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A Business Proposal

A Business Proposal

(Photo: Ase Meistad)
(Photo: Ase Meistad)

The news passed swiftly through the city of Chernigov, leaving shock and sorrow in its wake. Reb Yekutiel, a wealthy businessman and pillar of the community, had been arrested on charges of tax evasion and misappropriation of government funds.

All who knew Reb Yekutiel had no doubt of his innocence. Reb Yekutiel was known for his honesty, charity and modesty. Despite his immense wealth and influential position, he regarded every man as his equal and was always ready to lend a helping hand and attentive ear. For this, he had earned the respect and trust of all Chernigov's residents, Jew and non-Jew alike. But this was czarist Russia, where a man could be arrested on a bureaucratic caprice or by the stroke of a vengeful commissioner's pen.

Inexplicably, Reb Yekutiel was convicted. Nothing -- not his connections in the government, not the numerous appeals by his expensive lawyers, nor the prayers of the community -- could stave off the fate ordained for him. Reb Yekutiel was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in distant Siberia.

On the day before Reb Yekutiel was sent east, a man knocked on the door of Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Chein, rabbi of Chernigov. "Rabbi," said the visitor, who was none other than the warden of the local jail, "Reb Yekutiel requests that you come see him. Special permission has been granted for you to visit him in his cell, should you desire to come."

"Certainly," said the Rabbi, "of course I'll come," and hurried to get his coat.

Tears filled Rabbi Dovid Tzvi's eyes at the sight that met him upon entering the cell. Reb Yekutiel, too, was overwhelmed with emotion. The two men embraced and wept silently for some time. Finally, the prisoner began to speak:

"I asked you to come, Rabbi, not because I have any personal request to make, but because I want to tell you why I am here. Perhaps others can learn a lesson from my story.

"Several months ago, I was traveling to Petersburg for a series of meetings regarding my dealings with the government. As usual, I obtained a compartment in the first-class section of the train -- a crucial necessity for any businessman seeking potential contacts among government officials and fellow merchants. It was then that I learned that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was on the train.

"I passed by the Rebbe's compartment, hoping to catch a glimpse of his holy face. The door was ajar, and suddenly I found myself gazing into his eyes -- eyes that looked deeply into mine and seemed to know the innermost reaches of my soul. For a long moment I stood there, rooted to the spot. It was a while before I realized that the Rebbe was motioning to me to enter.

"With awe and trepidation I entered the Rebbe's compartment. But the Rebbe soon put me at ease, inviting me to sit and offering me a cigarette. He expressed great interest in our community, as well as in my personal life and business dealings. In parting, the Rebbe said to me: 'I'm sure you've heard of the railway that the government is planning to build across Siberia. I think this is a perfect business opportunity for you. As one who has close connections with Minister Potysukshnikov, you should be able to obtain a sizable contract as a lumber supplier.'

"I returned to my compartment in a state of confusion. The last thing I expected from the Rebbe was a business tip. On the one hand, I felt that the advice of a tzaddik should be followed. On the other hand, the proposal held no attraction for me, despite its great financial potential. My business affairs were going well, thanks to G‑d; why should I leave my family and community and spend many long months, if not years, in far-off Siberia? At the end, I hesitated long enough for others to avail themselves of the opportunity -- to my considerable relief, I must confess.

"And so, now I'm on my way to Siberia. I thought that the Rebbe was dispensing business advice, but he must have seen that there is something there, in Siberia, that I must achieve -- some part of my mission in life that must be played out in the frozen east. I could have gone in comfort, as a wealthy businessman and government contractor. Now I am going in chains..."

Originally published in Sichat Hashavua; from the Hebrew by Yanki Tauber
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Aaron November 7, 2017

Smart guy Reply

Stan Canada November 28, 2012

Foot-steps of Man. G-d is in control in the most loving way and if I accept that rather than fight it, I will see revealed good wherever I go. Shalom !!! Reply

Maryke Moodie Cape Town, South Africa February 12, 2012

The small still inner voice That calling is like a moving train, when it is close the noise is clear, almost overbearing, but then eventually it grows softer and less audible. One has to jump on when the opportunity is there,i.e. listen and obey the call, because once the noise of that voice has grown faint the choice becomes less obvious. Reply

Rochel Chana RIven Brooklyn, NY, USA September 7, 2011

If I'm not mistaken (I read the introduction to this story once), it means that the footsteps of man are preordained, that there are sparks that need to be elevated by each person and G-d leads us to those places in order to do so. Free choice only applies to the areas of learning Torah and doing mitzvos. But where our physical body finds itself is up to G-d. So we will wind up where we are meant to be, but the circumstances that determine how we get there and what we will do there are based on our response to our calling.

I live with this story. It reminds me that G-d is in control in the most loving way and if I accept that rather than fight it, I will see revealed good wherever I go. Reply

Anonymous brooklyn, ny November 2, 2010

to Gilad Benyamin G-d guides the foot-steps of man. The Medrash says our ancestor Yaacov of blessed memory was destined to go down to the land of Egypt, even in chains, but through his merit, he went in honor. Ordinary men do not know but Tzadikim know about a person's destiny. Reply

Gilad Benyamin Lawrenceville October 31, 2009

Business proposal? ?
Would someone please explain what this means?
? Reply

Hephzibah Reir Oklahoma City, OK, United States October 30, 2009

A business proposal... One should never reject the calling of God, neither the so-called physically beautiful and able nor the hesitant reluctance of someone who is less desirable to look at. God calls one such man to be his servant to act when the others do not stand for what is right anymore. Should not all indeed act in accordance with God's business proposals in whatever form it may come no matter the chill of intense cold in the air? Afterall, even Jonah was enforced to do his duty. Reply