In a village not far from Kovno in Lithuania, there lived a G‑d-fearing Jewish innkeeper. He had a daughter, Sarah, who was a strikingly beautiful girl. Sarah did not let her beauty turn her head, and she remained a modest, G‑d-fearing young girl, obedient to her father and a right hand to her mother.

One day, the young son of the country squire chanced to stop at the inn. The moment his eyes fell on Sarah, he was attracted to the beautiful young woman. He called on her to serve him one drink after another, and the more he drank, the more he liked her. When he was pretty well drunk, he asked her, “Will you marry me?”

Sarah ignored his marriage proposal, but when he kept on telling her that he was serious, she told him, politely but firmly, that she was Jewish and would never marry a non-Jew. For his part, the young squire said that he would return, and insisted that he would definitely marry her.

When the young squire returned home and told his father that he intended to marry the Jewish innkeeper’s daughter, the old nobleman could not believe his ears. The father tried to dissuade his son, but the young man remained adamant. The elderly nobleman, who had pampered his spoiled son all his life and catered to his every whim, once more gave in. But on one condition: the girl had to convert to Christianity.

Happily, the young squire raced back to the inn to tell Sarah the “good news” that his father had consented to the marriage. There was, of course, the small matter of conversion, but once done, she would live a life of luxury.

Sarah was horrified. She told the young squire that she would never marry him under any circumstances, and ran from the room. She decided not to say anything to her father, in the hope that this was a passing whim.

The young squire, however, was used to getting what he wanted. And his father, although he was originally opposed to his son’s infatuation, was deeply insulted that a poor Jewish girl was turning down the marriage proposal of a wealthy and handsome nobleman! The old squire sat down at his desk and wrote a letter to the innkeeper, expressing his outrage at the fact that after his son had graciously consented to marry his daughter and lift her up from her lowly station, the Jew had the audacity to refuse, and insisting that he agree to the “match.”

The young squire rushed with a few of his friends to deliver the letter. En route, a tremendous rainstorm broke out, and they stopped at the closest inn. At the inn, the boisterous company began drinking and offered a round of toasts to the young squire. “Drink,” they said. “Once you marry that pretty Jewish girl, you will have to behave . . .” Laughter followed.

All this time, an old man bent sat quietly in a corner, bent over a book. He was Reb Yosef, the melamed (tutor) of the innkeeper’s two sons. His ears caught the boisterous conversation of the company and the mention of Sarah, the daughter of the neighboring innkeeper. He listened intently as the young squire read out loud the letter from his father to Sarah’s father.

When the young squires fell into a drunken sleep, Reb Yosef closed his book and traveled quickly to the next village, where he immediately alerted Sarah’s family to the situation at hand.

“Rabbi Yosef,” Sarah’s father cried, “what shall we do? They are perfectly capable of carrying her off by force.”

“Sarah must get married immediately. There is no time to wait,” said Rabbi Yosef.

“But with whom will she go to the chupah? There is not one Jewish man of marriageable age in this village,” the innkeeper lamented.

“In that case, there is myself,” the teacher said. “I am not young man, I am a widower, and Sarah deserves someone worthier. But I am prepared to be the groom. Of course, once the danger has passed, we will go to the rabbinical court in Kovno and arrange for a proper divorce.”

The innkeeper hesitated, but Sarah herself immediately accepted the plan. “Rabbi Yosef is risking his very life for our sake,” she said. “But there is no other way. We have no time to lose.”

That very night, a quorum of Jews was hastily assembled, and a chupah set up for the strangest marriage in the memory of the village: the white-bearded melamed with the innkeeper’s beautiful young daughter.

When the young squire and his companions rode into the inn, they were amazed to find that they had arrived right in the middle of the wedding feast.

“What welcome guests!” the innkeeper called to the new arrivals. The young squire was flabbergasted. He had come too late; Sarah was already married. He and his friends quickly made their exit.

Rabbi Yosef stood up. “My friends,” he said, “we must be truly grateful to the One Above for this wonderful salvation. We celebrated this wedding to save Sarah from a calamity. Now that the danger has passed, I am ready to arrange for a divorce, so that Sarah is free to marry the man of her choice.”

The innkeeper once again thanked Rabbi Yosef for his selflessness, and thanked the guests for their cooperation. “Well, my daughter, remove your bridal veil, for we are going to the rabbinical court,” he said to Sarah.

“I am prepared to venture into town with my new husband, but not for a divorce,” Sarah replied. “G‑d has brought us together, and made us husband and wife. I am certain that this marriage was made in heaven. I could not have chosen a more devoted and loyal partner, who risked his life to save me from a fate worse than death . . .”

The following year, Rabbi Yosef and Sarah were blessed with a son whom they named Aryeh Leib. Leib’s father did not live long to enjoy his young treasure and it was Sarah who brought up and educated the child. In adulthood he became famous as a great tzaddik and wonderworker, and was known as Rabbi Leib Sarah’s, so called in honor of his pious mother Sarah. Rabbi Leib would often tell the story of his parents’ marriage, citing his mother as an example of a Jew’s ability to withstand the most difficult of tests and to make great sacrifices for his faith.


Biographical Note:
Rabbi Leib Sarah’s (1730–1796) was held in high esteem by the Baal Shem Tov. One of the “hidden righteous,” he spent his life wandering from place to place to raise money for the ransoming of imprisoned Jews and the support of other hidden tzaddikim. According to many sources, Rabbi Leib Sarah’s and the Rabbi Leib known as “The Grandfather of Shpoli” are the same person.