In the morning he told his family and servants that he must go on a journey. He ordered them to harness his carriage and dressed himself and said farewell to them and made his way to the forest. When he came there, he ordered his driver to wait for him; and he went into the forest where he found the dead man waiting. There the dead man ordered him to take off his fine garments, and instead he gave him patched and tattered old clothes to wear. His face also changed at once and became seamed and wrinkled, so that he seemed like a poor man who had been making the rounds of the houses for a very long time.
Then the dead man ordered him to go back to the city and study Torah in all the Houses of Study. He further instructed him not to tell anybody who he was. When he was hungry, he was not to take any food from any man but must go to his own home and beg for food there. He must sleep upon the ground and live and suffer for days and months until a year had passed. Then the man from the other world stopped speaking and vanished.
The rich man walked out of the forest and began walking, while his driver waited for him all day long. When he saw that he did not return, he searched the forest but did not find him; he returned home and told what had happened. They searched everywhere for the master of the palace but did not find him, so they thought he must have fallen at the hand of robbers. And they grieved him bitterly.
The rich man in his patched garments did everything the dead man told him to do. He spent his time in a House of Study, learning. When he became hungry, he went to his home, but he heard the outcry of the household on his account and wished to turn back. Yet a hidden force pushed him to the doorway. Shamefully, he asked for food, but the servant woman abused him, saying: “Don’t you know that here we give nothing to the poor? And besides, we are all distressed because our master is lost.”
The wealthy man greatly pained, because he could not say who he was and in addition he was suffering the pangs of hunger. Then he began to beg and plead for some bread; and after cursing him and abusing him, they gave him a few crusts on which he lived for several days.
Word spread in the city that a strange poor man had come there and was sitting and studying all the time, and took no food from anybody and requested food only from the home of the missing wealthy man; even though he received it only after suffering and abuse. They thought that he must be mad, and began to throw dust and earth after him. He spent the whole year in this poverty and accepted it in full regret, repentance so distressing that those who read about it must wonder and be astonished.
When the year was over he went back to the forest where the dead man was waiting for him. “Great is repentance, it cancels heavenly decrees (Song of Songs Rabbah 8:6),” said the dead man, “that you have merited to pass through this great test of yours. Now remove those disgraceful garments and put on your expensive clothes which I have hidden until this time.” When the rich man did so and put on the rich clothes, his face began to shine. The dead man instructed him to take the shameful clothes home with him, too; and he ended his words and vanished never to be seen again.
The rich man returned home a changed man. His family rejoiced at his returned and asked where he had been the past year. The rich man remained quiet and told them that all would become clear at the right time. His family and servants told him how a crazy man had come while he was away, always asking for food, and all that had happened to the fellow.
Then the rich man told his household to prepare a great feast of thanksgiving since they had thought that he was among the dead, and he had returned. He requested that everyone in the community especially the poor attend the meal. In the middle of the celebration, while all the guests were in good cheer, he slipped out of the great hall, took off his fine clothes and put on the torn rags and tatters, and appeared like that before them all. At first his household thought that this must be the same crazy man who used to visit them, and then they noticed that the rich man had vanished again. They began to worry once more, perhaps the crazy man had something to do with his disappearance.
Then the rich man revealed himself and told all those who had gathered there what had happened to him. A silence fell upon the feast as the rich man shared, “Give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from going into the Darkness. Indeed, almsgiving, for all who practice it, is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.” (Tobit 4:7-11)
His tale and lesson served to bring about a true blessing of the Holy Name. All the people there became completely repentant, and after that he kept open house for the poor and the needy, day and night.
This story is found recorded on paper with an iron pen in an ancient register of a certain great city before G-d.
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)
Listen to more stories told by the Master Storyteller, Rabbi Rachmiel Tobesman – The Treasures of the King, the Princess and the Peat Digger, Seven Jewish stories, on iTunes and Amazon or Coins, Candles and Faith, eight stories of faith on iTunes and Amazon
Many years ago, in a great city before G-d, there dwelt a certain man who was an outstanding scholar and very wealthy and charitable and was praised by all. In due course the lights went out at noon and the wheel of fortune turned for him. He lost his property and grew so poor that he had nothing left but his body. But the man accepted the judgment and left his city and set out and wandered through many lands.
On one occasion he lost his way for several days and had no food left and was weary and so starved that he thought his end had already come; and he prayed to the Holy One Blessed be He. While doing so, he saw that he was standing in front of a magnificent palace surrounded by a beautiful orchard. In this palace lived a most wealthy man who was also a great scholar; and he had built himself this palace in the outskirts of the city so as not to be troubled by the city affairs and business. In this palace he also had his House of Study, where wise men studied the holy words of Torah (Scriptures). The poor man entered the House of Study, and the students quickly discovered that he was a learned man and at home with the Torah (Scriptures). They began to ask him many questions, and he answered each one of them according to the Holy Word. News traveled quickly and many students told the wealthy man what a great scholar the wayfarer was and he also came to his House of Study. He turned to the poor traveler and began to question him, and several hours passed in this manner.
