The daughter of a chassid of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the “Alter Rebbe” of Chabad, had blossomed into young womanhood, but her impoverished father lacked the means to provide for her to get married. His friends suggested that since it was winter, he should venture into the hard liquor business. Buy a large quantity from a local distillery, they told him, transport it to one of the large fairs at a big city, and—with G‑d’s help—sell it there for a tidy profit.

The man decided to follow his friends’ advice. He managed to borrow a sizable sum of money, and used it to buy a barrel of vodka and to rent a horse and wagon to transport his newly acquired merchandise to the city.

Not a single drop was left!

Finally he reached his destination. He immediately went to the fairgrounds, in order to start selling as soon as possible. He seized the barrel in order to hoist it from the wagon, but then froze in mid-action. The barrel felt frighteningly light! Sure enough, the bottom of the barrel was cracked. The strong smell of alcohol wafted into his nostrils from the soaked wood of the wagon. The entire contents of the barrel had leaked out during the long ride. Not a single drop was left!

In great sorrow, he loaded the empty barrel back on the wagon. He decided to drive on to Liozna, to the rebbe. When he was admitted to the rebbe’s study, he unburdened to him his whole sad story. But the telling made the reality of his loss sink in heavily, and he became even more upset. He had barely finished his words when he fainted on the floor.

The rebbe’s attendant succeeded in reviving him, but when the poor chassid sat up and came to himself enough to realize where he was and why, he fainted again.

This time, as soon as he opened his eyes, the rebbe called out to him, “You can go home now; G‑d will prosper your efforts.”

The rebbe’s encouraging words made the chassid feel a bit less desperate. After a few minutes, he felt well enough to climb up to his wagon and begin the return journey to his town. But after he got to his house and had a chance to rest a bit, he became increasingly nervous and agitated as he considered his situation. He had lost his entire investment; he had no foreseeable means to pay back the large loans he had taken; and, worst of all, he had ruined his last chance of being able to help his daughter get married.

Bitter tears streamed down his cheeks.

“I found a treasure! I found gold!” she whooped.

He tried to gain control of himself. Before he could stop crying, his wife ran into the house, bursting with joy. “I found a treasure! I found gold!” she whooped.

“What are you talking about?” he called to her quizzically.

It took a few moments before she could calm down enough to answer. She related that she had gone to unload the empty barrel from the wagon to store it away. She thought she heard a clunk, so she looked inside. Sitting on the bottom was a wrapped bundle. She dumped it out and opened it, and lo!—it was full of gold coins. A fortune! More than enough to pay their debts, and marry off their daughter and all their other children too (each at the proper time, of course).

What had happened? When he was riding home on the way back from the rebbe, it was a freezing cold, Russian winter day. When he got to the river, instead of crossing over on the bridge that spanned it, he decided to save time by driving directly on the river surface itself, since it was frozen solid. While he was in progress, a wealthy Russian aristocrat was crossing in his fancy carriage on the bridge above him. Apparently, the package of instant golden wealth had fallen out of the aristocrat’s carriage, and plopped directly into the barrel on the chassid’s rusty wagon.

When the Alter Rebbe was told all that had transpired, he immediately said, “Don’t think that I made a miracle, or even that when I told him that G‑d would prosper him, that I was divinely inspired. It was simple logic. We are taught that G‑d Almighty does not require of anyone more than he is capable of, not even in the slightest. When I saw that this Jew was totally unable to withstand the misfortune that had come upon him, I already knew with certainty that G‑d was arranging his salvation.”

Connection to the weekly Torah reading: The ten plagues
Connection to this week: 24th of Tevet, the yahrzeit of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

Translated/adapted from Peninei HaKeter, vol. II, pp. 135–136 (citing Sefer Zikaron).

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