Weekly Chasidic Story #989 (s5777-07 / 13 Cheshvan 5777)

Better Wood and Stone

Although Rabbi Mordechai of Neshitz held a position of authority and honor, his congregants were far too poor to pay him a decent salary, and so, he was as poor as they were.

Connection: Weekly Reading of Vayeira -- hospitality


Better Wood and Stone


In the years before Rabbi Mordechai of Neshitz became known as a tzadik and leader of many chasidim, he was the rabbi of a small, poverty-stricken town far off the beaten track.

Although he held a position of authority and honor, his congregants were far too poor to pay him a decent salary, and so, he was as poor as they were. His wages were so meager that he could afford only the barest necessities of life, and to make matters worse, he received the money only sporadically. When times were really bad, he would visit the broken-down shop of the town pawnbroker who would give him a few coppers to tide him over.

Life in the small town was a difficult struggle, but Reb Mordechai's spiritual life was bright. The highlight of his life came when he would make his periodic visits to his rebbe, the tzadik, Rabbi Yechiel-Michil of Zlotchov.

Lacking the money to travel in comfort, Reb Mordechai would take up his walking stick and make his way to Zlotchov by foot.

With only a few crusts of bread to tide him over, he would sludge through muddy roads and forbidding woods. Only the thought of the spiritual feast or the desperately needed advice of his rebbe made the long trip bearable.

One wintry day, Reb Mordechai sat in his cold cottage, surrounded by his hungry wife and children, and of course, there was not a penny in the house. Their misery was compounded by the dampness of the many puddles which dotted his cottage, small ponds formed by the melting ice which dripped through the holes in the roof. What was there to do, other than to undertake the arduous journey to Reb Michil of Zlotchov.

It was a hungry, worn out Reb Mordechai who arrived one freezing morning in a village where a certain wealthy chasid lived.

Surely, he would provide a warm repast for the traveler. But, no, when Reb Mordechai knocked on the door and asked for food, the chasid replied, "Don't you know I'm marrying off my daughter tomorrow? I don't have time to cater to every wanderer who happens to pass by!"

Reb Mordechai was shocked, but he departed without a word and continued on his journey.

When he finally arrived in Zlotchov, he received a warm welcome, a warm meal and an invitation - to join the Rebbe at the wedding of a wealthy man in town the following day. Reb Mordechai happily agreed to join the celebration. Can you imagine his surprise when they pulled up in front of the same house he had left with a rumbling stomach the day before!

When the master of the house came to greet the Rebbe, he saw that the Rebbe's companion was none other than the traveler he had so rudely turned away from his house. Realizing that the "beggar" must also be someone special, the wealthy chasid was beside himself with remorse and shame, and he fell on the floor, pleading for forgiveness.

Reb Mordechai and the Rebbe observed his outburst in silence. When the man finally calmed down Reb Mordechai spoke: "The sin of refusing to provide food for a hungry Jew is so great that it reaches the highest heavens. When the pain of that Jew reaches Heaven, it causes a very severe decree to fall upon the one who caused the suffering."

The wealthy man began to plead even more bitterly, until Reb Mordechai said, "I forgive you, and I hope that G-d will do the same."

Then, however, Reb Michil spoke very solemnly: "We should all beg the Al-mighty to forgive, and if there should be an evil decree, let it all be vented on wood and stones."

Those in the house who heard glanced at one another nervously. Suddenly screams were heard: "Fire! Help!"

Everyone ran outdoors. They found people running from all sides carrying buckets of water. But it was impossible to douse the flames which had already consumed most of the surrounding buildings and warehouses, property of the wealthy chasid, who had suddenly lost nearly all of his vast worth.

And so it was, no sooner had the Rebbe spoken, than his words had come true. All of the property was destroyed; all the lives were saved.

The next day, before the two Rebbes were to leave, their host came to bid them farewell.

"Remember," said Reb Michil, "we must thank G-d for whatever happens to us, for were it not for His great mercies, our sins would consume us. When you failed to provide food to a hungry traveler, it was decreed in Heaven that your entire family die on the wedding day. But instead, through our intense prayers, the verdict was changed and only your property was lost."

The chasid lived to see his fortunes restored, but every day of his life was illuminated by the lesson he had learned. He became known as one of the most charitable men in his city, and his table provided nobly for the many guests from whom his blessings came.

Source: Compiled and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from //OhrTmimim.org and //lchaimweekly.org (#1019).

Connection: Weekly Reading - hospitality

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Mordechai of Neshchiz [1740 - 8 Nissan 1800] was descended from the Maharal of Prague and Don Yitzchak Abarbanel. He was a disciple of R. Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov. The ill and the unfortunate came to visit him from long distances, and it is recorded that he never uttered a negative word about another person. He actively supported settlement in Eretz Yisrael. His sayings were collected in Rishpei Eish.

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.

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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