Rabbi Menachem Nochum Twerski (1730–1798), founder of the Chernobyl chassidic dynasty, would often travel to small communities and inspire the townspeople to increase their mitzvah observance. On one such trip he came to a town in the Podolia region (today, southwestern Ukraine).

As was his custom, he first visited the local rabbi and He inquired about the welfare of the communityinquired about the welfare of the community. He would then address and advise the congregation accordingly.

The rabbi unburdened himself about the sorry state of the local women’s mikvah (ritual bath). “It is a high priority to renovate the mikvah so that it is beautiful and welcoming, and so that it will encourage the community to be meticulous in the great mitzvah of family purity.”

“What are the townspeople doing about it?” inquired Reb Nochum.

A deep sigh escaped the rabbi. “The community is too poor, and cannot shoulder the financial burden of this endeavor. And as for the local gevir,” continued the rabbi, using the Hebrew-Yiddish word for magnate, “it is a waste of time even to approach him, as he does not care about communal affairs whatsoever.”

Reb Nochum ended the conversation and said goodbye. He motioned to his wagon-driver to quickly leave the town. In the next town Reb Nochum instructed his assistant to rent a princely carriage, and they traveled right back to the city they had just left, arriving at the house of the gevir.

The gevir was not from the chassidic camp, and was not particularly fond of rabbis. Nevertheless, when he saw the elegant carriage arrive and Reb Nochum descend from it, he ran outside and greeted him respectfully.

The gevir was surprised to learn that that the famed tzaddik of Chernobyl chose to honor him by staying at his house. The news spread like wildfire, and soon crowds gathered outside with hopes of seeing the righteous man. Meanwhile, the gevir was feeling very satisfied with all the attention he was receiving.

A few hours passed, and Reb Nochum remained in his room studying. A few minutes before it was time to pray Minchah (the afternoon service), Reb Nochum sent word to the gevir that he’d like to meet him privately regarding an urgent matter.

Upon entering the room that had been set aside for the esteemed guest, the gevir saw that he was engrossed in Torah study, his face glowing with spiritual delight. Observing the righteous man, he began to understand the feelings of those gathered outside hoping to behold “the shining countenance of the wise man.”1

The gevir sat down on a chair quietly, not wishing to disturb the tzaddik. Reb Nochum was deeply immersed in his studies, and did not appear to notice that his host had entered. As he sat observing the rabbi, a thought entered the gevir’s mind: “Reb Nochum’s share in the world to come must be great, as so many people are waiting just to see him.”

When Reb Nochum lifted his head from his holy book and noticed the gevir, he apologized and said, “Since now is the time for Minchah, we will discuss the urgent matter afterward.”

The gevir was disappointed, but when he remembered the crowds outside, he calmed down, recognizing his good fortune in being able to interact so closely with the saintly visitor.

Stepping outside, the gevir called out to the crowd: “Please come to my mansion for the afternoon service with the righteous man of Chernobyl.”

Several minutes after the service began, the entire congregation had finished saying the Amidah (“The Standing Prayer”), except for two people: Reb Nochum and the gevir. The crowd observed the scene in growing astonishment. It was evident that something had come over the gevir, who was uncharacteristically devout in his prayer.

Upon reaching the sixth blessing of the Amidah—“Forgive us for our sins”—the gevir became pensive. When he struck his chest on the words “for we have sinned,” regret was written all over his face. He soon began to cry. For a while he stood with his head bent and his body convulsing, as tears flowed silently from his eyes.

All this time Reb Nochum was also engrossed in prayer, with his eyes shut, swaying back and forth in a measured rhythm. When the visitor completed the Amidah, the gevir also did.

After The townspeople were bewilderedthe prayers had concluded, the gevir and the tzaddik withdrew to the guest room alone. The townspeople were already bewildered as to why the visiting rabbi had chosen to stay at the house of the stingy man who alienated himself from the community and its needs. They were doubly confounded by what happened at the Minchah service.

Soon afterward, the wealthy man and Reb Nochum emerged from the room. Reb Nochum began to clasp the hands of those gathered and to bless them. After greeting the last villager in line, the rabbi soon left the town. The gevir, whose eyes were still red and swollen, seemed to be smiling and content.

In response to the villagers’ queries, he readily agreed to solve the mystery for them. He took out a document from his breast pocket. On it was written these words: “I am selling my portion in the world to come to the gevir of Podolia in exchange for his commitment to finance the building of a new and beautiful mikvah in Podolia. Signed, Nochum of Chernobyl.”

“Such a deal I could not refuse,” said the gevir with a sheepish smile.

(Translated and adapted from Sichat Hashavua #602.)