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Nine Hundred Rubles

Nine Hundred Rubles

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For twelve years the melamed (schoolteacher) had not seen his wife and children. Poverty had driven him from his home, his small inn whose rent had long gone unpaid, to earn a living in a distant town, teaching small boys the alef-beit. Coin by coin, through the years, he had saved the sum of nine hundred rubles. With the fruits of his labor in his hands, he determined to return home at last, pay his debt to his landlord the Duke, marry off his daughters, and spend his declining years in the company of his patient wife.

The melamed was a chassid, and before he set out on his journey homeward he went to Berditchev, and prayed in the synagogue of the great Rebbe Levi Yitzchak. To his joy, the Rebbe greeted him warmly after the prayers, and invited him to eat at his table before he continued on his way. Throughout the meal, the thoughts of the melamed dwelt on his travels. At the first opportunity, he decided, he would ask the Rebbe's blessings for a safe and speedy return home.

Suddenly the Rebbe turned to the melamed, and addressed him:

"If you wish, I will tell you three words of advice." The heart of the melamed leapt with pride. "But for each you must pay me in full. For the first, you must give me three hundred rubles."

The melamed turned wondering eyes on his Rebbe, hardly believing the evidence of his ears. Three hundred rubles?! But he obeyed instantly. Was it not written, "Words of Torah are more precious than gold?"

"When a man does not know which way to turn," said the Rebbe, "he should always turn to the right, as it is written, 'All your turnings should be to the right.' If you wish to hear the second, you must pay another three hundred."

The melamed froze in his seat, his heart beating wildly. For these few words he had paid three hundred rubles? And three hundred for the next? And what of his wife? His many daughters? His debt to the landlord? His years of labor? But his Rebbe had spoken, and the melamed could not refuse. He counted the second 300 rubles on the table, and waited.

"An old man and a young wife is half death," spoke the Rebbe. "If you wish to hear the last word of advice, you must once again pay the same amount."

Torn between two impossibilities the melamed sat paralyzed for a long moment. Then, with trembling fingers, he opened his sack for the third time and emptied its contents on the table. He was filled with a strange recklessness and elation. It was his Rebbe speaking. Come what may, he would obey him.

"Know, my son, that you should believe only what you see with your own eyes. This is the last advice I give you. Now go in peace, and may the L-rd bless your journey home."

Dazed and bewildered, the melamed wandered through the streets of the town. His faith in the Rebbe, in the holiness of his purpose, never wavered, not for a moment. But how could he return home empty-handed, poorer than the day he had left? No, no, it was best to return to the school, and save again. How long? Another twelve years?

The melamed walked blindly, oblivious to his surroundings; he did not notice the townsmen until they were upon him.

"Where are they? The thieves, which way did they go? A reward is on their heads! To the right or to the left?"

The melamed hesitated only for a moment. "To the right!" he said firmly, remembering his Rebbe's words.

A few hours later, the melamed was on his way home, his steps as light as a boy's. In his hands was a bundle of 600 rubles, his share of the reward for the capture of the thieves. In his eagerness and anticipation he could have walked all night. But it was growing dark, the road was deserted, and a driving rain was falling. The melamed stopped at the first inn on the wayside, and asked the frail old innkeeper if he could spend the night. The old man was about to admit him, when a beautiful young woman appeared at his side, and, to the obvious astonishment of her husband, firmly refused.

"There is no room for you here tonight!" she said sharply. "Find lodging elsewhere."

"An old man with a young wife," pondered the melamed. He decided to go no further, but prepared to spend the night huddled close to a corner of the inn, in a dry spot beneath the eaves of the roof.

A few hours later, the melamed was startled by the sound of wagon wheels. Peering through the rain, he saw two men get off the wagon and stand for a moment in front of the inn, pointing to one of the darkened windows. They knocked on the door, and were immediately admitted. In the beam of light from the doorway, the melamed saw that one man was carrying a deadly weapon.

The melamed was not a reckless man, but the wonderful events of the last few hours gave him courage. Leaping to his feet, he began to hammer on the window of the inn. "Help!" he shouted. "Murder! Murder! Don't let them get away!"

