When Rebbe Meir'l of Premishlan was a child of about ten, he was taught by Reb Dov of Podheits, a disciple of Meir'l's father, Rebbe Aaron Leib of Premishlan. Every Thursday, which was market day in Podheits, the boy would collect donations and distribute them to the poor in time for them to buy their provisions for Shabbat. In the course of his rounds he once came to a butcher by the name of Shimon and asked him for his weekly donation of one kreutzer for the poor.
"I'll give you two," said the butcher, "on condition that you tell me whether this ox that I want to buy is going to turn out to be kosher or not."
"Very well," replied the boy. "If you give me half a fertziger - that is, ten kreutzer - then I'll tell you."
The butcher thought it over for a moment, and gave it to him, whereupon the boy told him: "This ox cannot be eaten; it is unkosher."
Pointing to another ox, the butcher asked: "And what about this one?"
"If you give me another half-fertziger," said the boy, "then I'll tell you."
And when he received the coin, he said: "About this ox there aren't even any queries about possible blemishes in its lungs: it is glatt kosher."
The butcher had his doubts as to whether there was any substance to all this, but he paid up his two half-fertziger all the same, because the boy was born of holy parents, and he was a likable child - and besides, everyone knew that the alms he collected was for the paupers. And so it was that Shimon bought the second ox, while the first was bought by some other butcher. Sure enough, Shimon's ox was in fact glatt kosher, and the other was found after slaughtering to be not kosher.
I would like to make a contract with you…provided that our little transaction remains a secret….
The following Thursday, when the boy came to the ox market to collect his donations from the dealers, Shimon the butcher called him aside and said: "Meir'l, I will give you a whole ferziger if you tell me whether each one of the oxen up for sale is kosher or not."
"If you give me half a fertziger for each ox," said the boy, "I'll tell you."
The butcher paid in full without hesitation, and the boy told him: "This one is kosher, this one is not" - and so on.
Young Meir'l was of course delighted with the way things had worked out, for he now had a considerable sum to distribute to the poor without having to lose valuable study time in trudging for hours from one donor to the next.
The butcher, for his part, seeing that the child never missed his target, approached him on the third week with a new proposition: "I would like to make a contract with you, and I will pay you weekly for each ox according to your request - provided that our little transaction remains a secret."
"I am not interested in contracts and secrets," said the boy, "but if you give me half a fertziger for each ox, I'll give you the answer."
This went on for a few months, and no one knew of it. Week by week the butcher paid in advance for his information, as a result of which he prospered exceedingly, because he bought nothing but kosher animals, while the other butchers grew poorer. His competitors banded together and brought their bitter complaint to the local rabbi; it seemed clear that those performing the ritual slaughtering were receiving bribes from Shimon in exchange for which they pronounced his animals kosher, while in the course of slaughtering they either caused or pronounced their animals to be not kosher.
"But you can see for yourselves in the slaughterhouse," said the rabbi, "that all of Shimon's cattle are in fact glatt kosher, without any room for the slightest doubt - and what is to be done if he has such good fortune?"
What could he be doing to ensure that all his animals without exception were in fact kosher?
To this the butchers had no answer. Nevertheless, they started watching Shimon's movements very closely. What could he be doing to ensure that all his animals without exception were in fact kosher? The following Thursday they watched him walking the length of the market place in the company of little Meir'l, who was pointing at each of the oxen in turn. When Shimon finally left him, they approached the child and said: "Meir'l, pray for us, too, just like you pray for Shimon, or please do for us whatever you do for Shimon."
"I don't do anything," he assured them. "If you give me half a fertziger, I'll tell you what I tell him."
"Well, what is it that you tell him to do?" they asked. "Tell us, too, and then we'll do whatever he does."
"He asks me which ox is kosher and which is not," said Meir'l, "and I tell him."
So they gave him a half-fertziger and pointed at an ox that stood near them.
"That one is unkosher," said the boy.
When they pointed at another ox, he said: "But you have given me only one half-fertziger, and Shimon gives me that much for every single ox."
"So that's his secret!" said the butchers to each other. And from that Thursday on, they gave Meir'l in partnership the amount he stipulated for charity, and walked with him up and down the market place, while he told them which oxen were kosher and which were not.
When word of this reached the boy's tutor, Reb Dov, he scolded him and told him that in the future he should not tell anyone things revealed to him through the Divine Inspiration.
Subsequently, when Reb Dov went to visit the Rebbe, Meir'l's father, he told him the whole story, adding that he had scolded the rebbe's son.
"Well done," said the father. "A boy must learn not to divulge privileged information."
Rabbi Aaron Leib of Premishlan (?-2 Adar 1783), was the son of Rebbe Meir the Elder of Premishlan, an elder disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, and himself a disciple of Rebbe Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov and Rebbe Elimelech of Lyzhansk. He was the father of Rebbe Meir of Premishlan (see below).
Rabbi Meir (Meir'l)of Premishlan (?-29 Iyar 1850}, lived in abject but patient poverty, yet exerted himself tirelessly for the needy and the suffering. His Ruach Hakodesh and his ready wit have become legendary. He wrote no works, but some of his teachings were collected and published by his disciples after his death.
Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin and other oral sources.
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