A Jew—let’s call him Feivel—came to seek the help of the famed “Tzemach Tzedek” (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, 1789–1866, the third rebbe of Chabad). Feivel was almost weeping as he entered the rebbe’s room. He was inexplicably being evicted from the inn he’d been running for over twenty years. He couldn’t understand it; the poritz (landowner) liked him, he always paid his rent on time, and he never made any trouble. But a week ago the poritz suddenly came and gave him one month’s notice. All his pleas and reasoning didn’t help, and now, with nine mouths to feed and no other way of earning a living, he had no other recourse than to travel to the rebbe for help.

When Feivel finished his story, the rebbe took out a piece of paper and a pen, wrote a short letter, put it in an envelope and addressed it. He then blessed Feivel with success, and instructed him to deliver the letter as swiftly as possible

He thanked the rebbe profusely and backed out of the room. Once outside, he glanced at the envelope and his heart sank: the rebbe seemed to have mistakenly addressed it to the wrong man!

In Feivel’s village there were two men by the name of Shmuel. The first, nicknamed Shmuel Hagadol (“Big Shmuel”), was a rich, influential Jew who had close connections with all the landowners and nobles, and some said even with the czar himself! If anyone could help Feivel, it would be him. But the rebbe had addressed his note to Shmuel Hakatan (“Little Shmuel”)—a simple old Jew who used to be a woodcutter and still lived with his wife in his small hut in the woods. The rebbe must have intended to write the big rich guy. Little Shmuel was a virtual nobody!

But Feivel was stuck. To enter the rebbe’s study again was out of the question; people waited for days for a minute of the rebbe’s time. Then he had an idea: the rebbe had seven sons—he would go to one of them and ask for advice.

But the rebbe’s son only assured him of what he already knew—the rebbe never makes mistakes. Normal people make mistakes, but not the rebbe!

So, with a heavy heart, Feivel made his way to Little Shmuel’s house in the middle of the forest and knocked on the door. The old man invited Feivel in and asked him what he wanted. When he heard the reason for the visit and saw the rebbe’s letter asking him to help Feivel in his predicament, he admitted that he had no idea what the rebbe meant. He suggested that Feivel be his guest for a few days and see what would happen.

A week passed. Feivel began to become depressed. What would become of him? In another two weeks he would have to forfeit his livelihood and vacate his home. Winter was approaching; the weather outside was cold and miserable, adding to his melancholy. Where would he go? What would he do? What would become of his wife and children? The wind and rain were pounding on the roof and the walls. He put his head in his hands and wept.

Suddenly the front door rattled and thundered; someone was pounding and shouting outside. “Help! Help! Let me in!” Little Shmuel ran to the door and opened it as Feivel looked on from his room. It was the poritz, drenched to the bone, shivering and blue with cold. It seems that he had been on his way home and the storm caught him unexpectedly. He had been wandering in the cold, lost in the forest for hours, and was on the verge of death. He fell to the floor in exhaustion.

Shmuel helped him to the fireside, brought him a change of clothes (his Shabbat garments, the only change of clothes he had), some warm blankets and hot soup, and in no time the poritz was sitting bundled up near the stove and showering old Shmuel with praises and promises.

“You saved my life! I owe you my life!” he exclaimed. “Tell me how to repay you.”

“Listen,” Shmuel answered. “If you truly wish to reward me, then you can do me a big favor.”

“Anything! I swear! I owe you my very life! Just ask!” exclaimed the poritz.

“Well” Shmuel gave a glance at Feivel peeking from behind his door, “a few days ago you told my good friend Feivel that he has to vacate his inn. I want you to let him stay.”

“So it shall be!” shouted the poritz.

“It just so happens that Feivel is here in the other room,” continued Little Shmuel. “Will you put it in writing?”

Feivel came out of his room, and the poritz immediately shook his hand warmly, asked for pen and paper, and wrote out a contract giving him and his offspring sole rights on the inn for all generations. And for good measure, he gave him the next three years rent-free.

“One thing is bothering me,” said Feivel after he thanked the poritz and tucked the cherished contract securely into his pocket. “Why did you evict me in the first place? After all, I always paid rent and never gave you any trouble. What made you do it?”

“You’re right,” answered the poritz. “You were the perfect tenant, and I would never have even thought of throwing you out. But someone came to me and demanded that I rent the inn to his son-in-law. He promised to pay more rent, and even threatened that if I refused, he would use his influence with my business partners to make trouble for me. It was none other than Big Shmuel! I don’t know what got into him and made him so hard-hearted. I even asked him how he could do it to his own fellow Jew, and he said he didn’t mix business with friendship. But I’ll take care of him. I’ll tell him to go find another establishment for his son-in-law!

“Just one thing that I would like to ask, though,” he continued. “How did you happen to be here exactly on this night?”