Weekly Chasidic Story #778 (s5773-07 / 7 Cheshvan 5773)
A Beggar’s Blessings
When a few of his chasidim were going to Vilna, the Baal Shem Tov asked them to invite the former tailor to Mezibuz.
Connection: Weekly Reading–verse 12:2
During the time of the Baal Shem Tov, there were two tailors, let’s call them Reb Moshe and Reb Itzik, who lived in Vilna. These tailors were only average in their skills and sewed clothes of the poor people that lived nearby. Since there were so many other struggling tailors in their city, they decided to become partners and travel from one small village to another, plying their trade. Being that many of the small villages did not have a tailor, they were able to make a modest living.
After many years of travel, on their way back to Vilna with their earnings, they stopped in a small village. There they met a Jew that earned his living by collecting taxes for the local poritz (the nobleman that owned the town and surrounding area). Noticing that the tax collector seemed very downcast, they asked him what was wrong. At first he wouldn’t say, but after a bit of coaxing, he told them his story.
The daughter of the poritz was about to be married and he (the tax collector) was asked by the poritz to find some tailors to make the bridal gown. The tax collector brought in the finest, most fashionable tailors and materials from all the nearby large towns, but none of them satisfied the poritz or his wife and daughter. Now it was close to the time of the wedding and the poritz warned the tax collector that if he couldn’t find a decent tailor, he would be thrown out of the village, or worse.
The two tailors looked at each other and said, “Listen, we’re tailors and we can sew the bride’s wedding gown.”
The tax collector began to laugh. “You two?” I’ve brought the best tailors here and they weren’t good enough. So how can I recommend you two that sew clothes for the common folk? What can you possibly know about sewing a wedding gown for the daughter of a nobleman”?”
“That may be true”, answered the tailors, “but clearly it is divine providence that we are here, and what do you have to lose anyway? The poritz is behaving so crazily that he might even be crazy enough to like our work.”
The tax collector, accepting that he had no alternatives, introduced the two tailors to the poritz. To the amazement of all concerned, the poritz not only allowed them to sew a sample, but was thrilled with it when it was completed. He commissioned the tailors to make the entire bridal wardrobe and paid them well upon its completion. He also called in the tax collector to thank him for finding such excellent tailors and told him that he could keep his position.
When the wife of the poritz saw how happy the tailors were that the tax collector could keep his job, she called her husband to the side. “Look, if these Jews are so happy that the tax collector wasn’t thrown out of the village, why don’t you tell them about the last tax collector that we threw into the dungeon? Maybe they’ll pay a ransom to free him.”
The poritz told the tailors about the last tax collector that he imprisoned together with his family in his underground prison for not paying his dues. They had been there so long that they were begging to die.
“So how much does he owe you?” asked the tailors.
“Three hundred silver rubles,” answered the Poritz.
The first tailor, Reb Moshe looked at the other, “what do you think?”
“What can I say?” said Reb Itzik. “If it were not so much a huge amount I would agree. How wonderful it would be to make the great mitzvah of redeeming captives. But we’ve been working for years to get our money.”
“Listen, brother, said Reb Moshe, I still want to do it, if possible. So let’s dissolve our partnership and split our money.”
After dividing all the money, each one’s share, amazingly, was 300 silver rubles.
Reb Itzik, not wanting to give away all of his money, tried also to dissuade Reb Moshe from doing so. But to no avail.
Reb Moshe gave his three hundred silver rubles to the poritz and the pitiful family was released. The family thanked Reb Moshe profusely.
The two tailors left and returned to Vilna. Reb Itzik used his savings to open a prosperous store. Reb Moshe, now penniless, fell on hard times. He had to beg just to eat, and soon became very depressed.
One day, Reb Moshe stopped a business man, a flax merchant, and asked for money to buy food, and the man responded “What will I get in return for giving you charity?
“I’ll give you my blessings,” said Reb Moshe.
“The blessings of a fool” thought the businessman, as he gave him some change.
That day his business was with a supplier with whom it was always particularly difficult to close a deal. This time, however, when he arrived at the man’s farm, it went very smoothly. “Could it possibly have anything to do with the blessing of that silly depressed-looking pauper?” he wondered to himself, before dismissing the thought with a smile and a shrug. Still, the next time he had to deal with that same tough supplier, the merchant decided to find Reb Moshe, give him a donation and ask for his blessing again. Once more, the transaction went well and so the merchant decided to give a donation to Reb Moshe and receive his blessing before every major business transaction. Within a few months, he was significantly wealthy!
Up to now, the businessman had not told a soul about the blessings he got from the melancholy beggar. But then, he began telling his friends and family the secret of his success. Before long, the word had spread around and people thronged to get blessings from Reb Moshe. They found that his blessings really did work, much to their surprise and glee.
As time passed, the Baal Shem Tov happened to hear about Reb Moshe and his blessings. Subsequently, when a few of his chasidim were about to leave for Vilna, he asked them to invite Reb Moshe to visit him in Mezibuz. Reb Moshe was thrilled to receive the invitation and gladly accepted.
When they met, the Baal Shem Tov asked Reb Moshe, “Do you know why the gift of blessings had been given to you?” To this, Reb Moshe answered, “To tell you the truth, I have no idea.”
So the Baal Shem Tov asked Reb Moshe to recount his life story. Reb Moshe finally got around to telling the Baal Shem Tov the story about the wedding gown and his payment for the release of the prisoners of the poritz.
“That’s it!” exclaimed the Baal Shem Tov. He asked Reb Moshe to stay with him in Mezibuz and soon succeeded in healing him from his depression. He also taught him Torah in depth, to the extent that Reb Moshe also became a greatTzaddik. He even wrote a book explaining some of the mysteries of the Kabbalah.
Source: Freely adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Tzvi-Meir (Howard) Cohn on //baalshemtov.com and from the translation by Uri Kaploun of Rabbi S.Y. Zevin’s in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales on the Torah (Mesorah Publications).
Connection: Weekly Reading – verse 12:2 together with the explanation of Rashi.
Rabbi Yisrael, the Baal Shem Tov [“master of the good Name”], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He passed away on the festival of Shavuot in 1760. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava’at Harivash, published by Kehos. Also, translations from Sefer Baal Shem Tov and Kesser Shem Tov can be found on //baalshemtov.com.
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.