REBBES AND A MISER
The kallah was
in tears. The townsfolk despaired. That very day, the eve of the wedding, the
"snatchers" for the czarist army had come to town. All the other young
men stayed off the streets, but the chatan was... pre-occupied. So he alone
had been kidnapped, and who knew if they would ever see him again and what he
would be like if they did, after 25 years in the severely anti-semitic Russian
The chatan and kallah were both orphans, each from
good Jewish families, and the whole town had been involved in preparing for the
joy of their wedding. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak (the Berditchiver-Rebbe-to-be)
had arranged the match, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the Rimonover-Rebbe-to-be)
had taken upon himself to raise all the necessary funds. But he knew that the
amount he had raised to cover the wedding expenses would never suffice to "purchase"
the chatan's release. Even to attempt the bribe was extremely dangerous, with
a lifetime exile to Siberia or even execution a frequent result.
to comfort the kallah, but none of his holy words helped to console her.
Finally, in desperation, he swore to her that he would get the chatan back
that same day, in time for the wedding. That did it! The kallah held back
her tears. If a holy tzadik could swear, it surely would be so, she knew.
to do? Off ran R. Mendel to the local military headquarters. For some inexplicable
reason the fierce guards either didn't notice him or failed to stop him as he
passed through the security checks and the outer rooms. He entered the room of
the chief military officer. "Filthy cursed Jew!" the drunken officer
screamed at him with hatred. "How did you get in here? What do you want?"
R' Mendel tried to plead the case of the poor chatan but was rudely
cut off. "Ha! Bribing an officer of the Czar? Jewish dog! I could have you
shot for this." He set down his vodka bottle and pulled out a revolver. "And
I will too if you don't bring me 3000 reinish today so I can pay off some
pressing debts, and another 2000 for myself. You stinking Jews are all rich anyway."
He continued to hurl red-eyed curses and threats, but R' Mendel had heard what
he needed. Now he knew the amount required to free the chatan!
bring it all to you today, sir. I promise. Thank you, sir" he murmured and
He immediately tracked down R' Levi Yitzchak. "Levi!"
he cried out. "Now is not the time to pray at length. We have to go door-to-door
and raise 5000 reinish to save the chatan."
reinish? Impossible! Even if everyone were to sell their jewelry and all
their other assets we could never raise such a sum from these poor people."
have to try."
"Okay, but let's get Zalman to come with us."
Shneur Zalman (The Chabad-Rebbe-to-be) agreed to join them. "But only
if you accept my condition. That is, I am to be in charge; I make all the decisions
and you must follow."
R' Shneur Zalman was younger than the other two,
but they quickly agreed. What choice did they have? There was no time to argue.
Okay. But let's get started already; there's not a moment to spare. We have to
go door-to-door to every one in the town."
interrupted R. Schneur Zalman softly, "first we have to make a list."
silly," they objected, "why waste the time?. We have to knock on every
door with a mezuzah, and even take the rings off the fingers of the wives.
There is no time to go to other nearby towns to raise money there too, because
we will never get back before dark."
It almost seemed as if there would
be an argument, but, remembering the agreement they gave in. A piece of paper
was produced, and quickly covered with the names of all the Jewish families.
Zalman, here are the names of every Jewish family in town. Eliminate whichever
ones you feel inappropriate, and let's get going!"
R. Shneur Zalman
scanned the list quickly. "You missed one," he said to the two other
tzadikim; "You forgot Velvyl."
"Velvyl? Oh, you mean
Votsek! We didn't forget him," they quickly responded. "We left him
off purposely. That old miser never gives to anybody. Sure, he may be the wealthiest
man in town, but it has been thirty years already since people stopped bothering
to ask him for donations for anything. Now he is nearly eighty, but he hasn't
weakened a bit. Only recently, a delegation of the heads of the community, led
by the town Rabbi, in desperation approached him for a contribution for an emergency
communal matter. They pleaded and cajoled, flattered and explained, so what happened?
He gave them a filthy moldy copper coin, worth less than a cent. They walked out
on him in disgust. Someone even flung the coin back in his face."
said R. Shneur Zalman, "I say put his name on top of the list and we shall
go to him first."
"No, no!" they cried. "Not only
would it be a waste of effort, more seriously, it will be a waste of our precious
little available time. Please don't insist."
