Chassidic Story #167

(s5761-14 /1 Tevet 5761)
"Go to the Rebbe, R. Moshe of Kovrin, and ask his help. And don't come back from there until..."


Reb Yitzchak was uneasy. Over the decades he had visited and consulted a number of chassidic rebbes, and now he was on the way to see his Rebbe, R. Moshe of Kovrin, but never before had it entered his mind to speak to him or any Rebbe on the subject he now intended to raise.

Always, when he spoke to a Rebbe it was about his spiritual affairs only. Reb Yitzchak lived in grinding poverty: so it had been since his youth and so he imagined it would always be. But is that any reason to interrupt a tzaddik from his holy work? Yitzchak was fond of saying that G-d doesn't need advice from anyone, not even the tzaddikim, about who to make rich. If
G-d wanted him to be poor, is that any reason to be dejected? No, the only justification to bother a tzsaddik was to elicit help and instruction from him in how to serve G-d properly and not to slip from the one true path.

Indeed, Reb Yitzchak never let his desperate economic plight trouble him; not even for a moment. Always he was cheerful, and full of gratitude to G-d for his lot. "Rejoice my stomach," he would say, "that you are light and not a heavy burden to carry around."

But now a number of his daughters were nearly of marriageable age, and there wasn't a coin in the house to make them a wedding and to help set them up. The matchmakers stayed far from his home. His wife and daughters were sunk in bitter depression over the situation, and as one of the great Rebbes had said, depression is a highly contagious disease that infects anyone who comes into its presence.

Already it was affecting his ability to serve G-d purely. The whole day his wife would keep after him: "Yitzchak! Aren't they your daughters too? How long can you avert your eyes from their suffering?"

Really, Reb Yitzchak did feel bad for his wife and daughters. He regretted that he was incapable of conveying to them what it means to serve G-d in true joy. He felt inspired to pray for them.

"L-rd of the Universe! Please open my wife's and daughters' eyes (especially my wife's!) and allow them to know that all the resources of the world and all a person lacks throughout the years of his life is not worth even one groan that would prevent a person from serving G-d with joy."

His wife, upon seeing him raise his palms in prayer, had immediately spoken out. "Yitzchak! You turn everything upside down. The whole world relies on the prayers of the tzaddik, your Rebbe. This one went to him and was saved. That one came, the Rebbe prayed for him, and was immediately helped. And this one, and that one, and.... But you, whose faith in the tzaddik is much greater than theirs, and who spends much more time in his presence than they do, don't invoke his aid at all. Instead, you stand here and pray by yourself! I won't leave you alone until you go to the Rebbe and ask his help. And don't come back from there until the Al-mighty has mercy on us."

His wife was true to her word. She didn't stop bothering him until finally he had left. Now he was on his way to do the unthinkable.

* * *

Several weeks later Reb Yitzchak was on his way home, full of good spirits at all that he had gained from his time with the Rebbe. But as he got closer, he realized that now he would have to deal with his wife.. What was he going to say to her? What possible excuse could he offer her that he had not fulfilled her directive-he never mentioned their economic plight to the Rebbe? He knew he could never tell her that once he crossed the Rebbe's threshold, it was impossible to even think about such trivial matters, never mind bother the Rebbe with them. All the poor woman wanted was to be able to take care of their children, and here he was, coming home empty-handed (even if he felt enriched) once again.

In the end, he didn't have to say anything. He walked in the door, his wife took one look at him and she already knew what had happened.

"Okay, Yitzchak," she said calmly, "Listen! You turned the world upside down on me again. Now I am going to do just like you and also reverse the normal order of things. This time I will go to the Rebbe instead of you. I'll tell him of our difficulties and beg him to save us with his prayers. You can wait at home."

Yitzchak was taken aback. How could he allow her to go in his place? Solemnly, he promised her that he would go back again and speak to the Rebbe about their daughters; he would not forget or fail.

Thus he found himself on the road again, on the way to do the unthinkable. But this time he was determined to go through with it. He could not let down his wife again. He would be careful. He wouldn't lose himself in the Rebbe's holy shining face; he wouldn't even look at the Rebbe.

Yes, he would avert his eyes, and he would shut his heart. That way he would stay focused on the one matter that he had promised to raise. He would firmly request the Rebbe's blessing and succor. The Rebbe would help, and then there would be relief from the tension in the house and he could go back to serving G-d properly.

