The atmosphere sparked with intensity. A Chassidic gathering was taking place in Czarist Russia, an inspired group session led by spiritual giants, where all participants bathed their souls in the warm glow of Jewish mysticism.

As their spirits soared to tremendous heights, the Chassidim were served food by the caretaker of the Synagogue, Shmuel Munkas. People knew Shmuel Munkas as a good-hearted fellow with a tremendous sense of humor. He was well known for his amusing antics. Nobody present had ever had a proper conversation with him, and so they did not know of his vast intelligence and deep commitment. Until now, he had successfully hidden his true greatness.

The Chassidim were distracted from their lofty discussion as Shmuel Munkas entered the room. He was bearing aloft a massive dish of roasted lung prepared by the wife of Nochum the ritual slaughterer.

As he neared the table, however, Shmuel held up the dish and started to dance with it, turning it this way and that. The Chassidim, initially amused, began to grumble. Thoroughly distracted from their spiritual pursuits, they roared for him to stop his jesting and serve them the succulent meat.

Shmuel danced on and on. The delicious aroma from the roasted lung prompted a few of the younger Chassidim to leap at the dish to try to wrest it away from him.

When he saw that, Shmuel gracefully tilted the dish with its contents directly into a spittoon filled with slime and filthy water.

For a few seconds there was a deathly silence. Then someone suggested Shmuel be beaten for his wastage. Shmuel accepted his punishment gracefully, got up and went to find other food to serve the hungry Chassidim.

He found plain fare. As he set it out, angry mutters and glances followed him for spoiling the sumptuous meal that the gathering should have enjoyed.

It was well past midnight, when a wailing and knocking on the door roused the students from their meditations. The ritual slaughterer, Nochum, rushed in, his eyes red and wild with terror and his face a ghastly white.

“The lung is not kosher! I was out all evening and in my absence a lung put aside because it was not kosher was mistakenly roasted and sent over here. I came as soon as I found out. This is terrible!” he cried.

His body trembled as everyone stared at him in stunned silence.

He sniffed the air where the aroma of the roasted lung lingered. One of the Chassidim pointed to the spittoon and the butcher looked at the remains of the forbidden dish.

“All of it?” he stammered.

“All of it!” said the Chassid. “That fellow there would not let us eat it,” he said pointing to Shmuel. “He danced with the meat for a long time and eventually dumped it here in the spittoon.”

The Chassidim were stunned and confused, “Beat Shmuel up again for his arrogance.” said one young Chassid. “He has no right to show off his spiritual powers at a Chassidic gathering!”

A few young Chassidim moved towards him, yet nobody wanted to touch him anymore. They looked at Shmuel with respect and even awe. Meanwhile, Nochum sat down, crying with relief.

The Chassidim gathered around Shmuel and demanded to know why he had used mystical powers? Shmuel quickly reassured everyone that he had not used Kabalistic powers. He explained that, years ago, in preparation for his first personal interview with the Rebbe, he had succeeded in eliminating his craving for food.

Earlier that evening, when he realized how strongly he wanted the fragrant roasted lung, he grew concerned that there was a problem with his own spirituality. But when he saw the desperate way the other Chassidim also desired the meat, he realized it must be forbidden food. Only something deeply forbidden can rouse such burning desire. He therefore threw the meat, dish and all, into the filthy water where it belonged.

With that Shmuel continued on, in his jestering manner.

Ruth Benjamin is a clinical psychologist, University lecturer and prolific author of contemporary Jewish fiction. She lives in Johannesburg, South-Africa.