(s5762-48) 6 Elul 5762
Long ago in Russia, there was a poor Jew, Moshe, who had a big family and never made any money. He ran a tavern where the Russian peasants would come and drink. But after they got drunk they didn't pay him, so he never had the money to pay the poritz, the Russian landowner and local ruler. The first year, the poritz warned him that he had better pay him double the next year. The next year, Moshe still had no rent money. The poritz said it was his last warning, and that when the rent money came due the third year, Moshe had better have enough money for all three years ready in one lump sum or he would beat him until he was dead.
Poor Mosheleh. As rent day of the third year approached, he still had no money to pay. Not only that, thirty days before the rent was due, the poritz sent out one of his thugs to beat up Moshe a little and give him a black-eye, just as a warning. That upset Moshe's wife so much that she insisted that Moshe make the trek to Lujzinsk to get a blessing from the saintly Rebbe Elimelech.
Rebbe Elimelech was one of the holiest Jews of his generation. He had been one of the inner circle of disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov. Now he was a rebbe in his own right, with many students and followers. One of the holiest was the Seer of Lublin. Another was the holy Ropshitzer Rebbe. Everybody knew that the Seer of Lublin could see from one end of the world to another, so great was his divine inspiration.
Moshe's wife was a great believer in the blessings of the Chassidic Rebbes, but her husband was not. He was a good, devout Jew who did all the mitzvot, but he didn't believe in going to Rebbes for blessings. However, his wife was so upset he couldn't say no to her, and so off he went.
Since he scorned the renowned stories of the powers of the Rebbes so much and wanted his position to be clear, Moshe put a sign around his neck, a placard, which read, "Meilech, I need money!" He wouldn't even afford the holy Rebbe the decency of addressing him by his title as "Rebbe", or even using his full first name. Instead he referred to him by a nickname for Elimelech. Then Moshe took his one pair of shoes that he saved for the holy Shabbos and, not wanting to ruin them in the spring mud, slung them around his neck and set off barefoot to walk all the way to Lujzinsk.
On the way Moshele came up to a stopped carriage. When he got to where the carriage stood, he could see that two famous Rebbes were traveling inside. One was the Seer of Lublin, who everybody knew could see from one end of the world to the other, and with him was the Ropshitzer Rebbe. The Seer called to Moshe and beckoned for him to come over to speak with him. Moshe said he wasn't interested; he was on his way to see Rebbe Elimelech, and that was only because his wife insisted on it. He had no intention whatsoever to speak to other rebbes in addition.
Undeterred, the Seer offered Moshe some advice. "When you get home, if it is a Monday at 11:00, don't go outside."
Moshe thought that this was very strange and utterly useless advice. He hardly bothered to thank or acknowledge the Seer. Instead, he kept on walking.
When he got to Lujzinsk, as soon as he could see Rebbe Elimelech, he took the sign off of his neck, thumped it down on the table in front of the great tzaddik, and rudely snapped, "See what the sign says -- 'Meilech, I need money.'"
The holy Rebbe Elimelech looked at Moshe long and hard, gazing into his very soul. Then he said, "Mosheleh, listen to me. When you get back home, you tell the poritz that if he doesn't give you 15,000 rubles, you're going to leave his town."
Moshe thought for sure the tzaddik was out of his mind. 15,000 rubles then was a small fortune, enough for a good many years, enough to buy a better business than his tavern where the drunks never paid him. Nothing that Rebbe Elimelech said made any sense to poor Moshe. The poritz was intending to kill him for owing him 3 years of rent, and here the Rebbe was telling him that Moshe should demand a fortune from the poritz? It confirmed all of his skepticism that these chassidic rebbes knew nothing more than any simple Jew and had no special powers. Oh well, at least he had come there and done what his wife had requested. Now he could go home, and if the poritz didn't kill him, at least he would have peace in his marriage.
