Weekly Chasidic Story #845(s5774-23 / 3 Adar Rishon 5774)

A Pricey Pinch of Snuff

Only in unusual cases would the Baal Shem Tov instruct him to increase his charity allotment.

Connection: Weekly Reading (end) Ex. Ch. 30:1-10 – the Incense Altar

It happened when a certain very wealthy and highly respected individual was sitting in his honored place in shul. He took his fancy snuffbox from his pocket, opened it to take a sniff, and then offered to everyone seating close by to share the pleasure. At the far end of the shul sat a poverty-stricken man with a strong desire for some snuff. Approaching the rich man, he put out his hand toward the snuffbox, but in that instant its owner had snapped the lid shut. The poor man returned to his place, humiliated and deeply shamed.

From that day the fortune of the wealthy man tottered dramatically, while the impoverished man’s mazal began a steady upsurge. In what seemed like no time at all, the poor man had become fabulously wealthy, while the rich man was reduced to a pauper knocking on doors. Because his name had been known far and wide, the townsfolk were accustomed to assist him generously. But he was too embarrassed to remain dependent on the people who knew him in his glory, so he began to travel from town to town in a group with other beggars.

One day the beggar band arrived in the town of the Baal Shem Tov. According to the prevailing custom, his attendant distributed a fixed sum to each needy person. Only in unusual cases would the Besht instruct him to increase the allotment. When the attendant proffered the coins to the formerly wealthy Jew, the latter refused to accept the money. He was accustomed to receiving more, he explained. The attendant told him he would speak to the Baal Shem Tov, and do according to his instructions. And indeed, upon his return from the Besht’s room, he gave a considerable sum to the pauper, The man, however, was still not satisfied. He stubbornly demanded to meet the Baal Shem Tov personally.

When he was granted entrance, he told the Rebbe that he had once been very wealthy, but the wheel of fortune had turned against him. He asked for advice.

“Do you recall the episode in shul with your snuffbox and the pauper?” asked the Baal Shem Tov. The pauper remembered that Yes, from that day on his fortune waned. The Besht explained that it had been decreed in Heaven he would have to change roles with the poor man he had slighted.

“Is there nothing I can do?” asked the poor man.

“The advice for you,” said the Baal Shem Tov, “is to request a pinch of tobacco from the rich man – the former pauper. If he doesn’t honor your request, your wealth will be restored; if he honors it, the wealth will remain with him.”

The pauper kept the matter to himself. He traveled alone to the city where the rich man resided. Soon, he learned, the rich man would be celebrating his daughter’s marriage. He waited until the wedding, which he attended and found a place among the other beggars.

In the middle of the festivities, the rich man rose to dance with the other celebrators. “Now is the chance!” thought the pauper, drawing near to ask for some tobacco. The rich man stopped dancing at once and, taking his silver snuffbox from his pocket, offered some to the pauper. The latter fainted on the spot….

When they revived the pauper he told the wealthy man the whole story, including the words of the Baal Shem Tov. He concluded, weeping: “Evidently they’ve decreed that I remain a pauper…”

Said the rich man: “G-d forbid! I take full responsibility upon myself for all your needs.” He immediately gave him a large sum of cash for his family expenses, and subsequently every week transferred a sum to cover all his expenditures.*
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the translation of ? from Likutei Sippurim.
? Sorry, my records are confused. I don’t recall whose rendition this is.

* Editor’s note: According to another version (Klapholtz), instead of a weekly grant, he offered him a partnership in his business.

Connection: Weekly Reading (end) Ex. Ch. 30:1-10 – the Incense Altar

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer [of blessed memory: 18 Elul 5458- 6 Sivan 5520 (Sept. 1698 – June 1760 C.E.)], the Baal Shem Tov [“master of the good Name”-often referred to as “the Besht” for short], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed his identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 5494 (1734 C.E.). 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.


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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