Jewish Personalities

Reb Abishel Is Put To The Test

Reb Avram Abishel Frankfurter was an extremely wealthy person, but one who refused to keep his wealth to himself. In fact, most of his money went to feed and clothe the poor. Everyone knew his door was always open; whoever wished could come in at any time for something to eat and drink. No one was ever turned away, and every beggar was made to feel welcome. When people asked him why he was permitted to give away more than a fifth of his possessions to tzedakah, Reb Abishel would reply that just as one may desecrate Shabbos for pikuach nefesh (saving lives), so too was it pikuach nefesh for him to give away money. The mitzvah of hachnasas orchim was so important to Reb Abishel that he would sign his name “Avram hu Avraham,” as he aspired to the level of Avraham Avinu with regard to hospitality. Up in heaven there was a major commotion. How could someone compare himself to Avraham Avinu? A big kitrug (prosecution) was created against Reb Abishel. It was decided that he would be tested to see what level of hachnasas orchim (welcoming guests) he was truly on. One Erev Shabbos a pauper knocked on Reb Abishel’s door. The man was dressed in rags and emitted an extremely bad odor. Reb Abishel welcomed him in with a big smile. Stepping over the threshold, the pauper promptly informed Reb Abishel that he was famished. He then proceeded to polish off almost all the food that had been prepared for Shabbos, keeping up a litany  of complaints as he stuffed himself: the food wasn’t tasty, the soup was cold and it wasn’t being served quickly enough. His litany continued throughout the entire day, all the while gobbling up everything in sight. On Motzaei Shabbos the beggar complained that he was still hungry, so Reb Abishel went off to the shochet to shecht an animal.

The first one that was slaughtered was found to be treif, as was the second. Animal after animal was slaughtered until a total of 12 were disqualified, but Reb Abishel didn’t give up. When the 13th animal was deemed permissible, Reb Abishel prepared a huge repast for his seemingly insatiable guest. After the beggar had finished eating he revealed his true identity to Reb Abishel. “I come from the next world,” he said. “You were tested because you compared yourself to Avraham Avinu. There was a big kitrug against you, but you passed the test. You truly are on the level of Avraham Avinu with regard to hachnasas orchim.” The Chozeh of Lublin would comment that the chiddush (novelty) of the story is not that Reb Abishel was such a great machnis orei’ach. The chiddush was that Reb Abishel believed that one person was capable of eating so much! Chazal say in Maseches Megillah that Abaye would eat 60 different foods without feeling sated. Reb Abishel was such a believer in the words of our Sages that he accepted it as entirely plausible that the beggar could consume so much food.

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