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He returned home very pleased, but his wife understood that there must be more to the story than he realized.

The Different Identities of Hershel

The Different Identities of Hershel

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The Different Identities of Hershel
He returned home very pleased, but his wife understood that there must be more to the story than he realized.

There was a rabbi named Hershel who lived in the town of Ribichev. He was a kindhearted man, who spent his days in prayer and Torah study, possessing little else but his pure faith—which left him with no possessions to worry about. Yet, although he lived in abject poverty, he was content with his lot. He did not complain, even though he could not provide his daughter with a dowry, which in those days left little chance of her ever marrying, even though she was of exceptional good character, intelligence and appearance.

Everyone was concerned about the problem—everyone, that is, but Rabbi Hershel himself. . . . although he lived in abject poverty, he was content with his lot.When people would urge him to do something instead of spending his days studying Torah, he would smile in his innocent way and say, “Why should I worry? There is a G‑d who runs the world; He will surely help!”

Finally, Rabbi Hershel’s friends took matters into their own hands. After much thought and discussion, they decided to take him to the next major fair in Leipzig, where many wealthy merchants would be gathered. They were sure that there they would be able to arrange a suitable match for his daughter.

They purchased fine clothes for him, so that he would make a favorable impression. Trusting soul that he was, Rabbi Hershel blithely accompanied them, unsure of their plan but with faith that, whatever it might be, it would succeed.

Upon the group’s arrival in Leipzig, word went out that a gevir (wealthy man), Rabbi Hershel, who was also a great Torah scholar, had come to the fair in search of a fitting son-in-law. Rabbi Hershel himself was unaware of the ruse, and remained in his room studying.

Several names were suggested as likely candidates, and before long a compatible match was concluded to both fathers’ satisfaction. Rabbi Hershel’s future son-in-law was a fine young man and a fledgling Torah scholar, and his father, whom we will call Mr. Zelig, was pleased to have found a girl whose father was the wealthy scholar from Ribichev.

When Rabbi Hershel was asked if he would support the couple in accordance with his means, he readily agreed. Mr. Zelig of course assumed that this meant that he would contribute generously, but Rabbi Hershel had a very different standard in mind.

Rabbi Hershel returned home very pleased, but his wife understood that there must be more to the story than her husband realized. “From where are we going to get the money to buy the customary presents to send the chosson (groom)? How are we going to make the wedding? On what are they going to live?”

Her husband replied calmly, “Heaven has provided us with a chosson; He will surely also grant us the means to buy the gifts and make the wedding.” He removed the expensive clothing that had been purchased for him, and returned to the synagogue to resume his studies, with not a worry on his mind.

After several weeks passed with no word from Rabbi Hershel, Mr. Zelig finally wrote to inquire why he had heard nothing. No presents had been sent, contrary to the prevailing custom, and no date had yet been set for the wedding. Not having a full address, the letter was sent to “Rabbi Hershel, the gevir of Ribichev.”

In fact, there was a gevir in Ribichev by the name of Mr. Hershel. The postman, who knew of only one wealthy Hershel, delivered the letter to him.The postman, who knew of only one wealthy Hershel, delivered the letter to him.

Unfortunately, this particular Hershel was not blessed with any children. He read the letter, he was enraged. “Who is so heartless as to send me such a letter? Must I be reminded of my sorrow?” Thinking that the letter regarding his daughter’s marriage was a cruel prank, he angrily tore it up and banished all thoughts of it from his mind.

After Mr. Zelig received no reply, he sent another letter, and then yet another. When his third attempt went unanswered, he decided to travel to Ribichev to resolve the matter.

When Mr. Zelig and his wife arrived in town, they asked someone to direct them to the home of Rabbi Hershel the gevir, and they were promptly shown the home of the wealthy Mr. Hershel, who turned out to be a total stranger to them.

As soon as Mr. Zelig saw Mr. Hershel, he realized that this was not his son’s future father-in-law. When he mentioned the letters he had sent, Mr. Hershel the gevir explained that he had discarded them because they made no sense to him. They mystery remained: Who was the elusive “wealthy Rabbi Hershel” who had presented himself at the Leipzig fair?

While they were pondering the enigma, Mr. Zelig’s wife had an idea: One of her ancestors, an important Torah scholar, was buried in the cemetery on the outskirts of Ribichev. If they would pray at his grave for enlightenment, surely they would be answered.

