The Dowry

 

The Baal Shem Tov (Besh't for short) had many pupils and followers.  One of them was Rabbi Wolfe Kitzes.  Reb Kitzes was a truly humble man, a servant of G-d, a genius and a genuine pauper.  He virtually didn't have a penny (kopek) to his name, which made his life difficult and marrying off his daughter impossible.

 

One day the Besh't called Reb Kitzes to his office, and when he arrived the local matchmaker (shadchan) was also standing there holding a list of names in his hand.

 

Pick one," said the Besh't.  "The time has come for your daughter to marry."

 

Reb Kitzes looked at the list in horror. "But, but these are the wealthiest families in the..." He stammered as he looked up, wide-eyed.  But the Besh't just stared at him and with no other choice he made his choice and the shadchan set off to the city where the prospective in-laws lived to finalize the match.

 

When he arrived everything went smoothly.  The family agreed to the match on the condition that the Rabbi would pay a dowry of two thousand rubles (a small fortune) for their son, they shook hands, made a l'chiam and the shadchan returned home with the good news. 

 

But, needless to say, when Rabbi Kitzes heard the news he had trouble being happy.  It was a custom for the bride to send gifts to the groom and he had nothing to his name.  He'd been wearing the same shoes for twenty years, where would he find money to send gifts?

 

Two weeks later he received a letter from the father of the groom asking why he hadn't received the customary gifts and hoping that everything was all right.  

 

Rabbi Kitzes ran to the Baal Shem with the letter but all he got from the master was a vague smile and an assurance not to worry. 

 

Then, two weeks later another letter arrived demanding an explanation.  Why had they ignored the previous letter?!  But when the Baal Shem saw it he reacted just as calmly as the first time.

 

A month later the third letter arrived; the groom's father was really angry; if a reply was not received immediately the engagement was off.   Reb Kitzes read it again and again and each time became more depressed, scared and completely confused; he desperately wanted the match but he also couldn't stop being realistic.  Maybe it was better to just call the whole thing off.

 

He took the letter to the Besh't.

 

This time the Besh't said that he should write back, apologize for the delay and invite the groom and his entire family to Mezibuz (the city of the Besh't) to rejoice together with the Besh't several days before the wedding at which time all the gifts and moneys would be paid in full.  Rab Kitze's spirits rose a bit.  But two days later they came crashing down to reality!!

 

Two days later he received a letter saying they were on their way!

 

Suddenly it hit him full force. True, he should have more faith. True, Chassidim are supposed to always be happy!  True, he should have more trust in the Rebbe. But what would happen if...things just stayed the way they are?!  After all, who was he that G-d should make him a miracle?  He had been poor all his life, why should things be different now?

 

With a heavy heart he stood and prepared to go show the letter to the Besh't. As he was walking a stranger stopped him in the street and asked for directions to the Baal Shem Tov.  "Come, I'm going there myself." He replied and they walked silently together, both sunk in their own thoughts.

 

When they reached the house and entered they were both ushered into the Baal Shem's office although they had no connection to one another.

 

The Besh't asked them to be seated and, seemingly ignoring Reb Kitzes, turned to the stranger and said, "I would like to tell you a story if it's alright with you." Surprised by the question the stranger shook his head in agreement and the master began.

 

"About fifteen years ago a certain rich Jewish businessman from the Ukraine was on his way home on a long journey in his personal carriage, with his personal driver.  He was returning from Prussia where he had just made a small fortune, about forty thousand rubles, on a lumber deal.  He tucked the money under his seat and despite the noise and the bumpy ride drowsed off to sleep, satisfied with his fortune.

 

"Suddenly he woke abruptly; the wagon had stopped in the middle of a forest! He opened the door and shouted out to the driver if everything was all right and when there was no answer he got out of the carriage to have a look for himself.

 

"But no sooner did his feet touch the ground then his 'trusted' driver jumped from behind him, pushed him to a tree, tied his hands and, waiving a sharp hatchet in the air, threatened to kill him if he didn't hand over all the money immediately.

 

"He pleaded with the driver to leave him at least some of the fortune but when he saw that he meant business he told him what he wanted to know.  The driver tied him to the tree, went inside the carriage, found the money, climbed back on the wagon, took the reins in his hands, then paused a moment, climbed back down walked over to the bound Jew and announced.

 

"'I've decided to kill you!  If I leave you alive for sure you'll go to the police."

 

"The poor businessman wailed, begged and promised but the thief just declared mockingly 'You can shout as loud as you want, Jew.  We are so deep in the forest no one will ever hear you.. Or find you!!   I'm giving you ten seconds to pray' and yelled out 'Ten! Nine! Eight!....

 

"The Jew began to weep bitterly.  He prayed to G-d with all his might and even swore that if he was saved he would give a tenth of all his wealth to the poor, even a half.. Even everything!!"

 

"Suddenly a rifle shot rang out!  The Jew opened his eyes to see the driver standing with his hands raised above his head yelling 'don't shoot'.   The overseer of the lands had 'happened' to be passing by and, hearing the commotion decided to see for himself.  G-d answered his prayers!! He had been saved!!

 

"Yes, it was the miracle he had prayed for," continued the Besh't. "But unfortunately weeks later, after all the confusion and joy died down, he returned to life as usual and completely forgot his vow." 

 

"Years passed.  The Jew was blessed with children, a beautiful girl and boy, but he refused to open his heart or hand to the poor; every time he had another excuse not to give charity.   Even when, several years ago, his daughter became sick and tragically died he did not connect it to his vow.

 

"Now, just weeks ago his son also became similarly ill and when the doctors gave up hope he heard about me and decided to come here for a blessing." 

 

Before the Besh't could say another word the stranger yelled out, "It was ME!! It was me!! I completely forgot about that vow! Oy! OY! That was me!!"

 

"It's not too late" The Besh't replied.  "Don't worry. I'm not going to ask you to give all your wealth or even half.  Give ten percent as you first vowed.  Here!" he pointed to Reb Kitzes, "Give him the four thousand rubles you promised"

 

The stranger gave him the money right then and there.  The Besh't invited him to stay for the wedding and a week later when the wedding was in progress the stranger received a letter that his son had fully recovered.

 

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