News spread like wildfire throughout the large town. Onchik, who was known as "the gvir's servant," had been caught in the middle of the night in the company of the infamous thief Heikin. In their possession were a number of bags filled to the brim with the most expensive, exquisite silver menorahs ever seen. The police, who had secretly followed Heikin's trail from the time he descended from the mountains (which is where he was wont to hide with the members of his band), saw with their own eyes how Heikin lugged the heavy sacks and gave them to Onchik. Rushing out of their hiding places, they handcuffed the two and began to examine the contents of the bags.
And what do you think they found, if not twenty-six large and costly silver menorahs?
When the policemen asked Onchik why he was trading in stolen goods, especially goods like these, stolen by the chief robber, Heikin, Onchik replied innocently that the menorahs belonged to Yom Tov Rondowitz the gvir, that they had been stolen from him a month ago, and that the thief had sent them back by way of a shaliach mitzvah, none other than Heikin.
This reply, of course, infuriated the policemen, to whom Heikin was not known for wasting his time on mitzvos but rather the opposite. Onchik's explanation drew only derisive laughter from the crowd which had gathered around them.
"How can the so-called gvir purchase even one of these menorahs," they said, "when he doesn't have the money to pay his servant's salary or even buy food?"
Before we continue, there is one thing you should know: Yom Tov Rondowitz was not really a gvir, or even half a gvir. To understand why he was nonetheless called by the title "gvir," we must go back thirty years in time.
Thirty years before Onchik's arrest, Rondowitz had indeed been a very prominent and wealthy gvir, owner of vast amounts of cash, land, and property. One day, though, Rondowitz's fortune changed, and he went bankrupt. His property was confiscated by his many creditors, and he became the poorest of the poor. Sad to say, he lost not only his money but his mind. No matter which way you looked at it, he was simply insane.
His fellow townsmen soon learned that the gvir was mentally affected to such a degree that he had no inkling of his sorry state and continued to believe that he was still the wealthiest and most important man in the entire region.
The truth of the matter was that Yom Tov Rondowitz had nary a crumb of bread with which to revive his soul, and chances were that he would have died of starvation within a few days.
Salvation came in the form of Onchik, a Jewish boy whom he had taken in off the streets several years previously, employing him as a hired servant. Onchik, whose first name was unknown to anyone save himself, continued to serve Rondowitz as if the gvir had not lost everything and continued to pay his salary just like in the good days.
Soon enough, the townsmen came to the conclusion that Yom Tov Rondowitz would, before going completely insane, take his servant Onchik with him. That's because not only did Onchik not receive any payment for his services but he even had to use his own money to buy food for the gvir, food which continued to be the finest, as he was accustomed to. Worst of all, in everyone's opinion, was the degrading and disgraceful way the gvir treated Onchik — like a king would treat a slave, as if the gvir were still wealthy.
This fact was substantiated for the townsfolk whenever Onchik took the mad gvir for a walk through the town. The gvir would shout at his "servant" for all sorts of ridiculous reasons, even raising his cane threateningly at him when he wasn't satisfied. When passersby asked Onchik how he tolerated the gvir's behavior and why he didn't retaliate, he would reply questioningly, "How can I? I am his servant, am I not?"
These words caused the gvir's creditors to suspect that the gvir had a fortune in cash hidden away, so they rushed to his house and searched it thoroughly. When they didn't find what they wanted, they quickly turned upon the one who had caused them to trouble themselves with the search — Onchik. By the time they were finished telling him what they thought of him, Onchik looked crushed.
All this occurred thirty years prior to the fateful day on which Onchik was found in the company of the infamous thief Heikin, twenty- six menorahs worth hundreds of thousands of rubles in his possession. Over those years, the townsmen had nearly forgotten about Onchik, regarding him as a strange man and nothing more. Actually, they didn't even deign to notice him at all.
When he was caught, the townsmen put two and two together and concluded that Onchik was nothing but a secret accomplice of that same robber who lived in the mountains, Heikin, and that over a period of thirty years Onchik had been robbing them, under the guise of being the gvir's servant.
