Israel: Defying the Odds
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Rabbi Meir of Premishlanwas such a holy person that many other holy men in their own right came to seek his advice and blessing. A certaintzaddik once came to see Rabbi Meir, asking for his blessing because he planned to settle in Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Meir listened and then said,
“And how do you expect to raise the money for this journey?”
“I hope to visit some relatives. When I tell them of my plans, I am sure that they will help me raise the money.”
Rabbi Meir was sunk in thought. He seemed disturbed. “Your idea does not appeal to me. You will be wasting months of precious time which could be far better devoted to Torah study. But I see that you are determined to go. Let me suggest something: why don’t you stay here with me for some time first? I guarantee to raise the money for your traveling expenses.”
The visitor thought it over, then decided to accept the offer. The rebbe did not dismiss him, but told his attendant to show in the next person who was waiting to see him.
A rich man opened the door and was about to enter, when suddenly he spied the man already there. He hesitated on the threshold. Still, the attendant had told him to enter. Was there a mistake? He stood there, not knowing whether to advance or retreat. The passing moments seemed like an eternity. Finally Rabbi Meir spoke, telling him to enter.
“I have a story to tell you,” he said. Then, turning to the visiting tzaddik, he added, “But I would like you to hear it too.” Once again facing the rich man, he continued, “It has a worthwhile moral that will do both of you good.
“Many years ago, there lived a very prosperous Jew who owned much property. But Avigdor was a very stingy person, a miser. He never let a person into his home. If a poor man came knocking at the door, begging for something to eat, he would tell him to go to his neighbor, Matisyahu, a worthy, G‑d-fearing Jew. ‘He will feel far more comfortable there,’ Avigdor would say to himself.
“And indeed, this was true. While Matisyahu was not a man of means like his wealthy neighbor, still his family always had food on their table. And there was always room for one person more, no matter how shabby or dirty the visitor. Reb Matisyahu’s home and heart were big enough for everyone in need.
“All of the townspeople felt a lot of respect for Matisyahu. He was so good, so kind . . . so hospitable! But if you think that they held him in higher esteem that the stingy Avigdor, you are wrong. It is human nature to respect a man with money, and they all treated Avigdor with a special reverence, even though they knew how stingy he was.
“The injustice of this caused turmoil in heaven. The angels came before the heavenly court demanding that Avigdor be stripped of his wealth, and that these riches be given to none other than Matisyahu the neighbor, who had never denied anyone his help or hospitality. But before the sentence was carried out, Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the prophet) came before the court and said, ‘A person should not be judged just by hearsay. I will descend to earth and give Avigdor one last chance. I must see if he really is such a miser.’
“So, Eliyahu disguised himself as a poor man and descended to earth. He knocked on Avigdor’s door. A servant answered. When he saw the poor, ragged, shivering man, he shooed him away. ‘Quick, be gone! Go, before my master sees you. He is a mean, cruel person. If he finds you here, he will throw both of us out of the house.’ He tried to slam the door shut, but the poor man had his foot in the doorway. ‘I won’t take anything. Just let me warm up by the stove for a few minutes. Don’t you see how cold it is outside?’
“They were still arguing when Avigdor himself arrived. ‘What’s going on here?’ he asked. ‘What do you want?’ he demanded of the ragged stranger.
“The servant was so terrified at having been caught speaking to a beggar that he was struck dumb with fear. But the stranger showed no awe of the master.
“‘I was asking if I could come in and warm up. I wanted a small glass of shnapps(strong liquor) for my freezing bones.’
“‘You must be out of your mind. This is not a hotel, nor a charity hostel!’ He turned to his servant, saying, ‘Throw this man out at once!’
“Even though he had wanted to be kind, the servant was forced to take the poor man by the lapels and turn him out the door. He shut it tightly behind him.
“Eliyahu Hanavi stood outside in the freezing weather, weeping, pleading to be let in just for a few minutes. When he saw that there was no reaction from within, that Avigdor had hardened his heart and was ignoring him, he really wept. He was weeping for Avigdor’s soul.
“Eliyahu returned to the heavenly court. He did not have good news. There was nothing he could say in Avigdor’s defense. The case rested. Avigdor would have to lose his fortune, as had been ruled.”
After a brief pause, Rabbi Meir continued his story. He raised his voice for emphasis.
“When I, Meir, heard of this sentence, I rushed forward to defend this Avigdor. ‘How can one mete out such dire punishment without warning?’ I asked the heavenly court. ‘I want to warn Avigdor,’ I declared. ‘I will not let him be trapped like a poor helpless fly in a spiderweb. Every Jew deserves a second chance! Allow me to be the court’s messenger. If Avigdor agrees to give four hundred rubles to this righteous Jew standing here for his traveling expenses to Eretz Yisrael, and if he resolves to mend his ways, he will get his second chance. But if,’ and here he lowered his voice, ‘G‑d forbid, he ignores this warning and persists in his stingy, evil ways, he will lose his entire fortune and become dependent upon the kindness of others for the rest of his days!’”
Rabbi Meir was silent. Turning to the rich man still standing in the door, he continued, “Avigdor is here right now. Let us ask him what he says.”
Avigdor could not speak. He burst into tears, then fell to the floor in a faint. The rebbe and the visitor tried to revive him. When he came back to consciousness, he turned to the rebbe, saying, “You are so right, Rebbe; that is exactly what happened! I sinned! I have been evil! But I will turn over a new leaf, I promise. But please, have mercy!”
He reached in his pocket and drew out his purse. He counted out four hundred rubles and gave them to the other man. “Please,” he begged, “when you reach Jerusalem, pray for me!”
With the four hundred rubles, the tzaddik and his family were able to go directly to Eretz Yisrael without delay.
As for Avigdor, his home became an open house for all wayfarers, troubled people and beggars. His reputation as a generous baal tzedakah (charity giver) traveled far and wide, and he used his great wealth to help his less-fortunate brethren in every way.
Connection to the weekly Torah reading: Plagues
Adapted from Tales of Tzaddikim (ArtScroll) by G. MaTov
Copyright 2003 by KabbalaOnline.org. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, unless with permission, in writing, from Kabbalah Online.
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