A wealthy man by the name of Elimelech received many honors in the synogogue of the Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim of Antunia. He had one of the important seats in the front, facing the congregation, near to the Rebbe's own chair. At the Rebbe's Shabbat table, he also sat at the table near the Rebbe, who would show him various signs of favor.

For his part, Elimelech had great respect for the Rebbe. He would always bow his head before him, and contribute generously to the spectrum of charitable causes that the Rebbe maintained.

The chasidim…suspected that his generous good deeds indicated only a superficial piety….

The chasidim, however, mostly did not think so highly of Elimelech, despite the affection the Rebbe openly displayed towards him. They suspected that his generous good deeds indicated only a superficial piety, and that at home he was not as religious as he appeared in public. Sharper tongues said that he was influenced by the so-called Enlightenment movement and its innovations and that this had already weakened his fear of Heaven.

Okay, nobody's perfect. And the rich man had a lot of redeeming qualities. As long as any failings remained between him and his Creator, it was easy enough to turn a blind eye. But now, an uncrossable line had been crossed: his son had enrolled in the high school associated with those "enlightened" heretics - something no youth from any religious family had yet dared to do, never mind one from a chasidic home and associated with the Rebbe, no less.

"What kind of example is this for our children?" complained the delegation of chasidim to the Rebbe. "Can a person send his son to an anti-religious school and still have an honored place near the Rebbe?"

At first, the tzaddik was shaken by the report. Then he summoned his wealthy follower. At first he spoke to him amicably, attempting to get him to see his mistake. The rich man, who was nearly always submissive to the Rebbe's opinions, this time kept firm: "My son wants a broad education, to be able to make his way in the world-at-large," he said.

When the tzaddik saw he was getting nowhere, he changed his approach. "A pure Jewish education in a G‑d-fearing spirit is integral to Chasidut," he roared. "Until you take your son out of that school, I have no desire to see you among my chasidim."

Elimelech stumbled out, dismayed. How could he live without being near the Rebbe? For several days he remained in a state of confusion. It almost seemed that the Rebbe's harsh words had slowly made their way into his heart. In the end, though, he decided that he was right; there is nothing wrong if his son wants to acquire a broad education. The problem was only that the Rebbe was too extreme.

From that analysis came an obvious solution: "I'll just have to find a different Rebbe," he said to himself.

He felt reinforced that…his former Rebbe's criticism was unjustified….

This proved to be easy enough, and he soon found himself in the doorway of Rabbi Yisroel of Vizhnitz...none other the brother of the tzaddik of Altunia, the Rebbe he had just abandoned. Known for the great love he had for every Jew, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe was friendly and welcoming to all. He gave Reb Elimelech a big smile, invited him to sit near him at the Shabbat table, and exchanged friendly words with him each time they met.

Elimelech was ecstatic with his "find". He felt great with his new Rebbe. Not only that, he felt reinforced that he had been right all along, and that his former Rebbe's criticism was unjustified.

One day shortly thereafter, the Vizhnitzer invited Elimelech to accompany him on his evening stroll to the park. What an honor! And a pleasure too - the air was so pleasant, and the gentle breeze rustled the leaves and thin branches of the trees that lined the path.

The Rebbe turned to his companion. "These trees evoke in me the distant sweet memories of childhood. I remember how once, in the days before Passover, the teacher's wife chased us outside so she could clean the house. We had to set up in the front yard in order to learn.

"We were small children, and although the teacher tried his best to get us to learn, we were too distracted. Birds were chirping, a horse-drawn wagon rolled by, clouds on high floated over our heads - who could concentrate to study?

His true identity would be revealed through his children….

"When our teacher saw it was hopeless, he decided to try to give us a nature lesson instead. He pointed to the garden next door. 'Do you boys see that tree over there,' he asked, to draw our attention. 'That's a walnut tree. And next to it is a pear tree. And behind that is an apple tree.' He continued on to identity all the different fruit trees for us.

"'How do you know?' we asked, puzzled. Winter had just ended, the trees were bare of fruit and leaves. The teacher began to list different signs for us: the relative smoothness or bumpiness of the trunk, the quantity and thickness of the branches, the height of the tree, and so forth. We, though, small children that we were, were not able to absorb his erudite explanation."

The tzaddik clasped the wealthy man's arm and continued his story. "So, how were we able to distinguish which tree was which? Simple. Or so it became after a few months when the trees began to bear fruit. Then we no longer needed lessons or signs. Which was the pear tree? The one with the pears on it. The one full of plums? Obviously, a plum tree. Each tree was easily identified by its fruit.

"From this I learned an important principle," said the Rebbe in conclusion. "When you don't know for sure the nature and stature of a person, look at his fruit - his descendants. From them you can know who the person really is."

Elimelech got the message. His true identity would be revealed through his children.

That same week Elimelech the rich man withdrew his son from the non-religious school.

Translated and adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Sichat HaShavuah #547. First published in Kfar Chabad Magazine – English.]

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Chaim of Antunia [1863-1931], was the son of the Rebbe, Rabbi Boruch of Vizhnitz. He served as the head of the Bukaviner Kollel.

Rabbi Yisroel of Vizhnitz [1860-1936], had many thousands of followers and a major yeshiva in Hungary. He was an older son of the Rebbe Boruch of Vizhnitz.

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