This suspicion flew like feathers in the wind and, in the opinion of most, Onchik deserved to be placed in solitary confinement for the rest of his life, along with his partner, the infamous robber Heikin.
Apparently, though, a minority of the townspeople thought differently. A few dozen people, among them prominent lawyers, important merchants and wealthy landowners, defended Onchik. They volunteered to plead his case in court, visited him in his prison cell to raise his spirits, and used all their connections to try to get him released.
In a matter of days, Onchik was freed from jail, and the surprised townspeople learned that not only had Onchik not been charged with any crime but that the policemen who released him had treated him with the utmost respect, and that none other than the chief of police himself had taken Onchik in his private carriage, laden with the so-called "stolen" menorahs, from jail straight to the house of Yom Tov Rondowitz the gvir, who greeted his "servant" with a scowl and lashed out at him for having neglected his duties.
It seems that when the gvir lost his clarity of mind and sank into a dream world, all of his numerous servants, workers, and secretaries deserted him and found other positions, forgetting all about their former boss, who had once treated them so kindly.
Only one person remained faithful to him. Only one person remained behind in the large mansion and continued to cater to him as in days gone by: the thin servant with the ascetic appearance — Onchik.
When the food supply in the gvir's house began to diminish, Onchik replenished it, purchasing new provisions with his own money. The food, however, that Onchik bought was food that he himself was used to; the gvir pushed this food away and shouted at his servant for not paying sufficient attention to his duties. Onchik would then run out and buy finer food, even though he knew that the price of one meal of the type the gvir was used to would cost him a quarter of his monthly salary.
Quite rapidly, Onchik's supply of ready cash dwindled, and he had to hire himself out at various and sundry jobs so that he would have enough money to continue supporting his master, the gvir.
He accepted only those positions which would not interfere with his primary occupation as the chief servant of the gvir. That's how it came to be that the townspeople saw him working as a garbage collector in the early morning, as a porter for a number of hours during the day, and, in the evenings, as a waiter at different weddings. Between jobs, Onchik would rush to the gvir's house to serve him, as well as to receive a few shouts and complaints and shakings of the cane for his unsatisfactory service.
Onchik earned quite a nice living from his other jobs — enough to support his master in style, and even to save a bit for hard times.
And such a time did come — at the beginning of Kislev, four years after the gvir had gone bankrupt, with Chanukah only a few weeks away.
On one of those days, the gvir turned to his servant and told him, "I am quite certain it's been several years since I bought myself a new silver menorah. Surely you know of my family's tradition of purchasing a new menorah every year and are aware that I once owned the largest and most exquisite menorah collection in the country. To my dismay, though," the gvir revealed to his servant, "a number of years ago the collection was lost, and now I must purchase a new menorah."
Onchik listened in silence. He knew quite well that the gvir had never lost the menorahs but that they had been taken by the many creditors during the bankruptcy which was the cause of his master's mental confusion. For obvious reasons, he did not express his view of the situation to the gvir.
"The point is, today we are going to buy a new menorah," the gvir announced to his servant.
In a matter of hours, the gvir was seen walking down the main street of the town dressed in his finest outfit, purchased, of course, by his servant, who supported him so he would not fall. The two walked quite a distance, until they stood at the entrance of a small silver shop.
Without hesitation, the gvir pointed to the largest menorah in the window and said to Onchik, "This one."
When they entered the shop, the gvir asked the owner the menorah's price.
"Three thousand rubles," he replied.
Onchik turned pale and tried to bargain with him but the gvir silenced him. "Aren't you ashamed? Is it becoming to the gvir of Rondowitz for one of his staff to bicker over a few thousand rubles?" At the end of this tirade, the gvir instructed the owner of the store to pack up the large menorah, emphasizing that his servant would arrange the matter of payment.
After Onchik helped bring his master home, while apologizing the entire the way for his errant behavior, he rushed to his purse and found two thousand rubles in it. The sum was considered "huge," yet it was not enough to buy the menorah.
