The holy tzadik, Reb Menachem Mendel of Kosov*, was a true lover of the Jewish people. He would always look for ways to help a fellow Jew in his time of need. His heart was filled with compassion and love for each one. He would go around collecting tzedakah and secretly give it out to poor and destitute families.This is the way he acted beginning when he was still a young man and continuing throughout his life.
From time to time, he would travel to see his Rebbe, the holy Rabbi Zev Volf of Tsharna-Ostraha*. Since he was quite poor and didn’t have enough money to hire a wagon, he traveled by foot. With a bundle on his back and a walking stick in his hand, he made his way slowly, walking by day, and finding lodging for the night in villages he passed.
One day, he came to a village towards evening. He was tired and exhausted. He searched and found a Jewish home, hoping to spend the night there. The owner of the house, let’s call him R’ Yaakov, greeted him warmly and invited him in. He removed his bundle, washed up, and began the evening prayers. After finishing his prayers, he sat down by the table. Suddenly, he heard a deep sigh and another and another, coming from R’ Yaakov. The young Reb Menachem Mendel felt terrible for the owner and asked him, “What is bothering you?” R’ Yaakov was more than ready to share his dire situation with someone else. And this is what he told him:
“I was a very wealthy man and had many businesses and whatever I touched I was, thank G-d, successful. Suddenly, my luck changed, and the wheel of fortune turned around completely. My business dealings began to fail, and I was losing money again and again, until I became totally impoverished. What can I tell you? My worries continued to increase, and I cannot even express the pain that is in my heart. At this point, I owe the poritz (non-Jewish landowner who held full authority over his tenants) sixty golden ducats. This tavern is the last means of earning my livelihood. Tomorrow is payment day, and I don’t have a single coin to pay my landlord, who will surely throw me and my entire family into his dungeon. My pockets are totally empty, and I have no idea from where my salvation will come? I have no relatives or good friends that I can count on to have pity on me in my distress.” And the man gave out a heart-wrenching cry..
Reb Menachem Mendel compassionately sat and listened to his host’s tale of woe and his heart went out to him. After his host finished speaking, Reb Menachem Mendel comforted him, urging him not to give up hope. “Have faith in G-d, who neither sleeps nor slumbers and watches over Israel. If you don’t have anyone to redeem you, then surely, He will be your Redeemer. Your plate is full. Cry out to G-d and He will answer you. And just as you fell from such a high place to such a low place; so, too, you will rise up and go higher and higher.”
These words of hope were of no avail to the poor man whose troubles seemed insurmountable. He continued to sigh from the depths of his heart and the tears refused to let up. Reb Menachem Mendel saw the pain of the man and did not know what to do. How could he help him? He himself had only words of comfort and solace; but with words alone the man could not pay his debt to the poritz. With these thoughts he made his way to the bedroom which had been prepared for him. He said the Shema with much kavanah before going to sleep and made up his mind that when he got to Tsharna on the morrow, he would do whatever he could to help his host. In fact, he saw this as the great mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim – redeeming captives.
The next morning when he awoke, he said the Modeh Ani, washed his hands, got dressed, and began his morning prayers. Before leaving, he again tried to strengthen the spirit of the man, repeating the words he told him the night before. “Put your trust in G-d. Surely G-d will not abandon you and your salvation will come.” He then opened the door, kissed the mezuzah, and went on his way.
Walking along engrossed in his thoughts, he suddenly heard someone calling out to him. He saw an impressive wagon approaching with a Jewish person sitting inside. He moved to the side of the road to let the wagon pass. The wagon continued traveling but soon stopped. The Jewish man waited for him to catch up. When Reb Menachem Mendel came closer, the Jewish person sitting in the wagon asked where he was heading?
“To Tsharna, to the tzadik of Tsharna,” he replied.
“I, too, am heading there,” the Jew said. “Come up and sit here by me and we will travel together.”
Reb Menachem Mendel refused to step into the chariot. The rich man begged him and refused to leave him by the side of the road. He could not understand why the young man would not take advantage of his kindness. He asked him, “Why won’t you come with me? It feels like I am offering you a good cup of wine and you are throwing it back into my face.”
Reb Menachem Mendel answered, “It appears to me that you are doing this because of your compassion and love for another. I want to know to what degree your love reaches. Your laudable act of compassion is not expressed by such an easy and simple act but rather by your pocketbook. As our Sages say, “A person’s personality can be gleaned by his actions when inebriated, by his generosity (or lack thereof), and whether he is in control of his temper.” (Shabbos 43/72)
The rich man said, “Come on up and sit next to me and while we are traveling you can suggest to me your request. After I hear what you have to say, I will be able to give you a clear answer.”
Reb Menachem Mendel answered him, “I will not accept your kindness, before knowing your answer. And with this you will be tested (as above).
The rich man saw that the young man was stubborn and remained firm in his resolve. So, he said to him, “Speak, please, what is your desire?”
Reb Menachem Mendel said, “Not far from here lives a Jew who was a rich man like yourself, and he, too, traveled in a fancy chariot like you. However, the wheel of fortune turned, and he became impoverished. In a short few years he lost all his wealth, and today he needs to pay the rent for his estate to the poritz – sixty golden ducats. He does not have a single coin in his possession. If the messenger of the poritz will come to him and he will not have what to pay, he and his whole family will be thrown into jail where he will most likely be for life. Now I am asking you to stand at the side of your fellow Jew in his hour of need and give him the full sum he needs even if it is a large amount. If you acquiesce, I will bless you with blessings and salvation and I will join you in your coach. Together we will return to the home of this Jew. After you give him the sixty gold ducats, we will travel to our holy Rebbe where surely you will hear from his holy mouth that he agrees with me in offering you this once-in-a-lifetime mitzvah.