Moshe walked all the way back home with his Shabbos shoes again draped around his neck. He kept a low profile, trying to stay out of the center of the village and out of the poritz's sight. But then the poritz himself came looking for Moshe, and upon finding him, beat him until he was almost dead. Not caring if he had left Moshe dead or alive, the poritz felt better that he had shown the Jew that no one can get away with taking advantage of him. When Moshe regained his senses, he dragged his aching and broken body home. After he crawled into his house, he heard the village church bell signaling 11 o'clock, and suddenly remembered that it was Monday and what the Seer of Lublin had told him.
Sometimes when we have no strength left but we know that we have to do something, we say a little prayer and ask Our Creator for the strength to do His will, and then He blesses us with the strength to do what we need in order to serve Him. So it was for Moshele. He knew he was weak and helpless, so he said a little prayer asking the Holy One for the strength to barricade the door, and somehow he managed to push a heavy breakfront in front of the door and barricade himself in.
No sooner was the door barricaded than he heard the poritz banging on it. He had decided to come back to finish Moshe off. But the poritz couldn't push the door open by himself and he hadn't brought his thugs with him, so he went away. Moshele was still alive, baruch Hashem. So now he appreciated that the Seer of Lublin really could see from one end of the world to another.
When the poritz went home, his wife asked him, "What did you do today?" The poritz didn't want his wife to think that he was a pushover or a sucker, so he told her that he had taught a Jew a good lesson and beaten him within an inch of his life for not paying him three years of rent money.
His wife asked, "Which Jew did you beat?" The poritz told her, "Moishkeh, the one who runs the tavern on my land."
"Moishkeh?" she screamed at her husband, "You beat up Moishkeh? Are you crazy? Don't you know that Moishkeh is my favorite Jew? Whenever I need something I ask Moishkeh, and he tells me where I can buy it for the best price, and where the quality is the best. You stupid fool, go beat up another Jew, but leave my Moishkeh alone." "What's more," she tells him, "you better go and make sure that he is alive and that he gets the best of medical attention, because if Moishkeh is dead, I'm throwing you out of here!"
The poritz didn't want trouble with his wife, so he rushed back to Moshe's house, hoping that he hadn't died from the beating. When he got there the door was still barricaded, so he shouted, "Moishkeh, are you in there? Are you alive? I truly hope so. I'm sorry I beat you so badly. I didn't know you were my wife's favorite Jew. Tell me you are alive and I'll take you to a doctor."
At that moment Moshe realized how great was the prophetic vision of Rebbe Elimelech. Remembering the holy tzaddik's advice, he called out, "If you don't give me 15,000 rubles, I'm leaving this town!"
The poritz was enraged. "I'll cancel the rent that you owe me, I'll let you stay on rent-free, but I'm not giving you any 15,000 rubles. You're crazy!" yelled the poritz.
Moshe held fast and said, "15,000 rubles and not a ruble less!" The poritz offers him 100 rubles and then 200 and then 500, but Moshe didn't waiver. Finally, after refusing several more bargaining attempts of the poritz, Moshe got the whole 15,000 rubles.
With the money, Moshe bought a nice nightclub, one that attracted the highest of society, the type who pay their tab when they finish their evening out. After just a few years, Moshe and his family became exceedingly wealthy, and were able to celebrate all the Jewish holidays with the finest of meals and clothes and splendor, as well as the holy Shabbos every week.
The next time the Seer went to visit the Rebbe Elimelech, they shared the good news about Moshe. Rebbe Elimelech told the Seer, "When you looked at Moshe, you could only see as far as the beating. But when he came to me, I saw beyond the beating to the splendor and joy that would come afterwards."Chana Besser was born in post-war Germany, grew up in Chicago, and raised her daughters in Denver, Colorado. She made aliyah in 1995 to Safed, where she teaches, learns Torah and occasionally writes. She heard this story from Avraham Heller in Safed in 2001, who heard it from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach at the shiva for his twin brother, Rabbi Elimelech Carlebach in New York in 1990. A different version appears in "Shlomo's Stories", with less detail but with some commentary.
R. Yaakov Yitzchok Horowitz (1745 - 9 Av 1815), known as 'the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin', was the successor to R. Elimelech of Lizensk (1717-1787), and leader of the spread of chassidut in Poland. Many of his insights were published posthumously in Divrei Emmes, Zichron Zos, and Zos Zichron.
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