The household awoke with a great noise. Lights flashed in the windows. There was a clatter of wheels, and the would-be-murderers escaped.

In the morning, the melamed was once again on his way, richer by 300 rubles. The grateful old man, who seemed to have suspected the plot, would have given him more. But the melamed had smilingly refused. He had his nine hundred rubles. Let the remainder wait for the world-to-come.

No further adventures befell him, and within weeks he was in sight of his village. There was the stream he had bathed in as a boy, the old shul on the hilltop, the crooked main street, all unchanged. And around the bend, and down the road, his own house.

The melamed remembered the last warning of the Rebbe, and he did not turn to his home and family, though every nerve in his body cried out in protest. Instead, he stood idly on street corners, at the entrance of shops, a curious stranger, chatting with the Jews of the town. The years of exile must have aged him greatly, for none of the townspeople recognized him, though he knew them all, or their parents.

Casually, he inquired about the innkeeper who had left the town about twelve years ago. Everywhere his questions were met with dark looks and disquieting murmurs. Ah, yes, the poor man had disappeared, not a trace of him for twelve years. And his wife, may the L-rd have mercy, such a fine family! How sad--she had left the straight path, had fallen in evil ways.

The melamed listened to their words with mounting apprehension. But his heart was schooled in wonders, and he remembered the Rebbe's dearly bought advice: "Believe nothing you do not see with your own eyes."

That night the melamed stood outside of his home, in the shadow of a large oak. In the pale light of the moon, he saw the figure of a young man approach his house, and knock on the window. The face of his wife appeared at the window and was gone. The door silently opened. Hours later, the youth left, as stealthily as he had come. The melamed would have turned his back, and left his home forever, had not the memory of his Rebbe's words restrained him. With a great effort, he calmed himself and waited.

The next morning, the melamed knocked on the door of his home, arrayed in fine clothing, bearing gifts, a father returned to his family. Everything was as he had dreamt a thousand times. His wife ran towards him, her face radiant, "My husband, my husband!" His children, numerous and beautiful, grown beyond recognition, surrounded him, drowned him in kisses and tears. In the midst of all the melamed stood silent, sick at heart.

Alone at last with his wife, he could restrain himself no longer. "What is the use of all this? Haven't I heard the whole town talking? And, yes, seen it with my own eyes..."

"Stop, please stop!" his wife's worn face was full of sorrow. "Don't say another word. You left us for so many years, have you forgotten everything? Have you forgotten our youngest son?"

Then the melamed realized that in all the turmoil of his homecoming he had not noticed the absence of his son, who had been a small boy when he left.

"The Duke has taken him, when I could not pay our rent. As security on our debt, she said. For months, for years, I cried, and pleaded. How we suffered! But it was no use. He has been in the Duke's house ever since. But G‑d has been good to us. He is a fine boy. Every night, he has stolen away from the manor and come home, and I have studied with him, a little chumash, a brachah. It wasn't much," she finished simply. "But thank G‑d, at least he knows he is a Jew. Now do you understand?"

Wordlessly, the melamed nodded. He understood.

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. In the days that followed, the melamed redeemed his son, and married off his daughters. He spent the rest of his days in peaceful study, at the side of his good wife.

But before he turned to the urgent matter of setting his house in order, the melamed tried to share his under­standing with his wife. It was not only that G‑d had given the Rebbe to see further than other men, beyond time and place, though that was marvelous enough. What seemed even more wonderful to the melamed was the wisdom with which the Rebbe had seen into his heart. Had he paid less dearly for the Rebbe's advice, he could never have heeded his words in that last terrible trial.

But the greatest of all, and here the melamed shook his head in humble amazement, was how G‑d had given him--such an ordinary Jew--the strength to give up his last ruble when it had seemed easier to sacrifice his life.

Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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yehudisbracha ny, ny via chabadwestside.org December 3, 2008

nice i love it Bubby Reply

Ann April 15, 2008

How far could we go? To heaven...or even higher. Reply

Chaim Berkowitz North Miami Beach, Florida January 21, 2008

900 rubles for 3 words. With simple yet unwavering faith this humble man gave over his fortune to his Rebbe. And he was repaid by G-d many tines over.
If we could have the same faith that he had how far would we go? Reply

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