Weekly Chasidic Story #805 (s5773-34 / 19 Iyar 5773)
A Rebbe’s Debt to a Hitchhiker
“I will believe that you are a Chasid if you will pay me the 20 gold coins your Rebbe owes me.”
Connection: Seasonal–140th yahrzeit of R. Mottel of Chernobyl
As he approached Chernobyl, the chasid was in a happy mood. And why not? Silently he counted his blessings: a loving wife and children, a flourishing business, and soon he would be in the presence of his holy Rebbe, the famous Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl.
With these thoughts in mind he was enjoying the scenery, when suddenly he spotted a poor Jew trudging along with a bundle on his shoulders. Stopping the carriage he offered the traveler a lift, which was gratefully accepted.
For the first few miles both men were silent. But after a few minutes the poor Jew turned to the Chasid and asked him where he was headed. “To Chernobyl,” the man replied, “to my holy Rebbe.”
“Aha!” the traveler said with a smile. “So you’re going to Mottele.”
The Chasid was immediately offended. How dare this shabby-looking fellow refer to his holy Rebbe in such a familiar manner, as if they were intimates! On second thought, he decided to remain quiet.
“Are you indeed one of Mottele’s chasidim?” the stranger persisted. “Yes,” the man replied curtly in an attempt to end the conversation. “What chutzpa!” the Chasid thought to himself. Under other circumstances he would have put this impudent clod in his place, but he had no wish to ruin the journey further.
But the stranger was clearly in the mood to talk. “How do I know that you’re really a chasid?” he inquired. The chasid was very surprised by the question and said nothing.
“A man is measured by his deeds, and especially by his pocket,” the stranger continued. “I’ll tell you what – if you will pay me the 20 gold coins your Rebbe owes me, I will believe that you are his chasid.”
The chasid was shocked. What kind of nonsense was this? “If you can prove to me that my Rebbe owes you the money I will gladly pay his debt,” he blurted out. The stranger smiled and fished around in his knapsack until he found a piece of paper: a promissory note for 20 gold coins, signed by the tzadik of Chernobyl. The chasid examined it carefully. Yes, it really did appear to be the Rebbe’s signature, and try as he might he couldn’t find any evidence of forgery. Nodding his head, he folded the note several times and placed it in his snuffbox. He then took out his moneybag, counted out exactly 20 gold coins and pressed them into the stranger’s hand.
The rest of the journey was conducted in silence. On the outskirts of Chernobyl they reached a crossroads and the stranger asked to be let off. Before he climbed down from the carriage, he thanked the chasid for his kindness and blessed him with success.
The chasid watched the stranger walk off into the distance. Within minutes the man and his bundle were no bigger than a tiny dot that eventually disappeared over the horizon.
The chasid took out the promissory note and inspected it even more closely, but again could find no fault with it. By that time, however, he realized that he had arrived in Chernobyl. With more important things to attend to, he slipped the note back into his snuffbox and promptly forgot about it.
It was a busy Friday when he arrived, and Chernobyl was filled with hundreds of other Jews who had come to bask in the Rebbe’s presence. Shabbat was spent in a state of spiritual elevation. To the chasid, the opportunity to pray with the Rebbe and hear his words of Torah was nothing less than a foretaste of Paradise.
When Shabbat was over the chasid requested a private audience with the Rebbe. Oddly, the first thing the Rebbe asked him was whether he had any snuff with him. “Certainly,” the chasid replied, immediately proffering his snuffbox. As he opened it he saw the note he had forgotten about, and after a moment’s hesitation handed it over to the Rebbe, who had noticed him pause.
“How did this come into your hands?” the Rebbe asked him. The chasid related the whole unlikely story of the stranger who had claimed that the Rebbe owed him money, and was shocked when the Rebbe verified it as true. “As Divine Providence has led you two to meet, I can reveal to you that that stranger is one of the 36 hidden tzadikim in every generation in whose merit the world exists,” he explained, adding that he had taken it upon himself to uphold him financially.
An involuntary shiver passed through the Chasid’s body. A hidden tzadik had traveled in his carriage – and he hadn’t known! He had even mistaken him for an impudent clod….
Noting his distress, the Rebbe eased his mind. “Don’t worry, you’ve done nothing wrong,” he reassured him. “If you were chosen to share in the mitzva of supporting a hidden tzadik, there is no doubt that it is a good sign.”
From that day on, each year during his annual visit the Chasid gave the Rebbe 20 gold coins for the hidden tzadikim. And for the rest of his life he hoped to meet stranger again. But it never happened.
Source: Supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition on //lchaimweekly.org (#668), with permission.
Connection: Seasonal-176th yahrzeit of the 2nd Chernobyler Rebbe.
Rabbi Mordechai (“Mottel”) of Chernobyl [1770 – 20 Iyar 1837], successor to his father, Rabbi Nachum, was the son-in-law of Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin and subsequently of Rabbi David Seirkes, an important disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. His eight sons all became major Chasidic leaders. One of them, Yaakov Yisrael Twerski of Cherkassy, the first Hornsteipel Rebbe, married Devora Leah, one of the six daughters of Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (match arranged by the two grandfather-Rebbes), in order to maximize the possibilities for fulfillment of the prediction, “the Moshiach will be born of the elder disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch or the youngest.”
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.