Short Tales

Jewish World Review

The wealthy
man's hunger

The retelling of a Chassidic story from early 19th century Eastern Europe about a different sort of "rags to riches" progression.

By Linda Feinberg | "Nu, (so) did you ask the rebbe?"

Yitzchak looked blankly at his wife, as he tried to ponder the meaning of her question.

He had only arrived home a few minutes earlier, after spending Shabbos (Sabbath) with his spiritual mentor, his rebbe, Rav Moshe, in Kobrin. Indeed, his heart and soul were still there, where he, along with the rebbe's other Chassidim (disciples) had been privileged to soar lofty spiritual heights.

The visit's memory made Yitzchak's long journey home pass sweetly and quickly. But now he was back home --- and being confronted by his wife.

"Was I supposed to ask for something?" Yitzchak said sheepishly.

"Only if you want supper tonight," his wife replied.

"I don't understand."

"Neither does this pot," retorted his wife, shaking the vessel. "This pot doesn't understand why I bother to take it out of the cupboard and put it on the stove, since I have no food to put in it to cook."

As Yitzchak gazed down at the empty pot, it all started coming back to him.

Things hadn't always been so bad for the family, but the last few years had been difficult ones.

Twice before, Yitzchak had traveled to Kobrin. Each time he promised his wife that he would ask the saint for a blessing ---- and each time he forgot.

"How could you possibly forget to ask the rebbe for a blessing for wealth?" his wife demanded. "How could you have forgotten about your starving children? And the two daughters we have to marry off?"

Yitzchak's wife sat down at the table and began to sob.

How, Yitzchak wanted to respond. How? Because in Kobrin, worldly cares seemed to magically melt away. Once in the rebbe's presence, it was as if one entered another world --- a world where hunger and cold and illness held no sway.

That was the truth.

But as Yitzchak gazed about his broken-down hovel, regret overcame him. Of course his wife's anger was justified. After all, their situation was, in fact, desperate. The one ray of hope, they truly believed, had been a blessing from the saint.

Once again, that opportunity had been squandered.

But there would be others.

"I will remember to ask the rebbe the next time I go to Kobrin," Yitzchak promised his wife. And he sincerely meant it

"You must go back now," she insisted.

"But I've only just come back," he said.

"My dear husband, please try to understand. We have nothing to eat. NOTHING!"

The next morning Yitzchak was back on the road. As he approached the outskirts of Kobrin, he kept his wife and children firmly fixed in his mind. And when he was ushered into the rebbe's study, he forced himself to get straight to the point.

"Rebbe, I need a blessing for wealth," he said, matter of factly.

The saint was surprised by Yitzchak's demeanor and even more so by his request, as he had never before asked for material blessings. But to the disciple's relief, the rebbe was willing to comply

Yitzchak began to get up from his chair, thinking that his time with the saint was up.


"Not so fast," said the sage, motioning for his disciple to return to his chair. "I will give you this blessing, but on one condition."

The saint then reached into his desk drawer and removed two gold coins.

"With these coins I want you to buy fine food and drink --- a real feast," he told Yitzchak. "Take the food back to your home and lay it out on the table. Then eat. But only you. If you wish to be wealthy, neither your wife nor your children may touch even the smallest morsel of this food. Do you understand?"

"Yes, rebbe," Yitzchak replied, somewhat surprised.

"After you've finished your meal, return to me," continued the rebbe, who then signaled that their meeting was over.

Yitzchak obediently did as the rebbe instructed. After spending all his money, he began his journey home.

Once there, Yitzchak's family was overjoyed, especially after seeing the many parcels he had returned with.

Their delight, however, was short-lived after they became aware of the rebbe's bewildering instructions.

It was an unusual sight, to be sure. The finest delicacies of the region being served on chipped plates and bowls.

Though his paternal instincts told Yitzchak that he needed to share the feast with his family, his wife refused to allow him to.

"Remember the rebbe's instructions," she said sternly.

Yitzchak forced himself to nod his head. He looked away from his son and set his gaze upon the plate heaped high with chicken and kugel and all sorts of other delicacies.

Normally, roasted chicken was his favorite dish and he would eat it with relish. Today, however, he barely had the strength to lift his fork. When he finally succeeded in taking a bite, the chicken tasted like ashes.

"I can't eat this," he said, and he pushed the plate away.

"Try some of the kugel," his wife said as she pushed the plate back to him. "You like potato kugel."

"How can I enjoy this food when you and the children have nothing to eat?" Yitzchak asked his wife.

"The Rebbe said to eat, so eat," his wife replied.

Yitzchak nibbled at the food, but the very smell of it turned his stomach. His "feast" was more difficult to complete than any fast, and it was with great relief that he came to the end of finishing each of the dishes he had bought with the two gold coins.

When he returned to the rebbe, the sage eyed his disciple carefully.

"Nu, Yitzchak, how did you enjoy being wealthy?"

"I don't understand," he replied.

"I can give you a blessing for the wealth that you requested," said the saint, "but you should know that not everyone has the stomach to be rich. If you become wealthy, you will have to be able to enjoy your wealth while knowing that others are starving. Are you sure you are able to do this?"

"Absolutely not!" Yitzchak exclaimed. "If these are the conditions for wealth, I would rather remain as I am."

Yitzchak quickly returned home and told his wife all that the rebbe said. She agreed that her husband was correct in refusing the blessing, and the two of them sat down to once again see if there wasn't some stone they had left unturned in their quest to bring in some income.

Not long afterward, a business opportunity appeared out of the blue. Yitzchak's fortunes steadily improved and eventually he was blessed with what he had once sought. He was now a wealthy man and his family had everything --- including the ability to give to the poor with a generous and open hand.

Yitzchak and his wife never forgot that meal that had been bought with the rebbe's two gold coins, and so they were always grateful when they had the opportunity to lighten the burden of their wealth by sharing it with those in need.

Linda Feinberg is a columnist for Yated Ne'eman. Send your comments by clicking here.


© 2002, Yated Ne'eman