At this point, Onchik rushed around trying to get loans to make up the difference but his fellow townsmen would not trust this strange person who dared to ask them for such a large sum as one thousand rubles. Thus, they threw him, shamed and humiliated, out of their homes.
Onchik, though, did not despair. He approached the local banker, Rappaport, for a loan. Rappaport laughed in his face, and told him that he would loan him the money only if he brought him a written guarantee signed by Myerson, the cynical and heartless municipal attorney.
Another person might have regarded this suggestion as an outright rejection of his request. That's exactly what the banker intended. Onchik, however, needed the loan in order to purchase a menorah for the gvir, so he headed for Myerson's luxurious office, come what may.
Myerson was taken aback by the beggar who had burst into his office and considered throwing him out, but before he was able to summon one of his assistants, Onchik had already sat down in one of the comfortable chairs and had begun to state his strange request. Myerson discovered that sitting before him was the most unusual person he had ever met.
Myerson gave Onchik quite a lot of his time. He asked him numerous questions on a wide range of subjects, all of which had absolutely nothing to do with Onchik's request for a loan. At a certain point, Myerson invited his entire staff into his office and asked Onchik to repeat his story. Onchik did this in a dry voice, not understanding why such a fuss was being made.
If Onchik had taken a good look around him, he would have noticed a number of esteemed gentlemen in the room wiping their eyes with their handkerchiefs. But Onchik was oblivious to his surroundings, save for noticing one elderly white-haired man, who looked at him strangely.
After he had finished speaking, everyone left the room, and Onchik felt certain that his request had been denied. Soon enough, though, Mr. Myerson returned and gave Onchik a guarantee for a five-hundred- ruble loan.
And what did the white-haired man do if not put an additional five hundred rubles into Onchik's hand?
Onchik looked at them in surprise, hurriedly thanked them, and left quickly, afraid they might change their minds.
Little did he know that long after he left, the lawyers sat in Myerson's deluxe office doing nothing but reflecting deeply on the unique person who had entered their office, their lives and their hearts.
Onchik received the remainder of the money from the stunned banker, who wondered what there was about this shabby man that made him succeed where big businessmen had tried in vain to extract even a recommendation from this coldhearted lawyer, not to speak of a letter of guarantee officially signed and sealed.
From there, Onchik headed to the silver store and purchased the luxurious menorah the gvir so desired.
On the first night of Chanukah, Onchik placed the costly menorah at the entrance to the gvir's home and tenderly filled one of its glass vessels with oil, as if he were about to light it himself. Afterward, the gvir stepped outside, recited the blessing in a sweet voice, and kindled the first Chanukah light.
Suddenly, he burst into sobs which shook his whole body. Onchik thought that the unfortunate man had regained a tiny bit of his sanity and had begun, for a moment, to comprehend his difficult situation.
Because Onchik was so involved in watching his master, he did not notice several carriages standing at a distance from the gvir's home. Seated in them were a number of people, such as Myerson the attorney and his staff, and even Rappaport the banker, to whom the entire story had been told and who regarded it as the most touching of the many stories he had heard in his whole life. And he had heard quite a few.
At the end of Chanukah, the gvir turned to his servant and said, "Because you have pleased me this time, next year I just might let you use this precious menorah, after I obtain a new one, in line with our long-standing family tradition."
Onchik was delighted that the gvir was finally pleased with him. On the other hand, he understood quite well that he had to start putting aside a good amount of money for the following year.
Onchik planned his steps well. He began to work extra hours, dividing his salary into thirds: one-third for day-to-day expenses, a third for repayment of the debt, and a third to be saved for next Chanukah.
At the beginning of Kislev of the following year, Onchik once again took his master to the silver store, and once again the gvir pointed to the largest and most expensive menorah in the window. Onchik discovered that the gvir's lack of mental clarity had not impaired his taste in menorahs.