When the time for the morning meal came, each of the students went to his home to eat, and the rich man also went to eat, but did not invite the poor traveler. It should be added that the rich man’s household was also conducted on a large scale but its doors were closed to the poor, who received neither food nor even a single copper coin. The rich man looked on the poor as slaves, not as children of the Holy One, blessed be He.
When the rich man finished eating, he went on discussing Torah (Scriptures) with the traveler until the time came for the noonday meal. Again he did not invite him to join, though the finest foods had been prepared. The poor traveler began to faint from hunger. He could feel that he was starving, and he tried to go to the city to find something to eat but fell to the ground and died, all swollen with hunger. The townsfolk found a dead man, and they took him and purified him and buried him without knowing who he was. The earth covered his body together with the rich man’s sin. But the Holy One, blessed be He knows all secrets and would sooner have the wicked become righteous than have him perish without leaving his wicked way; and He did not wish that the matter should be forgotten.
On one occasion the rich man sat at night in his House of Study, praying the midnight prayers mourning the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, though he was hardhearted, he was very religious and G-d-fearing. Hearing footsteps, he began to tremble, for he knew there was nobody with him, and he raised his voice and shouted: “Who goes there?” He was prepared to defend himself from the stranger in the dark.
Then he heard a voice: “Move away and do not touch me or you will perish.” He focused his eyes and then he saw a terrifying sight. The poor scholar was standing in front of him just as he had appeared, but he was wearing the shrouds of the dead. The rich man began to tremble and wished to run away, but the dead man said: “Stay here, for I have something to say to you. If you go, you risk your life.”
And then the dead man told him: “I am the poor man you studied the holy words of Torah (Scriptures) with. You forgot the holy words, “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns …. do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” (Deuteronomy 15:7). Not once did you invite me to eat or share a meal, and I died of starvation in the street. I was buried and then I was brought before the Heavenly Court and it was said, ‘He who refuses a beggar the aid which he has the power to give, is accountable to justice.’ (Josephus, Against Apion ii: 27). There they have decided that I shall not come to my rest until I summon you for trial. “It would be fitting,” the dead man went on, “to have you perish in order to stand trial with me, but I have brought it about that instead you will take my place on earth and right the great wrong you have done to me and many like me, since you began and until this day. This you must do: Tomorrow come to the nearby forest where I shall wait for you and tell you the form your teshuvah (repentance) must take.”
Having said his say, the dead man vanished, and the rich man found himself alone in his House of Study, trembling with fear. With a heavy heart, he left the House of Study to go home and went to bed and began thinking of the vision again, turning this way and that on his bed like a sick man.
A King had an only son, the apple of his eye. The King wanted his son to be wise and sent his son to learn about many cultures and grow in wisdom, so he sent him to far-off countries with much silver and gold. Far away from home, the son spent all the money until he was penniless. In his sadness he decided to return to his father’s house and after much difficulty, he managed to arrive at the gate of the courtyard to his father’s palace.
The prince’s hardships had kept him away from his beloved father for a very long time. So long that he had actually forgot the language of his country and his father’s court. When he came to the gates of the palace, he was unable to identify himself to the guards. In utter hopelessness he began to cry out in a loud voice, and the King, who recognized the voice of his son, went out to him and brought him into the house, kissing him and hugging him.
We call out to Avinu Malkeinu (our Father and King) The King sends a soul down to this world in order enrich the world and to kindle a holy light. However, the soul becomes very distant and forgets everything to which it was familiar with above in the King’s court, and in the long exile it forgets even its own “language.” So it utters a simple cry to its Father in Heaven, as it is taught: “Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets; the angels of peace weep bitterly.” (Isa. 33:7). This is prayer and the blowing of the shofar, a cry from deep within, expressing regret for the past and hope for the future. This cry elicits G-d’s mercies, and He demonstrates His abiding affection for His child and forgives him.
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)
There was once a poor man who was regularly supported by the generous gifts of a wealthy man. One day, the poor man went to the wealthy man’s house in order to receive his everyday portion. His desires got the best of him, and he wanted a fine coat he saw in the house. Everyday he wanted the coat more and more until one day he stole the coat from the weralthy man who had taken care of his needs.
When the wealthy man realized that his fine coat was stolen by the poor man, he grew angry and clearly told the poor man that from that day on, he was no longer welcome in his home ever again. The wealthy man was so angry and disappointed that he told the poor man that the usual gifts were canceled indefinitely!
Without the wealthy man’s assistance, the situation in the poor man’s home worsened each day, until he was no longer able to provide bread for his children. Left with no other choice, the poor man decided to take action.
He knew that each day the wealthy man would walk through the forest that was near the town. One day, the poor man went to the forest before the time of the wealthy man’s walk. He looked around and found a small cave; he then hid inside and waited.
When he heard the wealthy man coming, he yelled loudly, “Please save me! Please take pity on me!”
“Who are you?” asked the wealthy man. “Approach me and I will help you to the best of my ability.”
“This I cannot do,” answered the poor man, “for I am embarrassed to show my face before you.”
The wealthy man repeated his request several times, but the poor man refused to leave his hiding place.
