Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was returning home very late one night. As he walked through the dark alleyways, he suddenly noticed that a light was still burning in the home of the shoemaker. He knocked on the door and entered his home.
"Why are you still sitting and working at such a late hour?" asked Rabbi Salanter.
"As long as the candle burns," replied the shoemaker, "it is still possible to repair."
Those words made a great impression upon Rabbi Salanter and, from then on, he repeated them on many occasions.
"Do you hear?" Rabbi Salanter would ask. "As long as the candle burns, it is still possible to repair! As long as a person is alive and his soul is within him, he can still rectify his deeds."
THE MISER OF CRACOW
In the city of Cracow resided an elderly, wealthy Jew, Reb Shimon. His wealth was well known to the people of Cracow; just as well known, however, was his stinginess.
All the days of his life, he did not so much as give one coin to tzedakah. Thus his nickname: "Shimon the Miser."
One day, Reb Shimon passed away. The town's burial society decided to bury him in a disgraceful manner and lay him to rest on the outskirts of the cemetery, a place reserved for the lowly members of the town.
That Friday afternoon, the rabbi of Cracow, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller (author of "Tosafos Yom Tov"), sat in his home engaged in Torah study. Suddenly, he heard a faint knock at the door. "Come in," the rabbi called out. The door opened and in walked Reb Zalman, one of the poor men of Cracow. "Rebbe," said Reb Zalman, "could you please help me? This week, I don't have even one coin in order to buy food for Shabbos."
"What do you mean by, 'this week'?" asked Rabbi Heller. "What did you do until this week?"
"Until this week," answered Reb Zalman, "every Friday morning, I would find an envelope placed under my door containing the amount of money I need to buy food for Shabbos. Yet this morning, I checked under my door and there was no envelope! I am therefore left without any money to buy Shabbos food."
While they were conversing, there was another knock at the door. Another pauper walked in; he, too, came to ask for money for Shabbos. He was followed by another pauper and yet another.... They all had the same request: "Rabbi, please provide us with our Shabbos needs."
The wise rabbi deduced that the man who had passed away that week, an individual who everyone had thought to be a miser, was in reality a hidden tzaddik who had performed the mitzvah of tzedakah with utmost secrecy. Every week, Reb Shimon had apparently provided scores of Cracow's poor with the funds to acquire their Shabbos needs.
The rabbi made a public announcement: "I order the entire community to gather in the shul at once!"
The rabbi, wrapped in his tallis, ascended the podium, opened the ark, and declared, "We, the people of Cracow, are gathered here today in order to beg forgiveness from one of the tzaddikim that lived in our midst. His greatness went unnoticed by us; we denigrated him and called him, 'The Miser.'
"In the name of the entire community," cried the rabbi, "I hereby beg for total forgiveness from Reb Shimon, who was a righteous and holy Jew!"
Years later, when it came time for Rabbi Heller to depart to his Heavenly abode, he requested to be buried next to the tzaddik, Reb Shimon.
The Torah says: "And Israel camped there facing the mountain" (Exodus 19:2). Rashi points out that the word "vayichan" is in the singular, despite the fact that the Torah was describing the encampment of thousands of Jews. This teaches us, says Rashi, that at this particular encampment the Jewish people were united -- "as one person, with one heart."
In the Passover Haggadah, asked Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki, it states, "Had He brought us to Mt. Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have sufficed us." These words are perplexing, for why would simply arriving at Sinai suffice for us, if it would not have resulted in our receiving the Torah?
The answer, said the rabbi, is as follows: When describing the Jewish nation's encampment at Sinai, the Torah tells us, "And Israel encamped there facing the mountain" -- as one person, with one heart. Even had we not received the Torah, it would have been worthwhile for us to be brought before Mt. Sinai just so that we could achieve such complete unity.