Some 300 years ago lived an affluent man named Avigdor. He once brought a large sum of money to Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, to be distributed on his behalf to the poor.
Accepting the contribution graciously, the Baal Shem Tov (literally, master of a good name) inquired if perhaps there was something Avigdor would like in return. After all, the Baal Shem Tov was renowned not only as a great Torah scholar, but also as a righteous individual.
“No thanks!” replied Avigdor arrogantly. “I am very wealthy, I own many gorgeous properties, I have servants, plenty of delicacies and everything else I want. I have more than I need!”
“You are very fortunate,” replied the Baal Shem Tov. “Perhaps you would like a blessing?”
“A blessing? I have a large and healthy family of which I am very proud; it is a credit to my success. I need — nor want — nothing.”
A very humble man, the Baal Shem Tov felt bad for Avigdor. Such hubris! All things that go up, must come down, and the Baal Shem Tov knew that it was only a matter of time before Avigdor would be brought down very low.
“Well then, perhaps you can help me. May I request one thing of you?” inquired Rabbi Israel. “Can you please deliver a letter to the head of the charity committee in Brody?”
“Certainly,” responded Avigdor. “I live in Brody, and would be happy to assist you in this matter.”
The Baal Shem Tov took out a pen and paper, wrote a letter, sealed it in an envelope and gave it to Avigdor. Avigdor took the letter, placed it in his jacket pocket, and completely forgot about it. He had so many projects on his mind, that by the time he arrived in Brody, he had completely forgotten about the entire encounter with Rabbi Israel.
16 years passed, and the wheel of fortune turned. All of Avigdor’s assets and properties were lost or destroyed. Floods ruined his fields of crops; fires destroyed his forests. Calamity after calamity. He was left impecunious.
Creditors took his house and everything he owned. He was forced to sell even his clothing to feed his children. One day, he took an old jacket, prepared to sell it for cash. In one of the pockets, he found a letter. It was the letter that he had received from the Baal Shem Tov 16 years prior. He had forgotten to deliver it. In a flash, he recalled his visit and his haughtiness when he thought he had everything. With tears in his eyes, he rushed to finally fulfill his mission and deliver the letter. The envelope was adressed to a Mr. Tzaddok, chairman of the charity committee of Brody.
He ran into the street and encountered one of his friends. Grabbing his arm, he said, “Where can I find Mr. Tzaddok?”
“Mr. Tzaddok? You mean Mr. Tzaddok, the chairman of the charity committee?”
“Yes, I must see him immediately!” replied Avigdor.
“He is in the synagogue,” said Avigdor’s friend. “I was there only a few minutes ago. Mr. Tzaddok is indeed a lucky man. Just this morning he was elected chairman of the charity committee.”
“Tell me more about Mr. Tzaddok,” insisted Avigdor.
Willing to oblige, Avigdor’s friend continued, “Mr. Tzaddok was born and raised here in Brody. A tailor by profession, he has always been down on his luck, never able to make a decent living. He was hardly able to support his family, and they have always lived in abject poverty. He sat in the back of the synagogue, and no one ever took notice of him. Despite working many hours, he never earned much; even enough money to purchase one loaf of bread for his large family was difficult for him to earn.
“Recently, however, the tide changed. Mr. Tzaddok was introduced to a local nobleman, and he made uniforms for all his servants. The nobleman was very satisfied with Mr. Tzaddok’s craftsmanship, and his business started to pick up. He even received an order for 5000 uniforms for the army. He became a rich man, and gained respect in the eyes of many. He did not forget his former poverty, and gave generously to many, taking an active role in communal affairs. Just this morning, he was unanimously elected chairman of the charity committee.”
Hearing this story, Avigdor hurried to the synagogue, and found Mr. Tzaddok busy perusing the many requests for financial assistance. He handed Mr. Tzaddok the letter. Together they read the words of the Baal Shem Tov, penned 16 years earlier:
“Dear Mr. Tzaddok: The man who brought this letter is named Avigdor, and was once very wealthy, but is now very poor. He has paid for his haughtiness. Since just this morning you were elected chairman of the charity committee, I request that you do all you can to assist him, as he has a large family to support. He will once again become successful, and this time he is more humbly suited to success. In case you may doubt my words, I give you the following sign: Your wife is expecting a baby, and today will give birth to a boy.”
They had hardly concluded reading the letter, when someone burst into the synagogue and exclaimed, “Mazel tov, Mr. Tzaddok! Your wife just had a baby boy!”
The wheel of fortune had turned full circle, and the Baal Shem Tov’s undelivered letter had finally reached its proper destination. Avigdor once again became very affluent, remained humble, and became admired by all.
* * *
Friends, there are numerous lessons that can be gleaned from this story. Perhaps one lesson is that even if you find yourself at the bottom, don’t despair! Our sages (Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 31) teach us that the world is like a watering wheel: the buckets on the bottom come up full, and the buckets on the top come down empty. The task is clear: Always be thankful for what we have, while remaining conscious that, indeed, the world is a wheel.
As a dear friend and teacher of mine told me: It’s high time for an upswing for Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people), b’chessed u’berachamim (with kindness and compassion)!
Shavua tov — have a fantastic week!