But R. Shneur Zalman did,
reminding them of their agreement, which the other two tzadikim had now
begun to heartily regret. But in the end they agreed. What choice did they have?
must have something in mind; he wouldn't intentionally endanger the lives of two
people," R. Mendel whispered hopefully to his companion. "Three lives,"
R. Levi Yitzchak reminded him. "As usual, you forgot yourself!"
three disciples of the holy Maggid of Mezritch walked briskly to
the non-Jewish aristocrat district, where Votsk had built his mansion, willingly
isolating himself from the Jewish community. When they were shown in, they agreed
it that R. Shneur Zalman, who had forced the decision, would do the talking.
young rabbi gently explained to Velvyl-Votsek the tragic situation of the chatan-kallah
and the incomparable merit that would accrue if he would help them generously,
for he was the only one who had it in his power to take a major share of the mitzvah.
could see that the elderly man was visibly shaken by the young couple's plight.
"Of course, of course," he said, "how could I not help?"
wait here a moment," he said to them, and went into the next room, where
there could see him laboriously opening and removing something from his iron safe.
He hurried back to them and thrust what he had taken into the hand of R. Mendel,
the oldest of the three.
R. Mendel unclenched his hand and stared. There,
in front of his horrified glance, was the infamous, rusted old copper coin. This
is what the wealthy miser meant by "help?"
R. Mendel was ready
to throw down the insulting "present" in disgust and storm out, but
before he could as much as move a finger, R. Shneur Zalman snatched the coin from
his hand, thanked Votsek profusely and blessed him, and ushered his two companions
out the door.
Before the latter two could begin their "we told you
so"s and recriminations (if indeed they would have), they heard the door
of the mansion open behind them. They turned, and saw Velvyl emerging hurriedly
towards them. In a trembling voice, clearly embarrassed, he asked them to come
back in. "It's not nice the way I treated you," he said emotionally.
"You came on a life-and-death matter; let me give you more."
Shneur Zalman immediately started moving towards the house, so the other two reluctantly
followed. Votsek ran to his safe again, and this time he poured into R. Mendel's
palm a whole handful of copper coins, instead of just one. It still wasn't worth
even one of the 5000 reinish they needed, but again R. Shneur Zalman quickly
thanked and blessed Velvyl, and led his frustrated companions outside.
followed them out again. This time he broke into tears, and begged their forgiveness,
not only for sinning against them, but also for thirty years of being stingy and
cruel to his fellow-Jews in need. When they allowed him to lead them back into
the house, he gave a double handful of coins to R. M, all silver. R. Shneur Zalman
thanked Velvyl sincerely again, while the other two figured that , the coins probably
totalled around five reinish worth, one precent of what they needed.
a third time, Votsek came out after them, once more crying and apologizing, and
pleaded with them to give him another chance to take a real share in the mitzvah.
This time around the handful of coins he withdrew from the safe after they returned
to his house once more were all of gold. Now all three tzadikim joined
in thanking and blessing Velvyl. "Fine. Let's go," said R. Shneur Zalman.
came Velvyl behind them once more. And so, the scene repeated itself again, and
again and again, until finally, after a total of ten rounds of entrances, departures,
apologies, tears and increased contributions, R. Mendel was holding in his sack
the entire required 5000 reinish, all from the repentant Velvyl.
seems that Velvyl was always stingy by nature, and the more money he managed to
accumulate, the more important it became to him, more so than the deeds of kindness
that presented themselves to him, which he felt easy to push away. Then, thirty
years before these events, a certain incident happened.
One blustery winter
day, a poor Jew knocked at Velvyl's door, having struggled wearily through wind,
sleet and snow to get there from the other side of town. He had been warned not
to bother, but his situation was desperate and he hoped that his story and his
mighty effort to reach him would soften the miser's heart and rouse from him a
large donation, which he would never be able to obtain from the impoverished townsfolk.
Votsek listened to his visitor and perceived his straits, but remained
unmoved, as usual. He stuck his hand in his pocket and plucked out a small, nearly
worthless, copper coin and gave it to the exhausted pauper.
The poor Jew
couldn't believe it. All that effort and aggravation for nothing! How could anyone
be so mean and uncaring? He threw the coin full-force at Velvyl's face and ran
out of the house as if fleeing a coiled snake.
Velvyl, of course, didn't
think he had done anything wrong. Rather, he was outraged. "What a nerve
this bum has," he fumed; "how dare he be so disrespectful to precious
money. These beggars don't work, that's why this one could allow himself to throw
away that coin. Well, I'll teach them that a small copper coin is also money!"
righteous indignation, Votsek vowed that to every person that came to request
alms he would proffer that same copper coin, and only that coin, until one of
them would accept it, acknowledge it as real money, and thank him for it. With
that, he stooped and reverently retrieved the fraction of a cent from the floor
and placed it carefully on a shelf in his safe.
In the days and weeks that
followed, Votsek had many opportunities to offer his precious coin to the needy
that trudged to his door from far and near. Not one failed to be insulted and
throw it back at him.
