Part Five – Shlomo Leib has thoughts of Repentance and becomes Sick

His heart opened with a rush of memories, like an overflowing fountain. He remembered his wife and children. Who knows if they are still alive or how they earn their livelihood. How much anguish have they suffered because of him; the anguish of shame and embarrassment; the anguish of poverty and starvation. “And for what reason?” he asked himself.

He remembered how his wife, a woman of upright values and righteous conduct, had honored and respected him, how beloved he was to his wise and learned father-in-law and how his mother-in-law, a good and upright woman,  had honored him. “Cursed is the day”, he thought to himself, “when I met that heretic, Avraham Dov, who led me astray from the path of life”, and he wept bitterly with all his soul.

Several hours passed and Rabbi Yosef still prayed with fiery emotion, his voice quivering and entreating. This made an incredible impression upon Shlomo Leib. He paced to and fro, from one side of the room to the other, unable to find a resting place.

Rabbi Yosef’s prayers during the blessing of, “Ahavas Olam-Eternal Love”, his entreaties during the prayer of, “Avinu, Av HaRachaman-Our Father, Merciful Father”, his supplications during the prayer of, “Lo Nevosh V’Lo Nekaleim-Let Us not be shamed or disgraced”,  and his yearning when he said, “Shma Yisrael-Hear O Israel”, shattered Shlomo Leib’s heart, and he swore to himself that from that day on, come what may, he will return to HaShem with a perfect Teshuvah-Repentence. He resolved to return to his wife and children, to his faith and to his G-d. He went to the innkeeper and asked to borrow his Tallis and Tefillin (Prayer shawl and Prayer boxes). Then he returned to his room, donned them and prayed with much weeping.

In the meantime, Rabbi Yosef concluded his prayers, studied Torah, as was his custom, and began to prepare for the journey. However, the guest was still shut in his room. When Rabbi Yosef heard that he had borrowed the innkeeper’s Tallis and Tefillin, he decided to wait until he concluded his prayers.

On this journey Rabbi Yosef was hauling several different goods from Beshenkovitch to Senna, but since there was no urgency he waited until the guest would be ready to leave.

After about an hour the guest opened his door and called for the innkeeper. He told him that he felt ill and was unable to travel. Since he very much wanted to travel with the Jewish teamster, would the innkeeper please impress it upon the teamster to wait until he felt better? He would be willing to pay extra for the delay, over and above the travel fee. In addition, he would pay for his room and board during the delay.

Rabbi Yosef agreed to wait. However, as evening approached the illness worsened and the guest lay listlessly, like a block of wood. He was burning with a high fever.

Throughout the night, in his feverish delirium, he spoke disjointed and rambling words, mentioning names of different men and women, both Jew and non-Jew. Some he angrily cursed with blood curdling oaths and from others he pleaded for mercy and compassion. Thus, he spent a fitful and sleepless night, until at daybreak he finally calmed down and slept.

In the morning, Yaakov Leib, the teamster of Batchaikov, arrived at the inn with passengers on their way to several fairs in the district of Senna. When Yaakov Leib saw the sick guest he immediately recognized him as Solomon Gametzky, the confidant and advisor of the young count, the son-in-law of the old prince.

Yaakov Leib told Rabbi Yosef of the evil and sinful ways and deeds of Solomon Gametzky and that he had a gentile wife and son. However, “The Heretic Gametzky” (as he was called by the Jews of Batchaikov) does have one good quality in that he helps the Jews. From the time that he came to Batchaikov with the young prince, all the properties of both the old and young prince; the water mill, the wind mill, the rivers for fishing and the inns upon the roads, were all either sold or leased only to Jews. Furthermore, this was all done on good terms, so that they could earn a decent livelihood.

When Shlomo Leib awoke from his sleep he asked the innkeeper to call the Jewish teamster to come to him in his room. When Rabbi Yosef entered, Shlomo Leib asked him to sit and began to recount his whole life story, from beginning to end. He related everything that had occurred to him from the time that he strayed from the straight path to that very day. He also told him that as of yesterday he had decided to return to HaShem with a perfect Teshuvah-Repentance. Come what may, he planned to leave his evil ways and return to his wife and children. When he finished speaking he remained silent for several moments and then lifted his voice in sobbing, so that his whole body shook.

