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Second Thoughts

G-d said to Noah: Come, you and your household, into the ark (8:21)

The 'wiseguy' nestled in the left chamber of the heart of man - wrote Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch to a chassid - comes in many guises. At times he may even appear in a silk caftan and shtreiml… Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok goes on to make his point with the following story:

It is known that Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobel was very poor and forever hard pressed to feed his household. One day a chassid came and brought him a gift of 300 rubles.

Both the Rebbe's family and the head-secretary who served the Rebbe and managed his affairs were extremely relieved. Now they would finally enjoy a respite from the heavy debts owed for bread, meat, fish and other pressing household necessities.

After the gift-bearing chassid left the Rebbe's room, the Rebbe continued to receive his chassidim, until he broke for the minchaand maarivprayers. After maarivthe Rebbe secluded himself in his room, preoccupied with some personal matter. After a long while, he finally opened his door and requested that a certain chassid - one of those whom he had received earlier - be summoned back. When this chassid had left, the Rebbe he continued to receive his visitors late into the night.

When the last audience-seeker had gone, the Rebbe's head-secretary came to request funds for the needed expenditures. Knowing of the 300 rubles received and confident of his ability to now settle at least part of the debts, he had already made a detailed list of how much to give to each creditor.

Rabbi Menachem Nachum opened the drawer in which he would place the money which chassidim would bring him to cover his personal expenses (themaamadfunds). (Money brought to him and earmarked for charity - the the pidyonfunds - were kept in separate drawer to prevent any possibility of their intermixing.)1 The Rebbe's secretary saw a drawer-full of copper coins with a scant smattering of silver coins mixed in. Much to his dismay, no ruble-notes.

The Rebbe told him to take the contents of the maamad-drawer. The secretary counted the silver and copper, among which were also discovered three golden. They added up to close to 100 rubles.

The secretary just stood there, unable to say a word. He did not wish to bring up the matter of the 300 rubles, but the fact that he would be unable to at least partially settle the Rebbe's debts pained his heart.

The Rebbe noticed his distress and said to him: "Why are you so upset? Thank G-d that He who provides bread to all flesh has, in His great kindness, has sent us an undeserved gift. From far and wide, many of our brethren - may they live - have labored and toiled to earn and bring us such a sum."

Now the secretary was indeed a man worthy to be the intimate of the Rebbe of Chernobel. Nevertheless, he could no longer contain himself. The heavy debts and the terrible poverty which prevailed in the Rebbe's home so deeply distressed him. As if of their own accord, the words tore themselves from a anguished heart: "But where are the 300 rubles that so-and-so brought? With that, together with what we have here, we would be able to pay off part of what is owed…"

"True," said the Rebbe, "I was brought 300 rubles. At the moment I received them I wondered: why do I deserve such a large amount? Then I was filled with pleasure at the thought that I had found favor in the eyes of the Almighty so that He chose to provide sustenance for myself and for my household in such a generous and honorable manner. But when I thought further, I was greatly distressed: perhaps I am receiving this money in the place of some spiritual gift?2

"Later in the day, one of the chassidim who came to see me poured out his troubled heart: for the past year he has been unable to pay his children's teacher of his children, a very poor but G-d fearing man who continues to teach the children in the hope that he will some day be paid. This man already owes eight months' rent for the mill and inn which he leases, and soon the landowner is sure to evict him. And to top it all off, he has arranged a match for his eldest daughter and has nothing with which to marry her off.

"When I heard this, it occurred to me that perhaps the Almighty has granted me the privilege of being an administtrator of charity. Perhaps this large amount was entrusted to me so that I may merit such great mitzvosas educating a child, saving the livelihood of an entire family, and marrying off a Jewish bride. I asked the chassid how much his debts and marriage needs added up to, and I found that it matches the sum exactly - 300 rubles!

"However, as soon as I decided to give the 300 rubles to this chassid, another thought entered my mind: Is it proper to give the entire sum to a single individual? Why, with such an amount, one could support, at the very least, six entire families!

"I entered into a dilemma, since both these options - a) to give the entire to the said chassid, and b) to divide it between several needy families - seemed righteous and correct. I couldn't decide between them, so I locked my door in order to contemplate the matter and reach a decision.

"Upon contemplation, I came to recognize that these two opinions are coming from the two 'judges' within me, the 'Good Inclination' and the 'Evil Inclination'3, and that the argument to divide the sum among several families is definitely notcoming from my 'Good Inclination.' For were this indeed my Good Inclination speaking, why didn't he speak up immediately? As soon as I received the money, he should have immediately said: "Nachum, 300 rubles were brought to you. Take the money and divide it into six parts, distribute five parts to needy families and take the sixth for yourself." But no, this voice spoke within me only afterI had decided to give away the entire sum.

"This gave him away. When at first I had assumed that the entire sum was meant for me, he was silent. No wonder: he was perfectly satisfied with my decision. Only after the Almighty had privileged me to realize why I had been given this money did he wake up. Obviously, he did not say "Keep the money!" - oh no, he is far too experienced at his craft for that - he knew that I would recognize the source of such a desire and reject it immediately. So along he comes, this master of cunning, with a utterly pious and logical suggestion - anything to prevent me from acting on the role which Divine Providence so clearly designated for me to play in the delivery of a family from distress.

"So I called back the chassid and gave him the 300 rubles."

FOOTNOTES

1. When a chassid asks the Rebbe to pray for him, he encloses a pidyon nefesh ('redemption of the soul'), a sum for charity for the Rebbe to distribute at his discretion. Maamad ('support') is a chassid's contribution to the Rebbe's personal and household expenses.
2. See Rashi's commentary on Genesis 15:1, in which he explains Abrahams distress in the wake of his great miletary victory over the Four Kings. In his great humility, Abraham feared that he had now deplenished his entire 'account' of merit and that he would now be undeserving of any further gifts from above.
3. In Hebrew, 'Yetzer Tov ' and 'Yetzer Horah '.

 

 


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