Ten years passed. Eventually the word got around
that it was hopeless to expect any kindness from Votsek the wealthy miser.
another twenty years, (except for the recent incident with the community leaders
and the Rav) the coin sat unused and unmissed in the locked iron box, collecting
rust and mold, until at last R. Shneur Zalman accepted it with a straight face
and thanked Velvyl, just as if it had been a genuinely generous gift.
get the idea that I am a prophet or miracle-maker," R. Shneur afterwards
implored his two companions. "When you came to me and said that we absolutely
must collect all of 5000 reinish in only one day in order for Mendel to
fulfill his vow and to save the unfortunate chatan and kallah, I
immediately understood three things: 1) G-d Al-mighty would never set us a test
that can't be passed, yet clearly such a sum was way beyond the means of the impoverished
population here, nor was there time to approach Jews elsewhere. 2) If a tzadik
swore that the chatan would be redeeemed today, then Heaven would have
to make it possible that it would happen. 3) The only one in town who had the
potential to provide the sum was Votsek, the former Velvyl. It then occurred to
me that G-d might have allowed all this to happen so as to enable Velvyl to do
teshuvah. His stone heart was under the complete domination of the forces
of evil. I took his copper coin so that the merit of his giving could force open
the 'eye of the needle'. Then, as you saw, the 'camel' was able to come marching
"I didn't share my thoughts with you because I could see that
from the extreme pressure of the situation you would never be able to hear me.
So I insisted that you agree to give me the power of decision in order to give
my idea a chance. Boruch HaShem, G-d helped."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak
fervently recited the blessing. "blessed is He that gives of his wisdom to
those that Fear Him."
"Amen," said R. Mendel, "but
this is not a time for talking," he muttered. "Please pray for me,"
he then called out, and ran off to military headquarters.
He found the officer
in his room, drunk as before, but anxiously waiting. What R. Mendel didn't know
was that this officer was being investigated and facing almost certain doom for
a long career of stealing from government coffers, and the only way he could stop
the process was to bribe his commanding officer who had informed on him because
he was annoyed at the low percentage being kicked back to him, and then run away.
The enormous sum of 3000 was the amount they had agreed on.
it all," R. Mendel announced.
"Good. Now you will see that I
keep my word too," the soldier sputtered merrily. "Bring in that pathetic
kid that was recruited today," he yelled to one of his subordinates. "Look
at this," he shouted to the rest of the soldiers in the building. "This
boy is crippled in both legs and someone had the nerve to take half a reinish
of the czar's money for him. I'll bring that thief to justice yet, don't you worry."
All the listeners nodded agreement to the diagnosis, as the officer wrote out
in the czar's name a lifetime exemption for the stunned chatan, and released
him to his "father."
"Hodu laShem ki tov, ki l'olom chasdo,"
cried R. Levi Yitzchak and R. Shneur Zalman in unison, and the four hurried towards
town to join the anxious kallah and the waiting townspeople.
they got to about 200 meters from the bridge that spanned the river to the entrance
to the town, they heard behind them the rumbling of a heavy carriage and the pounding
hooves of horses. Startled, they darted off the road and hid. When they peeked
out they saw it was none other than the officer they had paid, foolheartedly whipping
his horses to greater and greater speed as his carriage rapidly approached the
narrow wooden bridge.
After it whizzed by them they returned to the road.
Suddenly they heard a crash, loud screaming, and the panicked whinnying of horses.
The four Jews ran down to the riverbank to help, but it was too late. The right
guardrail of the bridge had snapped under the pressure of the out-of-control heavy
reeling carriage, and the horses and their drunken driver had all been pulled
down by the weighty carriage into the swirling waters below and drowned.
"Certainly there must be a reason that we witnessed this act of G-d,"
declared R. Shneur Zalman. Sure enough, as they climbed back to the highway, the
chatan stumbled over something and fell. It was a heavy chest. They opened
it and stared at each other in amazement. Inside was the 5000 reinish,
as well as a fortune in precious jewels. The chest must have fallen out as soon
as the carriage flipped off the side of the bridge.
It devolved on R. Shneur
Zalman to carry the heavy chest the rest of the short distance to town. After
all, he was the youngest of the group not counting the chatan, who "on
his wedding day has the status of a king." The wedding celebration was conducted
with great joy until the early hours of the morning.
Thereafter, the expenses
of the community and those in the nearby towns were paid by two extremely wealthy
and generous men. One was now known as Velvyl the "Generous"; the other
was "the orphan," as he continued to be referred to, who had received
the extraordinary "wedding present" from the "Father of orphans."
and retold by Yrachmiel Tilles from Niflaos Yisroel, pp. 40-51 (and first
published in Kfar Chabad Magazine)]
is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent
Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds
of published stories to his credit.