After 12 long years, his exile of penury was finally over. Forced by debt to leave his family and his small inn, the Jew had worked in a distant town as a teacher of young boys, a melamed. Now, having painfully amassed 900 rubles, he was anxious to return home and resume his life.

“The first will cost you 300 rubles.”

Being a chassid, the tutor first stopped in Berditchev, to secure the blessing of his rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. After prayers, the tzaddik greeted him warmly, and then suddenly turned to him and said, “If you would like, I will give you three words of advice. But for each, you must pay well. The first will cost you 300 rubles.” The poor teacher was startled by the rebbe’s request; but then, considering that it was the tzaddik himself making the request, and also that it is written, “Words of Torah are more precious than gold,” he laid the money on the table.

“When a man doesn’t know which way to turn, he should always go to the right!” the rebbe said. “For the next word of advice, you must pay another 300 rubles.”

The chassid experienced a tremor of shock at these words. What was the meaning of this costly advice? And now, another 300! But he couldn’t refuse his rebbe, and so, he counted out the money.

“An old husband with a young wife is half a death,” said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. “And if you want to hear the last word, you must pay the same amount once again.”

This final demand left the poor tutor paralyzed.

This final demand left the poor tutor paralyzed. His years of struggle, his long awaited homecoming—what would be? With trembling fingers, he opened his purse and spilled the contents on the table. But his sadness dissipated and was replaced by a strange feeling of joy. Come what may, he had obeyed his beloved rebbe.

“Remember, my son, to believe only what you see with your own eyes. This is my final advice. Now, go in peace.”

The bewildered chassid began wandering the surrounding streets, when he heard the cry, “Catch the thieves. There’s a price on their heads!”

“Have they gone to the right or the left?” the pursuers asked the chassid. After only a moment of hesitation, he spoke up. “To the right!”

Later that afternoon, the teacher had 600 rubles in hand—his share of the reward for catching the thieves. Happily, he headed for home, but as night was falling, he decided to stay the night at an inn. The elderly innkeeper was about to admit him, when a young woman appeared and sternly turned him away, saying, “We have no room. Go elsewhere!”

“An old man with a young wife,” the tutor thought to himself, and he resolved to take his rest huddled in the courtyard of the inn. Around midnight, he was startled by a wagon from which alighted two men, one carrying a glinting sword.

“Murderers, murderers, catch them!”

Emboldened by his rebbe’s words, he yelled, “Murderers, murderers, catch them!” The inn was roused, and the would-be killers fled into the darkness. The grateful old man, who had suspected a plot, rewarded the surprised chassid with 300 rubles.

There was nothing left to do but to continue on his way. He arrived in his old town to find it unchanged. However, no one recognized him, so profoundly had his years of hardship altered his features. His inquiries about the innkeeper who disappeared many years ago brought knowing looks from the townsfolk.

“Yes,” said one man, “we remember him. A fine family, but, sad to say, his wife has gone off the straight path.”

That night, the returning husband and father stood outside his house. In the pale moonlight, he saw a young man stealthily enter the house. Hours later, he left as secretly as he had come. And if it weren’t for the echo of his rebbe’s words, he would have left his home again, in shame, but this time forever.

Only now, his heart was wracked with pain.

The following day he returned, laden with gifts, and was greeted with a welcome he had pictured in his imagination so many times. Only now, his heart was wracked with pain.

When he and his wife were finally alone, the man turned to her and said, “The whole town is talking. Why, I have even seen with my own eyes . . .”

“Stop!” his wife pleaded. “Have you forgotten our youngest son? Didn’t you notice that he is not here? The duke seized him years ago as security on our loan. All of my weeping and begging were to no avail. But we have been blessed with a good child. Each night he comes to me, and I teach him a little bit—some Torah, some blessings. Very little, but he knows he is a Jew.”

The chassid wept in wonder and awe at all that had transpired. For it was wonder enough, he thought, that my rebbe had the vision to see how the events would unfold, but he had had the wisdom to see into my heart. For had he not demanded so dear a price for his words, I would not have been able to follow his advice. But the greatest wonder of all is that G‑d enabled me, a simple Jew, to give up my entire fortune that I suffered so much loneliness and hardship to acquire, when I would have more easily surrendered my very life.

Connection to Weekly Reading: the suspected adulteress.

Based loosely on “Living Jewish” ( and “L’Chaim Weekly”

Biographical note:
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Derbaremdiger of Berditchev (1740—25 Tishrei 1810) is one of the most popular rebbes in chassidic history. He was a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. He is best known for his love for every Jew, and his active efforts to intercede for them against (seemingly) adverse heavenly decrees. Many of his teachings are contained in the posthumously published Kedushat Levi.

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