Two of the wealthiest men of Prague paid a visit to the central Yeshiva around the same time. Each one was seeking–and found–a promising young Torah scholar as a match for his precious daughter of marriageable age. After the weddings, however, the townsfolk praised one of the young husbands for his friendliness and pleasant character. The other one tended to be more aloof. Soon, his father-in-law became jealous of the other father-in-law whose son-in-law was so popular.

"...a person should share his worries with others, to find relief."

One day, a man walked in to the beit midrash study hall. His face showed he was deeply upset. The friendly son-in-law walked over to the distraught stranger and persuaded him to tell him what was bothering him. "Maybe I can help, and anyway, haven’t our sages said that a person should share his worries with others, to find relief."

So the man told him he owed the huge sum of three hundred gulden to his poritz (nobleman-landlord), and that today was the final deadline the lord had given him to pay. The poritz absolutely refused to grant any further extensions, and had threatened to punish him severely if he didn’t pay the entire amount on time. "He might even kill me," the man said. And yet, he didn’t even have a penny of the required sum.

The young husband thought for a moment and then said, "Wait for me here, please; I have an idea for how to get you the money." He then went straight to the father-in-law of the other newlywed, who was known to have lent money to many of the local nobility, and asked him to advance a loan to rescue the endangered tenant.

The jealous rich man immediately saw in this situation an opportunity to gain the upper hand over his friend. "I’ll lend you the money," he said, "but only on one condition. I happen to have in my possession the robe of a Catholic priest. If you will put it on and walk up and down the main street and the marketplace so that all the storekeepers and their customers will see you, I’ll do this mitzvah gladly."

"All right," said the young man, "I’ll do it."

He went all around the main areas of the city dressed in the priest’s robe.

And he did. He went all around the main areas of the city dressed in the priest’s robe. The townspeople stared and were astonished. They decided the poor fellow must have lost his mind. The word quickly circulated around town that the until-now popular new son-in-law of one of the rich men had gone insane.

His family and friends saw that he seemed to be completely normal. They couldn’t understand why he had done such a thing. He, for his part, refused to divulge the reason for his strange performance, so those that were close to him remained perplexed, while everyone else assumed that he was crazy.

Years went by. The rich man had already sold the priest’s robe to a Jewish tailor. The latter, seeing that the robe was made of pure linen, decided it would be perfect material from which to sew for himself burial shrouds. He did so, and instructed his children that when his time finally came, he should be enclothed in these shrouds before burial.

Eventually, the tailor went the way of all flesh. Several days after the funeral, the tailor appeared to the Chief Rabbi of Prague in a dream and requested that he arrange for the coffin to be opened.

He explained that by the extraordinary self-effacement and dedication the young man demonstrated in behalf of the endangered poor man had drawn into the garment itself an exceptionally lofty degree of holiness. As a result, the punishing angels were not able to do him any harm. However, since there hadn’t been quite sufficient material in the robe for his shrouds, he had supplemented the deficiency by sewing in a small piece of a different linen, and the punishing angels were able to get at him through that. Therefore, the tailor wanted the Rabbi to open up his grave in order to cut away that patch of linen.

The Rabbi of course fulfilled the request of the deceased. He also told the full story of the young man’s amazing deed to everyone in town. At last everyone realized that the friendly son-in-law’s strange behavior was not due to insanity, but mesirut nefesh, true self-sacrifice, to help a fellow Jew.

[Connections: Weekly Torah reading and upcoming Purim Festival]

Translated and retold from Reshimat Devorim IV, pp. 264-266.

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