There was once a rich chassid who was known for his piety and erudition. We’ll call him Reb Yaakov.

One day, a very distressed Reb Yaakov was standing before the great chassidic master Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. He was on the verge of tears.

“I can’t understand it,” he lamented. “Everything I do is failing. I used to have such good business sense. It’s as though I’ve been cursed! Has someone cursed me?”

The Baal Shem Tov said nothing. Reb Yaakov tried to wait, but the silence was unbearable.

“Every time I make an investment, it ends in disaster. I’m losing money hand over fist! What should I do?”

The Baal Shem Tov looked up at him sadly and said, “Your snuffbox.”

“My snuffbox?” Reb Yaakov asked nervously, fumbling in his jacket pocket and producing a small, finely decorated golden box, which he proceeded to open.

But the Baal Shem Tov paid no attention, and continued.

“About half a year ago, you were sitting in shul (synagogue) with some of your friends, and you took that box out and offered them snuff. Do you remember?”

“I . . . I don’t . . . That is . . . almost every day, some of us, we sit together after shacharit (morning prayers) and pass around . . .”

“Do you remember the day that you took out your snuffbox and offered everyone to take a bit of snuff, but when you saw a beggar stand up from his seat in the corner and head towards you to take some, you closed it and put it back in your pocket? Do you remember?”

Reb Yaakov tried not to remember, but suddenly the scene was there in his memory, clear as day. He didn’t want that bum to get too close. He looked disgusting. Not only that, but he had been in the middle of a conversation with his friends . . .

“Well,” concluded the Baal Shem Tov, “maybe it meant nothing to you at the time, because your success and wealth had hardened your heart. But you really shamed that man to the core of his being. So it was decided in heaven that all your worldly possessions would be taken from you and be given to him.”

Reb Yaakov was stunned. He couldn’t believe his ears: all this because of a pinch of snuff? But it was happening, it was true! He was losing everything at a frightening pace. And now that he thought about it, that beggar seemed to have disappeared. It was a curse all right; but it was he who had cursed himself!

He looked at the Baal Shem Tov imploringly and stammered, “Is there any way I can . . .”

“The only one way you would get your wealth back,” the Baal Shem Tov said, “is if the process is reversed. If you ask him for a pinch of snuff and he refuses you, then he will lose it all to you, just as you did to him . . .”

Reb Yaakov returned home. Things proceeded the way that they had been going for the last six months. Within a few weeks he indeed lost everything, including his house and belongings, just as the Baal Shem Tov said he would.

He also discovered that the beggar—we’ll call him Isaac—had suddenly become a rich businessman. He was now making daring investments all over the place, and was associating with some of the wealthiest men in the country.

Several times Reb Yaakov considered just going up to Isaac as he left his house in the morning and asking him for a pinch of snuff, but decided against it. He would wait for a better opportunity. A time when he was busy or distracted, and likely to refuse him.

Finally the opportunity came.

One morning, the shul bulletin board had a notice pinned to it inviting everyone in the city to the wedding of . . . Mr. Isaac’s daughter. It would be in two weeks, in the large town square.

Two weeks later, Reb Yaakov was there with a foolproof plan.

The wedding ceremony was underway. The band played solemnly, and then stopped as the couple stood under the wedding canopy. The rabbi finished all the blessings, the groom broke the glass, the band broke into joyous playing. Hundreds of people surrounded the newlywed couple and their parents. Everyone began dancing, shaking the hands of the groom and the father of the bride, slapping them on the shoulders and calling out mazal tov!”

And at that very moment Reb Yaakov ran up to Mr. Isaac, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Please give me a pinch of snuff!”

Mr. Isaac looked at him strangely. He turned back to the person that he had been speaking to (Aha! He’s ignoring me! thought Reb Yaakov), mumbled an apology, then turned back around, snuffbox in hand, and offered it to the guest with the strange request.

Reb Yaakov fainted. A doctor was called. He was carried to a side room, and after a few minutes Mr. Isaac appeared.

“He’ll be all right,” said the doctor. “Maybe it was too warm or something.”

“But why is he weeping?” Mr. Isaac asked.

“I’ll tell you why,” said Reb Yaakov. “Remember me? I’m the rich man who insulted you so badly by refusing to give you a pinch of snuff months ago in shul, and because of that I lost all my riches and you gained them. Well, just now when you didn’t act selfishly as I did back then, I lost my only chance to regain my wealth.” And he resumed crying.

But our story has a happy ending.

When Mr. Isaac heard the entire story, he calmed Reb Yaakov down, invited him to the wedding feast, and reassured him: “If the Baal Shem Tov says that you’re the cause of my sudden wealth, then the least I can do for you is to provide you with a home and a job for the rest of your life . . .”