In the small town of Sharey, in the district of Vohlyn, with a Jewish community of some fifty-five families, there lived a humble Jewish couple, Yaakov Kerpil and his wife Tzippe-Brocho.
In his youth, Yaakov Kerpil was not a good scholar, and found it difficult to master the aleph-beis. Eventually he learned to recite by heart the important daily prayers, such as the Shema and Shemone-esrei, and this he did with great devotion. His wife was also a simple and unlearned woman, but, like him, very devout and very kind.
Yaakov Kerpil made a living from going around to the surrounding villages and trading with the farmers. Every Friday he returned to town for Shabbos. Before going home, he would pay a visit to the Rav and leave with him his weekly contribution for Tzedoko. Then he would stop at the Beis Medrash and drop a few coins into the charity box, to do the Mitzvah of secret Tzedoko. Then he would make his way home, and give the rest of his earnings to his wife, to pay off her debts and buy food for Shabbos.
Yaakov Kerpil and his wife had a good life. They loved and respected each other, and would have indeed been quite happy had they been blessed with a child. For some time, Tzippe Brocho never got into a family way, and when she finally did give birth to a child, it died soon after birth.
One day, as Yaakov Kerpil was wandering through the villages as was his custom, he met another wandering Jew. They liked each other, became very friendly and decided to keep company. Yaakov Kerpil soon realized that his companion, HershLeib, was a hidden Torah scholar and saintly man; one of those mystics and followers of the great Baal Shem Tov, of whom he had heard. Yaakov Kerpil begged him, with tears in his eyes, to teach him Torah. Hersh Leib agreed, on condition that no one should know about it. He began to teach Yaakov Kerpil the aleph-beis and how to read in the Siddur, and - wonder of wonders! - the student made good progress and showed good promise.
Reb Hersh-Leib settled in Sharey, where he opened a "Cheder" for grown up people who had to start learning Torah from the beginning, like small children. No one else was doing it, except Hersh-Leib and other followers of the Baal Shem Tov who were assigned this task.
Shortly afterwards something happened that brought about a new turning point in Yaakov Kerpil's life. In one of the villages frequented by Yaakov Kerpil on his weekly rounds, there lived his boyhood friend, Gershon Yitzchok, whose Parnosso came from leasing the fishing rights in the river and lake of an estate that belonged to a wealthy nobleman. In addition he kept an inn and a store. From all these sources he made a living and supported a large household. All would have been well, except that one day a new priest came to the parish. Seeing that the Jewish innkeeper and his children were very simple and unlearned Jews, he got it into his head to convert them to Christianity. When his efforts proved futile, the priest decided to take more forceful methods. He; urged his parishioners not to go the Jew's inn, nor buy from his store.
Now, not only were the takings in Gershon Yitzchok's inn and store seriously reduced, but also his catches of fish had become much smaller, as if the fish had taken heed of the fanatical priest's propaganda, and did their best to avoid the nets that the Jewish Fisherman had spread out for them!
Before long, Gershon Yitzchok fell behind in his rent payments, until a large debt had been accumulated. On the advice of the priest, the nobleman seized one of Gershon Yitzchok's young children to hold him as hostage until the debt was paid. This was exactly as the priest had planned. He now began to work with the young boy to convert him. When the boy paid no attention to his sweet words, he began to beat him mercilessly in order to break down the boy's "obstinacy."
In his terrible tragedy, Gershon Yitzchok had no one to turn to, except his old friend Yaakov Kerpil. The latter lost no time, and sold his house and whatever valuables he had. In addition he borrowed money wherever he could to make - up the full amount of his friend's debt. Gershon Yitzchok was now able to pay his debt and obtain his son's freedom. He let Yaakov Kerpil take the boy home to recuperate from his ordeal. Later Yaakov Kerpil sent the boy to learn in the Yeshiva of Borisov.
Yaakov Kerpil and his wife Tzippe Brocho were now steeped in debts, but they had no complaints. They were happy that they had been able to do such a great Mitzvah as Pidyon Shevuim and save a Jewish soul. No one, not even Reb Hersh-Leib, knew of Yaakov Kerpil's financial difficulties.
Some time later, another one of the Baal Shem Tov's hidden mystics, Reb Kehos, came to Sharey and told Reb Hersh Leib that the saintly Baal Shem Tov had sent him. Their saintly master wished to inform R. Hersh Leib that the extraordinary virtues and good deeds which Yaakov Kerpil and his wife performed, and the tests and challenges that they met with such deep faith, had made an impression in Heaven. The time has come for the childless couple to be delivered from their difficult position: they will be blessed with a son, and also with riches. Now, R. Kehos had brought with him a sizable sum of money for Yaakov Kerpil, enough to pay off his debts and enable him to begin doing business. However, since he is certain not to accept any donations, the money has to be given him in another way. The idea was that R. Hersh Leib would introduce his visitor, R. Kehos, as a Jew who desires to entrust a substantial amount of money to a person of trust, for a considerable time. In consideration of taking care of it, the person could use the money as an interest-free loan.
At first Yaakov Kerpil was very reluctant to take upon himself such a responsibility. However, his teacher R. Hersh Leib strongly persuaded him to act as trustee and use the money as a loan. Yaakov Kerpil finally agreed. He started a business which was a great success from the first day. From time to time he put aside some money on account of the loan, and before long he had the full amount of the loan safely secured, while he continued doing business with the rest of the money. Soon he became a wealthy man.
But the real joy came when the old couple was also blessed with a son. Their happiness was now complete. They named their son Yosef Yitzchok, after Tzippe Brocho's father.
The child showed extraordinary mental capacities. At the age of three he could already read fluently in the Siddur, and at the age of five he was well versed in T'NaCh and some Mishanyos. His father engaged one of the Baal Shem Tov's disciples to teach him Torah and Chassidus. Later on, his father sent him to study at the famous Yeshivah in Minsk, where he became known as the "Iluy (Talmudic genius) of Sharey. "
In the meantime, Yaakov Kerpil himself became one of the most devoted secret disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. This was still the time before the founder of the Chassidic movement revealed himself, and all activities were carried on in secret. Yaakov Kerpil supported these activities generously and was active in the movement with devotion and dedication.
The young Talmudic scholar, the Iluy of Sharey, later studied for two years in the Yeshivah of Smorgon, which was at that time a center of Chassidic activity.
In due course, Yosef Yitzchok married Devorah Leah, a learned young woman of excellent character. She was the sister of R. Boruch, the father of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who later became famous as the author of the Tanya and Rav's Shulchan Aruch, and the founder of Chabad.
The late Lubavitcher Rebbe bore the name of the Iluy of Sharey, the uncle of his direct ancestor, six generations removed.