A strong, healthy and successful butcher lived in the city of Kozhnitz.1 He owned and ran a successful shop, until, out of the blue, his luck began to fail. More than half of the animals he bought and had slaughtered were deemed non-kosher, and he started to incur substantial losses. To try to offset them, he worked harder and longer, often remaining at work late at night, doing tasks he would have once paid others to do. Eventually, the stress affected his health, and he died prematurely, broken-hearted and physically exhausted.

His widow and children were left burdened by debt. At first, the creditors were polite, but before long they began to pressure the widow to pay up. The odd jobs she managed to find were barely enough to feed her children, leaving nothing with which to pay her late husband’s debts. Sad and bitter, she went to his grave and begged him to plead with G‑d for help.

Soon, she was summoned to the town rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Hopsztajn,2 known as the Kozhnitzer Maggid.

She feared that her husband’s creditors had summoned her to a court case before the rabbi, but the rabbi simply took out a sizable sum of money and said, “This is for you. Take it and use it. You will receive more each week.” He told her that whenever a creditor asked for money, she should refer them to him, and he would pay off the debts.

The woman could not understand how the rabbi, who was not known to be wealthy, had the money to help her, but she did not ponder the matter too deeply.

It was only after the shochet (ritual slaughterer) of the town passed away that she found out where the money had come from.

After the butcher’s tragic death, the shochet started experiencing disturbing dreams in which the butcher would come to him and tell him that he was summoning him to a din torah (court case) in heaven. The dream happened once, twice, and then a third time, and the shochet feared he may soon pass on so he could face the butcher before the Heavenly Court. Worried, he went to consult with the Kozhnitzer Maggid.

The maggid told him: “Next time he comes to you in a dream, tell him that according to Jewish law, a plaintiff must appear before the court in the location of the defendant, and your case must therefore be heard here in Kozhnitz. After this happens, come to me and we will arrange the court date.”

It was not long before the shochet had another such dream, and he passed on the maggid’s message.

And so a court date was set.

When the day arrived, a partition was set up in the study hall. One side was empty, and on the other side sat the Kozhnitzer Maggid, the shochet, and the Kozhnitzer Maggid’s assistant.

The maggid handed his walking stick to his assistant, and instructed him: “Go to the cemetery, knock three times with my stick on the gravestone of the butcher, and tell him that he’s being called for the din torah held by the Kozhnitzer Maggid in the town study hall.”

A short while after the assistant returned, human wailing was heard from behind the partition.

The Kozhnitzer Maggid turned to the source of the noise and said: “Tell me, what is your claim against the shochet?”

The butcher explained the chain of events which had led to his mountainous debts, and eventually, his untimely death. “When I arrived on high,” he continued, “I found out that when the shochet was pronouncing my cows non-kosher, he was being overly stringent. Many of my cows were, in fact, kosher, according to a straightforward reading of the law. But because he chose to needlessly declare the animals unfit, my business was destroyed and I left this world with a miserable trail of debt. Since it was his wrongful judgment that brought about my family’s sorry state, I demand that the shochet pay off my debts and support my wife.”

“And what do you have to say?” the maggid asked the shochet. The shochet, being a G‑d-fearing Jew, readily agreed to pay the butcher’s debts and support his widow and orphans.

In order to protect the dignity of the shochet, who had meant no harm, the story was kept quiet for the remainder of his life.

Are we sometimes overly zealous at the expense of others? Have we caused financial distress to another? If the answer is in the affirmative, let us ensure we work to correct this.

(Source: Tzaddikim Lemofet, pg. 154)