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
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!"
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
"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...one
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.
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.
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.]
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.