If you were to take a look around the Alter Rebbe’s house, you would never believe that it was the home of a preeminent scholar. It was furnished modestly, with nary a luxury in sight. As the Alter Rebbe’s finances were from communal funds, he couldn’t bring himself to spend the earnings of others on anything beyond bare necessities, and this was clear to anyone who knew him.

Once, a grandson of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch—a well-regarded Torah scholar in his own right—arrived at the Alter Rebbe’s home wearing a richly woven gartel (prayer sash).

“That’s a nice gartel,” remarked the Alter Rebbe. “How much did it cost?”

Rabbi Menachem’s heart dropped, and the sash suddenly felt heavier.

“Fifteen rubles,” admitted the young rabbi.

“Fifteen rubles?” repeated the Alter Rebbe, a note of displeasure in his voice. “Who do think you are—a rich man—that you allow yourself to wear such expensive clothing?”

The Alter Rebbe paused for a moment before adding, “And how much did you receive as your wedding dowry?”

“Two thousand rubles.”

“And what did you do with the two thousand rubles?”

“I gave the money to a reliable businessman who will invest it in various propositions from which I hope to profit.”

“But you might not even see your dowry again, let alone the profits!” pointed out the Alter Rebbe.

Rabbi Menachem was nonplussed. “But he’s an honest man!”

“And so? Does it matter if he’s rich today, when tomorrow he can be as poor as a beggar?”

“So what would you suggest I do with the money?”

The Alter Rebbe brought out a charity box. “My advice would be to keep the money here, where it will undoubtedly stay safe.”

Rabbi Menachem stood without saying a word, mystified. His entire dowry of two thousand rubles to charity? Is this a joke?

And as though reading the young man’s mind, the Alter Rebbe continued, “I am certainly hoping you’ll leave the dowry here with me. The dowry and its profits, rest assured, will be safe here, something which I can’t promise if you entrust them to the rich man.”

The Alter Rebbe wasn’t joking.

Excusing himself, the grandson withdrew from his grandfather’s chamber. He wasn’t ready to throw his entire dowry to the winds by giving it to charity.

A few months later, the money Rabbi Menachem had invested disappeared as flames engulfed the investor’s warehouse, leaving both the once wealthy man and Rabbi Menachem penniless.

Rabbi Menachem returned to his grandfather.

Many days had passed since their last visit, but the Alter Rebbe recalled their conversation and got straight to the point.

Nu, how much did you make?”

Ashamed, Rabbi Menachem Mendel explained how he had lost all of the money.

“Why didn’t you give it to charity?” asked the Alter Rebbe. “And why don’t you have faith in the words of your rabbis, as do the simple folk of Volhynia?”

The rebbe then proceeded to share the following story:

“As a young student, I was returning home from Mezeritch in the midst of an extraordinarily cold winter. The wind was howling, dispersing snow in all directions, making an already difficult trip even harder. It was so cold that even inside my carriage I couldn’t feel my legs. It was impossible to continue traveling. So I asked the wagon-driver if he could stop at a nearby inn in Volhynia.

There an old man restored feeling to my legs by rubbing them with snow and vodka.

He seemed like a nice man, and we started talking. I asked him how long he had lived in the little town.

“‘Over 50 years.’

“‘Are there enough men here for a minyan?’ I inquired.

“‘No. For the High Holidays, I travel to a nearby city to join the prayers there.’

“I pressed, ‘Why should a man your age pray without a minyan his entire life? Why don’t you move to a city where you can join a daily minyan?”

“‘But from where will my livelihood come?’ he asked, concerned.

“‘How many businessmen live in this town that you visit?’

“‘Around one hundred.’

“‘Certainly, if G‑d can find a way to provide for a hundred households, He can accommodate one more!’

“I then added, ‘I’m a student of the famed Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch.’

It was clear that my words had resonated as the man turned away and left the room. A half-hour later, I stepped outside and was greeted by the sight of several carts loaded with furniture and household goods. Standing on one of them, the old man busied himself with tying down the last of his personal belongings.

“‘What’s this?’ I called out.

“The man looked surprised at my question. ‘I’m getting ready to move to the city, just as you instructed me!’

“Do you see,” concluded the Alter Rebbe to his grandson, “the utter faith of this old man, who listened to me—a young student—and immediately acted upon my words as though his life depended on them? You disregarded my words even after I told you twice to deposit your dowry here in this box.”

Adapted from Sippurim Nora'im, p. 125