Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5776
A Drunkard's Last Request
In 5714 (1954), an important wedding took place in Jerusalem. The son of Rabbi Chaim Chaikl Miletzky, head of the famous Chayei Olam Yeshiva, was marrying a girl from a respected family, and most of the leading Torah scholars of the Holy City were in attendance. Unfortunately, the father of the chassan had to be carried in on a bed. For many years he suffered from severe problems with his feet. The doctors were now saying that one foot definitely had to be amputated, and perhaps the other one as well.
With his entrance, the noisy din of celebration died down. All eyes turned towards the poor man who couldn't dance at his son's wedding. R. Chaim Chaikl indicated that he wanted to speak.
"When I was young and healthy, I learned in the Stutchin Yeshiva. We used to study day and night in one of the local Shuls.
"In this town lived a man who was known to all as 'Itche der shiker.' Every day he would drink until he passed out. When he awoke he would immediately drink more, until he lost consciousness again. His favorite sleeping place was the same shul that we studied in, and there he spent most of each day. Where he lived, no one had any idea. Nor did anyone care.
"One winter night, we were sitting and learning while Itche was sleeping on a bench near the stove, as usual. Unexpectedly, the door burst open and a wagon-driver came in, very upset. He told us that his wagon with its heavy load had flipped over, and that his horse was trapped underneath and was being choked by the reins. If it wasn't released soon it would die
"We students began to discuss among ourselves whether it was permissible to interrupt our Torah studies for such a task. Finally we decided we shouldn't, because the wagon-lifting could be done by anyone, but only we were learning Torah.
"At that moment, much to our amazement, Itche opened his eyes and called out, 'Young men! You must go!' We ignored him and sent the dismayed Wagoner on his way to search for more appropriate helpers.
"We laughed at his authoritative tone. Then, he really surprised us by his audacity. He said, 'If you don't go to help that poor Jew right now, there will come a time, G-d forbid, when you will not be able to go!'
"For a moment there was shocked silence. Then I said to him jokingly, 'Itche, since when did you become a posek, a rabbinical judge?'
"He didn't answer.
"About half an hour later, the wagon driver came running back, frantic. He hadn't been able to find anyone to help him. He pleaded with us to come. We discussed it again, and this time decided it was permitted for us to go. But when we got there, the horse was already dead.
"The next morning, I was a little late for the morning session. When I entered, my friends told me that Itche der shiker had been looking for me. I went over to him and asked him what he wanted. He said that he needed me to do him a favor.
" 'What?' I asked.