In a little town in the Ukraine there lived a widow and her only daughter, who was of marriageable age. The two earned the few kopeks needed for their survival by sewing tachrichim and candles. All week they ate only a piece of black bread with salt and with the addition of salted herring on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim. But they never complained. Only one thing bothered the widow: her daughter was single.
“When, O G-d, will I have the good fortune to see my daughter married and have the merit of seeing grandchildren?” she would ask the heavens every day, as if expecting a reply. But as the days rolled on and no husband appeared on the scene, the woman grew more and more despondent.
One winter morning a terrible blizzard raged, the weather dropped to below zero, and the woman became desperately ill. There was no wood in the house to make a fire and the water in their buckets became solid ice. Even the windows were covered with a solid sheet of ice. The young daughter, suffering from malnutrition, didn’t have the strength to chop wood to heat the fire. The dying woman pleaded for a drop of water, but all of it was frozen and the girl quietly began crying, “Father in heaven, Father of orphans and widows, please help!”
At that moment the door opened and in came a tall man, dressed in tattered clothing. He carried a bag on his back and a walking stick in his hands. His beard and hair were caked with snow and ice. Dropping his bag, he clapped his hands and feet trying to get the numbing coldness out of them.
“Anybody home?” he announced, not seeing the woman and the girl lying in their beds.
“There is a blizzard raging and I am happy to find shelter in this weather.”
When his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness he noticed the sick woman and her daughter and immediately surmised the situation. Without saying another word, he walked outside and began chopping wood. He reentered the house and soon built a raging fire. Taking off his coat, he placed it over the shivering girl who was lying on the bed. The mother was already covered with a heavy quilt. Peacefulness and serenity had descended upon the world. He took bread and food out of his pack, he prepared a meal. After carrying in snow in a pail, he heated it and soon had water to offer the woman and her daughter. Then he uttered a short prayer: “G-d in Heaven Who heals all the sick in Israel – heal her!”
The sick woman opened her eyes and seeing him, begged for water, which he immediately gave her.
“Who are you, stranger?” she asked.
“I am a Jew, traveling through here and I noticed your house and came in to warm myself,” he replied.
The woman began to cry. “Who will take care of my poor orphan after I am gone? Who will arrange a shidduch, a match for her?”
“Fear not,” replied the man, “I will take care of her and I will see her wed.”
Promise me you will take care of her,” she pleaded, and the man did. A little while afterwards she breathed her last and the man, Rebbe Yisroel Hopsztajn, the Maggid of Koznitz, made arrangements for her funeral and took the girl into his home.
The following week, Reb Yisrael had occasion to travel to a small village and was invited to stay at the house of one of the well-to-do members of the community. The man was a widower; his wife had died two years before, and he was very lonely.