Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi once sent one of his chassidim on a mission to raise a large sum of money for an important cause. The rebbe blessed him with a safe trip, but mysteriously warned him not to enter any house that had its door on the east side.

The trip went well, and soon most of the money had been collected. But one day the chassid found himself caught in a snowstorm on a lonely road winding through the forest. The wind grew steadily stronger and colder. He urged his horse on, hoping to reach some sort of an inn before he lost his way entirely in the snow; but hours passed and still nothing.

He was numb and freezing, and the snow was falling so densely that he couldn’t really see where he was going. He prayed to G‑d for some sort of miracle.

Suddenly, through the white sea of swirling snow, he saw what looked like the outline of a house just off the road. With his last ounce of strength he forced the horse in its direction, and sure enough, it was a house! It even had a mezuzah on the door. A Jewish house, no less! He thanked G‑d for his good fortune as he jumped from his wagon onto the front porch and knocked on the door.

An elderly woman opened the door and let him in to the warm house. “Come in, you must be freezing,” she said. “Come have a cup of tea; sit here by the stove. In just a minute my sons will return, and they will put your horse in the barn. Please sit down.”

Just as he sat down and began thawing out, he remembered that it was almost night and he hadn’t yet prayed minchah (the afternoon prayer). So he asked the woman which direction was east (to face Jerusalem, as is customary during prayer) and prayed, thanking G‑d for his good fortune.

As he finished praying, he noticed that something was wrong: the eastern wall was the one with the main entrance of the house in it!

Without hesitation he put on his coat and walked to the door, saying apologetically, “I’ll be right back”—but the door was locked. He went to a window, but it too was locked. “I forgot something in the wagon,” he called to the old woman, who had slipped out of the room. “Could you please open the door?” Suddenly a key turned in the door from the outside, and four brawny young men entered from the storm. As soon as they saw their visitor they immediately grabbed him, emptied his pockets, tied him up, laid him on the ground in a corner, and sat down to eat while their mother examined the booty.

“Ho ho!” she exclaimed. “Look what we have here!” as she held up the pack of money she found in his wallet. “Looks like we caught a big fish this time.” One of the sons examined the money, went to the cupboard, took out a large bottle of vodka and put it on the table with a bang. “Brothers, let’s celebrate! G‑d has been good to us! We have enough money here to be happy for a long, long time! But first, let’s take care of our guest.” He pulled a large knife from somewhere under his coat while one of his brothers was pouring him a drink. He took a cup of vodka in his free hand, raised it high and said, “To long life, except for you!” as he looked at the bound chassid.

One of the brothers, surprised by the joke, laughed so hard that the vodka came spraying out of his mouth on the others, and they all began to laugh, and then someone began a song and another toast, then another. Then the door opened again, and it was their father. “Aha!” he shouted as he looked at the money on the table and the bound victim on the floor.

“Good work, boys! Excellent! We’ll have to kill him though . . . I’m glad you left him for me. You know what? In the morning I’ll take care of him. Now, let’s drink to our good fortune!” And before long they were all drunk as Lot, and forgot completely about our unfortunate hero.

Late that night, when they were all sleeping soundly, the father woke, looked around to make sure that no one else was awake, tiptoed over to our chassid, motioned him to be silent, cut his ropes and silently ordered him to follow. He tiptoed to the door, opened it and gave the chassid his coat. “Here is your money back,” he whispered in the chassid’s ear as he pushed the wallet into his coat pocket. Then he pressed a gold coin into the chassid’s hand. “This is for charity from an old sinner. Tell your rebbe to please pray for me. Now go! Get out of here as fast as you can . . . run for your life.” Dawn was beginning to light the horizon, the storm had stopped, and our grateful hero was on the road back home.

When he entered the rebbe’s room, the rebbe looked up at him and said: “I know what happened; you don’t have to tell me. I was up all night interceding on your behalf.”

The chassid produced the golden coin and told of the old thief’s request. The rebbe took the coin and wedged it in a crack in the wall next to his desk, and said no more.

Fifteen years passed, and this same chassid, who was now married with a family, became one of the rebbe’s gabbaim (secretaries). One day he answered the door to an old beggar, and told him to wait. When he entered the rebbe’s room and informed him that there was a beggar at the door, the rebbe pulled the gold coin from the crack where it had been for the past fifteen years, and told the chassid that this was the old man who had released him years ago.

It seems that when his wife and sons awoke and realized what he had done, they beat him and drove him from the house just some hours before the police made a surprise raid and took the mother and sons off to prison. The old man began a life of wandering and atonement, waiting for a sign that his repentance had been accepted in heaven.