Reb Yehoshua Milner made a good living from the mill that he owned on the outskirts of 19th-century Jerusalem. The huge millstone was turned by the steady and patient treading of a horse which spent its days pacing round and round in an endless circle. Reb Yehoshua, however, was almost never to be seen at the mill. A devout and scholarly man, he allowed all the work of the mill to be supervised by his manager, Reb Shmuel. This enabled him to be free to devote all his time to Torah study.

When Reb Shmuel the manager passed away, another man was hired to oversee the running of the mill. This new manager decided to improve the operation of the mill by replacing the slow, old horse with a new, massive one, stronger by far than the other horses that had worked there before. The new horse accomplished the work so much more quickly than the previous ones that it became known as the “wonder horse.”

Soon word of this magnificent horse spread through the countryside, and bidders came from near and far to try to buy the fabulous animal. Much more money was waiting to be made through the horse if it would be used for other, more demanding tasks than turning a millstone, such as pulling huge loads, or transporting the wealthy from place to place.

Reb Yehoshua, however, was unwilling to sell the horse, and refused all bids that were presented to him. But no matter how many times he said “no,” and how many people he rebuffed, offers continued to come his way from people who wished to purchase the horse.

Finally, Reb Yehoshua tired of the continual interruptions to his Torah study. So he set a price for the “wonder horse” of 25 Napoleons—a sum that would support a family for two years. Surely, no one would be so foolhardy as to make an offer like that! Reb Yehoshua, however, underestimated the tenacity of his would-be buyers. One merchant actually came up with the sum, and a deal was struck.

The night before the sale was to be finalized, Reb Yehoshua couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned in his bed until, finally, in the middle of the night, he dressed and left the house, telling his family he would soon return.

His employees were shocked to see the owner, Reb Yehoshua, arrive at the mill. As he never visited the mill during the day, what was he doing there in the middle of the night? Reb Yehoshua walked straight up to the horse, as all of the employees looked on. He stopped at the horse’s side and whispered a few words in the mighty animal’s ear. Immediately, the horse fell dead on the spot. Reb Yehoshua said nothing and returned to his home.

The next day news quickly spread that the “wonder horse” had died the previous night, for no apparent reason. “A perfectly healthy horse!” everyone exclaimed, and a horse worth 25 Napoleons! Who had ever heard of such a thing!

Reb Yehoshua called his family and friends and related the amazing story of the previous evening. “Last night I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned for hours, and when I fell asleep at last, I had a very strange dream. In the dream my former employee, Shmuel, appeared to me and said, ‘I must confess to you. I wasn’t the wonderful manager you thought me to be. I stole from you throughout all the years I worked at the mill. When I died and appeared before the heavenly court, I was informed that the only way I could expiate my terrible sin against man and G‑d was to return to earth in the form of your mill horse, so that I could repay my debt to you. I was given an especially strong body so that I could work extra hard. For months I toiled tirelessly, making up for what I stole from you through the years.

“But it seems I did my job too well, for I became renowned for my strength and stamina. When I heard that you were planning to sell me, I was horrified. I would not be able to expiate my sins unless I was working for you in your mill. If you would sell me, I would have to return to earth once more, perhaps in an even lesser form, to atone for my misdeeds. I cannot bear the idea of returning again, so I beg you, please forgive me for what I did to you.’

“When I heard his plea, I jumped up out of bed and ran immediately to the mill. I went up to the horse and told him that I forgave him with all my heart, and that he no longer owed me a single penny. When he heard my words, he expired, for he had fulfilled his purpose here on earth. Now, poor Shmuel will find his peace in the next world . . .”