Reb Avigdor Halberstam, the brother of Reb Chaim of Zanz, was once the honored Shabbos guest of one of the prominent citizens of some township. The custom in those parts was that the householder would pass the whole pot of cholent to his distinguished guest, who would be asked—by way of compliment, as if he were the host—to apportion the steaming stew into the plates of the members of the family.

As the cholent was passed to him, Reb Avigdor caught a whiff of it, tasted it, then tasted it again, and again—until bit by bit he finished it all, leaving nothing for the others at the table. Then he asked: “Is there perhaps a little more cholent?” And this, too, he finished, down to the last spoonful

The host and his family were dumbfounded—but it was known that tzaddikim see a spiritual mission in eating, revealing the sparks of sanctity that are hidden in the things of This World. And who would be so bold as to pretend to guess at the hidden things that tzaddikim relish…?

But some of his disciples were present, and in all the time they had known him they had never observed him serving his Maker in this manner. So they gathered up courage and after some time asked him to enlighten them as to the hidden things that he had relished in that cholent.

“I am sure I can trust you with the explanation,” he said. “By mistake, the maid in that household flavored the cholent with kerosene instead of vinegar. I could smell it and taste it. I gathered that if our host and hostess would find out, the defenseless girl would never hear the end of it, and possibly lose her job as well—and she’s a penniless orphan, poor thing. So I ate up the cholent, and let them think of me whatever they please. Why should an orphaned waif have to suffer abuse?”

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