1000 Ruble Ransom

1000 Ruble Ransom

Yesterday was a significant day on the Jewish calendar for my family. The 12th day of the month of Elul marks the day that Tzipah and I got engaged, as well as my oldest son Mendel’s birthday, who celebrated his 9th yesterday! Happy birthday Mendel, and mazel tov Tzipah! 🙂

In honor of these important events, I share with you a story about a wedding.

Additionally, this upcoming Wednesday, the 18th day of Elul, is a significant day on the Jewish calendar. It is the birthday of two of the greatest Chassidic luminaries: Rabbi Israel Baal Shem, the founder of the Chassidic movement, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe.

In honor of this auspicious day, the wedding story will involve Rabbi Schneur Zalman, commonly known as the Alter Rebbe (Yiddish, “Old Rabbi”).

Here goes:

In a small town in Belarus, there lived an affluent Jew who was, sadly, a miser. Despite his great wealth, he would donate the same, small, rusty copper coin of five kopecks to anyone who asked. It made no difference how urgent or pressing the cause was; each person received a rusty five-kopeck piece.

Time after time, each needy person received that same coin. One day, a frustrated recipient of such a coin threw it back in disgust at the miser. Eventually, people stopped asking him altogether for donations.

One day, a young, impoverished couple was set to be married. Both bride and groom, in fact, were orphans, and the entire town had taken it upon themselves to ensure that they had a beautiful wedding with all the amenities. Everyone – save for the rich miser, whom no one even bothered to ask – had contributed to the wedding fund.

Now, at this time, Alexander the First was Czar of Russia, and Jews were subject to military service; alternatively, they could pay a tax and exempt themselves from service. Military service for Jews was no simple matter, as they would face persecution and pressure to convert. Most Jews chose to pay the tax in lieu of service.

Without any warning, the entire wedding was jeopardized, when the groom was taken into custody by the Chief of Police for military service. Despite being new in town, the Chief had quickly become known as an anti-Semite. He couldn’t stand the thought of the joyous wedding taking place with the entire town’s participation, so he sent his men to seize the groom on his wedding day.

A group of communal activists quickly arranged a meeting with the Chief of Police, and attempted to arrange payment of the tax, including, as well, a nice gift for the Chief, hoping for the speedy release of the groom.

Unrepentant, the Chief kicked them out of his office, threatening to have them deported to Siberia as punishment.

As Providence would have it, the Alter Rebbe arrived in town. He had personally arranged the match between the two orphans, and travelled the short distance from his home in Liadi, to join in the wedding festivities.

When he was told of the grave situation, he asked the local Rabbi to make a second appointment to visit the Chief of Police.

Far from being accommodating, the Chief was ready to once again kick them out of his office. However, the Alter Rebbe glared at him, leaving him speechless.

Taking a few moments to recover from this gaze, the Police Chief inquired what they had come for.

“We’ve come to ask you to release the groom, for his wedding is scheduled for tonight,” the Alter Rebbe stated firmly. “He doesn’t belong in the Czar’s army, and we are prepared to pay the tax to exempt him from service. Just tell us how much to pay.”

“What a perfect opportunity,” the Chief of Police thought to himself. “I will finally be able to pay off my gambling debts!”

“The tax is 1000 rubles!” he bellowed.

“You will receive this amount before sunset,” replied the Alter Rebbe without skipping a beat.

When they left the Police Chief’s office, the Rabbi asked the Alter Rebbe, “Where are we possibly going to get so much money, and in such a short time? The people in my town are poor!”

“G-d Almighty, who is the Father of all orphans, will not fail them,” the Alter Rebbe replied with confidence. “Let’s make a list of donors, and how much we can expect each of them to give.”

When they returned to the Rabbi’s house, they sat down and composed a list of potential donors with the sum the Rabbi expected to receive for this worthy cause. The total was just over 100 rubles, only a tenth of the necessary amount.

The Alter Rebbe perused the list and said, “It seems to me that you have not included the rich man in town.”

“Why bother?” retorted the Rabbi. “He will give a mere five kopecks, and that won’t help!”

“I want to give him the opportunity to participate in this great mitzvah of redeeming captives. Let’s go visit him first!”

When the Alter Rebbe and the Rabbi arrived at the miser’s home, he was standing at the window. He went out to greet them.

The Alter Rebbe recounted the entire story of the orphaned bride and groom, and how the groom had been taken captive by the Police Chief, who would only release him if they paid the 1000 ruble ransom. The Alter Rebbe informed the miser that the wedding was scheduled for that evening.

Without uttering a word, the rich miser reached his hand into his pocket and handed a rusty, five kopeck coin to the Alter Rebbe.

“May you merit to do many more mitzvot (commandments)!” the Alter Rebbe said emphatically.

The Alter Rebbe and the Rabbi were getting up to leave, when the miser stammered, “I, um, I think my contribution was too small. Here is one ruble.”

Accepting the coin graciously, the Alter Rebbe repeated his previous blessing, “May you merit to do many more mitzvot!”

As they turned towards the door, the miser once again said, “I would like to give an even larger donation.” He handed the Alter Rebbe a 10-ruble bill.
Once again, the Alter Rebbe blessed him as before.

This scene repeated itself a few times, until the miserly Jew burst out crying.

Saying nothing, the Alter Rebbe waited for the man to compose himself and offer an explanation.

Wiping the tears from his cheeks, the rich man said, “I once handed a five kopeck coin to a beggar. He threw it back in my face. I was so distraught that I told myself that a five kopeck coin was what I would give to anyone who asked, regardless of the importance of their cause. Until, that is, someone will accept my small donation graciously. Since that day, people scorned my donation, until, eventually, they stopped soliciting my support completely.

“You, holy Rebbe, are the first person who accepted my small donation kindly. You gave me the opportunity to participate in a great mitzvah, and you even blessed me that I should merit to do more mitzvot. You have changed me into a different person, and I will never forget how you lifted me up.

“Here is the entire amount you need,” concluded the former miser, handing the Alter Rebbe 1000 rubles. “This gift comes from my heart, and I hope and pray that it will, in some way, make up for all the missed opportunities in my life.”

The Alter Rebbe blessed him once again that he should be able to give generously and joyously. Accompanied by the Rabbi, they rushed to the Police Chief.

Delighted with his new wealth, the Chief released the groom. Together with the Alter Rebbe and the town’s Rabbi, the groom hurried to the wedding hall.

The entire celebration was one huge explosion of joy. One of the most distinguished guests was the former miser himself, who had donated the entire ransom amount. As news of his generosity spread, he became a respected member of the community.

Towards the end of the wedding celebration, news arrived that the Police Chief had died in an accident. While travelling by horse, his horse had slipped and thrown him to his death.

The morning after the wedding, the newly-married groom went to bathe in the river. Near the bridge, he found a leather purse with 1000 rubles in it. Unsure if he was allowed to keep it according to Jewish law, he took it to the Rabbi.

“Behold, the ways of the Almighty!” declared the Rabbi. “This is the very money which the Chief extorted to secure your freedom. It is truly Divine, personal providence, for the Chief has no heir, and you may consider this as a wedding gift from G-d Himself. Use it in health and happiness!”

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