Yankel was a successful farmer, and as wise as could be in the ways of his craft; but in the vast sea of Torah he could swim hardly a stroke. For his sons, however, he wanted better. He sent them to a nearby town which had a good yeshiva, and the two boys learned assiduously until they became known as the brightest students of the school.

One day, they happened to hear Rabbi Israel's Baal Shem Tov speak; from that time they became great adherents of his and went to the Baal Shem Tov's court in Mezibuzh whenever they could steal away. Their father couldn't understand what they found so interesting there. "We want to hear the words of the famous Baal Shem Tov," they would reply.

Finally, Yankel's curiosity compelled him to visit Mezibuzh himself. When he arrived, he quizzed the chassidic master on his knowledge of farming, and when he seemed to know all the correct answers, the farmer was satisfied that the Baal Shem Tov was, indeed, a wise man. Over the course of time, Yankel also became a great admirer of the Baal Shem Tov and he traveled often to Mezibuzh to seek advice.

When Yankel's daughter reached marriageable age, he consulted the Baal Shem Tov Years passed, and Yankel's daughter reached marriageable age. He decided to consult the Baal Shem Tov about finding an appropriate mate. "Send your sons to me and I will send them home with the proper husband for your daughter," the Baal Shem Tov advised him.

When the farmer's two sons arrived in Mezibuzh, the Baal Shem Tov took them with him to a distant town, where he started making inquiries about a certain young man named Shmerel. But this Shmerel was nowhere to be found. Then, on the eve of the new month, when the townspeople had gathered at a festive banquet in honor of their distinguished guest, a wild-looking young man entered the hall. His manners were most uncouth; he ran in, grabbed some food, and ran out just as quickly. It turned out that this youth was the very "Shmerel" whom the Baal Shem Tov had been seeking! Although Yankel's two sons couldn't understand what their rebbe could have possibly wanted with such a character, they duly informed him that they had found the boy.

The Baal Shem Tov passed his handkerchief over the uncouth boy's face
The Baal Shem Tov passed his handkerchief over the uncouth boy's face

The Baal Shem Tov was delighted and gave instructions that the boy be cleaned up and dressed properly and then brought before him. Shmerel was given the place of honor next to the Baal Shem Tov. During the meal, the Baal Shem Tov passed his handkerchief over the boy's face and commanded, "Give us a words of Torah" To the shock of all those present, Shmerel began speaking, and expounded gems of Torah for the next few hours. The two brothers were very pleased with what they saw and heard, and set off for home with the yokel in tow.

The wedding was held immediately, and throughout the entire week of the sheva brachot celebrations that follow a Jewish wedding, the groom delivered marvelously impressive Torah discourses to the assembled guests. The brothers couldn't wait until the days of rejoicing were over and they could sit together with him and learn from his seemingly inexhaustible fountain of wisdom. However, they were to be profoundly disappointed.

At first, when he failed to show up in the study hall, their sister replied only, "My husband is sleeping," or "My husband is very tired." The brothers then began to observe him closely and found that he didn't observe even the most basic Jewish laws and customs. They had to remind him to make a blessing when he ate, and he always forgot to wash his hands before partaking of bread. Something was very wrong.

"When two souls are matched in heaven," explained the Besht "then one way or the other it is made to come to be...." They left for Mezibuzh and told their master what had transpired. "Let me explain," said the Baal Shem Tov. "You see, there are celestial matchmakers as well as their earthly counterparts. It was determined in heaven that Shmerel was to be your sister's husband. But this was a difficult match to arrange. How would a girl from a well-to-do family with such scholarly brothers agree to marry a man like Shmerel?

"But when two souls are matched in heaven, then one way or the other it is made to come to be. At first it was proposed to make her deranged, but with her family fortune, she would still be able to make a good match in spite of the illness. Then it was suggested that the girl be deranged and her father loose his fortune and die, leaving her a penniless orphan. It was then that I made my suggestion. I would take it upon myself to assure that the match be made. The only way to achieve my goal was to open the young man's mind to Torah wisdom, and in that way, endear him to you.

"If Shmerel had been worthy of the knowledge he was gifted, it would have remained with him; but alas, he was not. The Torah I put into him lasted only the seven days of blessing of the marriage, then it was lost. But there is nothing to be done about it, for Shmerel is the mate who was destined for her from Above. Tell your sister to remain married to him and I will guarantee her fine children. As for you, continue to teach him and he will slowly improve and learn."

This story was often related by the Apter Rebbe, who would then add that many great and righteous men and women were the descendants of this match, among them some of his closest disciples.