“Wow! What an extraordinary, enormous fish! I must buy it in honor of the Shabbat!” exclaimed the Jewish lady excitedly to the maid who’d accompanied her to the marketplace. “How fortunate that we came nice and early this Friday.”

Because the fish was so large, it was very expensive, but she could well afford it. Her husband, a noted scholar and leader of the community, was also quite wealthy.

She herself was an exceptional woman. As the daughter of Rabbi Meir of Kostentin and granddaughter of the famed Rabbi Yaakov Emden, she well appreciated the delight and importance of a Torah atmosphere on Shabbat. Seeing her purchase energetically thrashing around in her basket, she joyfully thanked G‑d for enabling her to enhance the Shabbat table in such regal fashion.

That afternoon a carriage pulled up in front of their door, and a distinguished-looking man alighted. No one knew who he was, but it was obvious from his appearance and deportment that here was a true Torah personality. Her husband welcomed him heartily, and with respect and deference invited him to stay for Shabbat.

The guest, who chose not to reveal his identity, was none other than the holy Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch. While Rabbi Yitzchak definitely enjoyed the Shabbat with his scholarly host in the luxurious setting, the whole time, night and day, he was nagged by puzzlement. What was the reason for the amazing chain of events that led him to spend the Day of Rest far from home? Surely it was not just to have a pleasurable Shabbat. What was he supposed to accomplish here?

After the Third Meal the holy rabbi retired to his room to rest for a bit, but his feeling of unfulfilled purpose gave him no peace. He decided to do a shaalat chalom (“query by dream”). Before he lay down, he composed his mind carefully and focused on his query: “May Heaven inform me why I have been sent to this town. Where are the hidden sparks of holiness that I am supposed to elevate? What must I achieve?”

When he awoke, he had his answer. There is no special task for you to fulfill here, he was informed while he slept, nor anything to rectify. But on Friday morning the lady of the house had purchased a large fish in honor of the Shabbat, and on her way home from the marketplace she had prayed: “Master of the Universe! You granted me this extraordinary fish in honor of Your holy Shabbat. Please also grant me a suitably pious and learned guest to enjoy this fish tonight.” As nobody in this generation is more worthy than you, you were “summoned” by Heaven to arrive here for Shabbat.

After havdalah and the melaveh malkah meal, Rabbi Yitzchak made his departure. The host and his sons escorted him out to his carriage. Much to their surprise—and at variance with accepted custom—their distinguished holy guest requested of them that they call the hostess out for the farewell too.

When she arrived, he said to her: “I was a great distance from here, but because of your prayer yesterday, I was compelled to travel all the way here to spend Shabbat with your family. Your prayers are powerful!”

Biographical notes:

Rabbi Meir of Kostentin, head of the rabbinical court in Konstantynow, Poland, was the son of Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697–1776), a leading rabbinical authority, who in turn was the son of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Ashkenazi, the “Chacham Zvi.”

Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch was a leading Kabbalist of his generation, and father of Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov (1731–1786), a major disciple of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, who first went to the Besht as a boy with his father.