With Purim spirit in the air, let's take a look at how the Shpoler Zeide, the hero of our first escape room, observed his joyous holiday.
This story takes us back many years ago to meet a Jew named Mendel who left his home in Romania and moved to neighboring Kishinev, administered by Russia at that time. Another Jew that he had known in Romania took this as an opportunity to concoct a terrible lie about Mendel and report it to the Romanian Government. He claimed the reason Mendel had left Romania for Russia, was because he had discovered a treasure chest filled with gold coins, which was actually lost government property. Wanting to use it for his own benefit, he smuggled it out of Romania.
The Romanian Government was furious and tried to convince the Russian government to hand Mendel over to them. Mendel however, already had all his official citizenry documents with all the benefits that came along with it so, the Russians couldn't extradite him. Instead, they offered to hold a trial in the courthouse in Kishinev.
Unusual Legal Fee
Fearing for his safety, Mendel traveled to the Shpoler Zeide and begged for his help, relating to him the dismal situation in which he now found himself. The Shpoler Zeide told him not to fear. Rather he should work on changing the date of the trial to Purim day. He also told him not to hire a lawyer, since the Zeide would send someone excellent to defend him. When Mendel asked how much this excellent lawyer would cost, the Zeide replied that if Mendel would pay 300 rubles to cover the wedding expenses of a marriage between two orphans that the Zeide was arranging, then he would take care of any legal fees.
Mendel instantly agreed and willingly gave the entire sum. Asking then, when he can meet the lawyer, the Zeide responded that he wouldn't meet him until the very day of the trial. The way Mendel would recognize him at that time would be from his unique apparel, a white hat and red gloves.
Mendel returned to Kishinev with an uplifted heart, and went to work on changing the day of the trial to Purim. As soon as he accomplished that, he sent a telegram to the Zeide, notifying him of his fulfillment of the Zeide’s request.
Shortly before Purim, Mendel sent a kvittel, a note, asking for the Zeide’s blessings, as well as money and food for the Zeide to distribute to the poor on Purim. Having done all that he could, Mendel awaited the day of the trial composed and poised, placing his trust in the Holy Tzadik.
The Zeide's Purim Shpiel
Purim by the Shpoler Zeide was something unique. For the Zeide would orchestrate a “Purim Shpiel” whenever he had to overcome obstacles. Just as in our escape room you will play with a group, here too the Zeide would select a group of followers to take part in his play. To those selected, the Zeide would assign characters such as “Purim King” or “Purim Chief Rabbi”. A case would be represented and decided according to the Shpoler Zeide’s desire.
This was all based on mystical concepts, and both individuals and communities would experience miraculous salvation following the conclusion of the Zeide’s Purim plays.
That particular year the Zeide wanted certain followers to appear at his house dressed up as members of the secular court system. The chief rabbi was to play the head judge along with two people playing the other judges, so that they could conduct a mock trial of the type our Mendel would be enduring.
Although in an escape room you get to “escape” even if you don't solving the entire puzzle, Mendel would only get to escape the clutches of the Romanian government if he truly won.
The role of the Romanian prosecutor was assigned to yet another chasid, who blackened his face for the part. There were also the cast members playing the role of the informer, the witnesses, and Mendel. However, it was the Shpoler Zeide himself that played the role of the the defense attorney, spreading a white handkerchief on top of his large Shtriemel and donning a pair of red gloves.
Secular court procedures were strictly followed as the mock trial began. The charges were read. The prosecutor argued his part and was met with jeering from the crowd. Then the informers testified. Next came Mendel's two witnesses who recounted seeing the informant arrogantly demand an exorbitant sum of money from Mendel, threatening to exact ruthless revenge if he didn't pay up.
At long last the judges called upon the defense attorney to present and defend his client’s case. A hush fell over the room as the Shpoler Zeide rose. He persuasively articulated how the informer was only there because of his jealousy and desire for revenge. He then completely unraveled the lie of there ever being a treasure chest filled with gold coins. He went even further to prove that even if there was such a chest, the Romanian Government would either way have no legitimate claim to it. The Zeide’s speech was delivered poignantly and brilliantly.
The judges immediately announced their verdict, declaring Mendel to be completely innocent, free of all charge. Concluding the play, the players removed their disguises and joined the Zeide as he began to lead the Purim Mishteh, the festive meal.
That night a telegram was received from Kishinev; Mendel had won his case and would soon be traveling to Shpola. When Mendel showed up several days later, the chassidim were jubilant and eagerly begged him to relate the details of his trial. Mendel outlined the events and stressed that the true reason for his success was the incredible lawyer that the Zeide had sent to defend him.
Mendel began to quote the speech the lawyer had given while the chassidim stood, listening spellbound. Mendel was repeating verbatim what the Zeide had said during the mock trial that Purim in his role as Mendels defense!
The Zeide revealed that the lawyer was in fact an angel from heaven, created by the donation that Mendel had given for the wedding of the two orphans. He added that if Mendel were meritorious, he would once again see his defense lawyer arguing on his behalf in the heavenly court (after 120 years).
Play to be Inspired
This story is quite uncommon, for rather than the traditional Jewish formula of prayer and the like that is used to avert harsh decrees, the Zeide affects Mendel's outcome through a play - a tool generally reserved for recreation and joy. This gives us some insight about the place of play in Jewish life and values. And indeed, we see that they do, when used in the right way.
One Before Escape is unique, in that besides cultivating the aforementioned positive qualities through the very nature of an escape room in general, we also teach Jewish values, lessons, and history. Reserve your visit to bring joy, friendship, and fun to your family. Wishing everyone a Frelichen Purim and Happy Adar!