#185 (s5761-32/9 Iyar 5761)
KEEP THE CHANGE!
The non-Jews that used to do business with Rabbi Meir "the Elder" of Primishlan called him "Meirke sparvidliwy"-"honest Meir."
KEEP THE CHANGE!
Rabbi Meir "the Elder" of Primishlan was a merchant. The non-Jews that used to do business with him called him "Meirke sparvidliwy"-"honest Meir." Whenever they had something to sell they would come to him rather than any other, because they knew he would never deceive them.
One day, R. Meir said to himself, "Why should I spend so much time everyday in the marketplace selling and not in Torah-study and serving G-d? What a waste! My faith in G-d is greater than that. I am sure that He is able to provide for me and my family even if I spend all my time in study and prayer."
So he decided to do, and so he did. He spent all his time in the Beit Midrash (study-hall) and devoted himself day and night to study and prayer. He relied totally on the Creator of all, Who provides for the needs of all of His creations, great and small, to provide for him too.
He lived in this manner for several years. The economic situation at home deteriorated sharply. He and his family survived, but barely. Finally, they came to the point when they had nothing to relieve their sharp pangs of hunger.
It seemed they could no longer go on. But then, a non-Jewish peasant arrived at the marketplace with a large abandoned beehive to sell. Many of the merchants and shopkeepers offered to buy it, but he refused. He stated he would only sell to "honest Meir." Everyone laughed at him , telling him R. Meir was no longer in business, but he remained determined, not really believing them, and proclaimed that he would wait as long as necessary.
The sun had nearly set before he acknowledged that R. Meir was not going to come. Still, he refused to sell it to anyone else, and instead carried it back home.
His wife questioned him as to why he hadn't sold the hive. He told her because he waited the whole day for "honest Meir, who never came, and he didn't want to sell it to any of the others because he didn't trust them: "They are all cheats!" he declared hotly.
"Well, if that's the case," wondered his wife, "why didn't you go to his house? Maybe the reason he didn't show up is because he wasn't feeling well enough."
"You are right." admitted her husband. "Next time, if I don't find him in the marketplace, I'll follow your advice and go look for him at his house."
A few days later, he went again to town with the beehive. As before, many people wanted to buy it but he insisted he would sell only to "honest Meir." After many hours, he at last accepted that R. Meir was not going to come, and he went to call upon him at his house. Much to his surprise, R. Meir was not there either.
The Rabbi's wife told him that her husband was not available now because he was studying Torah, but would probably come home soon. The peasant explained to her how he had twice now brought this huge beehive to town to sell, but he didn't want to do sell it to anyone else because they were all dishonest-only to her husband.
She said that if that is the case, she would go to call her husband. She asked the surprise visitor to please wait.
R. Meir's wife hurried over to the Beit Midrash. "Please have mercy on your children and come home," she pleaded. "A non-Jew has shown up who has a very large beehive that he refuses to sell to anyone but you. Come, buy it from him, sell the honey to someone else. Whether the profit is great or small, at least we will be able to buy some food."
"All right," her husband said, "I've almost finished this lesson anyway. Go back home and tell him I'll come as soon as I am done here."
When R. Meir arrived, he asked the peasant to show him the hive. The latter replied that he had left it in town because it was so heavy, but if R. Meir was interested to buy it, he would drive it over.
"How much do you want for it?" R. Meir asked. "However much you say," answered the non-Jew. I trust your integrity and that you will not try to take advantage of me."
When the man returned with the beehive, R. Meir calculated that if it were filled with honey, the honey would be worth about twenty gold coins. He told the peasant he would pay twenty gold coins, because that is how much he estimated the hive was worth, if indeed it was full of honey.
The man agreed readily. Now there was only one problem. R. Meir hadn't the faintest idea how to pay him. He didn't even have one little zloty in ready cash. Was there anyone he could possibly borrow the money from for a few days, until he sold the beehive?
Just at that moment, as they were still speaking, a neighbor walked in to borrow something from R. Meir's wife. She overheard the discussion, and promptly volunteered a short-term loan to the couple to enable them to complete the deal. She went home and shortly returned with twenty gold coins.
As soon as he paid the peasant and escorted him out, R. Meir returned to the Beis Midrash to resume his studies and meditation. Meanwhile, his wife prepared to cut open the hive and extract all the honey.
She took a large knife and sliced into one side of the hive. Right away she saw, to her horror, that the inner walls were very thick, there was not much empty space, and not a drop of honey was to be seen!
Her eager anticipation crushed, she ran to the Beit Midrash and called out her husband in disappointment and frustration. "There is no honey in it. Not a trace! Why didn't you check first? How are we ever going to be able to pay back the loan that my friend so trustingly gave us?"
"Don't worry," her husband tried to calm her. "If necessary I'll even sell the house to make sure we have the money to pay her back. We won't remain in debt."
R. Meir accompanied his wife home to examine the hive for himself. He took the knife and pierced the inside lining, and then attempted to peel it back. As soon as he did, gold coins began pouring out! The thick inside walls of the beehive were packed with them! Hundreds of gold pieces were rolling on the bare floor of their sparse room.
His wife began to gather them and stuff them in her pockets. "No!" cried out her husband. "It is forbidden to personally benefit from such a great miracle. We may only use these coins for tzedakah, to distribute to the poor."
True to his pure intentions, R. Meir gave away the entire fortune to the poor people of Premishlan. His wife, however, had managed to squirrel away a certain amount of coins in the initial excitement without her husband realizing it, and from this she was able to provide for the family for many years.
A long time afterwards, that same non-Jewish peasant came to their house again, to sell something. R. Meir's wife was, of course, very curious to ask him where he had gotten the beehive. He told her that it had happened when once he had driven his wagon into the forest to cut wood to store for the winter. While he was chopping the wood to size in order to load it on the wagon, he had unharnessed the oxen to allow them to graze. When he finished and was ready to start home, he couldn't find the oxen. They had disappeared! It was very unusual.
He began to search for them and had to go deep into the forest. Finally he found them. They were standing next to a very large, hollow tree. He could see that there were all sorts of bees buzzing around inside the hollow. He took the ax that was girded on his waist and split open the tree. Inside was a huge beehive. Clearly it was ownerless and he was entitled to take it and try to profit from it. A few days later, he brought it to town to sell it "to 'honest Meir,' your husband. He gave me a very good price. I was quite satisfied at the time, and still am. If you found a treasure inside, it must be that you deserve it for being such honest and good people."
With that, he ate and drank the refreshments she provided, made "l'chaim," and departed.
[Translated and retold by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Otzar Hamasiyos, pp. 500-503.]
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.
A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.
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