Chassidic Story #237

237 (s5762-33)
Moshe had become possessed by the desire to experience a revelation of Eliyahu HaNovi....
Unsure what to try next, he decided to consult the local tzaddik, Rabbi Boruch of Kosov....


Lag Ba'Omer Hospitality

About two and a half centuries ago, there lived in Kosov a wealthy textile merchant named Reb Moshe. He dwelled in the best section of the city, in a luxurious mansion on a huge estate, on which grassy lawns, lush gardens, and orchards of fruit trees all flourished. Basically a simple person, his innate humility seemed to remain unaffected even as his wealth grew from year to year. But then, one day, an unusual idea entered his mind and took hold of his heart. Moshe had become possessed by the desire to experience a revelation of Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet.

Not that he was under the illusion that because of his wealth he was entitled to see Elijah. He knew better than that. So to become "worthy" of attaining his objective, he undertook a series of fasts and other forms of deprivations and self-afflictions, hoping that would enable him to fulfill his wish.

But to no avail.

He started to keep company with the chasidim and the other strictly religious people in the community, emulating their ways. He hoped that their superior spiritual attainments would rub off on him and his resultant elevation would allow him to attain his goal.

That also didn't work.

Unsure what to try next, he decided to consult the local tzadik, Rabbi Boruch of Kosov. The Rebbe listened intently, but then, to Moshe's dismay, said, "Reb Moshe, why are you trying to pursue such lofty matters? Your task is to perform acts of kindness and charity- that's what your soul requires for its rectification." Moshe left the Rebbe's room, frustrated. He still felt sure that he knew what he really needed.

From that day on, Moshe the merchant's behavior changed radically. He abandoned his business for hours at a time in order to be in the Beit Midrash. He no longer paid much attention to his personal appearance or the upkeep of his estate, abandoning almost completely the aristocratic lifestyle he had adapted over the years.

After some time, he went to visit the tzadik again. Eyes downcast, the dark shadow of depression on his face, it was clear he was deeply troubled. His desire to see the prophet left him no peace. As he told the Rebbe of his frustrations, he involuntarily emitted a deep sigh.

The Rebbe repeated his advice that the proper path for Moshe was that of kindness and good deeds. This time, however, he seemed to accept Moshe's sincerity, and advised him to greatly increase his distribution of tzedaka. Then, after a pause, the Rebbe added mysteriously, "If a poor man should approach you and request even a thousand gold pieces, don't refrain from granting his request."

Once again, Moshe felt belittled by the Rebbe's reply. Nevertheless, he decided to adhere closely to his counsel. Any poor person that crossed Moshe's path was immediately endowed with a generous contribution, without any delay to check the recipient's worthiness. For several years, Moshe conducted himself in this manner, but still there was no revelation of Eliyahu. His frustration gave him no rest.

One day, while he was busy at work with a number of different customers, a messenger arrived from his house, sent by his wife. A pathetic-looking, poverty-stricken man, related the messenger, had knocked on the door of the house, begging for help. The pauper, however, had refused to accept the food that a servant had brought . Instead, the pauper had insisted that he be invited into the dining hall so he could sit and eat there. Reb Moshe's wife wasn't sure how to handle the situation, so she had sent to ask her husband's advice.

At first Moshe was outraged by the needy man's chutzpa. But then, remembering the Rebbe's counsel, he instructed the messenger simply to tell his wife that he would come home as soon as he could, and that in the meantime she should fulfill the stranger's unusual request and invite him in. When he arrived about an hour later, he found his wife pacing near the entrance, exasperated, impatiently awaiting him. As soon as she saw him she burst out bitterly, "Not even sitting in our dining hall satisfies this beggar; he demanded to take a nap in our bedroom!"

Moshe dashed upstairs to the master bedroom. He could barely believe the sight that greeted him: a disheveled crude-looking person, wearing what seemed to be more rags and patches than actual clothing, sprawled across his bed, with the stains and remains of his meal spread all over himself, and the hitherto fresh linens, along with some of the mud caked on his worn-out boots. As Moshe stood there with bulging eyes and mouth opened wide, the "guest" looked up at him and drawled, "Nu? So how about a little donation? A modest, insignificant sum-only a measly thousand gold pieces."

Moshe wasn't sure whether to erupt in anger or burst into laughter. He was so taken aback, he felt powerless to move or speak; he could only stand there in stunned silence.

"If you won't give me right now one thousand cash, I won't leave!" announced the strange beggar defiantly.

Moshe calmed down a bit from his initial shock. Deciding to ignore the insult to his honor, he simply offered the man a lesser sum. "Fifty...a hundred fifty..." Eventually he offered him 200 gulden-not at all a small sum.

It was if the man on his bed had sealed his ears. He kept arrogantly asserting he would take 1000 gulden and not a penny less. Moshe finally lost all patience with this rude boor and signaled his servants to remove the impudent pest from his presence. But the target was much too quick. Before they could lay a hand on him, he climbed out of the window and disappeared.

All this occurred just a few hours before Lag ba'Omer. That night all the chasidim gathered at the tzadik's table in honor of the occasion. Moshe, our textile merchant, was among them. Rebbe Boruch spoke about the divine revelations that are manifest on this special day, but that not everyone merits to recognize them. Moshe decided that this must certainly be an auspicious moment to mention his burning request. The Rebbe's response shocked him like an icy hand squeezing his heart: "But didn't you already meet a poor person who requested from you one thousand gold pieces?"

Moshe quickly told the tzadik about the impudent beggar who had so crudely pushed his way into his house earlier in the day.

"Ach. What a pity!" the Rebbe sighed softly. "You saw Eliyahu HaNavi but didn't recognize him."

"That vagrant was Elijah the Prophet?!!" Moshe screamed in dismay.

"Yes," explained the Rebbe. "He appears to people according to the root of their souls and the level of their deeds."

Moshe was truly broken-hearted. He and his wife decided to move to the Holy Land. They settled in the holy city of Tzefat (Safed), where a change came over him almost immediately. He no longer sought greatness or extraordinary revelations. He served G-d simply and whole-heartedly.

Before Lag ba'Omer he would go to Meron and devote himself to serving the myriads of attendees that crowded in to the tomb area around the clock. He rubbed shoulders with the masses of simple Jews that came to honor Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, taking pleasure from their company and helping to take care of their needs.

Several years later, at Meron on Lag ba'Omer, as Moshe was hurrying to and fro to help serve the many guests, he suddenly saw in front of him a face that was burned into his memory: it was the "beggar" who had appeared at his house so many years ago!

Moshe froze in his tracks. He stared in amazement at the person in his path. This time the eyes that looked back at him were no longer outraged and challenging; they were bright and shiny in the midst of a smiling face....

[Translated and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from from
Sichat HaShavua #487. You may pass on this e-mail rendition to whomever you wish, as long as you give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet addresses. But PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH THIS STORY IN PRINT OR ELECTRONIC FORM WITHOUT EXPLICIT PERMISSION.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Boruch of Kosov* [?-13 Cheshvan 1782], an important disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, and of R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, worked actively to propagate and publicize the ways and teachings of Chassidism. He is the author of "Yesod HaEmunah" and "Amud HaAvoda."

*Not to be confused with Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kosov, founder of the Vihznitz and Kosov dynasties.

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