Weekly Chasidic Story #670 (s5771-04 / 21 Tishrei 5771)
A Rebbe’s Shocking Fee
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev suddenly turned to the teacher of small boys and said, “If you would like, I will give you three words of advice.”
Connection: Seasonal – 201st yahrzeit
After 12 long years, his exile of penury was finally over. Forced by debt to leave his family and his small inn, the Jew had worked in a distant town as a melamed, a teacher of young boys. Now, having painfully amassed 900 rubles, he was anxious to return home and resume his life.
Being a chasid, the melamed first stopped in Berdichev, to secure the blessing of his rebbe, the great tzadik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. After prayers, the tzadik greeted the melamed warmly. Then, much to the melamed‘s surprise, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak said, “If you would like, I will give you three words of advice. But for each, you must pay well. The first will cost you 300 rubles.”
The melamed was shocked by the rebbe’s request, but his faith didn’t waver. And after all, isn’t it written, “Words of Torah are better than gold”? He laid the money on the table.
When a man doesn’t know which way to turn, he should always go to the right!” the rebbe said. And then added, “Now, for the next word of advice, you must pay another 300 rubles.”
The melamed felt another tremor of shock at these words. What was the meaning of this costly advice? And another 300! But he couldn’t refuse his rebbe, and so, he counted out the money.
“An old husband with a young wife is half a death,” said Reb Levi Yitzchak. “And if you wish to hear the last word, you must pay the same amount once again.”
This final demand left the poor melamed paralyzed. His years of struggle, his long awaited home-coming…. With trembling fingers he opened his purse and spilled the contents on the table. But his sadness soon dissipated and was replaced by a strange feeling of joy. Come what may, he had obeyed his beloved rebbe.
“Remember, my son, to believe only what you see with your own eyes. This is my final advice. Now, go in peace.”
The bewildered chasid began wandering the surrounding streets, when he heard the cry, “Catch the thieves. There’s a price on their heads! Have they gone to the right or the left?” the pursuants asked the melamed.
After only a moment of hesitation, the melamed spoke up, “To the right!”
Later that afternoon, the melamed had 600 rubles in hand – his share of the reward for catching the thieves. Happily, he headed for home, but as it was nightfall, he decided to stay the night at an inn. The elderly innkeeper was about to admit him when a young woman appeared and sternly turned him away, saying, “We have no room, go elsewhere!”
“An old man with a young wife,” the melamed thought to himself and he resolved to take his rest huddled in the courtyard of the inn. Around midnight, he was startled by a wagon from which alighted two men, one carrying a glinting sword.
Emboldened by his rebbe’s words, the melamed yelled, “Murderers, murderers, catch them!” The inn was roused, and the would-be killers fled into the darkness. The grateful old man, who had suspected a plot, rewarded the melamed with 300 rubles.
There was nothing left to do but to continue on his way. He arrived in his old town to find it unchanged. However, no one recognized him, so profoundly had his years of hardship altered his features. His inquiries about the innkeeper who had left many years ago to work as a melamed brought knowing looks from the townsfolk. “Yes,” said one man, “we remember him. A fine family. But, sad to say, his wife has gone off the straight path.”
That night the melamed stood outside his house. In the pale moonlight he saw a young man stealthily enter the house. Hours later he left as secretly as he had come. And if it weren’t for the echo of his rebbe’s words, he would have left his home again, but this time, forever.
The following day he returned, laden with gifts, and was greeted with a welcome he had pictured in his imagination so many times. Only now, his heart was wracked with pain.
When he and his wife were finally alone, the melamed turned to her and said, “The whole town is talking about you. Why, I have even seen with my own eyes…”
“Stop!” his wife pleaded. “Have you forgotten our youngest son? Didn’t you notice that he is not here? The Duke seized him years ago as security on our loan. All of my weeping and begging were to no avail. But we have been blessed with a good child. Each night he comes to me, and I teach him a little bit – some Torah, some blessings. Very little, but he knows he is a Jew.”
The melamed wept in wonder and awe at all that had transpired. For it was wonder enough, thought the melamed, that my rebbe had the vision to see how the events would unfold, but he also had the wisdom to see into my heart. For had he not demanded so dear a price for his words, I do not think I would have been able to follow his advice. But the greatest wonder of all is that G-d enabled me, a simple Jew, to give up my entire fortune when I would have more easily surrendered my very life.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition on www.lchaimweekly.org (#962), with permission.
Connection: Seasonal – 201st yahrzeit
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak (Deberamdiger) of Berditchev (1740-25 Tishrei 1809) is one of the most popular rebbes in chasidic history. He was a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. He is best known for his love for every Jew and his active efforts to intercede for them against (seemingly) adverse heavenly decrees. Many of his teachings are contained in the posthumously published, Kedushat Levi.
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.