Two Jewish business partners traveled deep into Russia on account of their business. They remained there for a number of years and were very successful in business. However, with the passing of time, they became ever more estranged from Judaism and distant from Jewish traditions. Mixing with the gentile population, they learned from their ways.
Many years passed and they decided to return to their birthplace. In the cities where they traveled the train tracks had not yet been built, and so they went by horse and wagon.
Thus, they came to a small village, in the area of Kursk. It was late at night, and they went to the home of one of the non-Jewish villagers and asked if they could spend the night. The non-Jew greeted them pleasantly, and they entered the house. They asked for a hot drink. The non-Jewish innkeeper immediately prepared the samovar and gave them some tea to drink. After they drank, they asked if there was perhaps something to eat, because they were very hungry. The innkeeperasked them, what they would like to eat; and they answered that they would like a proper meal – meat and other cooked food. They would pay him handsomely. He said to them:
“But I only have ‘treife’ (non-kosher) meat.” With a smirk on their faces, the merchants said: “That is not a problem.”
“In that case,” he said, “I will go and prepare for you a meal. However, you will have to wait awhile until I stoke the oven and cook the meat.”
Some time passed, and when he came into their room, he was accompanied by his two burly sons. He held an axe in his hand and the look on his face was positively frightening. To their utter surprise, hebellowed out ina murderous rage:
“Prepare yourselves, for your end is about to come. In a short while I will return to kill you.”
The terrified guests began to cry and plead:
“What is our sin; what have we done to deserve this?”
But he was obstinate and said:
“Nothing will help you now. I am a robber and this is my profession.”
He left their room and locked the door from the outside. They heard him sharpening the axe and saying to his sons, “When the sun comes up in the morning, we will go into the room and kill the guests”.
The Jews saw that they fell into a trap from which there was no escape. They cried bitter tears and started to think about all their past deeds. Why did they have to leave their place of birth and travel to faraway places to seek their fortune? What was so tempting that they completely abandoned their Jewish way of life and all semblance of living a G-dly life??
Suddenly, the door opened, and the innkeeper came in once again.
“You only have a short time left to live. If you want to say your confessional prayers and pray to your G-d, I will give you a special room to do this. But don’t think you can take forever, because very soon you will meet your end.
The Jews came into the room which the innkeeper guided them to. Suddenly they felt an overwhelming sense of regret, and a strong awakening of Teshuva for all their misdeeds. They began to daven from the depth of their hearts, remembering some of their prayers by heart from days bygone. Their cries and lamentations came from the depths of their soul.
Some time passed, and once again the non Jew came into the room. They hardly recognized him. He had a very different face – a friendly, smiling face.
“You are free men,” he said to them. “G-d forbid, I never intended to kill you. I am not a murderer.
However, I would like to tell you a story.”
He began to relate the following story:
“Many years ago, a very holy man passed through this village. He was a guest in my house. Here he took ill and passed away in this room. Before his passing, he blessed me with long life and said to me:
“I have one request to make of you – When Jewish guests will pass by here, accept them with a pleasant countenance. But if someone from among the guests should want to eat non-kosher meat, you should threaten them with terrible threats, and even with the threat of death. But only say this with your lips; G-d forbid, that you should harm them in any way”.
“When the holy man passed away,” he continued, “his family took him to a nearby town to be buried.
From then on, I locked up this room, and left everything as it was when he passed away here. I do not allow anyone to go into it. Only if a Jew is passing through and wishes to pray, I invite him to go into this room to pray. Now you will understand why I threatened you, after you requested to eat non-kosher meat.”
Relief and joy washed over these Jews when they heard the words of the villager. They began to make inquiries as to who this Tzadik was, and where he was buried. They found out that this village was called Pienna and that the Tzadik was the Alter Rebbe, zy’a, the Baal haTanya who came here, when he was fleeing Napolean with his family during the Russian-French War. It was here that he passed away, in the year 5573. He was taken to the city of Haditch in the province of Poltova, for burial.
The two Jewish merchants traveled straight to the city of Haditch where they went directly to the Ohel of the Alter Rebbe, zy’a. There they davened and said Tehillim for a long time, with tears of gratitude for helping them return to the path of Judaism.
Translated and adapted from Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, z’l
*Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, first Chabad Rebbe 1745-1812. Rabbi Shneur Zalman is a direct descendant of the Maharal of Prague, a great rabbi and Kabbalist who was himself a direct descendant of King David from the tribe of Judah. Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s father, Rabbi Baruch was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the fledgling Chassidic movement. In fact, his illustrious son, Rabbi Shneur Zalman shares the same birthdate as the Baal Shem Tov on the 18th of Elul, known as “Chai Elul”. In his youth Rabbi Shneur Zalman studied under the able tutelage of Rabbi Issachar Ber in the city of Lubavitch and was inculcated with a love of G-d, Torah, and Chassidut. However, his studies were primarily in the revealed Torah, the Talmud. By the age of 12, his teacher told his father, “There is nothing more that I can teach our son; he has grown beyond me.” The brilliant young man then went to Vitebsk where he was accepted as an equal by the great scholars of the city. At the age of twenty, with the consent of his wife, he left home to go to the Maggid of Mezritch, pupil of the Baal Shem Tov and his successor as leader of the Chassidic community. The Maggid assigned him to study with his son Avraham, known as the ‘Malach’. He began to delve deeply into the mystical teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Chassidic way of life. Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid instructed him to compile the Shulchan Aruch – Code of Jewish Life and bring it up to date. This Halachik work was accepted in all Jewish circles and is known as the Shulchan Aruch haRav. Written in Hebrew, it is being translated into English in a multi volume series by Sichos in English. After the passing of his teacher and mentor, the Maggid on the 19th of Kislev, 1772, Rabbi Shneur Zalman became the Head of the Chassidic movement in White Russia and became the first Chabad Rebbe. His famous work, the Tanya, has been translated into numerous languages and continues to be a guide and light to all who are looking for spiritual guidance and life’s answers. Rabbi Shneur Zalman worked for the betterment of the physical life of the Jewish people of his time in Russia setting up farming colonies where families could live off the land and support themselves. He also collected tzedakah to send to the fledgling Chassidic community in the Holy Land to support them.
Adapted from www.Chabad.org/rabbishneurzalman