On Good Authority
Reb Abishel Frankfurter had a Gemara in his possession that was quite special. On one side of the page was a pshat on Tosafos that he had acquired in a very unusual way. This is the story behind it: One year before Shavuos the city of Frankfurt had a shortage of meat. For some reason, every animal that was slaughtered lekavod Yom Tov was found to be treif. In order to meet the demand, it was decided to send the butcher to a nearby city to purchase meat. Since the butcher was not considered to be very pious, a choshuve shochet went along on the trip to ensure that only glatt kosher meat of the highest standard was purchased. The two men hired a wagon and set off. In the middle of the night, however, the butcher suddenly became extremely hungry. He insisted on stopping the wagon and going in search of water for netilas yadayim, as there wasn’t any water in the wagon and he was famished. The shochet assured the butcher that under the circumstances he was permitted to eat bread without washing his hands, as it would be extremely dangerous to leave the wagon in the middle of a dense forest, especially in the pitch blackness. Although the butcher was not the most learned of men he refused to accept the shochet’s “ruling,” as he was very scrupulous about this particular mitzvah and refused to eat without washing. Disregarding the shochet’s protestations he jumped out of the wagon and took off.Fifteen minutes later the shochet heard the most bloodcurdling screams in the distance, followed by complete silence.
After a while he realized that the butcher wasn’t coming back; he had been murdered by robbers who lurked in the forest and preyed on wayfarers. Needless to say, the residents of Frankfurt were not yet aware of what had happened. That night Reb Abishel Frankfurter was in the midst of learning when suddenly the butcher appeared before him. “I am coming from the next world,” he told him. “Unfortunately, I have many sins that are preventing me from entering Gan Eden. I am even being punished for endangering my life by leaving the wagon in the middle of the night in search of water for netilas yadayim. However, there is one malach that is coming to my defense before the heavenly court, pleading that I was moser nefesh for the mitzvah. The beis din shel maalah therefore decided that you will be the one to decide whether I was moser nefesh or not.” “I don’t believe that you’re really coming from the next world,” Reb Abishel replied. “The only way you can convince me is if you bring proof. Right now I am learning an extremely difficult Tosafos. If you are truly coming from heaven, go back up and ask the baalei ha’Tosafos themselves for the answer.” An hour went by and the butcher reappeared. He apologized for the delay and explained that because he had never learned that particular commentary it took time for him to understand what the baalei ha’Tosafos were saying. This was the pshat Reb Abishel wrote in his Gemara, as he heard it from the murdered butcher. Reb Shlomo Bobover would often relate this story, having personally seen the Gemara in question.