In a village near Sanz there lived a G‑d-fearing Jew who owned a tavern and an inn. One day a wayfarer came by, dressed in rags and tatters. The innkeeper gave him a square meal, and after the Grace After Meals he offered him money. When the visitor declined the offer, the host assumed that it was less than he expected to receive, so he prepared to increase the amount. But the pauper said: “Please do not insist that I accept a donation from you, for I am quite a rich man.”

The “Please do not insist that I accept a donation from you, for I am quite a rich man.”innkeeper was stupefied to hear this statement. He asked the stranger to explain why he wandered about in such a disheveled state. And this is the story he was told.

“I live in the city of Pest, near which I own several villages, fields and vineyards. Once a large sum of money was stolen from me, and I did not know who the thief was. We had a maid—an orphan—and since we suspected that this was her doing, we took her along to the local authorities. The police there beat her in order to induce her to confess, but she insisted she had stolen nothing, so they sent her home to us. But the harsh treatment that she had endured left its mark. For some days she languished in bed, and then died.

“Two weeks later the thief was found. I was stricken by terror. I had suspected an innocent person, and through my doing, this orphan had met her death!

“I set out to speak to Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, hoping that he would teach me some way of repenting and atoning for my sin.

“‘Choose one of these three,’ he said. ‘Either you die, though you will be granted a place in the world to come; or you will be ill and bedridden for three years, while the suffering you undergo will cleanse you of your sins; or for three years you will wander about as a vagabond, as the law prescribes for an unwitting manslaughterer.’

“I couldn’t bring myself to agree to any one of these three alternatives, and returned home. ‘The rebbe has evidently chosen death . . . without waiting for my consent.’For several days I suffered headaches, but mentioned this to no man. Pain gradually spread over my whole body. I was confined to my bed, and the doctor who was summoned by my family almost despaired of my life. ‘The rebbe,’ I told myself, ‘has evidently chosen death as my means of expiation without waiting for my consent.’ I immediately sent off a telegram to Premishlan, accompanied by a pidyon contribution for charity, asking him to pray that I be restored to health, and promising that I would then call on him and accept upon myself whatever he would tell me to do.

“And that is exactly what happened. He prayed on my behalf; I recovered; and as soon as I was strong enough, I set out for Premishlan.

“When I went in to speak to him he said: ‘You still have ample time to die, and you have already been ill. So, choose the exile of a vagabond.’

“As soon as I expressed my willingness to proceed with my punishment, he said: ‘Let me teach you now how one goes about living the life of an exile. First of all, leave everything you have with you at the moment—nice clothes, money—with me, and leave my house wearing some tattered old garment. Do not spend any day in the place where you found lodging for the night. If you are hungry, ask no man for money or for food. But if people offer you something out of compassion, you may accept it. Throughout the three years, you are not to visit your home.’

“‘But what about my business interests?” I asked, terrified.

“‘This alone I will permit you to do: at the end of a year you may visit your hometown and stand outside the city limits, while you send a messenger to your wife to bring you the account books of your business. If you see that your business is running at a loss, I allow you to return to your home—but I promise you that your business will not flounder.

“Throughout these three years, you are not to ride in a wagon, but rather make your way from place to place only on foot. And when the three years have elapsed, you are to come to me. I will return all your possessions to you, and teach you how to conduct your life thereafter so that you will be able to set your soul aright.’

“I took my leave of the tzaddik, and took to the road, exactly as he instructed me to do—a trek of two years so far. Now I heard very recently that the rebbe of Premishlan had passed away, and since he told me to come to speak with him when three years had elapsed, I didn’t know what to do.

“But then I heard that in Sanz, not too far from here, there lives a tzaddik known as the Divrei Chaim. In fact, I’m heading in that direction now, in the hope that he will guide me. And that is why I will not accept your donation, thank you, because at the moment I am not setting out on another leg of my trek as an exile; I am on my way to visit Rabbi Chaim of Sanz.”

“. . . the rebbe of Sanz says that two years of exile are enough for you . . .”

The innkeeper was so curious to know what the end of the story would be that he set out with his ragged guest and escorted him directly to the rebbe’s house in Sanz. The vagabond did not even manage to put his question to Reb Chaim, when the tzaddik said: “Return to your home, traveling by way of Premishlan. Find the grave of Reb Meir, and tell him that the rebbe of Sanz says that two years of exile are enough for you, for you observed them with true self-sacrifice.”

Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by our esteemed colleague Uri Kaploun from Sippurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Meir of Premishlan [?–29 Iyar 1850] lived in abject but patient poverty, yet exerted himself tirelessly for the needy and the suffering. His ruach hakodesh (prophetic spirit) and his ready wit have become legendary. He wrote no works, but some of his teachings were collected and published by his chassidim after his death.

Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz [1793–10 Nissan 1876] was the first rebbe of the Sanz-Klausenberg dynasty. He is famous for his extraordinary dedication to the mitzvah of tzedakah, and also as a renowned Torah scholar; his voluminous and wide-ranging writings were all published under the title Divrei Chaim.

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