Reb Yosef and his wife had never merited to see a child of their own. A devoted follower of the Maggid (preacher) of Kozhnitz, Reb Yosef would pack his belongings and travel to his Rebbe every month. But he never received a blessing for a child from the Rebbe. In fact, Reb Yosef never got a direct answer, positive or negative.

But Reb Yosef’s wife wouldn’t relent. She pleaded with him to pressure his Rebbe to do something about their situation. “Don’t leave him until he responds to your plea for a child!” she cried exasperatedly.

Faithful to his promise to his wife, Reb Yosef stood before his Rebbe and stated with all the courage he could muster: “My dear Rebbe, I will not move from here until I merit a blessing!”

The Maggid didn’t say anything, his features furrowed into a serious expression. He appeared to be deliberating a response.

“If you agree to surrender your entire wealth,” the Maggid finally said, “I’m prepared to bless you with a child.”

Reb Yosef stared at the Maggid, speechless. He could not make such a decision on his own. He returned home to consult with his wife. Preferring to live a life of poverty rather than dying childless, she agreed to the condition and sent Reb Yosef back to the Maggid.

“If so,” the Maggid said after hearing Reb Yosef’s decision, “travel to the Seer of Lublin and do whatever he tells you to.”

Immediately, Reb Yosef set out to Lublin. There, he met with the Seer and explained the purpose of his travel and who sent him.

“Stay with me here until G‑d enlightens me with how to proceed,” instructed the Seer.

Reb Yosef’s waiting finally came to an end when the Seer summoned him into his chamber. “When you were younger, you were engaged to a young woman,” said the Seer, who was known for his divinely inspired vision. “However, you canceled that match and hurt the young woman deeply. She never recovered from the devastating blow to her self-esteem, and you never recompensed her, however justified you may have been for your decision. That is why you have no children, and until you make it up to her, you will never be granted a child. Right now, there’s a big fair in Balta, and if you travel there, you will meet your previous fiancée. Find her and ask for her forgiveness.”

It was true. When he was still very young, his parents had matched him with a pleasant girl named Esther Shifra. However, as he neared marriageable age, he felt the match was not to his choosing, and he married another woman instead. He never made amends, not before nor after his wedding.

Reb Yosef traveled to Balta. Wherever he went, he repeated his question over and over again: “Do you know a woman named Esther Shifra from this town?” But no one ever heard of her.

Three days before the close of the fair, as the merchants were already winding down from the past few weeks and preparing for their journey home, Reb Yosef was no closer to finding this elusive woman.

He wandered the streets aimlessly, unsure of what to do next. Drops of water suddenly pattered on the ground around him before turning into a deluge from the sky.

Running into the closest store, Reb Yosef took shelter and waited for the rain to abate slightly. He wasn’t the only one trying to take cover from the torrential rain. A small crowd pushed itself into the store and a young woman made her way through. Out of modesty, Reb Yosef stepped aside to allow her to pass. Instead of walking past, the woman turned around, looking aghast, and cried in a loud, anguished voice: “Look at this man! He abandoned me in my youth, and even today he refuses to share a space with me!”

Reb Yosef couldn’t believe his eyes. This was Esther Shifra! Everything he thought of saying came spilling out at once as he struggled to find the right words, apologizing again and again for the pain he caused her years ago. He told her how he came so far just to mollify her, and the tears trickling down his beard lent proof to his heartfelt regret. Esther Shifra remained silent throughout, but her hard expression gradually softened.

“I’m ready to forgive you on one condition,” she said when her erstwhile intended finally finished.

Reb Yosef nodded. “I’m ready to accept anything you insist. Anything that’s feasible,” he added.

“If so,” she continued, “travel to Sovalk, where my poor brother lives, a pauper with nothing at all. Give him 200 gold coins as a dowry for his daughter. If you do this, I’ll forgive you.”

If he would sell everything they owned, Reb Yosef quickly thought, and add his savings to the pile, he would probably be able to put together 200 gold coins. He agreed to the woman’s condition and took the first coach home. As soon as he had the promised amount tucked safely in his bag, Reb Yosef set out to Sovalk. Locating the brother was nowhere near as hard as finding the sister. Reb Yosef found him sitting in his ramshackle house, looking glum and anxious.

“What am I supposed to do?” moaned the brother to the stranger who just walked in. “Our daughter’s wedding is coming, and I don’t even own a kopek for the expenses!”

“Here,” Reb Yosef said, shoving the swollen bag into the man’s hands. “Two hundred gold coins, so you can celebrate her wedding in style!”

With eyes as round and bright as the gold coins, the man stared at Reb Yosef. “What is this all about?” he managed to croak.

“Don’t worry about the money. It’s legitimate. Your sister, Esther Shifra, said to give it to you. I was engaged to her until I left her to marry a different woman. Several days ago, I tracked her down to ask for her forgiveness and she told me she would forgive me if I would provide for your daughter’s wedding.”

“Are you mocking me?” the man cried, the bag of coins trembling in his hand. “My sister has been dead for the past fifteen years. She died right here in Sovalk. I should know, as I buried her with my own hands!”

After taking a few moments to compose himself, Reb Yosef outlined the events leading him to Sovalk: the Maggid’s instruction to visit the Seer of Lublin, the journey to Balta and his fruitless search there, the providential encounter with his ex-fiancé, and the last leg of his trip here.

After Reb Yosef described the woman he met in Balta, the man nodded his head in disbelief. “That is my sister, Esther Shifra.”

Less than one year later, Reb Yosef and his wife were blessed with a child.

From Sichat Hashavua #999