Motzei Shabbos Story: After the shochet from the town of Zhytomyr was booted from his position, he went on to become a highway robber. After his passing, the town Rov said he felt responsibility for what had happened.
By Elchonon Isaacs – Chabad.org
In the town of Zhytomyr, where the venerable Rabbi Zev Volf led the community, things had gone wrong one too many times in the kosher slaughterhouse. Each time the source was the same: the carelessness of the shochet, who did not seem to appreciate the importance of his job and the weighty responsibility it entailed.
Feeling he had no choice, Rabbi Zev Volf forbade the shochet to continue slaughtering animals in the city. At first, the deposed shochet accepted the ruling, but as time passed a thought crossed his mind: “The rabbi only revoked permission to slaughter in the city of Zhytomyr but never prohibited me from slaughtering in the countryside. I will travel there and offer my services wherever needed.”
With a hopeful heart, he took his bag of chalafim (slaughtering knives), some food and clothing, and began his trek. Upon arriving in a small village, he went to the local inn that was managed by a Jew. After praying, he turned to the wife of the innkeeper and offered his services. To his dismay, she said the regular shochet had already passed through earlier that morning and done the work.
The deposed shochet sighed and continued on his way, trudging through the forest, feeling hopeless and downhearted. As the sun set, a band of robbers surrounded him. They tied him up and dragged him to their hideout.
A thought popped into his mind, and he said to his captors, “Why would you treat one your own like this?” Seeing that they were caught by surprise, the shochet smiled and explained, “I am also in this business. I am certain I can be a useful member of the gang,” and he pointed to his bag of slaughtering knives. His captors’ eyes lit up when they saw the sharp weapons. They immediately untied him, accepted him into their ranks, and set him to work polishing their daggers.
Initially, his conscience weighed on him and he constantly thought of escape, but the right opportunity never arose. With time, he began to mimic his newfound friends, and the former shochet morphed into a remorseless bandit, a full-fledged member of the team.
One morning at dawn he waited for prey at a crossroads leading to the city of Mezhyrichi. A small carriage passed by and he pounced on the passenger, dragged him deep into the forest, and demanded his money. The captive took out his torn pouch and handed over the few coins he had. The disappointed robber drew his sword to kill the poor soul.
The captive looked at the bandit with pleading eyes and begged, “I am in your hands; do to me as you wish. But please grant me one final request. Allow me to wash my hands according to Jewish tradition, recite my morning blessings, read the Shema prayer, and recite the final confession.”
The bandit agreed and the captive washed his hands and began to chant the morning Modeh Ani slowly and emotionally. “My G‑d, the soul that You have placed within me is pure, You created it; You formed it; You have breathed it into me, and You preserve it within me. And You will take it from me in the future…”
Engrossed in his prayer, he did not notice the change coming over his captor. The bandit was pale, sweat beaded on his face, and he began to shake uncontrollably.
The thump of the bandit falling to the ground aroused the captive from his reverie. With the small amount of water he had, he managed to revive him from his faint.
When the captor regained his composure, he managed to utter a few shaky words. “Rebbe, do you recognize me?”
Tears flowed from his eyes.
“I was once the shochet of Zhytomyr, whom you deposed many years ago.”
Reb Zev Volf was astonished. “How did you get here? How did you fall so low?”
The bandit recounted the events that had led him to this point, and a new wave of tears flowed down his face. “Rebbe,” he cried, “I want to return. Is there a way back for me?!”
“The gates of teshuvah are never closed,” Reb Zev Volf replied. “The first step is to stop transgressing. Leave everything behind you. Leave this dark place and let’s travel together to my teacher, the Maggid of Mezhyrichi. I am certain he will see the depth of your broken soul and will find a way to help you.”
The bandit agreed and they continued on to Mezhyrichi together. After hearing the erstwhile shochet’s history from Reb Zev Volf, the Maggid summoned him and prescribed a path to spiritual healing. It was a difficult process, but he accepted it with love and joy.
The time he spent in repentance was not very long, as he soon passed away. Very few people attended his funeral. Reb Zev Volf led the procession with a bowed head, and in his eulogy he noted how the man’s tragic trajectory had come about by his own doing, as he did not follow the Sages’ directive, “Be cautious in judgment.”
Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org