#170 (s5761-17 /22 Tevet 5761)


Rabbi Shneur Zalman (The Chabad-Rebbe-to-be) agreed to join Rabbi Levi Yitzchak (the Berditchiver-Rebbe-to-be) and Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the Rimonover-Rebbe-to-be) . "But only if I am to be in charge."


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 military.

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.

He tried 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.

What 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!

"I'll bring it all to you today, sir. I promise. Thank you, sir" he murmured and ran out.

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."

"5000 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."

"We have to try."

"Okay, but let's get Zalman to come with us."

Rabbi 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, 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."

"One moment," interrupted R. Schneur Zalman softly, "first we have to make a list."

"That's 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.

"Okay, 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."

"Nevertheless," 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?

"He 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!"

The 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.

The 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.

They 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?"

"Please 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."

R. 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.

Votsek 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.

Yet 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.

Out 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.

It 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!"

In 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.

For 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.

"Don't 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 through.

"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.

"I have 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.

When 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."

[Translated and retold by Yrachmiel Tilles from Niflaos Yisroel, pp. 40-51 (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine)]


Yrachmiel Tilles 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.




























































































































































































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