In his youth, the famed Maggid of Zlotchov, Rabbi Yechiel Michel, lived in a
certain town, where he would sit all day in the local Beit Midrash (study
hall and synagogue) and pursue his studies.
In that town there lived a simple Jew who earned his livelihood by
transporting travelers and merchandise in his wagon. One day, the wagon driver
came to the local rabbi in a state of great distress. "Help me, Rebbe!"
he wept. "I have committed a terrible sin. I have desecrated the holy
Shabbat. How can I atone for my transgression?"
"How did this come to pass?" asked the Rabbi.
"Last Friday," the man explained, "I was returning from the
marketplace with a wagonload of merchandise when I lost my way in the forest. By the
time I found my way to the outskirts of the city, the sun had already set. So
preoccupied was I with my worry over the merchandise, that I failed to realize
that the Shabbat had arrived until it was too late..."
Seeing how broken-hearted the man was, the rabbi comforted him and said:
"My son, the gates of repentance are never closed. Donate a pound of
candles to the synagogue and your transgression will be forgiven."
The young prodigy, Rabbi Michel, overheard this exchange, and was displeased
by the rabbi's approach. "A pound of candles to atone for violating the
Shabbat?" he thought to himself. "The Shabbat is one of the most
important mitzvot of the Torah. Why is the rabbi treating the matter so
That Friday afternoon, the wagon driver brought the candles to the synagogue.
As Rabbi Michel watched disapprovingly from his table against the back wall, he
placed them on the lectern for the synagogue beadle to light in honor of the
Shabbat. But this was not to be. Before the beadle arrived, a stray dog carried
off the candles and ate them.
The distraught penitent ran to report the incident to the rabbi. "Woe is
me!" he wept. "My repentance has been rejected in Heaven! What shall I
"You're making too much of the matter," the rabbi reassured him.
"These things happen -- there's no reason to deduce that G‑d is rejecting
your repentance. Bring another pound of candles to the synagogue next week, and
everything will be alright.".
But when the beadle lit the candles on the following Friday afternoon, they inexplicably
melted down, so that by the time Shabbat commenced, nothing was left of them.
And upon his third attempt on the week after that, a strong wind suddenly blow
out the candles just when Shabbat began and it was not possible to relight them.
The rabbi, too, realized, that something was amiss, and advised the wagon
driver to seek the counsel of the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem
"Hmm..." said the Baal Shem Tov, upon hearing the man's story.
"It seems that a certain young scholar in your town finds fault with the
path to repentance that the rabbi has prescribed for you. Never mind. Next week,
donate another pound of candles to the synagogue. This time, I promise you that
everything will be alright. And tell Rabbi Michel that I would be honored if he
could trouble himself to come visit me."
Rabbi Michel wasted no time in abiding by the Baal Shem Tov's request. But no
sooner had he and his coachman set out that all sorts of troubles beset their
journey. First, the wagon tumbled into a ditch. Then, an axle broke many miles
from the nearest town. After which they lost their way altogether. When they
finally found the road to Mezhibuzh it was late Friday afternoon and the sun was
about to set. They were forced to abandon the wagon and continue on foot.
Rabbi Michel arrived at the Baal Shem Tov's door an hour into Shabbat, weary
and traumatized by his near-violation of the holy day. "Good Shabbat, Reb
Michel," Rabbi Israel greeted him, "come in and warm yourself by the
fire. You, Reb Michel, have never tasted sin, so you did not comprehend the
remorse a Jew feels at having transgressed the will of his Father in Heaven. I
trust that you now understand something of the agony that our friend
experienced. Believe me, his remorse alone more than atoned for his unwitting