Weekly Chasidic Story #1012 (s5777-31 / 6 Iyar 5777)

Only Six Words

He poured out his heart to the tzadik, Rabbi Yechiel-Michil of Zolotchov, begging him for help in finding his true roots.

Connections: Weekly Reading of Acharei Mot - Kedoshim. Both record many forbidden incestual relationships.


Only Six Words


A Jewish family lived in a village in a home that belonged to an important Count. The father of the family owed the count lots of money but had no way of repaying the debt. The count's patience wore thin and he sentenced the entire family to rot the rest of their lives in prison.

A while passed and the family suffered terribly, but then they had a new problem. Although, they hoped, perhaps this new development could be the turn of fortune they so desperately needed. The wife had just given birth to a baby boy and they very much wanted to the brit mila (circumcision) at the age of eight days.

Sure enough, a number of influential personalities convinced the cruel count to allow this to happen. Under the watchful eyes of many armed guards, they were released to fulfill this important mitzvah. They quickly gathered ten men from the surrounding area and performed the circumcision, which was then followed by a celebratory meal.

Present at the affair was the local chief of police. As the meal wore on, the alcohol flowed freely and loosened some tongues. Highly intoxicated, the police chief offered a few wealthy Jews at the party a daring proposal: "I have three extremely fast horses that run like deer, if you all pay me well, I will take the Jew and his family away to a distant place and no one will ever know what happened to them."

They agreed, and paid the policeman a hefty sum. It was a long winter night and the roads were icy, so a chase would be very difficult and the escapees would be able to cover a large distance without pursuit.

After making sure that the guards were completely intoxicated, the police chief led them into the night.

A short while into their dangerous journey the parents came to a horrifying realization; the baby had been left behind! Weeping bitter tears, they begged their gentile benefactor to turn around and pick up the infant. However, the man refused to do this; he felt it would endanger his life if the guards awoke and discovered them to be missing.

The horses galloped on as planned and they arrived at the city before daybreak. He bid them farewell and rode off into the distance towards home.

At midnight the guards had shaken off the effects of the strong drinks and were wide awake when they realized that the prisoners had made a run for it. They quickly told the count what had happened and he ordered his men to take the fastest horses and conduct a manhunt far and wide to locate the escapees. However, as thoroughly as they searched they were not able to locate the vanished Jews. Meanwhile, they informed the count about their shocking discovery of a bundle that was left behind in the courtyard, which was in fact the little baby boy.

Despairing of recapturing the baby's parents, the count decided that he would keep the infant and raise him to be his servant.

When the chief of police returned home and got wind of the whole incident, he passionately pleaded with the count to allow him to adapt the baby as his son, because he and his wife were childless. The count was very fond of the chief of police and agreed to relinquish the boy.

* * *
As the years passed on, this little boy grew up believing that this policeman and his wife were his real parents. When he reached the age of eight they taught him how to herd cattle, which he did diligently.

One day, while grazing the cattle, the young boy got into a quarrel with some of the other shepherds. Names and taunting were slung freely through the air, until eventually they teased him that he was actually a Jew boy and not a child of the honorable officer of the law.

Of course at first the boy didn't believe them and dismissed it as childish teasing, but they continued tormenting him about this and told him that the proof was that he was circumcised.

In private he decided to check. Realizing that indeed he was a Jew and these were not his real parents, he decided that he wanted to devote himself to discovering his true roots and find his father and mother. He began hatching a plan of how to escape.

The perfect opportunity arose when his adoptive parents left on a trip for a few days. Running with every ounce of strength, the boy arrived in a city that had a Jewish community.

After hearing his incredible story, the compassionate Jews stripped him of his gentile attire and dressed him like a good Jewish boy, complete with a talit katan (four-cornered garment) and tzitzit (strands) dangling from them.

For one year he remained in this city and learnt the Alef-Beit and to read, but then for fear of discovery he left to another town where he furthered his education and learned Chumash (Scripture), Gemara (Talmud) and had a proper bar mitzvah when he turned thirteen. At that point he felt it was time for him to leave once again, in order to find a larger town that had a proper yeshiva, and so he did.