“I am ashamed,” said the poor man. “I am unable to leave this cave and face you, for I stole a coat from your home, and I am wearing it…”
Every day people stand in prayer and say, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O L-rd!” (Ps. 130:1) People conceal themselves in hiding places and cry out, “O L-rd, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Ps. 130:2) So often, people are ashamed and humiliated to appear before You, our L-rd, King of all Kings. Please listen to our prayers because we are ashamed. One of the principles of repentance is to pursue deeds of kindness and truth (Torah study), as it is written: ” By true love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the L-RD one turns away from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6)
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)
One may ask: “If a person has done many things that are bad and hurtful, can they ever be forgiven?” The Holy Word teaches: “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins: return to Me; for I have redeemed you. Seek you the L-rd while He may be found; call you upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 44:22, 55:6)”
It is told that there was a certain man who had been wicked all his life, and he was well aware that it would be very hard for his repentance to be received in heaven. On one occasion he jokingly asked Rabbi Moshe ben Shem-Tov de Leon of blessed memory (1250-1305 c.e.) whether there was any remedy for his ailment. The holy rabbi thought for some time and answered: “The only remedy and atonement for you is to accept the punishment of death as an atonement for your transgressions.”
Then the wicked man asked him: “If I do accept a sentence of death, shall I have a share in the Garden of Eden?” “Yes,” said the holy rabbi; and the wicked man pleaded: “Swear to me that my place will be near you!” Then Rabbi Moshe ben Shem-Tov de Leon swore to him that he would be near him in the Garden of Eden. When the man heard this, he gathered up his courage and followed him to the central shul (synagogue).
Once there, the rabbi ordered that hot lead should be brought to him. They brought the lead, and he puffed air at it with the bellows until the lead was boiling. Then he sat the wicked man on a bench and tied a cloth over his eyes and said to him: “Confess all your sins to our G-d and accept your death as a return for the sins with which you have angered your Creator all your life!” At this, the man burst into a great and exceedingly bitter gush of tears. Round about him stood many of the community’s elders and sages. And then the rabbi said to him: “Open your mouth wide, and I shall fill it with boiling lead.” And the man opened his mouth very wide in the presence of all the people who stood round about him, in order to accept the fullness of death and so gain life in the World to Come.
At this, the said rabbi took a spoonful of warm rose honey and dropped it into his mouth and said to him: “May your sin depart from you and your transgression be atoned!”
The man, his heart sincere and broken began to cry at once in bitter grief: “Holy rabbi! For the honor of our Maker, the King who is King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He slay me now indeed, so that I may not see the evil of losing my soul; for why should I live. My sins have mounted higher than my head, from the sole of my feet to the crown of my head, there is no sound place in me; so what have you done to me? Why have you deceived me?”
The holy rabbi answered him: “We are taught: “The L-rd is near to all those who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth (Psalms 145:18) and The spirit of man is the lamp of the L-rd, searching all his innermost parts. (Proverbs 20:27). As long as the lamp of your spirit burns, there is time to make repairs. Do not dread and have no fear, for G-d has already seen all your deeds.”
Thereafter the man never left Rabbi Moshe ben Shem-Tov de Leon’s house of study and spent his days in fasting and true repentance.
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)
A ship was sailing across the seas to distant lands. The sailors and merchants had lost their way and were wandering aimlessly at sea, tired, hungry and thirsty, confined to the ship. Every so often, they caught sight of a large island there in the middle of the sea. It was the season when the everything comes alive, and all kinds of good trees and grasses and flowers, including roses and violets were seen on the island. Sweet water was found on the beautiful and well-shaded island.
The ship’s captain, crew and passengers approached the island and went ashore to delight in its trees and rest in their shade. They ate from the fruit of the trees, drank the sweet water, and delighted in the sweet fragrance. They then left and returned to the ship to continue the voyage and find their way at sea.
One man among them decided not to leave even though the others strongly pleaded with him, he thought, “Where, anywhere else in the world, could I find such a place of delight, a paradise the likes of which even kings do not possess?” When they saw that he absolutely refused to leave, they continued on without him, found their way home.
That one man remained there, eating of the island’s fruits, drinking of the sweet water, and delighting in the marvelous fragrance of the spices. But when winter approached, the leaves of all the trees fell to the ground, as did their fruits and similarly all the spices. The springs also dried up. Only bare trees remained, affording him neither shade nor protection from either the dry hot days or the night frost. And he died there, hungry and empty-handed, having found nothing but untold distress.
So are we in this world like that ship sailing on the high seas. Like a lost ship at sea, we are unsure of our direction and know not to whom to turn or where we are going. In this world, which resembles such a sea, we discover a large island with all kinds of delights and pleasures, more than one can ever count.
There are those who—knowing the awe of G-d—partake of these pleasures in a limited way but then immediately return to G-d in repentance. They continue along their way, fulfilling G-d’s will, even suffering the distresses of this world, which are like the agonies of being at sea, in order to proceed toward their place of rest. And, then, there are fools like that man who, so drawn to physical delights, remained to enjoy them until the season approached in which those delights ceased and in their place he found only bare trees and had neither food nor shade but only affliction and torment. This is the case with all those who follow the dictates of their eves and the false desires of their hearts without considering what tomorrow will bring.