The work was backbreaking and the profits were meager. Yet Israel was happy. Every day he would drive his horse and cart into the mountains, where he would shovel clay onto his creaking cart. When he had a full load, he would urge his faithful but aging nag to the market, where he The work was backbreaking and the profits were meagerwould sell his wares to brickmakers and potters for just enough money to purchase some groceries for himself and his wife, Chana, and some oats for his horse.

In time Israel would become known far and wide as Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, but that was far in the future. At this point the couple were content to live simple lives, far from the public eye.

“Thank G‑d,” they would frequently tell each other, “we have enough to keep body and soul together without having to rely on handouts.”

But the passage of time and poor diet conspired to make Israel’s horse weaker and weaker, until the day came when the poor creature could no longer drag the cart to the market.

“My old horse is at death’s door,” Israel confided to some of the local peasants. “How will I manage to get my clay to the market without her?”

“I know just the solution for you,” said one of the fellows. “In a town not far from Uman there lives a wealthy man named Baruch. He practices a special form of charity. Whenever a poor man’s horse is close to death, he needs only to bring the old animal to Baruch, and the rich man gives him a young, strong horse from his own stable. Why don’t you try your luck?”

Baruch was not known as a Torah scholar. But what he lacked in education he made up for in good deeds. Together with his wife, Rachel, he excelled in caring for the destitute. They were known far and wide as gracious hosts, who loved nothing more than to host wayfarers. They even built a special house next to their own home where weary travelers could get a warm meal and a clean bed.

When Israel and Chana arrived at the rich couple’s estate, they were treated to delicious meals and a private room. After giving them a fresh horse, Baruch invited them to be his guests for Shabbat, and they accepted his invitation.

After a thoroughly enjoyable Shabbat had passed and the last of the guests had been fed melaveh malkah, the traditional Saturday night meal, Baruch went to his own quarters to retire. Glancing at the guest house for a last time, he saw a Fearing fire, he ran as fast as his legs would carry himmysterious light in one of the windows. Fearing fire, he ran over as fast as his legs would carry him. Upon closer inspection, however, he saw that the light was of another quality, an ethereal glow the likes of which he had never seen.

Summoning up all the courage he could muster, he entered the building and peeked into the room he had seen the light coming from. He saw Israel sitting on the floor of his room, reciting tikkun chatzot, the midnight prayer asking G‑d to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

With upturned palms, the young man recited the Hebrew words as hot tears streamed from his eyes. Next to him stood a tall man dressed in white, the otherworldly light emanating from his face.

Overwhelmed, Baruch fell into a deep faint and collapsed onto the door with a thud.

Hearing the noise, Israel opened the door and saw his gracious host lying on the floor. He immediately set to work reviving the man and calming his frazzled nerves.

“Please forgive me,” pleaded Baruch. “I had no idea that you were such a special person. Had I known, I would have surely given you better treatment. Oh, how can I make up for my gross oversight?”

“Don’t speak of it,” said Israel firmly. “You have done more than you should have. In fact, it was decreed in heaven that you and your wife will soon be rewarded for your good deeds. You will be blessed with a son who will be a righteous man. When that happens, take care that only your wife nurses him, and that you watch him like the apple of your eye. Make sure that he lives a life of purity, and that he receives the best Torah education, because he will be a great leader of the Jewish people.”

After hearing the good news, Baruch begged Israel to reveal the identity of the tall man who was standing near him. “If you merited to see him,” replied Israel, “you are worthy of knowing who he is. The guest was none other than your holy ancestor, Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague, known as the Maharal. The time has come for his soul to once again come into this world, and that will be your special son.

“At the circumcision, name your son Aryeh Leib (a variant of Yehudah Loew), and I assure you that I will bless him as well.”

The following morning, Israel and Chana set off on their way.

It was not long before Rachel shared the good news that she A boy was born amidst great joywas expecting. In due time, a boy was born amidst great joy. Hoping to once again attract his mysterious guest, Baruch announced that all poor people from the entire realm were invited to participate in the festive meal that would follow the circumcision.

As Baruch circulated among his guests, he was delighted to see that Israel—dressed in a peasant’s smock—was indeed present. “Oh, I am so honored to have you here,” he exclaimed. “Please come to the front. I would be humbled and honored if you would act as sandek, holding my son during the circumcision ceremony.”

“Hush,” replied Israel, “give me no honor, and let no one know that I am anything more than a simple man.”

After the circumcision was performed and the child was named after his illustrious ancestor, it was time for the baby to be returned to his mother. Baruch announced that the child would be circulated among the guests so that they would each have the opportunity to bless the child.

When it was Israel’s turn, he said:

I am an ignorant man, and I do not know how to say fancy blessings in Hebrew. But I remember how my father used to explain a verse in the Torah: “And Abraham was old (zaken).” The Hebrew word for father is av, and the Hebrew word for grandfather is zaken. This verse tells us that Abraham was the grandfather of us all. I bless the child that he be a grandfather to the people of Israel, just like Abraham.”

The crowd roared in good-natured laughter at the crude homily of the strange peasant, who so readily admitted his ignorance. But the nickname stuck. From then on, he was known as the zayde, Yiddish for “grandfather.”

Even when he became known far and wide as a miracle worker (and an adherent of the chassidic movement, which was founded by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov), he was still known to all as the Shpoler Zayde (the “Grandfather of Shpoli”).