As the group reached the cemetery, they were approached by a man who was soliciting funds for a great Torah scholar from Ribichev. “He is about to marry off his daughter, and does not have a penny to his name!”“Helping him is a true fulfillment of the mitzvah to assist needy brides,” said the man. “He is about to marry off his daughter, and does not have a penny to his name!”

Mr. Zelig and his wife exchanged uneasy glances, and then asked in unison, “Please tell us, what is the name of this Torah scholar?” When he replied, “Rabbi Hershel,” their hearts sank.

They asked the man for the address of this Rabbi Hershel, and immediately set out for his home. He, needless to say, was very surprised to find them at his door. Welcoming them warmly, he was unprepared for the outburst which greeted him:

“You impostor! You claimed to be a man of means, and you are really a pauper! I demand an explanation—no, I want to take you to a din Torah (court of Jewish law).”

Rabbi Hershel, pure and innocent man that he was, was not insulted by the diatribe. He remained unruffled and responded calmly. “Please, please, it’s not good for you to get excited! I’ll gladly do whatever you want. But first, you must allow me to invite you for a festive meal—after all, it is a special occasion when my daughter’s parents-in-law-to-be come to visit me!”

Rather displeased, Mr. Zelig replied that his attending such a meal was contingent upon the outcome of the court case. He left Rabbi Hershel’s house and headed for the home of the city’s chief rabbi.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Hershel sent his daughter with their only chicken to the shochet (kosher slaughterer), to have it slaughtered for the meal. On the way the chicken broke loose, and with a cluck and a flurry of feathers began to flap away. The girl chased it, but could not narrow the gap between them, until the bird led her into a cave at the edge of town. As the breathless girl entered the cave and stooped to grab her runaway fowl, a glint of something caught her eye, and she moved closer to investigate. There on the floor of the cave lay a pile of shining gold coins! Quickly she scooped up as many as she could carry and hurried home.

When she burst into her home and displayed her find, the joy was boundless. Everyone was amazed at the miracle—except Rabbi Hershel.Everyone was amazed at the miracle—except Rabbi Hershel. He had known all along that G‑d the Merciful would help!

The two men met later that day for their appointment at the court of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, later renowned as the Apter Rebbe, who was then serving as rabbi of Ribichev.

Rabbi Hershel was asked to explain why had had misled Mr. Zelig. He replied, “I don’t understand the problem. I promised to provide for the wedding and support the young couple, and I intend to keep my word!”

Mr. Zelig was unprepared for this response, and insisted that Rabbi Hershel give a deposit for half the promised sum before the wedding would take place. Rabbi Hershel readily agreed, and the case was concluded, although Mr. Zelig still wondered how Rabbi Hershel planned to keep his part of the deal.

Mr. Zelig handed a gold coin to the Apter Rebbe as payment for his adjudication, whereupon, to the amazement of everyone present, Rabbi Hershel promptly took out three gold coins and gave them to the rabbi!

The stupefied look on Mr. Zelig’s face could not go unnoticed. Rabbi Hershel did not keep him in suspense; he promptly told his miraculous tale.

Rabbi Eliezer of Dzikov*, who inherited one of the gold coins, would say that repeating this story is auspicious for finding one’s pre-ordained soulmate.

[* Editor’s note:
Rabbi Eliezer of Dzikov was the son of the Ropshitzer Rebbe, and he also became a rebbe in his own right. But there is no known connection that I’ve been able to find between him and the Apter. Possibly there is a mistake in this rendition of the story, and it is supposed to be Dzinkov, not Dzikov. The first two rebbes of Dzinkov, Rabbi Yizchak Meir and Rabbi Meshulam Zusya, were respectively the son and grandson of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua of Apta. Descendants of theirs lived in Dzinkov until the horrors of World War II.]


Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Gut Voch by Avrohom Barash (Mesorah).

Biographical note:
Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (1755–5 Nissan 1825), the Apter Rebbe, was a primary disciple of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk. He is also often referred to as “the Ohev Yisrael,” after the title of the famous book of his teachings, and also because its meaning (“Lover of Jews”) fits him so aptly.

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Anonymous Montreal November 12, 2015

The chicken What happened to the chicken? Reply

Anonymous NYC November 6, 2015

Fascinating Story, but Is this the Torah way, to just have faith and not work? Reply

me November 9, 2012

Paying to take daughters away....AWESOME!! hahahahahhaha maybe my Dad needed to pay someone to take me in marriage. TAKE HER TAKE HER PLEASE, I'll pay you, even though I have no money and that's all you care about clearly, I don't care, I'll find a way. TAKKKEEE HER!!! Reply

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