Stories We Tell: The Samovar

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. 

Rivka is preparing for Yom Kippur when she gets an unexpected visitor. It’s a stranger, who asks her to keep her samovar (a silver pot used for making tea) while she goes on a trip. Rivka agrees, and as soon as the woman leaves, curious things start to happen. How could a tea pot completely change Rivka’s life? Rabbi Mark Kaiserman retells the story. For a written version of this story, read Gabriel's Horn by Eric Kimmel, available from PJ Library. 

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[00:00:01] Welcome back to stories we tell a podcast from Judaism has always shared stories. And this week we have a special story from Rabbi Mark Kaiserman, rabbi of the Reform Temple of Forest Hills. He shares with us his retelling of The Samovars.

[00:00:18] It was only a few hours before Yom Kippur. Rivka, the wife of Haskel the glove maker, was preparing for their dinner. She had made a couple of round challahs and a stew that was much more broth than it was meat or vegetables. Rivka was a poor woman, but a good woman. She had just finished setting the table when (knock, knock, knock) there was someone at the door. Rivka raced to the door to find an unexpected sight. It was a tall woman with long wavy hair. Her clothes looked like it might be made from a dozen different fabrics and colors.

[00:00:55] "I need your help," said the woman. She held up a large sack. "I'm going on a journey and I cannot take my samovar with me. Will you watch it until I return?".

[00:01:07] "What is a samovar?" asked Rivka.

[00:01:10] "It is a metal pot used for making tea. This one is very old and very precious. Would you watch it for me?".

[00:01:19] It didn't look very big and Rivka had a soft spot for old and precious things. She nodded and took the bag.

[00:01:27] "Excellent," said the woman. "The samovar can bring good luck to those who deserve it.".

[00:01:33] "When are you coming back?" said Rivka, but as she turned to the woman there was no one there.

[00:01:41] Rivka pulled out the bag from the metal pot. Surely once it had been a fine piece fit for the best homes. But now, what a piece of junk! It looks awful. It's covered in tarnish. "Well if it's going to sit in my house I'd better do something about it." Rivka got out the silver polish she used on her candlesticks and went to work. She scrubbed and she scrubbed but the samovar remained as black as before.

[00:02:10] Just then (knock, knock, knock), "The woman is back!" Rivka cried hopefully. But when she opened the door, it was not the woman but a beggar. Beggars often came by right before the holidays hoping for the kindness of the community. Rivka gave the man a couple of coins and wished him well. She closed the door and when she turned around... "What is this?" The samovar suddenly had a silver streak running down the side. "Maybe the silver polish takes a long time to work on it," she wondered, "I've never heard of that." She stared at the samovar and its new silver streak when suddenly (knock, knock, knock) she opened the door to find Mrs. Goodman, a widow from next door, who is very very poor. They chatted together for a moment and Rivka handed her a round challah. "From Haskel and me," Rivka said. "If only I could give you more." The women wished each other a "g'mar tov" the holiday. When Rivka turned back to the samovar... now there were two streaks of silver among all the black tarnish. Rivka stared at the samovar trying to figure what had happened for the next minute, that turned into thirty. Suddenly her husband Haskel burst through the door, breathing hard.

[00:03:39] "Rivka, Rivka! You won't believe what happened!" Haskel panted. "Not 15 minutes ago. I'm about to close my glove making shop when a carriage pulls up, and in walked a nobleman wearing the finest fur hat I've ever seen. He looked around and picked up that pair of gloves -- the brown ones I made for the coachman who died before they were ready. The nobleman tried them on and told me he wanted to buy them. I told him they were ten crowns for the pair. He laughed and said I was having a good joke with him. I was about to say five crowns a pair when he pulled out a fistful of hundred-crown notes. The nobleman said, 'These gloves are worth one hundred crowns each for sure. Here are a thousand crowns. I want you to make nine more pairs just like it in nine different colors.' He took the gloves, turned and jumped in his carriage and rode off with a thousand crowns. That's more than we make in a year at the store! What good luck has come our way.".

[00:04:46] Rivka hugged her husband and then shared the story of the samovar and its mysterious silver streaks. Haskel thought for a minute and said, "That woman who came to our home, maybe she was Elijah the Prophet. This is a test of whether we will do good as you did with the beggar and Mrs. Goodman.".

[00:05:07] Rivka laughed. "I did those things because they were right. And now we both must do what is right." She grabbed Haskel and they raced to the market just as it was closing.

[00:05:18] Rivka bought fruits and vegetables, and then handed them out to poor people. When they finally made it home with just enough time to get to synagogue, they saw new silver streaks on the samovar.

[00:05:30] After Yom Kippur, Rivka and Haskel spent the rest of the thousand crowns to support poor people all over town. Haskel prepared himself to a life of continued poverty when a dozen noblemen showed up in his shop. They had seen the gloves on their friend and they all wanted ten pairs themselves.

[00:05:51] As the years passed Haskel opened up a glove-making factory and prospered. Rivka used their newfound wealth to make the lives of many people around them better. The samovar was soon completely silver and shone with the brightness of the sun.

[00:06:07] Seven years passed. One day (knock, knock, knock) Rivka opened the door to find the woman from years ago. She looked exactly the same. The woman smiled and said, "I have come for my samovar." Rivka let her into the house and showed her the gleaming silver pot.

[00:06:28] "I have never seen it so bright and clean before. No one has ever taken better care of it than you. I believe you have earned the right to keep it." Rifka turned to hand the samovar to the woman when suddenly discovered the woman was gone.

[00:06:45] Rivka put the samovar back and knew she had a beautiful reminder of the power and importance of helping others, giving tzedakah, and doing mitzvot. Whether it was from Elijah the Prophet, or just a beautiful old pot, the samovar continued to shine for every day of their lives.

[00:07:06] After hearing this version of The Samovar, we're wondering when you've been given a gift that changes who you are. If you want to share that with us we love to hear about it on social media. You can find us at or on Twitter, where our handle is @ReformJudaism. And thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story please rate and review us on iTunes and you can find new episodes every Thursday on, where you can also learn more about Jewish rituals, culture, holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, l'hitraot!