The farmer averted his eyes and did not reply, but the rabbi continued speaking. "Perhaps you don't understand the true sanctity of Shabbat. Let me explain: All week you toil with farm animals and till the earth. You work until you're so exhausted that you fall into your bed. What connection do you have with the spiritual? On the Shabbat, every Jew receives an additional soul, one which is completely pure and refined. He rests his weary body, forgets his struggle of the preceding week and devotes his thoughts to G-d. A person who lives without the Shabbat has a life of work which never ends."
The peasant listened to the rabbi's words and they struck a deep chord within his heart. He burst into tears at the thought of all he was missing in life.
"Rabbi, I see now how right you are. But perhaps I haven't explained the whole reason why I don't observe Shabbat completely as I should. You see, I rent my farm from a poretz (landlord) who requires me to produce enough food for his family as well as my own. Now that you have explained the importance of Shabbat, I will try my best to keep it completely. Just during the harvest I won't be able to."
Rabbi Chaim gently asked the farmer why he was so certain that he would not be able to keep Shabbat during the harvest.
"Rabbi, during the harvest I don't have even one minute to spare, and I can't take such a long break."
Rabbi Chaim smiled and said, "Let me tell you a story: A long time ago, a local landowner invited his friends to a celebration. When they were all seated around the table, and had all drunk much too much, they began to brag about their Jewish employees. 'My Jewish tenant is unique. He's as loyal as a good hunting dog,' said one. Another countered, 'He can't be as loyal as my Jewish tenant. He's absolutely the best!'
"Then the host spoke up. 'You may all have very remarkable tenants, but my Jew is unquestionably the most loyal. Why, he would do anything I asked without hesitation. You know, if I asked him to just convert to our religion, he would do it in a minute.'
"The others began to speak at once. 'That would never happen. A Jew, no matter how loyal, would never convert because he was asked to do so by his employer!' they all contended.
"'I see you don't believe me. I will prove it to you! Send for Moshke!' the poretz (landowner) barked to his servant.
"The Jewish tenant was soon standing in front of his landlord and all the drunken guests. 'Moshke,' began the poretz, 'would you do anything I requested of you?'
"The frightened Jew didn't know what was about to happen. He just hoped to avoid trouble, and so he nodded his head and replied, 'Yes, sir, I certainly would obey you.'
"'Moshke, I want you to become a Christian right now!'
"The Jew was shocked at the request, but he was too frightened to refuse. He needed a livelihood and his family needed a roof over their heads. As soon as he nodded his head a servant was dispatched to bring the priest. Before he could think about what he was doing, the Jew was baptized.
"When the poretz came out of his drunken haze, he remembered what he had done to his Jewish tenant and he regretted it very much. He apologized, 'Moshke, I was drunk and I didn't mean to offend you. Of course, you may become a Jew once again! '
"The poretz was shocked at Moshke's reaction to his words. He didn't express his relief or gratitude. In fact, he was none too anxious to resume his former religion.
"'Thank you for your offer, but soon the Jewish holiday of Passover will be celebrated. It is a very costly holiday. So, I was wondering, would you mind if I put off changing back until after the holiday?' "
Rabbi Chaim looked penetratingly at the farmer and asked, "Do you know that the Torah states, 'Six days shall you work and on the seventh you shall rest. At the time of plowing and harvesting you shall rest.' Doesn't it seem strange that the Torah adds the words 'at plowing and harvesting' when it says that Shabbat must be observed on a weekly basis? Why is it necessary to mention plowing and harvesting in particular?
"The reason is to teach us that even at the most demanding times of the year, when it seems impossible to keep Shabbat, even then, we are commanded to observe the holy Shabbat."
Rabbi Chaim continued. "Our Sages explain that the laws of Shabbat were taught when the Jews camped near the waters of Mara. Mara means bitter. From this we learn that even when life appears to be especially hard-bitter - and keeping Shabbat seems to be impossible, a Jew must have faith and must keep it despite the hardship. When he expends all the energy he needs to observe Shabbat, G-d will come to his aid, and he will surely succeed."