* * *
After a few years of devoted study, he became an accomplished Talmudic scholar. The owner of the local tavern, a Jew who was a chasid of Rabbi Michil of Zlotchov, hired the brilliant young man to tutor his children.

On one occasion, when the tavern owner was planning to travel to his rebbe, R. Michil, he invited the young man to join him on the trip, if he so desired. The young man replied, "Why wouldn't I want to come along? In fact this would be an excellent opportunity for this great man to help me find my parents."

When the young man was allowed to speak privately with R. Michil, he poured out his heart to the tzadik (holy man) and told him all that had happened, begging him for help in finding his true roots.

Reb Michel listened carefully to the whole story but didn't say a word, instead he took out a piece of parchment and wrote a few words on it. Turning to the young man and handing him the tightly rolled little scroll which he had sewn into a pouch, he said, "Take this and always keep it on you. But don't open it! On the day of your wedding, arrange for a qualified rabbi to tear open the stitching and read it. You will then be able to marry according to Jewish Law."

Following the tzadik's instruction explicitly, although without any comprehension of its meaning, the young man returned home and continued his lifestyle of teaching and learning.

At the age of nineteen he agreed to begin looking into different proposals for marriage. It so happened that his employer had a wealthy acquaintance who lived some distance away but from time to time would come to town, and they would do business together. This man noticed the teacher and was very impressed by what he saw; he felt this young man would be perfect for his daughter.

Everything went as the girl's parents planned and within a short time the engagement was celebrated. The rich man was very pleased with his son-in-law to be and brought him to his city amidst great honor and fanfare.

The day of the wedding arrived and hundreds of people gathered together to join in the festive occasion. Standing under the chupah/canopy, the groom suddenly remembered the scroll from Rebbe Michil. He turned to his future in-laws and told them, "The wedding mustn't take place today; it will have to be rescheduled for tomorrow. We need a knowledgeable rabbi here first."

He then went on to relate all the details of the meeting with Rebbe Michil. A messenger was quickly dispatched to a nearby town to bring the head of the rabbinical court, so that the festivities could go on.

The next day the young man handed over the mysterious scroll to the rabbi and waited with impatient curiosity. As soon as the rabbi opened it, he noticed that it had only six words written on it. It was inscribed: "How can a brother marry his sister?"

* * *
The rabbi was completely dumbfounded by what he read and had no idea what it could possibly mean. He showed it to the young groom who, much to the astonishment of the rabbi, became very joyous and began clapping his hands. He then set out running towards the house of his bride's family.

Meanwhile, all the guests and family had become concerned by the odd behavior of the intended groom. They worried that he had gone crazy. When the rabbi arrived and saw the worry on the face of the bride's father, he turned towards the young man and asked for the meaning behind the mysterious words.

The young man agreed happily. He related his entire life story from beginning to end, concluding that he was certain that the words of the tzadik were there to help him find his family, and that the bride was none other than his sister, and her father, who was standing in front of him, was also his father.

After doing some research and asking some questions, all the dates and locations matched up. Everyone realized simultaneously that a miracle had just occurred.

Parents and son embraced emotionally after so many years of being separated from one another. The joy that day was much greater than any wedding would have been. Soon thereafter, the siblings both found excellent marriage mates.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the translation printed in "A Chassidisher Derher" by Shimon Helinger from "Sippurim Nora'im" by Rabbi Yaakov Caidanner, a leading chasid of whom the first three Lubavitcher Rebbes were very fond.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yechiel-Michil of Zolotchov (1731-25 Elul 1786), son of Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch, was introduced by his father to the Baal Shem Tov at a young age. He also became a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. It is said that his sermons consistently aroused his listeners to repentance. Many of his teachings are collected in Mayim Rabim.

Connection: Weekly Reading of Acharei Mot - Kedoshim. Both record many forbidden incestuous relationships.

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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