Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov called his students together and said to them, “Come, I will show you what it means to welcome guests with real love and a joyful heart!”
They climbed into the wagon and the coachman took the reins and promptly fell asleep. As they traveled, the Baal Shem Tov explained many wonderful ideas of the Torah to his students. The wagon continued on its way flying by hills and valleys, woods, and meadows, bringing them ever closer to their destination. Towards evening, as the sun was sinking in the west, they arrived in a village and pulled up in front of a house.
A Jewish man came rushing out of his house, face beaming. “Welcome, Yidden, (Jews) welcome,” he exclaimed joyfully. “I’m so happy to see you. I would be so happy to have you as my guests! Come in; come in; refresh yourselves. Let me put up some hot water and prepare some delicious food for you.”
“Oh! the Baal Shem Tov protested, “we don’t want to be a burden for you.”
“Please don’t say that!” the man said. “I don’t get many visitors here. What good fortune Hashem has sent you here! Please, you must stay. There is plenty of room in the house for all of you!”
Finally, the Baal Shem Tov agreed and the whole group of visitors went into the house. Their host quickly made up their rooms and set out plenty of wholesome food.
As Shabbat was approaching, he again begged them to remain. The Baal Shem Tov acquiesced.
Before Shabbat, they immersed in the cool waters of a nearby stream. The villager listened as they davened (prayed) with great feeling. On Motzoei Shabbat, their host invited guests from the neighboring villages for a Melava Malka celebration. His beaming face let everyone know how truly happy he was.
Before the Baal Shem Tov prepared to leave, he asked his host if he had any special request he could bless him for?
“Honored Rabbi,” the man replied, “I worked all my life and was never able to learn much Torah. I know that the study of Torah gives a person a share in the World to Come. My only request now is that I be able to serve Hashem honestly and sincerely and thus merit a place in the World to Come among the righteous!”
The Baal Shem Tov looked at his students to see if they heard these admirable words uttered by such a sincere person.
“You certainly have my blessing,” the Baal Shem Tov replied. “But the matter is largely up to you. However, we must all thank you for your generous hospitality. I hope you will come visit me in Medzibuzh,” he continued. “And when you do, be sure to bring a good supply of wine with you. There is much good wine in these parts. In our area, it is hard to find. If you would bring 100 barrels of good wine, I’m sure you would make a handsome profit.”
With this the Baal Shem Tov and his students returned home.
One day, a few months later, the Baal Shem Tov was told that a group of beggars had arrived in town.
“In that case, we should invite them to join us for the Shabbat meals,” he said.
Quickly, the Chassidim went out to fulfill the Rebbe’s request. That night, when the poor folk were all seated around the table, the Baal Shem Tov turned to one of them and said, “I am very glad to see you here. Do you remember me?”
“Of course,” the man replied. “It was my great privilege to have the Rebbe as my guest not so long ago. How could I forget such a thing?”
“What happened to you since then? Why have you suddenly become a beggar?” the Baal Shem Tov asked.
“When the Rebbe invited me to come and visit him with 100 barrels of wine, I did not have the money to do that. I decided to sell everything I owned in order to buy the wine. I then rented horses and wagons for the trip. On the way, I had to pass through a forest. In the middle, a tremendous rainstorm broke out and flooded the roads, until it was impossible to go on. I had to leave the wagons and look for shelter. Further into the woods I saw a light and made my way towards it. I thought it was probably the house of some woodsman. I only hoped that I hadn’t stumbled on the hideout of thieves. When I got to the house, I was happy to find a mezuzah on the door. Imagine, there was a Jew living in the middle of the forest. He took me in, gave me dry clothes, and a warm meal. I could hardly believe it. The rain continued until the next day. When it finally stopped, I set out to look for my wagons and horses. When I got to the spot where I had left them, they were gone! Not a trace of them. My heart sank; that was every penny I owned. I said to myself, now my life is really in Hashem’s hands, for I had nothing left except the clothes on my back. I decided to continue to the Rebbe on foot. Eventually, I met these friendly people who were heading in the same direction. And that’s the whole story of how I got here.”
“Tell me the truth,” the Baal Shem Tov asked him, “when you discovered the wagons were gone, were you sorry that you had listened to my advice to buy 100 barrels of wine, and because of me you had lost everything?”
“On no! Heaven forbid,” said the man. “All is in Hashem’s hands and is for the good.”
Hearing this, the Baal Shem Tov continued, “If I told you that you could have it all back, would you be pleased?”
“Yes, of course,” he answered.
“Would you trade?” the Baal Shem Tov asked him.
“Trade what?” the man wondered.
“Trade your World to Come for all that you lost?” was the Baal Shem Tov’s retort.
“Rebbe! Are you joking? I only wish that I should have some portion in the World to Come! If I do, you think I would trade it for some wagons, horses, and wine?! Never! I’d rather be a beggar all my life and not lose a single minute of Olam Haba,” he concluded passionately.
The Baal Shem Tov smiled. “You see,” he said, turning to his students, “this man is prepared to give up all of his worldly possessions just for one minute of the World to Come.”
“My friend,” the Baal Shem Tov turned to the man and said, “If you will have this attitude all your days, you will certainly merit great things in this world and the next.”
Hearing these words, a happy smile appeared on the villager’s face.
“Do not worry,” the Baal Shem Tov said, “soon you will have your wagons back. You will be able to sell all your wine at a good profit and practice the mitzvah of having guests even better than before.
Sure enough, exactly as the Baal Shem Tov said, the wagons appeared in Medzibuzh the day after Shabbat with all the wine intact. The villager was able to sell his wine at a great profit and developed a successful wine business which made him very wealthy. Now he was able to begin to learn Torah in his adult years. But his greatest pleasure remained being able to provide hospitality to guests in the manner of Avraham Avinu in great abundance and with joy, love, and kindness.
Adapted from The Moshiach Times (Vol 37 #5) Tishrei 5782 published by Tzivos Hashem