Onchik, too embarrassed to approach Myerson again, was forced to search for a loan. When people refused him, Rappaport the banker rallied to his aid and mentioned that Myerson had, in the past, been Onchik's guarantor.
Upon Rappaport's advice, the various moneylenders asked Myerson about Onchik's credibility, and he in turn, warmly recommended him, telling them the entire story. As a result, his new lenders provided him with not inconsiderable amounts to help him reach his goal.
That year, two menorahs stood on the doorstep of the gvir's mansion, and from a distance, another few carriages whose passengers watched the amazing scene unfolding before their eyes joined the crowd.
Thus the years passed. The gvir grew older, and his situation deteriorated. He suffered from delusions of grandeur, believing not only that he was the wealthiest person in the world but also that he ruled over the entire world, or at least a large part of it.
Onchik, for his part, never hinted to his master that things were otherwise, because he knew that such a thought was liable to destroy the gvir's good mood and cast him into a state of profound depression. Onchik had no desire for the gvir to become sad, not in any way and no matter what it cost. Especially no matter what it cost.
Between one Chanukah and the next, when Onchik was not busy acquiring menorahs, the gvir demanded that he arrange meetings for him with various lawyers and real estate agents. From within his completely imaginary world, he would decide to buy or sell property.
Onchik, who knew quite well that the only property his master owned was the grave he had once bought, remarked that this wasn't the best time to sell land, with the situation so unsettled. Upon hearing this, the gvir became angry at Onchik, refusing to speak with him for a number of days. There was nothing worse for Onchik than one of his master's bad moods. That's why he again turned to Myerson, this time asking for his cooperation in a small deception.
Myerson, it turned out, was enthusiastic about the idea and quickly drafted his office staff into the ruse, asking them to issue "documents" regarding various plots of land. Myerson even contacted a number of realtors who eagerly joined the effort as soon as they heard the human-interest story behind it.
When everything was ready, Onchik brought the gvir to the offices of Zamenhoff and Goldstein, where the gvir proceeded to offer imaginary plots of land for sale. He demanded, naturally, a high price, and the heads of the company were "summoned" to negotiate with him. Suddenly, the gvir was transported back to those wonderful years when he had been a prosperous businessman. He argued, stamped his feet, praised his "property" and presented data on profit and loss. The people before him proved to be hard-nosed businessmen, of the type with whom he had always enjoyed working.
At last, he forced them to "compromise," compromised a bit himself, too, and finally, they made a "deal" in which they sold the "property," in exchange for other property — which never was and never would be.
The entire matter was, of course, a farce, and a terrible waste of time for those involved. Nonetheless, they did not let the gvir get wind of their feelings.
When the sides finally reached an agreement, lawyers were urgently summoned — Myerson's men — who had been hiding all along in an adjoining room, waiting to be called. The deal was "signed," and both sides made a lechayim.
Throughout the entire meeting, the gvir presented Onchik as his servant. He scowled at him and hinted to him that he was about to fire him. Those present, who were fully aware of that faithful servant's devotion, said not a word. However, at the close of the "ceremony," they turned to Onchik and asked him, "Why do you agree to be a slave to that heartless, foolish old man?"
Onchik looked at them in bewilderment. "He didn't take you in off the street twenty years ago. You don't know Yom Tov Rondowitz, the good- hearted and charitable gvir. You only know this broken and ailing man. True, he is not that rich and he isn't able to pay my salary but are you certain that's a reason to desert him?
"I love him," declared Onchik, and hastened to take his tired master back home after the long and grueling business deal he had just concluded. He then closed the door, leaving behind a group of confused businessmen, stirred to the depths of their souls by Onchik's devotion, proud of themselves for having been able to offer at least a minimal amount of help to so pure-hearted a man, and, if the truth be told, a little bit envious of the old man who had merited so loyal a servant.
The years passed. Myerson, the advocate, left this world but his son, who had heard about the remarkable servant from his father, continued to cooperate with Onchik every Kislev, when the gvir demanded his yearly menorah.
