# 334 (s5764-26/ 24 Adar)

The Penance

Rabbi Yechile-Michil of Zlotchov was shocked, but he said nothing to no one.

The Penance

It once happened that a simple wagon-driver who lived near Zlotchov did not manage to come home on time one Friday, and by the time he reached his home the Sabbath had already begun. Deeply distressed, he told the local rabbi of the misfortune which had occurred to him for the first time in his life, and asked him to prescribe a penance with which he could atone for his transgression. Seeing how grieved he was over what had befallen him, the rabbi gave him a lenient reply: if he would bring a pound of candles to the synagogue in honor of Shabbos, his sin would be atoned.

Rabbi Yechiel Michil of Zlotchov was then a young man, and he used to spend all day studying in the beis midrash study hall of his hometown. Hearing of this incident, Reb Michil was shocked: for the violation of Shabbos - a pound of candles?! But he mentioned the subject to no one.

On Friday the wagon-driver duly brought his pound of tallow candles and put them where they belonged. But after he left, before the holy day had even begun, a dog broke into the shul and chewed them up. The wagon-driver was upset by this, but when he told the rabbi that his repentance had apparently not been accepted in heaven, the rabbi reassured him that it was only a mishap and nothing to worry about; he should simply bring a fresh set of candles on the following Friday.

This time, however, after he had lit them on Friday afternoon in honor of Shabbos, they melted so quickly that by sunset nothing was left of them. Brokenhearted, he once again called on the rabbi who told him to try again the following week. But as soon as Shabbos had started, a sudden gust of wind blew them out.

More convinced than ever that his penitence was being rejected by heaven, he poured out his heart to the rabbi, who said: "It seems to me that that young man who sits and learns in shul is the one that is spoiling things for you. I would suggest therefore that you make the journey to the Baal Shem Tov and tell him the whole story."

When the wagon-driver arrived at Mezhibuzh, which was not far away, the Baal Shem Tov answered, as follows: "The penance that your rabbi gave you was appropriate. Next Friday take a pound of candles to shul once more, and I promise you that this time nothing will go wrong. And here is a letter which I would ask you to pass on to this young man called Reb Michil."

The wagon-driver came home with a happy heart, delivered the letter to Reb Michil, and when Friday came he did as instructed. And in fact this time nothing went wrong: the candles burned brightly in honor of Shabbos.

Meanwhile, when Reb Michil opened his letter-it was on a Tuesday or a Wednesday - he saw that the Baal Shem Tov requested him to visit Mezhibuzh, so he hired a wagon and set out without delay. The journey should have taken him only a few hours, but the horses strayed from the dirt track and wandered in all directions for days on end, until by the time they reached Mezhibuzh on Friday, there were only a few moments left before sunset and Reb Michil was extremely distraught.

When Reb Yechiel Michil approached the Baal Shem Tov, the tzaddik said: "Reb Michil, I have saved you from violating the Sabbath...And now learn your lesson: that if a Jew through a mishap comes to transgress Shabbos, and he is earnestly grieved by it to the point that his heart is broken within him, then one pound of candles is quite enough penance for him."

[Selected / adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by our esteemed colleague Uri Kaploun from Sipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yechiel Michil of Zolotchov (1731-25 Elul 1786), son of Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch, was introduced by his father to the Baal Shem Tov at a young age. He also became a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. It is said that his sermons consistently aroused his listeners to repentance. Many of his teachings are collected in Mayim Rabim.


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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