Rabbi Yosef was shocked by what he heard and his emotions became confused and tumultuous. One moment he was angry at Shlomo Leib and the next moment he felt compassion for him. Nonetheless, when he saw how passionate Shlomo Leib was in his commitment and realized that he was truly repentant and sorry for his evil ways and deeds, he felt great pity for him and tried to comfort him.

Rabbi Yosef’s words of comfort only caused Shlomo Leib to become even more agitated. He cried bitterly from the depths of his soul saying that for a sinner such as him there is no remedy save death accompanied with great affliction. Only through such punishment could his many sins be atoned for. He said that he would accept everything, even the most terrible afflictions, so long as he could be free of his gentile wife and their son, who was born in impurity. He only wished to return to his Jewish wife and children so that he could remove the shame and suffering which he had caused them.

In the course of an hour or so, Shlomo Leib calmed down and asked to borrow Rabbi Yosef’s Tallit and Tefillin for prayer. However, due to his weakness Rabbi Yosef had to help him don them. At the conclusion of his prayers his fever increased and he began to weep and speak in disjointed sentences. Rabbi Yosef, however, who knew his distress, understood that they were words of repentance and regret over the past.

That afternoon, a wagon arrived from Palotsk on its way to Vitebsk. Amongst the passengers was the famous physician, Rabbi Yitzchak Zelig Palotsker, who was well known throughout the region. At the request of the innkeeper he examined the patient and expressed his opinion that he was in a very serious and dangerous condition. He drew his blood, provided him with medicines and then continued on his journey.

Since the patient had poured his heart out to Rabbi Yosef, Rabbi Yosef decided that he must not leave the patient while he is in such a condition. He resolved that if HaShem returns Shlomo Leib to his full health, he will help him fulfill his oath to return to his Jewish wife and children. However, who knows what the day could bring and if, G-d forbid, the worst should happen, he would have to inform Shlomo Leib’s wife and children, since no one else but Rabbi Yosef knew of Shlomo Leib’s secret. Thus he resolved not to leave until he was confident that his health was improving.

Moreover, Rabbi Yosef thought that since Shlomo Leib was repentant and regretful about the past, it was his personal duty and obligation to help him as much as possible in this regard. He therefore gave over the merchandise he was transporting to the teamster Yaakov Leib to take to Senna. He himself would stay at the inn with the patient.

The medicine given by Rabbi Yitzchak Zelig did not help and the fever grew from hour to hour. Three full days of very high fever thus transpired. In the meantime, the Count of Batchaikov became aware that the close confidant and advisor of his son-in-law, the young Prince, had taken ill in the Jewish inn at the crossroads. The count directed his court physician to travel post-haste to the inn and return with the patient to the palace. On the other hand, if he finds his condition to be serious, he should take him to Vitebsk, the regional capital, where the medical care was on a higher level than at his court. He also commanded the doctor that under no circumstances should he inform the patient of his personal misfortune, in that three days earlier, his wife and son had gone on a boating excursion and had drowned in the river when their boat capsized.

The court physician found the patient in a very grave condition. He suffered from inflammation of the brain and it would be life-threatening to move him. He treated him as well as he could and sent a message by way of courier to his master, the Count, informing him of Shlomo Leib’s condition and that he could not be held responsible in case of death, because the fever was worsening hourly and Shlomo Leib was literally in the throes of death. Only G-d could save him now.

The young prince sent an urgent message to one of his acquaintances in the regional capital of Vitebsk who was an important physician, asking him to quickly travel to the inn at the crossroads where his confidant and advisor, Solomon Gametzky, lay deathly ill.

When the doctor arrived he found that the patient’s condition had improved somewhat, but that he was still in danger. He consulted with the court physician and they agreed to administer various medications designed to strengthen him physically, so that he could withstand the illness.

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