Reb Yaakov Yitzchak was visiting Mezeritch for the first time. He was still a very young man, not yet renowned as the Chozeh of Lublin, and his intention was to study at the feet of Reb Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch.

As soon as he arrived, on a Friday afternoon, he went straight into the kitchen and told those who were busy cooking the Shabbos meals: “I am accustomed to personally taking some part in the preparation of the fish that I am to eat on Shabbos. With your permission, I would like to maintain that custom today too.”

He then took up a piece of fish, salted it, put it down, and went his way.

The disciples of the Maggid who had watched this little incident were somewhat surprised, and asked each other: “What makes this young man think that precisely this piece of fish is going to be served to him? Obviously, it will be mixed up among all the other pieces. They are all being cooked together, and it will all be divided up and served by the waiters to the various people who will be sitting at the rebbe’s table!”

And so they dismissed the callow newcomer’s action as bizarre, or worse, pretentious.

Now, one of these disciples was a young man known affectionately by his colleagues as Zalmanyu—the same who was later to become famous as Reb Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of Tanya. This young man tied a short piece of thread to that chunk of fish, in order to be able to trace it—as is done with certain other species of migratory fish—to its precise destination at the table. The newcomer, of course, having left the kitchen, knew nothing of this unobtrusive sign.

At the Shabbos table, Zalmanyu watched the waiters closely, and sure enough, the marked piece was being served to some stranger who was seated next to the newcomer. But no sooner did he take it up than he was overcome by a feverish trembling, and was unable to eat. He pushed his plate aside—right in front of the newcomer, who duly ate it.

And that is how Zalmanyu removed all doubts as to the stature of his new colleague.

Reproduced from A Treasury of Chassidic Tales by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll /Mesorah Publications, Ltd.