The kinship and love between Jews is one of the cardinal principles and hallmarks of Judaism. But none could match Reb Eliezer Lippa, father of the two great Chassidic leaders, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk and Reb Zusha of Anipoli, when it came to this particular characteristic.
Reb Eliezer Lippa would spare no money or effort in helping out a fellow Jew in desperate straits. Above all, he took a special interest in poor Jewish tenant/farmers who were harassed by feudal landlords when they fell behind in the staggering tax payments imposed on them.
Redeeming A Prisoner
It was the custom of those landlords to take these poor Jews and throw them into prison until either they, or someone else, paid the debt. Reb Eliezer Lippa was one who gave all that he owned for the mitzvah of Pidyon shevuyim (redeeming prisoners).
On one occasion, he leapt into his wagon to help a fellow Jew who was imprisoned by his landlord because he was unable to pay rent and taxes. When he arrived at the landlord’s house, however, he learned that the money owed was twice as much as he had brought with him.
He began to plead with the landlord to accept the money that he had in payment of the debt and free the prisoner. He was so persuasive that he managed to convince the landlord. The prisoner was ordered freed. Following this, the landlord turned to Reb Eliezer Lippa and said:
“I see that you are truly a good and righteous man and I am sure you are also an honest man in business. I have a business proposition you might be interested in.”
“What is it?” asked the rav.
“I have a certain relative who is a wealthy landlord in a town not far from here. He has a great deal of agricultural produce – wheat, barley, flax – that he is interested in selling, but he has been looking for an exceptionally honest merchant whom he can trust with the selling.
“I am sure you would be the perfect man, and I will give you a letter of recommendation so that he will sell you his merchandise.”
Reb Eliezer Lippa replied, “I thank you very much for your trust in me, but I am afraid I have no money with which to buy the merchandise. You see, every available penny I had, I gave to you to redeem the prisoner.”
“In that case,” said the landlord, “here is the money back. Use it to buy produce. When you have earned your profit, I am sure you will come back and repay me.”
“I appreciate this very much,” said Reb Eliezer Lippa. Taking the money and the letter, he set off for town to buy the merchandise.
Arriving at the landlord’s place, he showed him the letter and explained why he was there. The landlord read it and said, “My relative speaks very highly of you and recommends that I do business with you. Since I have great respect for his judgment, I agree to it.”
The two men sat down and worked out a price and all the other details. Then Reb Eliezer Lippa went down to the granaries to look over the produce that he was to sell.
As he was walking with one of the servants, he heard a terrible groan coming from one of the nearby buildings.
“What is that?” he asked in horror.
“Oh, that is a Jew who has been imprisoned by the landlord because he is behind in his debts. The landlord has decided to starve him to death.”
Reb Eliezer Lippa rushed back to the landlord and cried, “I wish to pay the Jewish prisoner’s debt immediately. Here is the money and you can release him.”
Prepares To Leave
When the Jew had been released, Reb Eliezer Lippa prepared his horses and wagon and started to leave.
“Where are you going?” asked the landlord in surprise. “What about the business deal that we have?”
Reb Eliezer Lippa stood upright, stared the landlord directly in the face, and said, “I will be quite frank with you. Since I have seen with what cruelty you behaved toward this Jew, I have no desire to do business with you in any way, even if this means losing enormous profit.”
When the landlord heard this, he was struck by a great sense of surprise and shame. He looked at Reb Eliezer Lippa and said, “You are right. I have certainly not behaved properly. Your words have convinced me to change my ways. From now on, I will not do this anymore, and as proof of my sincerity, the money that you gave me for the release of the prisoner will be applied toward the price of the merchandise. Now let us hope that we can do business in the future, and that you will have satisfaction from me.”