Reb Meir Refoels becomes a Chassid (story #1)

There was a certain Chassid, whose son in law, left his wife, the daughter of the Chassid. Three years had passed since he disappeared, and not a word was heard from him. He thus left his wife an aguna. (A woman whose husband’s whereabouts are not known, and she does not have a get -divorce document.) The Chassid and his daughter came to the Alter Rebbe and poured out their bitter hearts to him. They asked him for his advice and blessing.

The Alter Rebbe told them to travel to the city of Vilna and go to the elected community leader of Vilna and ask him to find her husband.

The words of the Alter Rebbe, understandably, were holy to the Chassidim. Immediately, the friends of the family gathered the required amount of money to send the woman to Vilna, a city which was quite some distance from the city where her family lived. They instructed the woman that she should demand of this community leader to find her husband. They warned her further, that even if he sends her away from his house, he degrades her and embarrasses her, and even if they hit her, she should not abandon this plan which the Rebbe had directed her to do. She must not give the community leader any respite until he finds her husband. Since this is what the Rebbe said, surely her salvation will come through him.

The woman did as she was told. After much travail, she arrived in Vilna and went straight to the home of the wealthy Reb Meir Refoels, who was the elected leader of the community.  Reb Meir was at the synagogue at this time, so the woman told the whole story to his wife. The wife laughed in her face. How then should her husband know where to find some young man who ran away from his wife and family three years prior, and especially in a city so far from where she lives.

When Reb Meir arrived home from synagogue his wife said to him, “It is not for naught what is being said about those Chassidim.  Look at what they have done, sending a poor woman here from a faraway city, that we should return her husband to her!”

The aguna turned to Reb Meir and said, “I will not leave here until you do as I have requested and find my husband.”

Reb Meir and his wife became angry with the woman. They explained to her the impossibility of this happening. However, all their arguments fell on deaf ears. When Reb Meir saw that there was no way to get rid of her, he said to her, “Well, look, in one day, I cannot find your husband. Therefore, go now to the guest house and stay there, until we will see, what can be done.”

The woman listened and did this. But she did not let the matter rest. Every day she would come to his home and cry and scream to him, “Give me my husband!”

Reb Meir told over this whole episode in the synagogue. And, as you can imagine, the story of the aguna became the talk of town and fanned the flames of hatred even more.

A few days passed and Reb Meir was called upon to come quickly to the police station.  From time-to-time unidentified prisoners, who did not have proper identification, would pass through the city of Vilna. The police chief would call on Reb Meir, as the community leader, to come by and identify anyone whom he could recognize.

Thus, it occurred at this time, that he was called to come when such a group landed in Vilna. When the prisoners began to call out their names and the name of the city where they were born, one of them called out the name of the city of the aguna.  Like a lightning rod, a thought occurred to Reb Meir. Quickly he ran back to his home, after asking that they should wait for him at the police station, because he would return shortly.

He sent to call the aguna and asked her to describe her husband in detail. Sure enough, the description matched exactly. Reb Meir returned to the police station together with the woman and she recognized her husband. With the efforts of Reb Meir, the prisoner was released. They went together to the rabbi of the city and the man gave his wife a get – divorce.

From this day on, the attitude of Reb Meir changed towards the Chassidim. Something changed in his heart. Things are not as simple as they make it out here in Vilna, he thought. But he was still not completely convinced. Who knows, he thought, maybe this was just a lucky strike, a coincidence. Reb Meir decided not to tell anyone about what happened and to wait and see. Maybe with time the story of the Chassidim and their Rebbe will be clarified for him.

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