About two and a half centuries ago there lived in the town of Kosov a wealthy textile merchant named Moshe. He made his home in the best section of the city, in a luxurious mansion on a huge estate, on which grassy lawns, lush gardens, and orchards of fruit trees all flourished. Basically a simple person, his innate humility seemed to remain unaffected even as his wealth grew from year to year.

But then, all of a sudden, an unusual idea entered Moshe's mind and took hold of his heart: Moshe had become possessed by the desire to experience a revelation of Elijah the Prophet.

Not that he was under the illusion that he was entitled to see the Prophet because of his wealth. He knew better than that. He undertook a series of fasts and other forms of deprivations and self-afflictions, hoping that would enable him to fulfill his wish.

It didn't.

He started to keep company with the Chassidim and the other strictly religious people in the community, imitating their ways. He hoped that their superior spiritual attainments would rub off on him and his resultant elevation would allow him to attain his goal.

That also didn't work.

Unsure what to try next, he decided to consult the local Chassidic master, Rabbi Boruch of Kosov. The Rebbe listened intently, but then, to Moshe's dismay, said: "Reb Moshe, why are you trying to get involved in such lofty matters? Your role is to do deeds of kindness and charity; that's what your soul requires for its rectification." Moshe left the Rebbe's room, frustrated. He still felt sure he knew what he really needed.

From that day on, Moshe the merchant's behavior changed radically. He abandoned his business for days at a time, which he spent in the study hall. He no longer paid much attention to his personal appearance or the upkeep of his estate, abandoning almost completely the aristocratic lifestyle he had adapted over the years.

After some time, he went to visit the Rebbe again. Eyes downcast, the dark shadow of depression on his face, it was clear he was deeply troubled. His desire to see the Prophet left him no peace. As he told the Rebbe of his frustrations, he involuntarily emitted a deep sigh.

This time, the Rebbe seemed more accepting of Moshe's craving, though he still maintained that Moshe's mission in life lay in path of kindness and good deeds, and instructed him to increase his charitable work. Then, after a pause, he added mysteriously: "If a poor man should approach you and request a thousand gold pieces, don't hold back from granting his request."

Once again Moshe felt belittled by the Rebbe's reply. Nevertheless, he decided to adhere closely to his advice. Any poor person that crossed his path was immediately endowed with a generous contribution, without any delay to check the recipient's worthiness. He conducted himself in this manner for several years, but still there was no encounter with Elijah the Prophet, and his frustration gave him no rest.

One day, while he was busy at work with a number of different customers, a messenger arrived from his house. A pathetic-looking, poverty-stricken man had knocked on the door and begged for help, but he refused to accept the food that a servant had brought out to him. Instead, he insisted that he be invited into the dining hall so he could sit and eat there. His wife wasn't sure how to handle the situation, so she had sent to ask her husband's advice.

At first Moshe was outraged by the needy man's chutzpah. But then, remembering the Rebbe's counsel, he instructed the messenger simply to tell his wife that he would come home as soon as he could, and that in the meantime she should fulfill the stranger's unusual request and invite him in. When he arrived about an hour later, he found his wife pacing near the entrance, exasperated, impatiently awaiting him. As soon as she saw him she burst out bitterly, "Not even sitting in our dining hall satisfies this tramp! He demanded that I show him into our bedroom!"

Moshe dashed upstairs to the master bedroom. He could barely believe the sight that greeted him: a disheveled crude-looking person wearing what seemed to be more rags and patches than actual clothing sprawled across his bed, with the stains and remains of his meal spread all over himself and the fresh linens. As Moshe stood, the "guest" looked up at him and drawled, "Nu? So how about a little present? A modest sum—only a measly thousand gold pieces."

Reb Moshe wasnt sure whether to erupt in anger or burst into laughter. He was so taken aback he felt powerless to move or speak; he could only stand there in continued silence.

"If you won't give me right now one thousand gulden, I won't leave!" announced the strange beggar defiantly.

Moshe calmed down a bit from his initial shock. He decided to ignore the insult to his honor and simply offer the man a lesser sum. "Fifty...a hundred...one hundred fifty..." Eventually he offered him 200 gulden, not at all a small sum.

It was as if the man on his bed had sealed his ears. He kept arrogantly asserting he would take 1000 gulden and not a penny less. Reb Moshe finally lost all patience with this rude boor and signaled one of his servants to remove the impudent pest from his presence. But the object of their intentions was much too quick. Before they could lay a hand on him, he climbed out of the window and disappeared.

All this occurred just a few hours before the festival of Lag BaOmer. That night all the Chassidim gathered at the Rebbe's table in honor of the occasion. Moshe the textile merchant was among them. Rebbe Boruch spoke about the Divine revelations that are manifest on this special day, though not everyone merits to recognize them. Reb Moshe decided that this must certainly be an auspicious moment to mention his burning request. The Rebbe's response shocked him like an icy hand squeezing his heart: "But didn't you already meet a poor person who requested of you one thousand gold pieces?"

Moshe quickly told the Rebbe about the impudent beggar who had so crudely pushed his way into his house earlier in the day.

"Ach. What a pity!" the Rebbe sighed softly. "You saw the Prophet but you didn't recognize him."

"That tramp was Elijah the Prophet?!!" Moshe cried in dismay.

"Yes," explained the Rebbe. "He appears to people according to the root of their souls and the level of their deeds."

Reb Moshe was truly broken-hearted. One result was that he and his wife decided to move to the Holy Land. They settled in the holy city of Sefad, where a change came over him almost immediately. He no longer sought greatness or extraordinary revelations. He served G‑d simply and whole-heartedly.

Before Lag BaOmer he would go to Meron and devote himself to serving the tens of thousands that crowded the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai area around the clock. He rubbed shoulders with the masses of simple Jews that came to honor the great sage, taking pleasure from their company and helping to take care of their needs.

Several years later, at Meron on Lag BaOmer, Reb Moshe was hurrying to and fro to help serve the many guests, when he suddenly saw in front of him a face that was burned into his memory: it was the "beggar" who had appeared at his house so many years ago!

Moshe froze in his tracks. He stared in amazement at the person in his path. This time the eyes that looked back at him were no longer outraged and challenging; they were bright and shiny in the midst of a smiling face....

Biographical note

Rabbi Boruch of Kosov [d. 1782], a senior disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, was one of the first to be actively involved in the spread of the Chassidic path. He is the author of Yesod HaEmunah and Amud HaAvodah.