Twenty-nine years had passed since the gvir had gone bankrupt. Twenty-five menorahs crowded his dark warehouse. At last, the thirtieth year was ushered in, and one more menorah joined the collection, the most elaborate and most expensive of them all. It had cost Onchik eight thousand rubles — four thousand from his personal savings, two thousand which he had taken, as usual, on loan, and the remaining two thousand, given to him by those few people in his confidence.
Those were days when the gvir's health declined, long days during which he would sink into a black bitterness.
At times, Onchik would feel that the gvir's sanity was returning. But there were also many days during which the gvir did not exchange a single word with Onchik. Sometimes, Yom Tov Rondowitz the gvir would sit silently in the guest room, which had once been as elegant as a wedding hall and had bustled with visitors. For hours on end he would sit there without saying a word. Sometimes, his eyes would become watery. But he wasn't crying. He never cried.
Then, one night, thieves broke into the mansion and made a thorough search. They found nothing — except the twenty-six menorahs. When morning came, Onchik discovered that the entire collection was missing.
At that time, there were a lot of break-ins to the town's residents' homes. It was Heikin's notorious band of robbers whose members used to come down from the hills to steal, rob and plunder. These violent bandits cast their terror on the entire town while the police, for their part, were helpless.
Onchik, though, was not fazed by the terrifying stories he had heard about the bandits, and that very day, he packed a bag with a little food and began to climb the mountains in search of the thieves who had stolen the gvir's menorahs.
Onchik knew quite well that if the gvir discovered that his collection had been stolen he would, out of deep sorrow, die on the spot. Onchik did not want his beloved gvir to die. Nor did he want the gvir to be sad.
Therefore, he made the dangerous trek up the hill and, soon enough, found himself facing the barrels of a dozen loaded pistols, held by the same number of bandits.
They took him to their cave, where they questioned him thoroughly.
Onchik explained to them in his usual dry tone that he had come to look for the menorahs stolen from his master, especially menorah number 26, which the gvir needed for lighting the Chanukah lights.
Naturally, these words made the bandits laugh, for never before in their lives had they heard of a man willing to take the risk of climbing those mountains carrying only a lunch bag — and that, in order to retrieve a menorah which did not even belong to him.
After they had finished mocking him, they made plans to kill him. However, one member of the gang suggested that their leader, none other than Heikin himself, deserved a good laugh too, for laughter is a rare commodity in the lives of those living in the mountains.
Bound and handcuffed, Onchik was brought to their leader's den. The gang sat him down and presented to their leader the strange man they had met. Onchik was not impressed by the character sitting opposite him and hastened to further the matter for which he had come.
"Are you the chief robber, Heikin?" asked Onchik. "If so, I have a deal to offer you. I am willing to forgo all of the other menorahs which belong to the gvir on the condition that you give me the twenty-sixth menorah, the one I urgently need. Actually, I am willing to accept it on loan from you or even to rent it and return it immediately after Chanukah."
Roars of laughter were heard throughout the robbers' den. They were abruptly silenced, though, by a wave of the hand of their leader, Heikin, who did not laugh at all.
"Tell me," he said in a soft voice. "What is your relationship to that gvir."
Onchik sat and told. In a dry, factual tone, he presented to Heikin and his fellow robbers the story of the twenty-sixth menorah and the problem facing him in purchasing another menorah when his credit had run out. When Onchik finished speaking, he wondered, aloud, from where the dust had come which had entered the robbers' eyes, causing tears. Onchik's own eyes were absolutely dry, and he reasoned that the dust probably hadn't been able to reach them because his back was to the opening of the cave.
For a long time the robbers remained silent and stared at the thin and tortured figure of Onchik. One of them expressed his opinion that Onchik deserved an honorary medal of courage. But Onchik told him that he wouldn't know what to do with such a toy and declared that he would be satisfied with the menorah.