When the rich man heard his request, he was astounded. Who is this poor young man that has no other worry in life but to be of assistance to some stranger who lost all his wealth because of some bad business deals? And who does he think he is to request such an exorbitant amount from him? Does this poor man have any idea what it means to earn such a huge sum?!
He did not answer him at all and told his wagon driver to move on, leaving the poor young man behind.
But the heart of the wealthy man would not rest. The further away he got from the walking man, his heart felt heavier and heavier. Seeing that he had no rest from his conscience he turned to the wagon driver and told him to stop the horses. They waited until, once again, the young man reached them.
When Reb Menachem Mendel reached him, the rich man asked him, “Why are you doing this to me? It is difficult for me to give you such a large sum of money. I am ready to give you half of what you asked.”
Reb Menachem Mendel answered him, “Am I asking this for myself, that you have a complaint against me? I am not forcing you. I just told you what happened to the person who was a rich man like you and how you can help him. Now, if you are able to do this – good – then we will both travel to the needy man and you will give him your generous donation and from there we will travel to our holy Rebbe; and if you don’t want to or can’t fulfill my request, go in peace on your way and I will continue slowly by foot as before.”
The rich man gave this some serious thought and finally agreed. He told him to come on up and they would travel together to the house. Now, Reb Menachem Mendel stepped up onto the wagon and they returned to the village and came to the house of the R’ Yaakov. The rich man took out sixty gold ducats and gave them to Reb Menachem Mendel, who in turn gave them to R’ Yaakov. They blessed him with much success and that his mazal (luck) should shine again. When they left, their hearts were filled with joy and love and friendship and in this happy state, they traveled together to Tsharna.
When they arrived, they entered the room of the holy Reb Zev Volf. Immediately, the tzadik saw a great light surrounding both of them and their faces shone like the sun. They greeted him and he greeted them back with Shalom – Peace. He told them, “Your faces are witness that you did a great deed. May you merit to continue doing good all the days of your lives!”
Reb Menachem Mendel stood back quietly, while the rich man told the tzadik all that happened to them from the moment he met Reb Menachem Mendel on the road until coming here.
When he finished, the Rebbe said, “You have done a great deed. You saved a whole Jewish family from servitude and from poverty. G-d will bless you for your selfless deed. And the mitzvah itself is the greatest reward.
then turned to Reb Menachem Mendel and said, “You are worthy to become a leader in Israel. See, the great mitzvah that you did today will go before you and light your path all the days of your life.”
After this, the Rebbe demonstrated a strong closeness to Reb Menachem Mendel and to the wealthy man treating them with a special warmth and love. He blessed the wealthy man that G-d should repay him with His abundant Blessings from on High; he should be successful in all he does, and he should continue to give charity and do kindness with others all the days of his life.
During the holy Shabbat, Reb Zev Volf honored Reb Menachem Mendel greatly in front of all the assembled and after the conclusion of Shabbat when he came to him to say goodbye, he placed his holy hands upon his head and blessed him saying:
“Travel home to your city Kosov and accept upon yourself the position which G-d has bestowed upon you to be a leader and rebbe among the Jewish people. People will come to you for blessings, and you will bless them, and G-d will fulfill your blessings. Your heart is full of love of G-d and love of the Jewish people. You are a man of great kindness, and you have the ability to bring salvation to young and old. Many of our people are in need of salvation and comfort. The blessings are in your hands, and you cannot withhold them. May it be G-d’s will that all whom you bless will be blessed.”
Reb Menachem Mendel left his Rebbe’s presence and returned home. He continued to devote himself to a life of Torah and service to G-d as before. It did not take long, and people started streaming to him requesting blessings. They saw that his blessing G-d fulfills. His name became known far and wide. He always looked for ways to befriend the Jewish people and plant in their hearts the love of Torah, the awe and love of G-d, and the love of a fellow Jew.
Translated and adapted from Sippurei Tzadikim # 507
*Reb Menachem Mendel of Kosov – 1768-1825. He was born in 5528 to Rabbi Yaakov Kopel of Kolomiya (Poland) and passed away on the 17th of Cheshvan, 5586. He was a student of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sosov and Rabbi Zev Volf of Tsharna-Ostraha. He was greatly admired and highly respected among his peers and thousands of Chassidim became his followers. He wrote a sefer, Ahavat Sholom on the Torah. A long line of Chassidic rabbis and leaders of their respective communities come from Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kosov and continue till today in Israel and America. (pgs. 29 and 110)
*Reb Zev Volf of Tsharna- Ostraha was a student of the Maggid of Mezritch. In 5558, he led a group of Chassidim who went up to the Land of Israel and remained one of the leaders of the Chassidic brotherhood in Israel. He passed away on the 5th of Adar, 5583 (201 years ago) and is buried in Tevaria. His son in law was Rabbi Yisrael Avraham, son of Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli. He became the rabbi in Tsharna-Ostraha, taking over for his father-in-law when he left for Israel. He passed away on 21st of Tevet, 5574. (pgs. 76 and 90)
Biographical information from the book: Hachasidut by Yitzchak Alfasi 1974 by Maariv Publishers, Tel Aviv, Israel. Thanks to my husband for pointing me to this sefer from where this information was taken.