A chassid who lived in Vitebsk remained childless for many years. Several times he had traveled to Liozna to beseech his rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chassidism), to arouse Heaven’s mercy with his prayers and blessings. But strangely, the rebbe responded each time that it wasn’t in his power to help him.

Once again he decided to seek the rebbe’s help. He enclosed with his written request to merit children a charitable contribution (called a pidyon nefesh—“soul redemption”). Again the rebbe answered that it was not within his power to help him, but this time he offered a surprising recommendation: he advised his chassid to go to the chassidic master Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin, saying that “the Karliner” would be able to help him.

Now, it is well-known how chassidim feel about seeking help from rebbes other than their own. Nevertheless, his own rebbe had suggested it, the need was great, and the years were slipping by, so off went our chassid to Karlin.

Arriving at Karlin, he consulted with some of the local chassidim. They recommended that the best time to gain access to the rebbe was when he set out on one of his journeys. On the way, the rebbe would regularly dispense advice and blessings to those who accompanied him. So the chassid stayed in Karlin several days, until finally Rabbi Shlomo announced he was about to leave on a trip, and that anyone who needed anything of him was welcome to come along. The chassid climbed aboard the caravan of coaches and wagons, and soon they set off.

Rabbi Shlomo and his entourage passed through many towns and villages. The journey continued, but still the chassid had not received any encouragement to present himself to the Karliner Rebbe, nor, for that matter, any clue as to the purpose of the journey. Finally, after they stopped at a certain village, the Karliner summoned the Chabad chassid and told him that if he would turn over to him a certain large sum of money, he would then merit to be blessed with offspring.

The chassid was by no means a wealthy man. Already, the extended traveling had cut deep into his resources. What to do? Eventually he decided that he just could not meet the Karliner’s request. He respectfully took leave of the rebbe and departed for home, but in his heart he felt resentful: how could a tzaddik ask for so much money for a blessing?

After he was home for a period of time, the chassid decided to go again to Liozna to visit the his own rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman. When his turn came for a private audience, the rebbe asked him if he had gone to the Karliner Rebbe, and if so, what had the tzaddik advised him?

The chassid answered that indeed he had gone, and invested a lot of time and money in a long journey with him, but in the end the Karliner had requested a large sum of money which he wasn’t able to provide, and what kind of business is this anyway, to demand so much money for a blessing?

Said Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “The reason you don’t have children is because you once gravely insulted a Torah sage.”

“But I never insulted a Torah sage in my life!” cried the chassid.

“Yes, you did,” insisted the rebbe, “the great scholar and righteous man, the rabbi of Lubavitch, Rabbi Yissachar Ber, of blessed memory.”

“But I never thought him to be anything special,” said the chassid.

“Is that so?” marveled the rebbe. “You should know that Elijah the Prophet was revealed to him every day!

“It is written in the Talmud,” continued the Rebbe, “that the penalty for insulting a Torah sage is one litra (about a pound) of gold (Jerusalem Talmud, Bava Kamma 8:6). But as Rabbi Yissachar is no longer in this world, it was no longer possible for you to apologize to him and make amends. There are certain latter-day rabbinical authorities, however, who have ruled that even posthumously, paying the litra of gold helps to ease the censure. The Karliner Rebbe took you around with him to all the places where those rabbinical authorities are buried, in order to garner support for you. The large sum of money he requested from you was exactly equivalent to a litra of gold. Unfortunately, you passed up the opportunity.

“I, myself, am not able to help you in this matter,” explained the rebbe, “because Rabbi Yissachar was my teacher, and a student cannot forego the honor of his teacher.”

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch, is the founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement. He is the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya, as well as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.

Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin (1738–1792) was also a disciple of the Maggid, as well as of Reb Aaron the Great of Karlin, whom he succeeded in 1772. Most of the chassidic leaders of the next generation in the Lithuanian region were his disciples. His deciple, Rabbi Asher, was the first rebbe of Stolin.