(Courtesy: Doug Lipman)
One day, an innkeeper came to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. "Rabbi," he said. "Is a man permitted to defend his property?"
The rabbi said, "Of course. What needs defending?"
"My inn," said the man. "So you'll give me your blessing?"
"That depends. Who are you defending it against?"
"Rabbi, the local peasant boys break into my kitchen at night, to steal the food that I keep for my customers."
"I see," said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. "And how do you plan to defend yourself from them?"
"Rabbi, I've been at my wit's end. I've yelled at them when I saw them running off with my food. I even bought a guard dog. But they fed it! When I got up in the morning, the dog was eating the stolen meat they gave it. So I got rid of the useless dog. But now, I have no choice. I'm off to the city to buy a rifle. Please give me your blessing on my journey!"
The rabbi stroked his beard, thoughtfully. "The loss to you is serious. These boys seem determined to steal. But how will the rifle protect your property?"
"I'll fire it into the air; they'll hear it. And if I see one of them on my property, I'll point it at him. Nothing else will work with these ruffians, Rabbi. They only understand force!"
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak looked down for a moment. Then he spoke. "I can't bless this journey. Do you think that peasant boys can't get rifles, too—even more easily than Jews can? I'm afraid you're only encouraging them to become even more clever and violent."
The innkeeper's face grew red. "Then I'll go—without your blessing! A man has to defend his property!" He slammed the door behind him as he left.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak watched the man climb onto his wagon, pick up the reins, and begin to drive off. Suddenly, the rabbi ran out into the street and yelled, "Wait! I've changed my mind!"
The man stopped his horse, dismounted from the wagon, tied his horse to a tree, and returned to the rabbi.
The rabbi said, "I MAY give you my blessing—will you submit to a brief test?"
"What kind of a test?"
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak raised his arm and slapped the man on the face.
The man was incensed. "Why did you do that, Rabbi? You don't have to hit me!"
The rabbi beamed. "Ah! In that case, I owe you an apology."
The innkeeper rubbed his cheek.
Gently, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak put his hand on the man's chest. "You see, for a moment, I thought that YOU only understand force. But I was mistaken. You—the one who understands that violence isn't always necessary when talking is possible, who would never point a gun at a child —you, I give my blessing to."
The man put his hand over Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's hand, which still touched his chest. His face softened. "Thank you, Rabbi. I think I might have been a little mistaken, myself."
The man got on his wagon, and turned it around toward home.
Later that evening, when the moonless night provided a perfect cover for thieves and mischief-makers, the innkeeper heard a noise outside his inn.
Opening the door, he saw someone standing twenty paces from the inn, with a cloth sack at his side. "A thief," he thought. He strode toward the intruder. As he got closer, he saw that the thief was facing away from him. "Who are you," he said. "Get out of here!"
The figure turned to face him. The man gasped. "Rabbi! What are you doing here?"
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak said, "A man has to defend his property! So I came to help you, by standing guard." He lifted the sack, and showed the innkeeper the bread and cheese inside. "When the boys come, perhaps I can feed them and talk to them, the way they tamed your dog."
Speechless, the innkeeper just looked at the rabbi.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak put his arm on the man's shoulder. "But while I was standing here, I noticed what a beautiful night it is. Don't you think?"
For a long time, the two stood there, looking at the vast night sky.