The Baal Shem Tov once gathered a select group of his students and announced to them: “Come, I will show you a true ‘machnis orach’ – someone who sincerely and with his whole heart welcomes guests into his home.”
Right away the Baal Shem Tov asked to prepare the horse and wagon and be ready to go on a trip.
The wheels of the wagon flew through fields and forests, mountains and valleys, until by late afternoon they arrived at a village and stopped at an inn.
From the inn came running out a Jewish man. He called out:
“Hooray there are guests! Precious Jewish guests!
He went over to each of them and welcomed them and invited them to come in to his house.
“Come dear Rabbis, come into my home. You can rest up and eat something. You will revive yourself and at the same time bring life to me! It’s not every day that I am so fortunate to do the mitzvah of ‘hachnosas orchim’!”
The Baal Shem Tov responded and said:
“Perhaps it would be better that we should continue on our way to the nearby city. There we will have a mikvah, and we will be able to daven with the congregation, and to listen to the reading of the Torah.”
“Oh, but I have a mikvah and a Sefer Torah; and together with all of you, we will also have a minyan,” the innkeeper said, entreating them to remain by him. He added that if they would like to daven on Shabbos in the city, they could walk there by foot, because it is within the permissible halachik area allowed.
At the end, the Baal Shem Tov agreed to the request of the innkeeper to be his guest for a while.
The host lived modestly. However, he offered his guests his best rooms and did everything to make their stay comfortable. After davening he invited them to a set table with delicious food. He himself stood by to serve them.
On Shabbos morning, they all walked to the nearby city to daven with the congregation. After Shabbos, the villager prepared a lavish Melave Malka, and even invited many more guests from the nearby city and from the nearby village. He was so joyous as if it was a big holiday!
The Baal Shem Tov and his students spent a few more days by the villager, who took care of all their needs personally and did everything in his power to make sure they felt at home.
Before leaving, the Baal Shem Tov asked their host if he had any special request?
“My only request is that the Tzadik should pray for me that I merit Life in the World to Come,” he answered.
“The thing you ask for is dependent upon you,” the Baal Shem Tov responded. “But if you wish that I bless you, you must come to me in Mezbush. And, by the way, I can give you some sound advice. Since in our country there is a shortage of wine, when you come it would be worthwhile that you bring along with you one hundred barrels of wine from the best type, so that you can earn a nice profit.”
Much time passed since the visit at the home of the Jew who excelled in hachnosas orchim. The students all but forgot about the whole episode. Once the Baal Shem Tov said to his students:
“Today a group of poor people came to our town. Please go and tell them that I invite them to the Shabbat meal.”
The students were very surprised to hear this. The local custom was that poor people and passing guests who came to town had all their needs met by the local committee in charge of ‘hachnosas orchim’ – welcoming guests. They arranged meals and sleeping accommodations. And now the Baal Shem Tov was inviting this group to his house.
When the poor folk were seated around the table, the Baal Shem Tov turned to one of them, and invited him to come sit next to him.
“Do you recognize me?” the Baal Shem Tov asked him.
“Yes,” the poor man answered. “I had the merit to host the Rebbe and his students in my home in the village a while ago.”
The students sitting around the table perked up their ears.
“Tell us what happened to you since then,” the Baal Shem Tov continued.
The villager unfolded the following tale:
“When the Rebbe told me to come to him to Mezbush and he will bless me that I merit Life in the World to Come; and he suggested that I bring with me 100 barrels of the best wine, I firmly believed in the words of the Rebbe and set out to do this. I sold everything I possessed, and bought 100 barrels of wine. Then I set out on my way. We passed through a forest. Towards evening a big storm broke out and torrents of rain fell. It felt as if Hashem was sending another mabul to the world. The path was totally soaked with water and the wagons were unable to move forward. I got off the wagon, and leaving the merchandise with the wagon drivers, I made my way to find a house or inn to spend the night. From far I noticed a small light in the darkness. I went toward the light. Soon I reached a house in the forest. An old Jewish man with a flowing beard greeted me at the door. He invited me in. The house was warm and lit up and the old man treated me warmly until I warmed up. In the morning, after I davened, I parted from the regal looking old man in peace and went back where I left my wagons. However there wasn’t any trace of them. It was as if they had vanished in thin air. In the beginning I was very upset and depressed. However then I began to think to myself that I don’t have any reason to be upset. ‘Hashem gives and Hashem takes, May the Name of Hashem be blessed.’ Surely it is all for the good, I decided. I began to walk until I found a group of poor people traveling this way and I went with them until I came to Mezbush.”
The poor man finished his story and all eyes now focused on the Baal Shem Tov.
“Do you feel bad or sorry that you asked me for a brocho to merit Life in the World to Come? Perhaps you would have preferred to get all your lost wealth back?”
“Chas vesholom – G-d forbid” the poor man replied without hesitating. “Is the Rebbe suggesting that I give up my share in the World to Come in exchange for 100 barrels of wine? Absolutely not, Rebbe, I am prepared to remain a poor person all my life, traveling from place to place, if only I can merit to live in the World to Come!”
“Indeed that is what I wanted to hear from you,” the Baal Shem Tov said. “A Jew needs to be ready to give up everything for faith in Hashem. You accomplished this and therefore you will merit Life in the World to Come.”
A relieved smile of pure happiness came on the face of the poor man.
The Baal Shem Tov continued:
“You are thinking that now you will have to wander with your friends for a long time. Well that is not the case. With the help of Hashem, tomorrow the wagons with the wine which you lost in the forest, will arrive here. You will sell them for a nice profit and you will once again be able to do the mitzvah of hachnossas orcim as before. “
The Baal Shem Tov was very mekarev the poor man and spoke much about the great value of the mitzvah of hachnosas orcim in this world and its great reward in the World to Come.
The next day the wagons arrived as the Baal Shem Tov had said. The villager became very wealthy and continued to host guests in an ample fashion.
From Sippurei Tzadikim #257