A bustling Jewish community lived in Vitebsk, a large city bordering western Russia. chasidim and non-chasidim lived side by side, and the Tzemach Tzedek’s reputation as a saintly tzadik was well known throughout the city.

His financial worries grew from day to day...

The Tzemach Tzedek had a relative living in Vitebsk, a businessman who had suffered a series of misfortunes. Originally the wealthy owner of a large factory, he had incurred huge losses in business dealings, forcing him to close the factory and search for employment. Yet, despite his untiring efforts, the former businessman simply could not find another job. His financial worries grew from day to day as creditors pounded on his door, giving him no respite.

To make matters worse, his son-in-law simply vanished one day, leaving his daughter an agunah. The hapless fellow could hardly believe his misfortune. Bad enough he lacked financial stability, now his daughter remained shackled to her missing husband as well.

"Why don’t you go to the Tzemach Tzedek?" his wife demanded one day. "I always hear stories of how he guides people and agunot. He has helped many, many people. Go to Lubavitch and ask his advice—he is related to us, you know."

"Of course I know," snapped her husband. "You think I believe these stories? All this talk about supernatural powers and Divine spirit — it’s a pack of old wife’s tales, nothing more."

Undeterred, his wife continued badgering him to consult with the Rebbe. Soon the businessman had no choice: he simply could not continue facing his creditors, his anguished daughter and, now, his very own wife. "Okay, okay," he relented. "I’ll take our carriage and travel to the Rebbe."

Imagine his dismay when, upon arriving in Lubavitch, the Rebbe’s attendant denied his request to meet with the Tzemach Tzedek. "Yechidus is booked for many weeks," the attendant shook his head. "I have nothing available for you until late next month."

"But I came all this way to consult with the Rebbe," protested the businessman. He quickly related his recent misfortunes and casually added his family ties to the Rebbe. The attendant’s ears perked up: a relative of the Zemach Tzedek! The attendant knew from past experience how the Rebbetzin demanded special treatment for family members. "Don’t worry," he said apologetically. "I will let you enter yechidus tonight."

That evening, the businessman entered the Rebbe’s room. "I am so-and-so’s son," he said, explaining his relationship with the Rebbe. The Tzemach Tzedek beamed delightedly, asking detailed questions about his children and family. "You must eat with us tonight," said the Tzemach Tzedek, indicating the yechidus was over.

Barely a few hours passed before the businessman joined the Rebbe and his family at their evening meal. Though the Rebbe and Rebbetzin showed him great affection, the businessman felt out of place bothering the Rebbe with his tale of woe. As such, he gave a pleasing report of the situation back at home, hoping for another opportunity to tell the Rebbe about the real purpose of his visit.

On the following day, the businessman approached the attendant and asked to be admitted for yechidus again. "I must see the Rebbe again today," he insisted. The attendant knew it was futile to argue. He let the businessman in and this time the relative poured his heart out before the Rebbe, describing his financial plight. However, his lack of faith in the Rebbe prevented him from relating the sorry situation of his daughter.

The Tzemach Tzedek listened carefully before responding. "I recently read somewhere about a job opening," he said. "A German just opened a factory in Kiev and is seeking to employ able workers. I advise you to try your luck there; he will probably hire you." The Tzemach Tzedek then opened his desk drawer and gave his relative enough money for the journey.

"How can a German gentile help my situation?"

The relative left yechidus feeling more pessimistic than ever. "How can a German gentile help my situation?" he thought miserably. "The Rebbe read once about a job opening — how long ago was that? Why should I travel to Kiev at all?"

Neither could he find peace at home. His wife, having heard the Rebbe’s instruction, gave him no rest. "Off with you to Kiev!" she nagged. "The Rebbe told you something, at least try it!" She pestered him continuously, until he finally packed his bags and traveled off to Kiev.

Once there, the man met with the German owner of the newly erected factory and started working a regular shift, together with many other employees. He worked honestly and responsibly until, within a short time, the owner appointed him the general manager of the entire factory. This respected post came with a considerable salary and the Jew began feeling he had made the right decision by following the Rebbe’s advice. To be sure, he thought constantly of his family back home — particularly about his daughter, the agunah, but still could not think of any way to assist her.

Months passed, and the Jew approached the gentile manager asking for permission to return home and spend Pesach with his family. "Of course!" the owner said warmly. "You have been an excellent employee. Enjoy your time at home."

