The Tisch: For what the bell tolls

“When a clock sounds its bell, it announces to the world that another hour has passed and will never return. Indeed, the toll of the clock awakens people to repent as they realize that time is running out."

After Rabbi Ya’acov Yitzhak Halevi Horowitz (1745-1815), commonly known as the Seer of Lublin, passed away his worldly possessions were divided between his children. One of his sons, Rabbi Yosef of Torczyn (1782-1818), received three items: the silk Shabbat caftan that the Seer wore each week, his gartel, that is the belt that he wore when he prayed, and the old clock that had been in his private study.
As Rabbi Yosef left Lublin and headed eastward, it began to drizzle. Soon the drizzle turned to showers, and the showers to rain, and the rain to a veritable downpour. Rabbi Yosef realized that he could not continue. He stopped at the next village and took shelter at a small inn run by a Jew. The rain continued unabated and Rabbi Yosef was forced to stay the night. The next morning the rain was still falling and the roads had in the meantime turned into rivers. So he was forced to stay another day.
When the weather finally improved, Rabbi Yosef prepared to leave and the innkeeper presented him with the bill. Looking at what he owed, he didn’t know what to do. He had not been prepared for this stopover and did not have sufficient money to pay his debt. With a heavy heart, Rabbi Yosef explained his plight and reluctantly offered his host one of the three items he had just inherited from his saintly father.
The innkeeper looked at the items and sought his wife’s opinion: “Money we are not going to get from this person. But what are you, a simple villager, going to do with silk Shabbat clothes?” she said. “And when you pray, do you concentrate so well that you deserve the gartel of the holy Seer of Lublin? Now this old clock, it looks like it still works. Let’s take the clock so that you know exactly what time to milk the cows. At least the cows will be happy.” The innkeeper took the clock and Rabbi Yosef went on his way.
Some time later, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Ber of Radoszyce (1765-1843), a disciple of the Seer, was passing through that village and stopped at the inn for the night. Alas, the innkeeper told him that there were no rooms available but he could nevertheless stay the night in the public area. R. Dov Ber sat down in a corner and began studying. The innkeeper was impressed: Amid the boisterous, drinking peasants, this man was able to concentrate on Torah! As the hours wore on and some of the locals became wilder, the innkeeper was once again stirred by his visitor’s humble attitude and ability to focus despite the dreadful atmosphere.
“Please stay in my room, rabbi,” said the innkeeper, “You are surely tired from the journey.” R. Dov Ber graciously accepted the generous offer.
Once in the privacy of the innkeeper’s room he began to sing and dance. The innkeeper heard the joyous prayers of his guest and knew he had made the correct decision.
“What an honor to facilitate the rabbi’s service of God,” he thought to himself later that night as he lay down to sleep listening to the rabbi still singing and dancing.
As the hours went by the innkeeper became less enamored with R. Dov Ber’s revelry: “Surely he must be tired from the journey,” thought the innkeeper to himself as he tossed and turned, waiting for the rabbi to go to sleep.
When morning dawned, the innkeeper opened his eyes groggily and heard R. Dov Ber still singing and dancing. After morning prayers he wanted to query his guest, but as a simple innkeeper with little learning he was hesitant to approach this clearly holy person.
“Where did you get that clock?” asked R. Dov Ber to the innkeeper’s surprise, as he prepared to leave. The innkeeper told him the tale of the clock.
“You don’t know what a treasure you have here!”
“Treasure? It is just an old clock that chimes when I have to go and milk the cows. The cows are lucky that it still works.”
“No, it is much more than ‘just an old clock.’ This clock belonged to the great Seer of Lublin, I recognized the chime as soon as I heard it!”
“Recognized the chime!? It sounds like any other clock to me.”
R. Dov Ber explained: “When a clock sounds its bell, it announces tothe world that another hour has passed and will never return. Indeed,the toll of the clock awakens people to repent as they realize thattime is running out. Alas, the repentance is born of sadness anddepression, for the knell reminds us that the day is death is nearing.
“Not so the chime of the clock of the Seer! It rings a different tune.The Seer’s clock chimes and tells the world that we are another hourcloser to a repaired world. When you hear the chime of the Seer’sclock, you know that the end of days is nigh. And if, heaven forfend,God doesn’t bring redemption speedily, He will surely bring it in atimely fashion.”
The writer is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.