After a few long moments, during which Heikin was immersed in thought, he turned to Onchik and said, "Return to your home, good man. Return to the home of your master, loyal and brave servant. Within two days, all of the menorahs will be returned to you, for it is not my band which has stolen them, and it will take a few days until I get them for full cost from one of the other bands swarming in this area."
Heikin even provided Onchik with a bodyguard, who accompanied him back to town, and within the day, Onchik had safely returned to his master's home.
Exactly two days later, Heikin came down from the mountain burdened with sacks, and it was then that the arrest, which we described at the beginning of this story, took place.
Soon, though, Onchik was released from jail, thanks to the help of the lawyers and important merchants, who knew quite well the story of the twenty-six menorahs. It seems that Heikin the thief had revealed the full story to his interrogators, and that the very same dust which had flown into his eyes in his robbers' den in the mountains when Onchik had told his story, had made its way into the eyes of the policemen.
Rapidly, the entire story spread within the town — and without it as well. It was one of the most remarkable, and one of the saddest, stories ever told — a chronicle of devotion, self-sacrifice, good character traits, a good heart, gratitude, and loyalty.
To the surprise of all, Heikin the notorious robber announced his resignation from his business of thievery. "I turned to this path," he said, "because I saw a corrupt and evil world, filled with people who were willing to sacrifice others to achieve their own aims. I despaired of that world, and so I went on to this errant way — until I met this unfortunate servant. Only then did I see a ray of light in the world.
"Imagine how the world would look if there were a few more pure- hearted people like Onchik," said Heikin. "Would there be room for theft and corruption in such a world? Would anyone dare commit the deeds I used to?"
It was the first night of Chanukah. All the townspeople assembled opposite the old mansion of Yom Tov Rondowitz the gvir. When the designated time arrived, the loyal servant Onchik stepped outside, wheeling the chair on which the gvir was seated.
The gvir was ninety years old; his strength had waned. However, on hearing the commotion around him, he lifted his head and saw the hundreds of people who had gathered around to see him. He did not suspect that it was actually his servant they had come to see. Suddenly, a new spirit began to stir within him. He took his candle and in a loud voice pronounced the three blessings, a smile of contentment covering his face as he heard the thunderous "amen."
Then his face paled. A hush descended on the crowd. All bent their ears to hear what he had to say.
"Come here, my beloved servant," the gvir's voice was heard.
Onchik, who had never before heard such words from his master's mouth, moved closer, bewildered, to the gvir.
"Sit down beside me, Mordechai Onchik, chief servant of the House of Rondowitz," the gvir commanded.
Onchik bent over slightly, and the old man placed a hand on his head.
"I hereby bequeath to you my entire mansion and all of my property, including my costly menorah collection," proclaimed the gvir, and here he added in a trembling and somewhat hesitant voice, "I also bequeath to you my title. Rise, stand on your feet, the future gvir of the House of Rondowitz."
The startled Onchik rose. The gvir struggled to pull himself up, barely managing to stand, and kissed Onchik on the forehead.
The entire throng burst into tears at the sight, the likes of which none of them had ever seen.
An expression of satisfaction covered Onchik's face. This was the first time he had seen his master genuinely and thoroughly pleased.
Onchik continued to serve his master with endless love and devotion for several months, until the gvir closed his eyes forever. From that time on, Onchik was called gvir by all, with not a single person adding even the slightest smile at the title. Chances are that Onchik was the only porter and garbage man since the creation of the world to bear the title "gvir."
For many years, the townspeople would bring their children to gaze at Onchik, hoping that they would absorb at least a little of his good traits. Onchik would smile at them but could never understand what all the fuss was about.
Over the years, Onchik sold the menorah collection he owned, except for the twenty-sixth menorah, which he reserved for his own use.
The gvir, Mordechai Onchik, became a prominent and dignified personage whose his acts of kindness gained wide acclaim. Until his death at a ripe old age the towns people attended the ceremony of the kindling of the first Chanukah light at his mansion, which each time reminded them anew of the exalted levels to which human good- heartedness and character can reach — and how great is the power of loyalty and devotion.