Part of the unwritten “job description” of a Chassidic rebbe is accepting everyone and moving heaven and earth to help them in any which way.

Such was the modus operandi of Rabbi Yisroel Dov of Vilednik, known far and wide as a wondrous miracle worker.

People flocked to his small Chassidic court in northern Ukraine to receive blessings and guidance. His fame spread so far that even non Jews—peasants and aristocrats alike—revered him and traveled to seek his wise counsel.

One matter for which Rabbi Yisroel Dov was especially known was helping agunot, women whose husbands had left without divorcing them. Technically still married, they had neither the benefit of a husband at their side nor the ability to remarry.

But what was he to do if the person seeking his help was particularly unsavory and perhaps not even deserving of his aid? This was the case one day when Rabbi Yisroel Dov told his trusted shamesh, “Today, you must lock my door and not let anyone in.”

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a distraught and disheveled woman came running into the Rebbe’s court. She rushed to the Rebbe’s study and before anyone could interject, she pried the door open and threw herself before the saintly Rebbe.

“Rebbe, help me! I have collected money and traveled for the better part of two years just to get here. I desperately need your help!”

“What is it?” asked the rabbi, whose soft heart compelled him to help even those he knew did not deserve it.

“Nineteen years ago, my husband walked out on me and our four children without a trace,” she began. “I raised the children alone, in poverty. Now my girls are of marriageable age, and I have nothing to help them with. My body is sapped of all strength; I simply cannot go on like this.

“Rebbe, help me find my husband and get his help in marrying off our daughters!”

Apparently, the Rebbe recognized that she was not an entirely honest person and turned to his shamesh and said: “I told you not to let anyone in today! Why did you neglect to lock my door?! Please, take this woman out of the room!”

Pushed beyond her limits, the woman cried out, “Rebbe, it took me two years to make arrangements to receive your blessing and guidance, and this is how you respond?! Is it money you seek? Here, take these five rubles!”

“Is that really all you have? I believe you have six rubles, not five,” the Rebbe replied with a sad and gentle smile.

“Yes, Rebbe, I do have six rubles—but that’s it! Take it all!”

“Really? Are there not another 25 kopeks in your purse?” the Rebbe pressed.

“Indeed, there are, but I must keep those few kopeks to pay for my trip back.”

“The truth is I don’t want your money,” the Rebbe replied. “In fact, I will give you some more money. But please, learn to always tell the truth. ” With that, Rabbi Yisroel Dov took out some coins from his desk drawer and handed it to the woman, and instructed her further.

“Here’s what you should do: With this money, go to the market and buy a large amount of bread and pastries. You should then sell them individually in the market at a markup. With the profits from the sales, G‑d will help and provide for all your needs, including respectably marrying off your children.”

The woman woke up early the next morning and followed the Rebbe’s instructions. With the handsome sum of money he had given her, she was able to buy a large amount of baked goods, and she set up shop in the local market. G‑d smiled upon her little booth, and by midday she had sold the entire stock at a fine profit. She repeated the process the following day, buying an even larger amount of baked goods and setting up shop once again in the local market.

Business was booming, with bread, pastries, and cookies flying off the table. In the middle of it all, a well-dressed Russian gentleman approached the table. “I heard you sell delicious baked goods. Please, sell me three large pastries.”

“Of course,” she replied, scooping up three treats and handing them to the wealthy-looking patron. He pulled out an overstuffed wallet, took out one ruble, and requested his change. She handed back the coins, which the man deposited in his coin pouch.

Between his wallet and his coin pouch and the three pastries, the man apparently got mixed up and left his overstuffed wallet full of bills on the table. By the time the woman noticed it, he was long gone. Thinking quickly, she kicked the wallet off the table and hid it in the snow underneath, hoping he wouldn’t return and she could take it home at the end of the day and end her misery.

To her disappointment, the man returned demanding his wallet.

“Sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” responded the woman who had apparently not learned her lesson.

“You’re a liar and a thief! I know I left my wallet here, and you must have stolen it! You’ll see, I’ll find it yet and expose you!”

But try as he might, the gentleman could not locate the wallet on her person or in her bags. As the man shuffled around, the woman nervously pressed the wallet deeper into the snow, hoping he wouldn’t notice.

Frustrated, the man called for the police and made his claims.

“Well, we cannot find the wallet, and we don’t know who to believe,” the police officer said. “Thankfully, this isn’t Moscow or St. Petersburg. This is Vilednik, and in Vilednik lives a saintly rabbi with miraculous vision. Let’s go to him and he will settle the matter. Though this woman is one of his, the Rabbi is a holy and honest man and he will tell us the truth.”

And with that, they were off to see the Rebbe. When no one was looking, the woman quickly grabbed the wallet from under the snow and snuck it under her coat.

After hearing both sides, the Rebbe said, “This is a complex matter. Please return tomorrow afternoon and we will determine the matter then.”

They appeared before the Rebbe the next day, and he immediately started interrogating the gentleman about the exact nature of the wallet. The man started answering in Russian, but the Rebbe cut him off. “Why are you talking Russian to me?!” he demanded, “Can you not speak Yiddish?!”

The man continued in Russian.

The Rebbe turned to his shamesh, “Please, go get the stick and give this man a few beatings. We’ll see what language he really speaks.”

Seeing that the rabbi had called his bluff, the man broke down and started speaking a fluent Yiddish.

“You wicked man!” shouted the Rebbe, “For nineteen years you tortured this poor woman—your own wife! How cruel could you be? Why did you abandon your children? Do you not know that you must provide for them! How could you expect your poor wife to bear that burden alone for so long?!”

That week, the Rebbe and his court finally arranged for the divorce proceedings which went without a hitch. The Rebbe compelled the man to hand over his fortune to his wife, and they both went their ways—hopefully having learned the importance of being honest and truthful.

(Adapted from Sippur Leshabbat (Weinstock, Yair), vol. 4, p. 11-21)