ואתא השוחט ושחט לתורא דשתה למיא דכבה לנורא דשרף לחוטרא דהכה לכלבא דנשך לשונרא דאכלה לגדיא ... (סדר נרצה)
The winter in Poland is usually grey and wet. Temperatures drop rapidly, the days become shorter, and there are frequent intervals of snow. Although Polish winters last from December to March, high up in the mountains, snow stays well into May. The coldest months of the season are January and February, when temperatures often drop to negative 20 degrees Celsius.
One cold winter’s day, the Rav of Lissa, R’ Yaakov Loiberboim zt”l, also known as the “Nesivos HaMishpat” after the famous sefer he wrote with that name, found himself traveling to a neighboring town on an important matter. He arrived at an inn owned by a Jewish patron, and settled himself near the fire to warm up a bit.
A few minutes later, the door opened, and a large Jewish man lumbered into the lobby of the inn. He was carrying a large sheath and he cut quite an imposing figure. He was the local shochet, and he had arrived on this cold winter’s day to slaughter a number of animals for the inn’s benefit in the back yard. The proprietor greeted him warmly and offered him a cup of warm milk and a comfortable seat near the fire. But the shochet wasn’t interested in warm milk. He wanted a tall shot of the innkeeper’s best whiskey. “This is what I need right now to warm up my bones,” he chuckled good-naturedly. The innkeeper brought him a glass and he downed it in one swallow. “I could use another,” said the shochet, and he was given another glass of fire-water. This happened a few more times, and finally, after consuming quite a bit of alcohol, the man stood up and announced, “Okay, now I am warm enough to start shechting!”
He picked up the sheath containing his chalif knife, and began to walk towards the yard. The Nesivos quickly stood up and shouted, “Stop! You cannot shecht now! A drunk (שיכור) is forbidden to shecht!”
The big man stopped in mid-step and turned to look at the rabbi who had called him a drunk.
“Excuse me,” said the shochet. “Did you call me a drunk?”
R’ Yaakov was the chief rabbi of a large city and was not afraid of this confrontation. He again stated that after drinking so many cups of whiskey, he was not permitted to slaughter animals. The shochet became angry and began to scream at the rabbi, and the two men got into a heated exchange. But the Nesivos was smarter and he managed to calm the man down and assuage his feelings. When he felt he was open to listening to mussar, R’ Yaakov told him the following:
“Look, I can prove it to you. On Pesach night, all the way at the end of the Seder, we sing a song known as ‘Chad Gadya.’ This colorful ballad features a kid (a baby goat) purchased by ‘my father’ for the price of two zuz, an ancient coin. No sooner does he buy the kid, it is eaten by a cat, which is in turn bitten by a dog, which is beaten by a stick. The stick is then burned by the fire, which get doused by water, which is summarily lapped up by an ox. The ox is slaughtered by the shochet, who himself is put to death by the Angel of Death. And in case you thought that this mean angel of the netherworld was invincible - he is ultimately vanquished by the Holy One, blessed be He.”
The shochet’s face had mellowed from anger to amusement at the rabbi’s neat description of this classic. R’ Yaakov smiled and asked him, “See, but what I don’t understand is what did the shochet do wrong? Everyone else got what was coming to him - the cat ate the goat, the stick hit the dog - but the shochet simply slaughtered the ox, because that is what a shochet does! So why did he deserve to die at the hand of the Angel of Death?”
The shochet was following along jovially and fully agreed with the rabbi’s question. “The answer, though, is simple,” said R’ Yaakov. “What the shochet did wrong is that at this time of night, after drinking the arba kosos (four cups of wine), he has no business slaughtering. You know why? Because a shochet is forbidden to shecht when he is drunk!”
Everyone laughed and even the shochet took these words of criticism in stride. He learned that the rabbi was none other than the famous “Nesivos” - the chief rabbi of Lissa, and he apologized for his earlier words and his brazen attitude. He vowed that he would be much more careful in the future and never shecht after he had imbibed any alcohol.