A certain tzaddik (righteous person) once wished to find out who would be his neighbor in the world to come. He fasted and prayed to G‑d to be shown what awaited him in Gan Eden. Eventually, he was told in a dream that his neighbor would be none other than the town butcher.

The tzaddik was sure that this was a meaningless dream. How could it be that this butcher, a simple man who barely knew how to read and write, would be his neighbor? Surely, a tzaddik such as he, who was on a lofty spiritual level, would merit the higher revelations of Gan Eden. So he continued his prayers and fasts, hoping for the real answer.

His neighbor would be none other than the town butcher

“You’ve already been told that the butcher will be your neighbor in Gan Eden!” he was told sternly in a dream. “Were you not a tzaddik, you would have deserved a death sentence for disparaging someone who has performed tremendous good deeds.”

The next morning, the tzaddik hurried to the local meat market, where he found the butcher cutting up meat, as usual.

“Good morning,” the butcher smiled. “How can I help you, Rabbi?”

“Tell me, please,” replied the tzaddik, “what good deeds you have accomplished.”

The butcher told him that every day he divided the day’s earnings into two halves: one went to the poor, the other supported him and his family.

Tzedakah, charity, is indeed a great mitzvah,” said the tzaddik, “but there are people who give far more than you do. Did you ever do some kind of special mitzvah? Please try to remember.”

The butcher sat and thought for a while, until suddenly his eyes lit up. He began: “Yes, I once performed a special mitzvah. I had almost forgotten it, but here’s the story:

“One time, a group of non-Jewish traders came to the local market with a girl. When she saw me, she began to cry and plead with me to rescue her. Apparently, these merchants had kidnapped her and were planning to sell her as a slave. I paid full price for her, brought her to my house, and raised her as if she were my own daughter.

These merchants had kidnapped her and were planning to sell her as a slave

“As time passed, I realized that she was a very special, refined person. So I suggested a match between her and my son.

“‘You saved my life; it’s the least I can do,’ she replied. We joyfully began preparations for the wedding. I bought the finest clothes and invited the whole town to the celebration.

“A few minutes before the wedding, I noticed a pauper near the wedding canopy crying piteously. I begged him to tell me what the problem was. At first he refused, but then he finally gave in and told me that he was engaged to that very girl! He had been wandering in search of her ever since she had been abducted.

“‘Do you have any proof that you were engaged?’ I asked. He responded by showing me the betrothal document.

“I then summoned my son and his betrothed, and told them what the pauper had said. ‘Whom do you truly wish to marry,’ I asked the girl, ‘my son or this man?’ With great emotion, she admitted that although she had been unable to refuse my request because of the debt she owed me, she wished to return to her original chatan.

I asked my son to give his bride, along with all of his wedding clothes, to the poor man. And so, instead of my son, it was the original bridegroom who was wed to his beloved, with the whole town participating in their joy.”

“May G‑d bless you!” the tzaddik exclaimed in astonishment. “That is indeed a unique mitzvah. It will be my honor to be your neighbor in Gan Eden.”

(Source: Otzar Midrashim)