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
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
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
"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
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.
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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