“The Street Sweeper,” a Hasidic Tale with a Question for You

What does the tale of a rabbi and the Nazis have to do with the upcoming Jewish holidays?

The Rebbe and the Nazis.
David Cohen/Flash90

The year the Nazi’s, may their name be deleted, invaded Austrian lands, fires burned beneath the feet of all Jews in the country. When the Third Reich, may their name be deleted, annexed the country and occupied the government, the Nazis began abusing the Jews. They especially sought out the Rebbes (Hasidic rabbis) and Admorim (an acronym for “our lord, teacher and rabbi”) to mistreat and insult.

In Vienna, several Admorim from the house of Rozen lived. These were the first to be attacked and abused by the Germans. As one of their “punishments,” the Rebbes and Admorim were forced to go to the center of the city of Vienna and sweep the streets. Rebbe Abraham Yaacov Freidman, may his name be remembered forever, after being pushed to sweep the public streets said with much bitterness, “I am not sorry that I am sweeping the streets. Do not all the streets of Vienna belong to the Holy One of Israel, ‘may his name be blessed.’ Rather my heart is disturbed by what the Gentiles might say.”

At that very moment, the Rebbe made a vow that if the Lord “will allow me, and I will be blessed to be able to go up to the Land of Israel, I will sweep her streets.” And so he said, and so he did. After surviving and eventually making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel), the Rebbe would get up early every morning at sunrise and go out to sweep.

Until one day, one of his faithful students found him at his task, and from that day on, the Rebbe never swept the streets again.

Questions for our readers

  1. Why was the Rebbe concerned about “What will the Gentiles say?” Was he ashamed to be sweeping the streets? Would it encourage antisemitism to see a rabbi humiliated, or is some other aspect of Israel’s calling the rabbi is concerned with?
  2. When his student saw him sweeping the streets in Israel, why did the Rebbe stop? What changed in his understanding perspective on sweeping streets?
  3. How do you understand this story?

Hint: there are no wrong answers

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

We will present the best answers at our next Live Zoom Meeting: “A Guide to the Jewish Holidays”

Tuesday evening, September 22, at 20:00 Israel Time. You must register to attend.

By the way, all our LIVE events are recorded and can be accessed any time after the event.

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