A young unmarried chassid named Meir spent the festivals in the court of his rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber, the “Maggid” of Mezeritch. When it was time to take leave and he was admitted to the rebbe’s room, he complained about the difficulties he was having finding a wife. Because of his poverty, no one would offer him a match.

“Go in peace,” said the rebbe. “Accept the first marriage proposal that is suggested to you.”

On his way home the young man spent the night in a village inn, where he found a group of empty-headed loafers wasting their time in drinking and foolish jesting. Being cold from his journey, he found a seat in a corner next to the stove. He tried to be unobtrusive, but the mischief-makers spotted him, and asked him where he was from and what was his business. He gave them the name of his hometown, and told them that he had just visited the Maggid of Mezritch.

“What did you want from the rebbe, and what did he answer you?” they pried.

He told them: “I asked the rebbe to pray that the Almighty arrange that I meet my destined marriage partner, and he told me that I should agree to the first match that was proposed to me.”

At this, one of the party jumped up and exclaimed: “Excellent! I’ve got a first-class match for you. My sister is a young divorcee, and she has a dowry of hundred silver rubles—and she’s here right now! If you’re agreeable, we can shake hands on it.”

Now in fact this good-for-nothing was in no way related to the young woman; she was the daughter of the wealthy innkeeper, who was not home at the time.

Meir answered calmly: “Fine, I agree.”

The prankster ran into the kitchen, explained the joke to her and asked her to play her role, saying it would be excellent for the inn’s business, as many celebratory drinks would certainly be ordered. She innocently agreed, and when she emerged into the main room, was greeted with loud cheers and applause.

The band of loiterers thereupon ordered vodka with which to treat the young chassid on the occasion of his unconventional engagement, and had a great time toasting l’chaim and offering him their blessings, all the while snickering behind his back. Then one of them came up with a further suggestion: “Why don’t we arrange the marriage ceremony straight away? Then we can throw a really great party!”

One of his friends objected: “But none of our crowd knows how to draw up the marriage contract and run the ceremony.”

Meir, overhearing them, promptly volunteered that he knew how to do both. This gave them even more cause for mirth. They took a clean tablecloth and held it up with four broomsticks over the heads of the couple as a chuppah canopy. The chassid wrote out the ketubah document; and then he duly sanctified the giggling young lady as his lawful wedded wife according to the rites of Moses and Israel.

His companions now enjoyed their practical joke so much that they tugged at his hat from all sides, made fun of him without any restraint, and even started to slap him around a bit. Seeing how things were faring for him, the young man made his escape and spent the night in the cottage of one of the gentile villagers. In the morning he ventured as far as the door of the inn, but was afraid to enter lest he be beaten up again. Just at that moment he heard one of the servants saying: “Here comes the ‘father of the bride’ at the front door!”

The young man approached the innkeeper, and said, “How do you do, father-in-law!”

The innkeeper was somewhat taken aback: “Who is this? What is he talking about?” he asked.

His daughter, who had come out to greet him, explained: “This young man has been providing us with a little entertainment, and last night we had an engagement and marriage ceremony, just for fun! You’ll be pleased with how much extra food and liquor was sold.”

Her father did not like the sound of what he heard, and plied her with questions in order to find out exactly what had taken place. When he heard her answers, he shouted furiously at Meir: “Dolt! What’s the idea of marrying this young lady? Those idiots may not understand the implications of a ketubah and a wedding ceremony in front of witnesses, but if you are a chassid and a yeshivah student, as you appear, you should certainly know better. Didn’t you realize that they were making fun of you?”

And, to make his point clearer, he slapped the hapless young man across the face. Soon enough, however, he had second thoughts on the subject, and told himself: “Since I’m already tied up with this tramp, I’ll have to speak to him politely in order to be able to get out of this mess. If I get angry, he’ll take no notice of me.”

He therefore changed his tone, asked the young man to give his daughter a bill of divorce, and promised him twenty silver rubles for his trouble. To his surprise, the visibly impoverished young man quickly refused. He raised his offer several times, but each time with the same lack of success.

“You might as well stop trying to buy me off,” said Meir finally. “Let me tell you what is really going on. My rebbe told me to agree to the first match that was proposed to me, and that’s what I did. This crowd may have treated the whole matter as a joke, but I took it seriously. I accepted the offer according to the rebbe’s instructions, and I certainly will not withdraw from it without a specific order to do so from the rebbe. If you don’t agree to the match, let us go to the rebbe together; let him decide.”

The dismayed innkeeper realized he had no option but to travel to Mezeritch. When they arrived, he put his complaint to the Maggid: “One day, while I was away from home, along came this pauper, believed a band of jokers who told him my daughter was their sister, and accepted their proposal to marry her. Then they set up a wedding canopy, and he betrothed her in front of witnesses! I offered him some money to give her a get (bill of divorce), but he won’t agree without your approval. I am now willing to offer him one hundred silver rubles, as long as he gives my daughter a divorce.”

“I’ll discuss the matter with the young man,” said the Maggid.

When the innkeeper returned a few hours later, the Maggid told him: “I discussed the divorce with the young man, and he is agreeable—provided that you give him a thousand silver rubles. But what about your daughter? Isn’t it high time that she got married? Allow me to propose an excellent match I have in mind for her. I personally vouch that this young man is a learned and pious Jew, stems from a family of refined lineage, and is himself a man of outstanding character . . .”

“I shall gladly accept whomever you recommend, Rabbi,” said the innkeeper, who had the greatest respect for the famed chassidic leader.

“The new bridegroom had only one fault,” continued the Maggid. “He was a pauper, and his poverty made him look frail and unattractive. But now that, too, has been rectified. You see, he has just come into possession of a thousand silver rubles, which he will bring into the marriage. This way you will lose nothing at all by buying off the ‘first husband’ . . .”

“You see,” concluded Rabbi DovBer, “there’s no need for a divorce and another marriage. I assure you: it is a match made in heaven. May you both journey home with joyful hearts.”

The innkeeper took the rebbe’s counsel to heart, went home happily with his son-in-law, and the newly wedded couple lived their life together in harmony.

Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (ArtScroll) and other written and oral sources. Another version of this story cites Rabbi Moshe Tzvi of Savran as the rebbe, identifies the innkeeper as Mr. Tzvi Velbka, and reports the wedding as taking place on Lag B’Omer night.

Biographical note: Rabbi Dov Ber (d. 1772), known as “the Maggid of Mezeritch,” succeeded his master, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, as the head of the chassidic movement. Many of the leading chassidic dynasties stem from his disciples (Lubavitch, Chernobyl, Karlin, etc.), students of his disciples (Gur, Sanz, Belz, etc.), and his descendents (Rizhin, Sadigor, Tchortkov, etc.). The classic anthologies of his teachings are Likkutei Amarim and Torah Ohr (published by Kehot as Maggid Devarav LeYaakov), and Ohr HaEmes.