When he reached Kovrin, he went directly to the Rebbe's house. He arranged an audience, but as soon as he entered the Rebbe's presence, he flushed from shame and fear. How could he broach such mundane matters to the Rebbe? "Rebbe, I...I..." The words froze in his mouth. He felt like a thief caught in the act.

But he had to. He had faithfully promised his wife. "Rebbe, I...I ...I can't.... M-m-my wife, my daughters,..." He froze again, in mid-sentence, too embarrassed to continue.

But it was enough. The Kovrinner raised his eyebrows quizzically and said, "Yitzchak, is it a comfortable life you want? Is that it? Well, I will give it to you, but only if you do one thing for me first." Then he added more forcefully. "Indeed, I insist you do it-you may not refuse.

"Take these two gold coins," the Rebbe instructed the still dumbstruck chassid, "and when you get home, spend both of them on the fanciest, most expensive food you can find. Vintage wine, the choicest meats, gourmet side-dishes, and an assortment of fresh fruits, sweets and baked goods for dessert. Don't leave anything out and don't let a single penny be left over. Bring it all into your house and set it out on your table for a banquet. There should be enough for two full meals for one person alone, one in the day and one in the night.

"What you must do," concluded the Rebbe, "is eat it all up, both meals, all by yourself. If your wife or your daughters ask to eat some of it, or just to taste, don't let them! And say not a word in explanation. I'm warning you, do exactly like I am telling you. Exactly! Afterwards, come back here, and I will grant you what you ask."

All the way home, Yitzchak marveled at what he had promised the Rebbe to do. How could he spend all that money on fancy food? And how could he eat it all? Who cares about food anyway! And how would he be able to not share any of it with his family?

It turned out to be even harder than he expected. He sat down to the table with all the dishes of food set out just for him, while his family looked on pleadingly. He could barely manage to swallow it down. Each mouthful was more painful than the last.
"G-d, take my soul and spare me this terrible trial," he screamed silently.

By now all his children were wailing and his wife was sobbing and castigating him for his cruelty. "G-d in Heaven! His own children are begging him for scraps and he has no mercy for them. They cry and he averts his eyes. Only he can eat! Yitzchak, have you gone out of your mind?!"

With those words, his poor wife collapsed and fainted. Reb Yitzchak the chasid did not faint. He gulped down the last morsel and turned his face toward Kovrin.

* * *

"Welcome, Yitzchak!" the Rebbe called to him. "I presume you did what I told you to. You did, didn't you?"

"Yes," murmured Yitzchak, his eyes glistening with tears.

The Rebbe noticed, of course. "And now, Yitzchak," he continued gently, "are you prepared for G-d's blessing for wealth that will enable your house to be filled with all the good and desirable things that money can buy? Are you ready for that lifestyle? Are you ready to eat like you did that day in your house at my command? For what difference does it make if your wife and children share your table? What about your brothers and sisters, the many thousands of impoverished Jews, and their sons and daughters? No matter how generous you are, you can't possibly feed them all. They will all be hungrily longing for what is on your plates. Do you want the pleasure of wealth like you had at that meal? If so, take it; it's yours. Will you? Can you, Yitzchak?"

"No," Yitzchak moaned softly. "No!" he said more firmly. "No, I can't and No, I don't want!"

* * *

Although Yitzchak turned his back on wealth, his wife most certainly did not. She came herself to the Rebbe and received the blessing he was happy to bestow.

From that time on, his wife lived and dressed well, and spent much time and money seeing that the poor Jews of their town also had all that they needed. Her own husband, however, refused to let their new wealth affect his lifestyle at all. He dressed as he always had and ate as he always had eaten. *

"How can I enjoy a life of abundance?" he would say, "when my poor brethren never have enough for their basic needs. How can I sit down to a full table when I know others are starving?

"I never want to eat another meal like that again!"

[[Translated and freely adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Niflaos Yisroel, pp. 63-67.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Moshe Pallier of Kovrin
[1784-1858] was a close follower of the Rebbe, R. Mordechai of Lechovitch and afterwards of his son, R. Noach. In 1833 he became the first Rebbe of the Kovrin dynasty, with thousands of chassidim, many of whom subsequently moved to Eretz Yisroel.

Editor's note:
According to one version, he actually moved out of his home and took up residence in the community poor house. He would join his family for meals only on special occasions, when all the poor were invited.








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