined to clear his name, he stayed. Every so often, he lit a cigarette and used its light to see the time on his watch, only to discover that many hours still lay ahead.

At four in the morning, he heard the door opening. Someone walked in and turned on a lamp. It was R. Moshe Shimon. At this point, the young man figured he could go home and get some sleep. Surely, with R. Moshe Shimon in the room, no one would have the audacity to rub out his name.

But before he had a chance to make a move, he saw something that startled him. Lo and behold, R. Moshe Shimon was getting up on a chair, and removing the list from its case. Confused by what he was seeing, he realized he had to move quickly. He had arranged with a senior neighbor of the shul, that in the event that the culprit was caught, he would run over to call him to serve as a witness. Swiftly and quietly, he went to the neighbor, who had stayed awake for this reason, and brought him to the shul.

Just as R. Moshe Shimon had put down his pen and prepared to put list back, the two of them barged into the shul. Their sudden and loud entry gave R. Moshe Shimon a shock.

“What are you doing R. Moshe Shimon?!” the neighbor exclaimed in astonishment, as he discovered who was behind the erasing.

The suddenness of it all, along with the question that sounded more like an accusation, frightened R. Moshe Shimon who had been facing the wall. There he was, standing on the bench, glass case in hand, with two bewildered faces staring at him. Hands trembling, R. Moshe Shimon lost his grip, dropped the case, and the glass shattered to pieces over the floor.

The early morning silence, which had been briefly busted by the shattering glass, was now felt even stronger. The two visitors, struck with a sense of guilt for having brought this about, froze in their place, near the shul’s entrance. Their eyes shifted from the broken piece of glass to R. Moshe Shimon, who was feeling even more broken inside. As he remained standing on the bench, he leaned his head on a nearby windowsill. Only the clock on the wall, which had accompanied R. Moshe Shimon many a morning, continued its tick-tock, as though nothing had occurred. 

After a few moments, the neighbor and the youth went on to fix the damage they caused. The youth grabbed a broom to sweep up the glass, while the older fellow approached R. Moshe Shimon to comfort him. “Why are you lying this way? You have nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, please forgive us for disturbing you. Please continue your learning.”

After some time, R. Moshe Shimon lifted his head and descended from the bench, mumbling to himself in self-criticism: “My whole day is spent engrossed in business. When I finally pick up a Gemara, my thick head won’t get it, and my only interest is for my name to appear on a list with those who actually learn and know Torah…” Frustrated, he took his talis and tefillin and left the shul.

When the time came for shachris, the young troublemaker arrived in shul with a proud sense of victory. When he disclosed who was behind the erasing of the name off the list, the members of the shul became very agitated. In R. Moshe Shimon’s absence, people expressed their unanimous admiration for the man. 

Then the Rov, overtaken with emotion, said:

“The Mishnah says that if a person finds an ownerless item and throws himself over it, and then someone else grabs it, the second person acquires it.

“The Baal Shem Tov explains the deeper meaning as follows: The item (metzia) refers to the Torah. If someone wants to acquire Torah by ‘throwing himself over it,’ with arrogance and self-glory, then ‘another,’ the sitra achara, will grab it and acquire it, putting the Torah under the domain of those negative forces.

“Now, the Gemara there asks: Why does the first person not acquire the item by virtue of ‘four amos,’ a valid means of acquisition? It answers that since he threw himself over the item, he demonstrated that he did not intend to use that method of acquisition. Following the Baal Shem Tov’s pshat: Since the Torah was acquired through arrogance and haughtiness, it stays with the negative forces.”          

“Let the crossed out name stay on the sign,” the Rov concluded, “and it will serve as a reminder for the kind of humility and bittul with which we should study Torah to be a vessel for the holy Torah.”

This article first appeared in Anash Magazine – published by

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