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"Lost" in the Mail for Sixteen Years

"Lost" in the Mail for Sixteen Years


Some 300 years ago, there lived an affluent man named Avigdor. He once brought a large sum of money to Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the chassidic movement, to be distributed to the poor on his behalf.

Accepting the contribution graciously, the Baal Shem Tov (literally, “Master of a Good Name”) inquired if perhaps Avigdor would like a blessing in return. After all, the Baal Shem Tov was renowned not only as a great Torah scholar, but also as a righteous individual who had the power to give blessings.

I am very wealthy

"No thanks!" replied Avigdor arrogantly. "I am very wealthy; I own many properties, and I have servants, plenty of delicacies and everything else I want. I have more than I need!"

"You are very fortunate," replied the Baal Shem Tov. "Perhaps you would like a blessing for your family?"

"I have a large and healthy family of which I am very proud; they are a credit to me. I don’t need—or want—anything."

"Well, then perhaps you can help me. May I request one thing of you?" inquired Rabbi Israel. "Can you please deliver a letter to the head of the charity committee in Brody?"

"Certainly," responded Avigdor. "I live in Brody and would be happy to assist you in this matter."

The Baal Shem Tov took out a pen and paper, wrote a letter, sealed it in an envelope and gave it to Avigdor. Avigdor took the letter, placed it in his jacket pocket and returned home. But he had so many projects on his mind that by the time he arrived in Brody he had completely forgotten about the entire encounter with Rabbi Israel.

Sixteen years passed, and the wheel of fortune suddenly turned. All of Avigdor's assets and properties were lost or destroyed. Floods ruined his fields of crops; fires destroyed his forests. Calamity after calamity. He was left penniless.

Creditors took his house and everything he owned. He was forced to sell even his clothing to feed his children. One day, while cleaning out the pockets of an old jacket he planned to sell, he found a letter—the letter that he had received from the Baal Shem Tov 16 years earlier! In a flash, he recalled his visit and his haughtiness when he thought he had everything. With tears in his eyes, he rushed to finally fulfill his mission and deliver the letter. The envelope was addressed to a Mr. Tzaddok, chairman of the charity committee of Brody.

He ran into the street and encountered one of his friends. Grabbing his arm, he said, "Where can I find Mr. Tzaddok?"

"Mr. Tzaddok? You mean Mr. Tzaddok, the chairman of the charity committee?"

"Yes, I must see him immediately!" replied Avigdor.

"He is in the synagogue," said Avigdor's friend. "I was there only a few minutes ago. Mr. Tzaddok is indeed a lucky man. Just this morning he was elected chairman of the charity committee."

"Tell me more about Mr. Tzaddok," insisted Avigdor.

Willing to oblige, Avigdor's friend continued, "Mr. Tzaddok was born and raised here in Brody. A tailor by profession, he was always down on his luck, never able to make a decent living. He was hardly able to support his family, and they always lived in abject poverty. He sat in the back of the synagogue, and no one ever took notice of him. Despite working many hours, he never earned much; it was hard for him to scrape together enough money for even a loaf of bread for his family.

He did not forget his former poverty

"Recently, however, the tide changed. Mr. Tzaddok was introduced to a local nobleman, and he made uniforms for all his servants. The nobleman was very satisfied with Mr. Tzaddok's craftsmanship, and his business started to pick up. He even received an order for 5,000 uniforms for the army. He became a rich man and gained respect in the eyes of the community. He did not forget his former poverty, and gave generously to many, taking an active role in communal affairs. Just this morning, he was unanimously elected chairman of the charity committee."

Hearing this story, Avigdor hurried to the synagogue and found Mr. Tzaddok busy perusing the many requests for financial assistance. He handed Mr. Tzaddok the letter. Together they read the words of the Baal Shem Tov, penned 16 years earlier:

Dear Mr. Tzaddok,

The man who brought this letter is named Avigdor. He was once very wealthy, but is now very poor. He has paid for his haughtiness. Since just this morning you were elected chairman of the charity committee, I request that you do all you can to assist him, as he has a large family to support. He will once again become successful, and this time he will be more suited to success. In case you doubt my words, I give you the following sign: Your wife is expecting a baby, and today she will give birth to a boy.

They had hardly concluded reading the letter when someone burst into the synagogue and exclaimed, "Mazel tov, Mr. Tzaddok! Your wife just had a baby boy!"

Thanks to the Baal Shem Tov's foresight, Avigdor once again became very affluent. This time, he remained humble and was admired by all.

Shaul Wertheimer is the director of Chabad of Queens College. He has a degree in philosophy from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and graduated from the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J. He lives in Queens with his wife and children.
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Anonymous Staten Island May 7, 2017

The way the story is written here, Avigdor did not thank Hashem for all the good he had. Maybe the Baal Shem Tov didn't want him to request a blessing for anything but to thank Hashem for what he had. After all, aren't we supposed to be satisfied with what we have been blessed with? Reply

Anonymous December 2, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

We should be thankful in our hearts and need not have to put in words! We are all children/ vehicles of god no matter which religion is followed. Always intrigued by stories/parables of this great master. Reply

Anonymous Israel April 27, 2017

It is true we cannot boast about tomorrow because we know not what tomorrow will bring
Everything happens according to H"s timing and this story proves it
If someone wants to give us a blessing we need to accept it otherwise it becomes a curse Reply

Dadon September 24, 2016

That is the power of a tzaddik Reply

Thomas November 20, 2015

How was this possible? How did Baal Shem Tov know what was going to happen? Was it supernatural?

But besides that, I guess point of the story is that we should take blessing whenever we can get them. If we are in good times, we should not expect it to last forever and be charitable and make connections for future favours. Reply

Geoffrey Jacks Lakewood, CA December 30, 2014

Re: "Lost" in the Mail for Sixteen Years Wow...What a Great Story!!! Everyone should read this to their children.

"L'Chaim 5775!" Reply

Shaul Wertheimer Flushing December 25, 2014

Hi Joseph, I also told the story to my children!

BTW, I spent many Shabbat and holidays in Burlington! Send my regards to the Shluchim. Reply

Shaul Wertheimer Flushing December 25, 2014

Glad you enjoyed it, Jerry. You gleaned a very important lesson from it! Reply

Josef Burlington, Vermont December 25, 2014

I have read it to my young children, great teaching. Thank you Chabad Reply

Jerry Dallas December 24, 2014

love this I love this story. It reflects the idea of never forgetting where one comes from. Reply

Learn about the life and teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century mystic who permanently changed the Jewish landscape.
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