During the Hungarian revolution against Austria, in the year 1848, the chasid Reb Yisrael from the town of Skoli, Austria, was in the city of Debrecen in Hungary for business purposes. At that time, the city of Debrecen was in the hands of the Hungarian rebels. Thus, R’ Yisrael was forced to remain in Debrecen against his will.
Reb Yisrael bought provisions that he could take back to his family, such as plums, wine, and other delicacies, in the hope of soon returning home. In the meantime, he went each day to the local synagogue where he would pray, study Torah, and recite Psalms – Tehillim.
Once, Hungarian soldiers met him in the street and asked him where he was from. When he answered that he was from Austria, they arrested him and suspected him of being a spy. He was brought before the army tribunal. During a time of siege, the judges do not take the time to see if the individual they suspect is innocent or guilty. Without further delay, he was found guilty by the military court and given the death penalty. This was on a Thursday and the verdict was set for Shabbat.
From that moment on, Reb Yisrael fasted and said Tehillim nonstop. He would finish the complete Book of Tehillim and immediately start again from the beginning. When he finished again, he repeated it a third time and a fourth and so on. On Shabbat morning, as he finished his morning prayers, soldiers came into his cell and led him away to his execution. As they were walking, they met an army general. The general looked intently at Yisrael and called out: “Srulke! Where are you going?!”
Reb Yisrael, though he did not recognize the general, answered bitterly that he was being taken to be executed, G-d forbid.
The general said wonderingly: “Why and what for??”
Reb Yisrael told him that they suspected him of being a spy.
“You a spy?!” the general called out – “Impossible! I know you as an honest and upright Jew!”
“Soldiers!” he turned to those leading him, “return the Jew to the prison.”
The soldiers answered that they do not have permission to do this as they were commanded to bring him to a particular place, and they must fulfill their command.
“If that is the case,” he said to them, “I ask you at least to wait here with the prisoner for a short while, until I will bring you a new command.”
The soldiers agreed to wait. The general went away and a short while later returned and brought a new command to return the prisoner to jail. The soldiers did as they were commanded and brought him back to his cell.
That very day, in the afternoon, the Austrian army captured the city. When they opened the door to the jail, they found Reb Yisrael as he was sitting and saying Tehillim. They asked him what he was doing there? He told them that he was captured and suspected of being a spy for Austria. Immediately, they freed him and treated him royally. They asked him, “What would you like from us, whatever you request, it will be done.”
Reb Yisrael replied, “My only request is if the provisions which I purchased for my family can be returned to me. He told them where he had left them. A command was given to go to this place and bring back the merchandise of Reb Yisrael. When they came there, they found nothing at all left of his possessions. Quickly, they made an estimate of the value of his loss and paid him back fully.
Thank G-d, Reb Yisrael returned home safely. From there he traveled to his Rebbe, the Tzadik, Rebbe Meir’l of Premishlan. When the Tzadik saw him, he turned to his gabbai (his attendant) Reb Aryeh and said, “Aryeh, do you remember the Shabbat when we ate from the pears which Reb Yisrael brought us?”
And this is what happened. Reb Yisrael enjoyed bringing a gift to the Tzadik, a basket of dried pears. That Shabbat, when he was in the jail in the city of Debrecen, and was saved by the wondrous general, Rebbe Meir’l said to his Chassidim: “Bring to the table the fruits of Reb Yisrael and we will partake of them.”
Rebbe Meir’l now turned to Reb Yisrael and said to him, “If only you knew, Reb Yisrael, whom I troubled to come and save you…!”
From Sippurei Chassidim Torah by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin (Parshas Mikeitz #107)