As the train chugged kilometer after kilometer, the holy Rabbi Shmuel Weinberg of Slonim, author of Divrei Shmuel, accompanied by a retinue of Chassidim, sat immersed in his lofty thoughts.

The train lurched to a stop at yet another station. A poritz – a wealthy and powerful landowner – accompanied by his young servant boarded the train. The landowner's eyes gazed over the wagon and came to rest on his choice of seat – the one beside the rabbi's attendant who sat right behind the rabbi, ready to respond to the sage's requests.

The landowner sat down, straightened his bones and turned to the rabbi's attendant, "Who is this man sitting in front of us? And why is he surrounded by so many people?"

"He's a rabbi," came the reply.

"A rabbi!" the landowner exclaimed. "I, too, am the grandson of a rabbi!"

The Chassidim all moved aside to make room for the landownerThis astonishing statement, uttered loudly to the shock of all the passengers, had reached the ears of the rabbi himself. Rabbi Weinberg turned around in his seat and lovingly addressed the landowner, "It that is so, sir, if your grandfather was a rabbi and my grandfather was a rabbi, then come sit next to me."

The Chassidim all moved aside to make room for the landowner and he proudly took his seat next to the rabbi himself.

In a kindly manner the rabbi inquired about his ancestry. The landowner considered himself a grandson of Rebbi Meir, the son of the holy rabbi of Berditchev. He was proud of his heritage, despite the fact that he lived a life far removed from those roots. A physician for Czar Nikolai, it was already forty years, he told the rabbi, since a pair of tefillin had passed through his hands…

"I'm reminded of an interesting story about your great-grandfather," said the Rabbi. "Would you like to hear it?"

"A story? Why not?" The landowner's interest was piqued and the rabbi began to relate the story.

Each night, Yankel would drag himself home, drunk and destitute. After sitting all day long, gambling away his every penny and drinking one glass of whiskey after another, his shaky feet would hardly agree to carry him through the twisted streets of Berditchev.

One night, he met the great tzaddik, Rebbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. "Ah, Yankel," the rabbi said kindly, "how I envy you."

Yankel's eyes widened. "Me? You envy me? Is there anything about me to be jealous about?"

"Yes, Yankel," said the rabbi, warmly pumping his head. "Our sages say that when a person repents, his sins get turned into merits. When you will repent with all your heart and return to the ways of your fathers, then your merits will be innumerable. You will be standing on a much higher level than me…"

"Ach, Rabbi!" Yankel spat out. "If that is so, it pays to wait another year, and then the rabbi will be able to envy me a lot more, since my sins will have grown manifold…"

And so Yankel the drunkard would scornfully reject the rabbi's attempts to steer him back on the right path.

Until one day, illness struck. While Yankel lay in bed, withered and weak, his pious wife ran to the Berditchever Rebbe and with tears in her eyes, and begged him to come to her dying husband's bedside.

"Yankel," the rabbi spoke kindly to the ailing patient when he'd arrived, "you've always delayed any thoughts of change for another year. What about now?"

Yankel sighed. "There's something I want to tell you, rabbi."

"Those eyes, Rabbi, those furious eyes of the poritz keep floating before me"He was obviously very weak, but there was determination in the eyes. "In the beginning, when I rented my little inn from the poritz, it was tidy and well-kept. Then, as I started drinking and squandering all my money with silly card games, I had no time to look around at my environment. I didn't notice that the roof had caved in and the windows were broken. And so it never entered my mind to repair them.

"One winter morning, while the poritz was out hunting, the heavens suddenly opened and a thunderstorm erupted. My landlord, who was stranded in the forest, suddenly noticed his inn and hurriedly steered his horse in this direction, relishing its cozy and warm interior. You can imagine how enraged he became when he set his eyes on the terrible condition of the inn, entirely exposed to the elements like an open invitation for the rain.

"Of course the landlord demanded an explanation. And I, what could I say? I threw myself at his feet, 'My dear sir,' I cried bitterly. 'Did I know that it would rain like this?'"

A terrible wail escaped Yankel's throat. In a haunted voice weak from pain and anguish, he turned to the rabbi. "Those eyes, Rabbi, those furious eyes of the poritz keep floating before me and his words leave me without peace. They keep calling, demanding, penetrating my soul like so many swords. "Didn't you realize," he had yelled, "Didn't you think that in the end, the day would come when you'd have to answer for your neglectful behavior?"

"And as the cries of the dying man – cries of deep, heartfelt repentance – ascended to the heavens, so did his soul," the Rebbe of Slonim concluded his tale. "The Berditchever Rebbe himself testified that Yankel the drunkard had left this world with genuine repentance."

The wealthy landowner sat enveloped in a cloak of silence as he listened to the words of the rabbi. He didn't utter a word when the rabbi removed his tefillin from his pouch, but merely extended his arm and watched as the rabbi bound the straps around them. And when the rabbi offered him the tefillin as a gift, he didn't resist…

Years later, the rabbi's attendant was traveling when an elderly man approached him. "Do you remember me?" he asked.

The attendant studied the face above the flowing white beard, but couldn't quite place him. The stranger then clarified, "Do you remember, many years back, when a landowner sat next to you on a train and the rabbi invited me to sit next to him? I am that landowner whose heart Rabbi Weinberg kindled all those years ago on the seat beside him. The rabbi's tefillin stoked the embers into a fiery flame that illuminated the way for my return to my heritage…"