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Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part V)


Teller-Rabbi-Hanoch

Baruch, from the village of Radovitz, was a sharecropper who barely eked out a living. His income was at the mercy of the infamously cruel Poritz, who owned the Radovitz environs. This Poritz had a repertoire of ways to afflict the area’s Jews, and he never eased in his torturous exploitation.

Reb Baruch was not a talmid chacham, but he was a fearer of Heaven and he accepted his lot without complaint. He would travel as often as possible to Lizhensk, where he would bask in the aura of Reb Elimelech’s holiness.

Baruch’s pitiful financial situation did nothing to ease the predicament of his daughters, who were of marriageable age and no fish were biting. The years rolled on and the girls were becoming spinsters worthy of concern. Baruch’s wife was in a constant state of panic over their plight.

“Have faith,” Baruch assured her, but his assurance was of no solace. In fact, his nonchalance inflamed her.

It would never occur to Baruch to disturb Reb Elimelech, who dealt with lofty spiritual matters, over his mundane, petty issue of matches for his daughters. His wife, however, looked at matters differently.

One year, as the Yamim Noraim were approaching, she forbade her husband from traveling to Lizhensk for the holidays, unless he promised he would present his daughters’ situation to the rebbe. As she was well aware of her husband’s soft nature, she threatened that if this request was not faithfully fulfilled he would never see Lizhensk again!

Despite his thorough distaste for his mission, Baruch upheld his word and articulated his daughters’ plight when he greeted Reb Elimelech. He handed the rebbe a kvittel detailing the situation, and Reb Elimelech’s only response was, “For the time being, remain with us here.”

Reb Baruch did as the rebbe instructed and stayed in Lizhensk from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkos. Finally, when he hadn’t even a penny left, he bade farewell from Reb Elimelech on Motzaei Shabbos Bereishis. At that occasion, Reb Elimelech pressed three copper coins into Reb Baruch’s hand and wished him blessings and prosperity.

Reb Baruch was confused. Since when does a rebbe distribute money? But Reb Elimelech had already extended his hand in farewell and Baruch was pushed in the direction of the door by the people swarm of chassidim taking leave of the rebbe.

Reb Baruch headed back to Radovitz and was just approaching the turn to his village when he heard his name beckoned from behind. Baruch turned around and saw a young man who was a regular at Reb Elimelech’s court. “The rebbe has requested that you return,” he said, making the Radovitzer more perplexed than ever.

But even this paled when Reb Elimelech requested Baruch to return one of the coins. “I can only afford to give you two,” Reb Elimelech explained.

Baruch could not – nor would he ever attempt to – fathom what Reb Elimelech had intended. With perfect faith he set off again on his journey with two coins in his pocket, a gift from the rebbe to acquire success.

As he neared Radovitz he encountered three peasant youth wishing to sell him a handsome leather case with a silver, ornate frame. It was the kind of case that the Poritzes used to transport their money. Baruch opened up the case to discover that it was full of multicolored ruble notes of various denominations.

The illiterate youth were willing to sell the case for a song: just three coins, so that there would be an even distribution among them. Reb Baruch frantically searched his pockets, but all he could find were the two coins that Reb Elimelech had given him. What to do?

Reb Baruch proposed that since he only had two coins he would buy the contents of the quality case, that is the colored paper, and they could hold on to the case. The ignorant boys winked at each other regarding the killing they were about to make. Only the case had value in their eyes, and this foolish wayfarer was willing to pay two-thirds of its worth for mere colored paper!

The deal was consummated and the boys walked off with their empty case with the ornate silver trim. They made themselves a warming bonfire and sat down to celebrate their queer business success. However, their celebration did not last for long. They could not work out how to divide two coins and one elaborate case among three individuals.

Their disagreement escalated and they came to blows. The biggest of the ruffians decided to institute a policy of “all or nothing,” and he tossed the leather case into the fire.

Just then the Radovitz Poritz galloped over. The very sight of this evil man was enough to make Baruch’s blood freeze, and the same could be said for all of Radovitzian Jewry. The Poritz got down from his horse and turned to the youth and asked, “Did any of you come across a leather case I lost in this area?”

Baruch overheard the entire conversation and despaired of the goldmine that Providence had just placed in his lap. He also realized that the money was about to land him into big trouble. He looked for a place where he could quickly ditch the money and run, but there was no hiding place in sight. Just like his blood, Baruch froze where he was, in earshot of the Poritz and the youth.

“Have you seen my case with the ornamental silver trim?” the Poritz repeated. One of the youth pointed to the bonfire. The Poritz’s eyes followed the finger and at that moment there was a horrible resemblance between the fire and his face.

The Poritz saw a silver frame smoldering in the flames and he became apoplectic. He poked a stick in the fire but couldn’t find a thing except for leather crisps; there was no trace of the cash – money that had been extorted from defenseless Jews.

Heartbroken that his fortune was consumed by flame, the Poritz slowly trudged back to his horse and headed back to Radovitz.

Baruch remained where he was, slack-jawed at what had occurred. So this is why Reb Elimelech had taken back the third coin!

Reb Baruch’s perfect faith was rewarded as he was finally able to pay for his sharecropping and marry off his daughters with dignity. His house became a headquarters for chesed and tzedakahin that region, in accord with the blessing of Reb Elimelech.

(To be continued) Chodesh Tov ─ have a pleasant month!

The new documentary, “Reb Elimelech and the Legacy of Brotherhood,” will be featured in premieres across the U.S. in the weeks of Reb Elimelech’s yahrzeit, March 2012.

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