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Forty-Three Rubles

Forty-Three Rubles

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When Chassidic master Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Spira (known as the "Bnei Yissaschar" after the book he authored by that name) was ten years old, his father took a position as a teacher in a distant town. Zvi Elimelech's father spent the duration of the winter in a Jewish-owned inn. In those days it was normal for a teacher not to see his family from October to April.

That winter was particularly bitter. Snowstorms lasted for a week. During one such storm, a knock was heard at the door. The innkeeper opened the door and found three half frozen Polish peasants requesting a place to stay. He inquired of their ability to pay and found that their combined funds were not enough for even one night's stay. The innkeeper closed the door on them. The teacher was shocked. When he complained to the innkeeper, the innkeeper merely shrugged and responded, "Do you want to undertake their expenses?" Much to the innkeeper's surprise, the teacher agreed.

The peasants thanked their benefactor and proceeded to enjoy themselves at his expense. That storm was particularly brutal and the peasants remained in the inn for two weeks. After the snow cleared enough for passage, they thanked the teacher profusely and left.

Passover approached and the Bnei Yissaschar's father went to settle his account. The innkeeper figured he owed the teacher 40 rubles for teaching his children, but the teacher owed him 43 rubles for taking in the peasants. The innkeeper wished him a Happy Passover and said he could bring the three rubles upon his return after the festival.

The teacher did not know what to say. He bid his employer farewell and left. He traveled to his village, but could not bring himself to go home. He stopped into one of the local synagogues, opened a tome of the Talmud and immersed himself in study. In the meantime, his son heard that his father was in town and went looking for him. He found his father in the shul.

Young Zvi Elimelech ran to his father and with great emotion begged his father to come home. He wanted to show his father his new Passover shoes and clothes and all the other things mommy had bought (on credit). This made the father only feel worse. As they walked home a chariot came rumbling through the streets. The streets of that hamlet were very narrow and pedestrians were forced into alleyways to avoid being trampled. As the coach passed by the two, it hit a bump and a parcel fell off the back.

The Bnei Yissaschar's father picked it up and began running after the coach, but was unable to get the coachman's attention. The coach turned a corner and disappeared. The Bnei Yissaschar's father, seeing no distinguishing marks on the bag (according to Torah law, in such a situation it may be presumed that the owner would relinquish all hope of its recovery, and the lost object may be kept by the finder), and realizing that there was no possible way for him to locate the owner, opened the parcel. Inside were exactly 43 rubles.

The night of the seder, the Bnei Yissaschar was given the job to open the door for Elijah the Prophet. When he opened the door, he called to his father, "Father, the coachman is here!" There was no one there. The Bnei Yissaschar's father pulled the boy aside and told him that he must promise never to tell anyone this story until the very last day of his life.

This story was told to me by a rabbi who heard it from a disciple of the Bnei Yissaschar, who heard it directly from the Bnei Yissaschar on his deathbed.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Zvi-Elimelech Spira of Dinov (1777-1841) was named after his maternal uncle, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, who had told the young woman that she would give birth to a young man who would be a "light of the world." He was a follower of the Seer of Lublin, who told him that he was a reincarnation of the great early Torah sages of the tribe of Yissaschar (Issachar). He became known as the "Bnei Yissaschar" ("Sons of Issachar") -- the title he gave to his classic Chassidic work. He became a well-known Rebbe in his own right and a prolific writer who championed the study of Kabbalah and other Jewish mystical texts.

As told by the chassid Rabbi Shalom Ber Gordon, of blessed memory, to Rabbi Herschel Finman of Detroit, Michigan. To receive Rabbi Finman's weekly e-letter click here
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January 4, 2010
Sons of Issachar

Thanks for enlightening my understanding of Purim. Especially this latest Purim Hebron
Oluyemi Issachar
Lagos, Nigeria