However, hardly had he returned home, when a telegram arrived asking him to return at once to Kiev. Alarmed, the Jew made haste back to Kiev, and rode immediately to his employer’s house. "I really need you back here," said the owner. "My birthday is coming up in a matter of days, and I urgently need someone to organize all the arrangements for the party. The mayor of Kiev and dignitaries will be there, as well as many powerful noblemen and all my business contacts. The crucial key for success is organization, and you are the most capable person I know."

The Jew had no choice but to remain in Kiev. He presently began organizing the grand ball — directing every detail of the seating arrangements, the banquet, and the entertainment. He rented a tremendous hall, printed exquisite invitations, hired an expensive caterer and, of course, a full orchestra. The owner watched in delight the frenzied preparations for his birthday party, and showed his appreciation by rewarding the Jew with a huge bonus.

Finally the great day arrived. The Jew stood alongside his employer in the brilliantly lit hall, greeting the guests and showing them to their seats. Suddenly, the Jew paled and began swaying. "You look positively faint," his employer said in alarm. He took the Jew by the arm and dragged him into a nearby room. "Sit down," he ordered, pushing a glass of water into his hand, "What happened?"

"I just recognized the priest as my missing son-in-law," he stammered.

The Jew related his background to the owner — how he lost his business; how his daughter had been abandoned by her husband; how he asked the Tzemach Tzedek for advice; and how he came finally to Kiev. "I just recognized the priest as my missing son-in-law," he stammered. "All I need is for him to sign the divorce and release my daughter. Yet here he is, dressed as a priest. What can I do?"

"I owe you a lot," said the owner thoughtfully. "You finally went home to see your family, and then you gave everything up to return and organize the best birthday party I have ever experienced. For this I am grateful, and I will help you achieve your goal. Don’t worry; we will take care of the priest. Meanwhile, let’s return to the party before he gets suspicious."

They returned to find the party in full swing. Bartenders poured cup after cup of expensive liquor as servants attired in the finest livery served platters of the tasty delicacies. Guests danced to the strains of the grand orchestra. All smiled and bowed to the host, complimenting him on the beautiful ball. The owner returned their compliments and milled about with the guests until he sidled up to the priest. "Can I have a word with you?" he whispered confidentially. "It’s about a religious matter."

"Of course," the priest smiled, following his host into a side room. As he entered, he stopped short and stared incredulously at the face of his former father-in-law. Behind him, the owner locked the door and rubbed his hands in pleasure. "Splendid, splendid," he crowed. "I imagine you recognize my employee?"

"Of course he does," said the Jew angrily. "I demand that you release my daughter. All she wants is a divorce!"

"There must be some mistake," began the priest piously. "I don’t know what in the world you mean about your daughter. I have never seen you before."

The factory owner snarled and withdrew a revolver from his pocket. "None of that tomfoolery, reverend sir," he said viciously. "Either you grant a divorce or no one will ever hear of you again."

The priest lowered his head. "Yes, it is true," he admitted. "I was his son-in-law; I did abandon his daughter. I am willing to give the divorce, but what I am not willing to do is appear before a rabbi. If anyone finds out, I will immediately lose my position."

"That’s the least of my worries," retorted the Jew. "Stay here while I organize everything for you." He immediately ran to the rabbi’s home, explained the unusual situation, and the rabbi instantly agreed to prepare the divorce in the room adjoining the hall. That night, a strange group convened in the small room: a rabbi, a priest, the Jewish worker, his gentile employer, and two kosher Jewish witnesses. The rabbi wrote out the divorce and handed it to the priest. The priest gave it for delivery to the Jew who was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.

No longer did the Jew doubt any of the extraordinary stories he heard of the Tzemach Tzedek. No longer did he mock the "Divine spirit" of the Rebbe. He had personally witnessed an amazing miracle. Here he had not even mentioned a word about his daughter’s status, and no only did the advice of the Tzemach Tzedek stabilize his financial concerns, it also provided the way for releasing an agunah — his daughter — from a life of loneliness and misery.

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Based on Sippurei Chassidim, by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin and other oral sources

Biographic note:
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn [29 Elul 1789-13 Nissan 1866], the Third Rebbe of Chabad, was known as the Tsemach Tzedek, after his books of Halachic responsa and Talmudic commentary called by that name. He was renowned not only as a Rebbe, but also as a leading scholar in his generation in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah.

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