Weekly Chasidic Story #701 (s5771-35 / 28 Nisan 5771)

Who Goes Up First

The spinning of the wheel for certain wealthy and poor followers of the Rebbe Maharash of Lubavitch.


Connection: Seasonal – Tifereret sh’b’Tiferet & 171st anniversary of birth


Before Passover 5640 (1880), two chasidim arrived in Lubavitch, to consult with the Rebbe Maharash. The first chasid, Michoel-Aharon Pisarevsky, though not very knowledgeable in Torah and Chasidic teachings, had a kind heart and was always concerned for others. The second chasid, Leib Posen, was a wealthy chasid from Vitebsk, who gavetzedakah and occupied himself with other deeds of kindness, but all within a certain limit.

When Michoel-Aharon entered for his private audience with the Rebbe, the first subject he mentioned was the situation of his friend Nachman Zeltzer. He described the family’s poor financial state and the children who were of marriageable age, and then pleaded for mercy on his friend’s behalf. The Rebbe gave his blessing that G-d should help him, Michoel-Aharon boldly begged the Rebbe that the blessing be a firm commitment.

Only after that did he describe his own dire situation. The Rebbe responded, “It seems you’re even worse off than Reb Nachman!” Michoel-Aharon answered, “About myself, I know I don’t deserve anything better, so it is forbidden to complain; I have to be satisfied with what I have.”

The Rebbe covered his eyes, sat in divine meditation for a short while and then said, “It is said that if one prays for his fellow Jew, his own prayers are answered first. May the Al-mighty grant you good fortune!”

Not long after, both Nachman and Michoel-Aharon became wildly successful in their businesses and very wealthy.

When the second chasid, Leib Posen, entered the Rebbe’s room, he spoke at length about his personal matters, relating his situation and asked for a blessing. Afterwards, he sighed and then reported the situation of his friend, the admirable chasid, Rabbi Shmuel Brin. The latter, despite being a very active and successful businessman, studied daily and in-depth a portion of Talmud, Shulchan Aruch – Choshen Mishpat (advanced Jewish monetary laws) and Chasidic thought. Lately, though, his business had not been doing well, and also he had been cheated by swindlers, causing him to fall deeply into debt.

Reb Leib related Reb Shmuel’s misfortunes and concluded, “Of course, it is all from Heaven, but he still is to be pitied.” The Rebbe again covered his eyes and sank deep in thought, but did not reply.

Soon afterwards, a fire broke out on the street where Posen’s storage houses stood, causing him to lose tens of thousands of rubles, a major fortune. At the same time, another fire burned his shop, causing him additional loss.

As soon as he could he traveled to the Rebbe, and upon attaining private audience began crying profusely, telling the Rebbe of his great losses. Looking at him piercingly, the Rebbe said, “When tragedy befell Shmuel Brin and left him penniless, you accepted it calmly; but now, when it has come to your merchandise, you cry bitter tears. Your ‘he’ and your ‘I’ are two separate things.”

Reb Leib took his leave of the Rebbe. Standing outdoors, he now understood that his hardships had come about because of his attitude towards his friend Shmuel. After wandering around for two days in a daze, not knowing what to do, he returned to the Rebbe’s room and asked to be guided on a path of tshuvah (repentance, improvement), and took upon himself to give more priority to the welfare of another.

The Rebbe Maharash quoted the Baal Shem Tov that when one passes judgment on a fellow Jew, whether positive or negative, he is simultaneously passing judgment on himself. For example, if one says that another deserves punishment from Heaven for what he has done, he is causing charges to be pressed against himself, while one who shares in the anguish of a friend is compensated.

The Rebbe then instructed him to lend Shmuel Brin three thousand rubles, and for himself he should proceed to Moscow to buy merchandise for his shop. The Rebbe blessed him and he returned home, ready to do as instructed.

However, upon arriving at R. Shmuel Brin’s home, he found out that his friend had traveled to Lubavitch. Although he was anxious to travel to Moscow for his own purchases, he was afraid to deviate from the exact order of the Rebbe’s instructions. Finally, on Shabbat eve, when he entered the shul, he saw Shmuel, who was in a joyous mood and surrounded by chasidim, listening excitedly to what he was saying. Leib felt envious of him, for despite his losses, he looked like the happiest man.

The gabbai quieted everyone and Rabbi Shmuel reviewed aloud the Chasidic discourse he had heard from the Rebbe during his recent visit. The following day, he reviewed it publically another two times.

Shortly after Shabbat ended, Leib Posen hurried to Brin’s house to give him the money. Warmly welcoming him, Rabbi Shmuel tried to raise his friend’s spirits by explaining the folk saying, ‘after a fire one prospers.’ Leib was moved by the way Shmuel was able to console him, when he himself had suffered recently from great financial loss as well.

Brin then told him of his initial feelings of despair when he had found out about the calamity that had befallen him. However, not long after, a special messenger came to him with a message from the Rebbe, telling him that he knows of his circumstances but does not agree with the way he is responding to the situation.

Shmuel continued, “I traveled to Lubavitch and received instructions to buy readymade rafts, and a blessing for good resale and a side income as well. Following these instructions, I traveled to Riga to arrange the order of some good-quality rafts. On the trip returning home, I met a Jew looking for a knowledgeable arbitrator to settle a dispute between two businessmen. I agreed and after successfully sorting out the matter, I was paid handsomely.

“How will you pay those who will deliver the rafts?” Leib asked. Shmuel reassured him that he has the Rebbe’s blessing so certainly G-d will help.

Not knowing how to properly broach the topic, Posen blurted out, “Don’t worry about the money! I’ve brought you a nice sum for that. I am prepared to lend you three thousand rubles!”

But then, much to his surprise, his friend refused to accept it. Leib then told him the whole story. Shmuel Brin calmly answered, “You have done what the Rebbe has told you to do, and our sages assure us that G-d considers a good intention [unable to be completed through no fault of the doer] as if it were actually done. Nevertheless, I am not accepting the money.”

That same Saturday night Leib Posen traveled to Lubavitch, and when he was able to speak to the Rebbe, complained about Shmuel Brin’s refusal, and left the bundle of rubles on the table. Early Monday morning, the Rebbe’s attendant arrived at Brin’s house in Vitebsk with a sealed envelope and a written note from the Rebbe: “I am sending you three thousand rubles until after selling the rafts. May you be blessed with success!”

Rabbi Shmuel accepted the money, bought and sold the rafts, and earned a large profit. At the same time, Leib Posen traveled to Moscow where the merchants agreed to give him merchandise on credit. Moreover, he won thousands of rubles in a lottery and on the advice of the Rebbe, bought and sold flax for an enormous profit.

These four chasidim continued to enjoy much success and remained wealthy throughout their life.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from a passage in Lma’an Yishme’u #49, <avreicheilubavitch@gmail.com>, translated fromHaTamim vol. 7, p. 103.

Connection: Seasonal – 177th anniversary of the birth of the Rebbe Maharash.

Biographic note:
Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (2 Iyar 1834 -13 Tishrei 1882), the fourth Lubavitch Rebbe, known as “the Rebbe Maharash,” was the seventh and youngest son of his predecessor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, “the Tsemach Tsedek.”.


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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