By Rabbi Michoel Oishie for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
My wife’s great-grandmother kept a diary where she recorded many stories she heard in her small town in Europe. This story, about a shochet (ritual slaughterer), stood out.
A friend of hers had a son who wanted to become a shochet. After studying all the necessary laws, he apprenticed himself to a respected shochet in the town. This shochet assigned him all kinds of menial tasks—taking out the garbage, cleaning the house, and fetching wood from the storage house—but said nothing about slaughtering.
After a few months, the apprentice began to lose his patience. He made it clear to the shochet that he was getting tired of this work and wanted to begin learning his profession.
One morning, the shochet sent the young man to fetch wood. Soon after, he heard screaming from the storage house, followed by a loud thump. He went to investigate and found the young man unconscious on the floor next to the woodpile.
The shochet revived his apprentice, who described what had caused him to faint: “I came into the storage house, and I saw a clan of dead people dressed in shrouds who were busy sharpening knives.”
“Ah,” the old shochet said, “you saw my students.”
He explained to the young man that these were slaughterers who had not learned the intricate laws of their trade properly during their lifetimes and had thus caused many Jews to eat non-kosher meat. “After they died, it was decreed in Heaven that they should come to me to learn to do it properly. Only then can they rest peacefully.”
The shaken young man went home and carefully reviewed all the laws of slaughtering until he knew them perfectly. Soon after, the older man allowed him to begin serving as his assistant.
While I wouldn’t dress my friends in shrouds to scare my students into the fear of Heaven, I am impressed by his creativity. It makes me wonder whether I should be more creative in my own teaching. It would certainly make my lessons more effective.
An excerpt from the forthcoming book In the Trenches: Stories from the Front Lines of Jewish Life in Russia, (pre-ordered here). Find more of Hasidic Archives latest books on HasidicArchives.com. Hasidic Archives books are also available in bulk.