When the great Chassidic Rebbe, the "Seer" of Lublin (Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, 1745-1815), passed on to his heavenly abode, he left behind a devastating void. A large group of his orphaned followers approached one of his outstanding disciples, Rabbi Fischel of Strickov, to become their "rebbe" and mentor, even though while the Seer was still alive Rabbi Fischel had been a hidden person who kept very much to himself, barely having personal contact with anybody, including his fellow Chassidim.

Rabbi Fischel had acceded reluctantly, as if under duress; "where there is no man, stand up and be a man." But soon thereafter the new Rebbe made it clear that he intended to hew a path strikingly different from his predecessors. In contrast to the custom of "miracle-working" Rebbes of the time who helped the impoverished and persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe with advice, prayers, blessings and even supra-natural intervention, Rabbi Fischel announced that he, for one, would not do so. He was prepared to advise his disciples in their relationship with the Creator and to guide them in Torah, prayer and the fulfillment of the Commandments, but had no intention to get involved in their material concerns. He felt it was not proper to bother the One Above with such petty matters.

The Chassidim were flabbergasted by this new policy and of course disappointed, but they had no choice but to accept it. It was the price they had to pay in order to be connected to their new Rebbe.

Even so, it would happen occasionally that a suffering Jew would come and pour his physical misfortunes into the ear of Rabbi Fischel, and the Rebbe would always listen sympathetically and endeavor to find a natural solution for the person's woe. If the petitioner was in a desperate state of poverty, Rabbi Fischel would try to enlist one of his wealthier supporters to succor him, and if the problem was a medical one, he would recommend a doctor with expertise in the needed field. Always good practical advice, but no miracles or wonders.

Then one day something happened that shocked the Chassidim totally. The Rebbe's door was locked! He refused to receive any of his Chassidim in audience.

The Chassidim gathered around the Rebbe's house in consternation, desperate for an explanation of this new development. When Rabbi Fischel did step out, his appearance so startled them that their hearts began pounding in trepidation: the Rebbe was wearing a regular hat! From the day he accepted upon himself the leadership, Rabbi Fischel had worn a shtreimel (fur hat) in the manner of the Chasidic Rebbes in Poland. But now he was dressed just like any other Chassidic man on the street.

The Rebbe looked very serious and there was a worried expression in his eyes. No one dared to approach him directly and ask for an interpretation of his change of attire. But they were terrified that he had decided to abandon his position as their leader.

Some time went by. The Rebbe's door remained closed to his disciples. The Chassidim felt abandoned. Then something happened that gave rise to a new burst of hope in their hearts. Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa arrived in town.

He, too, had been a leading disciple of the Seer of Lublin, and he too had accepted upon himself the mantle of leadership over a large number of Chassidim. Although he was much younger than Rabbi Fischel, the two of them had a close, affectionate relationship. The elder Strickover Chassidim implored Rabbi Bunim to influence Rabbi Fischel to retract his devastating decision.

The two holy men sat and talked in Rabbi Fischel's room for several hours. The Chassidim stood trembling outside. They felt that their spiritual survival was tied to the success of the Pesishcha's efforts.

Finally Rabbi Bunim emerged. The hearts of the Chassidim fluttered in joy when they saw the broad smile on his face. They heaved a collective sigh of relief. Their Rebbe would return to them; their prayers had been answered!

With the heavy boulder of their concern rolled from their hearts, the Chassidim were now filled with curiosity as to how the Peshischa Rebbe had managed to persuade his elder colleague to change his mind. They gathered around Rabbi Bunim and begged him to tell them all that had transpired.

What had happened was this: A few weeks before Rabbi Fischel's dramatic change of heart, a desperately poor person had visited him in his room and confessed before him his plight. He had several daughters of marriageable age, but he had no money whatsoever to be able to provide for them and had exhausted all possible hopes of acquiring any. He was broken-hearted, and his daughters even more so.

Rabbi Fischel offered him advice but none of his suggestions bore fruit. Very much wanting to help the man, he said to him, "I see that I am unable to aid you by natural means. Therefore, I say this: go buy a national lottery ticket, and may the Almighty provide your salvation."

At the first possible opportunity, the man hurried to purchase a ticket. The system was that the ticket enabled its purchaser to participate in ten drawings over a period of ten successive days. The first drawing took place and the man did not win anything. Nor was his luck any better in the second or third. The pattern continued for the entire week. With each failure his frustration grew, and as each day passed his faith in the Rebbe's blessing weakened.

After the ninth drawing, he was completely disheartened. He decided bitterly that at least he should recoup his losses and make back the outlay of the ticket. And indeed, he managed to sell it to someone for the price he had originally paid.

The next day the news spread rapidly that Mr. So-and-so had won a huge sum of money in the lottery. He, of course, was none other than the lucky man who had bought the poor man's ticket.

The poor man ran back to the Rebbe, bewailing his misfortune. In tears, he confessed the whole story. Rabbi Fischel, too, was affected deeply. He saw in the episode a divine message to him. He understood it as a sign that such miraculous behavior on his part was displeasing to Heaven. That was why, he figured, his blessing was distorted so bizarrely. It was fulfilled, but the person to whom it was given still did not benefit at all from it. His conclusion was that he was unfit for the role of Rebbe he had allowed himself to assume.

So how did Rabbi Bunim convince him to change his mind? He told Rabbi Fischel how he too had been approached by a desperately poor man with many children but not nearly enough income. He blessed him that he should meet financial success.

However, the man refused to be satisfied with such a simply expressed blessing. He demanded to know exactly how it would be fulfilled, seeing that up to then he had failed miserably in whatever he had undertaken in order to make a living. Rabbi Bunim replied to him, "Woe to Bunim if thus is how he must serve G‑d, that he has to provide advice for Him as to how He should enable a Jew to prosper."

Rabbi Fischel caught the gentle hint, and agreed to resume his post, and to do so with a changed attitude.

Biographical notes:

Rabbi Fischel ("Fisheleh") Shapira of Strickov (1743 - 1822) was a disciple successively of the Magid of Mezritch, the Rebbe Elimelech, and the Seer of Lublin. He was known for his extreme modesty and humility. His colleagues referred to him as Olah Temimah - "the unblemished offering".

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765 - 1827) spent many years as a business man and a pharmacist. He was a beloved disciple of "the Seer" and of "The Holy Yid" whom he succeeded. Known as "a rebbe of rebbes," his major disciples included the Kotsker Rebbe and the first Rebbes of Ger and Alexander.