While traveling to spend the Days of Awe with their Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber of Lubavitch, Reb Shmuel Beliner and a small group of fellow Chassidim met a young man with a story they wouldn’t soon forget. After praying together in their rattling train compartment, the men formed a small circle. Someone fished out a bottle of spirits and the Chassidim began to hum a stirring melody. A young man from an adjacent compartment poked his head in and watched.

“Are you traveling to the Rebbe?” he finally asked.“I know your Rebbe. And I owe him my life,” said the young man

“Yes,” came the collective answer.

“I know your Rebbe. And I owe him my life,” said the young man.

The Chassidim waited for him to continue.

“Although I myself am from Dvinsk, Latvia, I found good work at a match factory in Novo-Borisov,” he began. “There, I met and married a young lady and we soon settled into a simple but comfortable life. We both worked and had few expenses.

“But then the factory burned down and I was left with no income. My poor wife lay ill in bed, too weak to go out. When there was not a coin left in the house, we decided to return to my father in Dvinsk.

“Shortly thereafter I had the good fortune to meet some Lubavitcher Chassidim. They suggested I accompany them to visit their Rebbe, and although I do not come from Chassidic stock, I agreed.

“The Rebbe listened intently to my account and suggested something that seemed decidedly peculiar. We were to travel to Kovno, Lithuania, he said, and rent a store where I would sell hats fashioned by my wife.

“I reasoned that I could do the exact same thing in Dvinsk, where people also wore hats, and I could fathom no reason for us to travel 200 kilometers to Kovno. Besides that, I had acquaintances in Dvinsk who could help me get a new business up and running. But the Rebbe was adamant. We needed to go to Kovno and sell the hats there.

“And so we did. We packed everything and set out for Lithuania.

“The undertaking seemed doomed from the start. I couldn’t rent a storefront in the city’s center as the cost was prohibitive, so I settled for something on the outskirts. It was small but at least we could afford it. We quickly displayed the few hats my wife had already sewn and waited for customers. It took a few days for the painful realization to sink in: Our location was too remote; the hats would sit untouched, gathering dust on their hooks.

“This was certainly not what we had hoped for. Looking back at our days in Novo-Borisov and the comfortable life we had once enjoyed, I began to sob desperately, hot tears flowing unabated.

“When I had somewhat calmed down, I noticed an ornate carriage rattling down the street. Heart in my throat, my face still wet with tears, I watched the nobleman order his driver to stop so he could have a look at our display. The wealthy nobleman indicated which hat he wanted to purchase and inquired about the cost. I cited a humble price, hoping to see a hat finally leave the store.

“Taking a silver case from his pocket, the nobleman sat down and rolled a cigarette for himself. Noticing my red and puffy eyes, he asked what was wrong. Before long, the entire story tumbled out.

“Imagine my surprise when he said, ‘Your rabbi didn’t sendIf I were to repair the machine, I would receive 500 rubles you here for nothing. I have a brother who owns a match factory in Kiev. For several weeks already he has been trying to fix a large machine, without success. All the mechanics he has brought to look at it have failed to identify the issue and restore the vital piece of equipment, effectively bringing the factory to a standstill. If you’re willing to take a look and perhaps fix the thing, I’m sure there’s a handsome reward with your name written on it.'”

“Of course, I made it clear that I’m not a mechanic, but he would hear none of it, and I soon found myself holding a letter of introduction to his brother and money for train fare to Kiev.

“The factory owner promised me a lot. If I were to repair the machine to working order, I would receive 500 rubles, along with a promise of continued employment that carried an annual salary double the amount I had made previously. It took me three days, and with G‑d’s help, I managed to pinpoint the source of the trouble and restore the machine to its original condition. The owner kept his word and I still work there today.

“So you see,” finished the young man, “I am deeply indebted to your Rebbe, to whom you’re traveling.”

Adapted from Shemuot Vesippurim, page 151