Charcoal on Paper
Charcoal on Paper

Artist's Statement: Reb Bunim used to tell this story to his followers the first time they visited him:

There was once an impoverished man by the name of Reb Isaac ben Yakil of Krakow. He lived in poverty for many years, not knowing where his next crust of bread would come from. Still, Reb Isaac had implicit faith that G‑d would not let him starve, and that one day his suffering would end.

One night, he dreamed that there was highly valuable buried treasure under a specific bridge in Prague. At first, he paid the dream no attention, assuming it was mere wishful thinking. After all, who doesn’t dream of riches? But when the dream repeated itself night after night after night, he began to reconsider. Perhaps there was something to it? Could it possibly be true?

So, he set off to Prague—a long and tiring journey, only to discover that the bridge was right near the royal palace and thus heavily guarded at all hours. Soldiers marched up and down, alert and ready, looking for any signs of danger or unusual activity. Digging under the bridge was clearly out of the question. Oh, how disappointing.

But Reb Isaac was not going to give up that easily. He returned to the bridge day after day until the guards began to recognize him. Soon they became curious. “Why do you come to the bridge every day?” one of the guards asked him. “Are you waiting for someone?”

Reb Isaac knew they wouldn’t believe some half-hearted excuse, so he told them about his dream. The guard listened, threw back his head, and laughed heartily. “You can all this way because of a silly dream? You fool! I had a dream that a certain Jew, Reb Isaac Ben Yakil, has buried treasure under his stove, but do you see me going on a wild good chase? Of course not!” and he laughed uproariously.

Meanwhile, Reb Isaac hurried off to buy a ticket for the first train back to Krakow. Now he knew where to look. Sure enough, when he arrived he immediately shoved the iron stove out of the way and began digging at the hard dirt floor. And, to his great joy and astonishment, after some effort he uncovered a chest of gold coins!

He used the money to build a magnificent synagogue which bore his name, and with the rest of the money he built himself a comfortable home and furnished it well.

When Reb Bunim told this tale to followers who had travelled from far and wide to visit him, what was the message? The followers understood. You don’t always find what you’re looking for by travelling to a distant chassidic court. True spiritual treasure can be acquired right near home, with intense effort and devout prayer.