Reb Yisrael of Vizhnitz was in the habit of strolling with his attendant for half an hour every evening. On one such occasion they reached the house of a certain bank manager who was a maskil, a follower of the “Enlightenment” movement—in a word, anything but a chassid of the rebbe.

Reb Yisrael knocked on the door, and when a servant opened it, entered the house. The attendant did not begin to understand the reason for this unexpected visit, but without asking a word, followed the rebbe inside.

The host received his distinguished guest with all the marks of respect and politeness dictated by such an occasion; the rebbe, for his part, took the seat that was offered him and sat for quite some time without saying a word. Considering that it would be an impertinence to ask the rebbe directly for the purpose of his visit, the host whispered his question to the attendant, but was made none the wiser.

At length the rebbe offered his farewells, and rose to leave. As a mark of respect, the host accompanied him in silence all the way to his home, but at the last minute, when he was about to leave, his understandable curiosity got the better of him, and he turned to the tzaddik: “Rebbe, pardon my question, but it would hardly have been proper for me to ask when we were in my home, so I am taking the liberty of asking now. Why did you honor me with a visit?”

“I went to your home in order to fulfill a mitzvah,” answered the rebbe, “and, thank G‑d, I was able to fulfill it.”

“Which mitzvah?” asked the bank manager.

The rebbe explained: “Our sages teach that ‘Just as it is a mitzvah to say that which will be heard, so is it a mitzvah not to say that which will not be listened to.’ Now if I remain in my house and you remain in yours, what kind of a mitzvah is it that I refrain from telling you ‘that which will not be listened to’?

“In order to fulfill the mitzvah properly, one obviously must go to the house of the man who will not listen, and there refrain from speaking to him. And that is exactly what I did.”

“Perhaps, Rebbe,” said the bank manager, “you would be so good as to tell me what this thing is? Who knows, perhaps I will listen?”

“I’m afraid not,” said the rebbe. “I am certain that you will not.”

And the longer the rebbe refused, the greater grew the curiosity of the other to know his secret, and he continued to press him to reveal “that which would not be listened to.”

“Very well,” said the rebbe at length. “A certain penniless widow owes your bank quite a sum for the mortgage of her house. Within a few days your bank is going to dispose of her house by public sale, and she will be out on the street. I had wanted to ask you to overlook her debt, but didn’t—because of the mitzvah of ‘not saying.’”

“But how is such a thing possible?” asked the bank manager in amazement. “Surely you realize that the debt is not owed to me personally, but to the bank, and I am only its manager, not its proprietor, and the debt runs to several hundred, and if so…”

The rebbe interrupted him: “It’s exactly as I said all along—that you would not want to hear.”

With that, he ended the conversation and entered his house.

The bank manager also went home—but the rebbe’s words found their way into his heart and gave him no rest, until he paid up the widow’s debt out of his own pocket.

Reproduced from A Treasury of Chassidic Tales by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll /Mesorah Publications, Ltd.