It was the custom of Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli to recite his morning prayers at length. After he concluded, he would retire to his room next to the synagogue. Once there, he would open the window and, lifting his eyes to the heavens, call out, “Master of the World, Zusha (he always referred to himself in the third person) is very hungry and desires to eat something!”

Every morning, his attendant would wait until he heard Reb Zusha’s appeal; then he would bring in Reb Zusha’s morning meal of cake with a little schnapps.

One morning the attendant thought to himself, “Why doesn’t Reb Zusha ask me directly for his meal? In fact, who does he think he is fooling by calling out to G‑d like that? He knows full well that I bring him his food every day.” So, on the spot he decided that the next morning he would not bring Reb Zusha’s meal when he called out. He would just wait to see what would happen, and where Reb Zusha would look for his meal.

...and with a hearty laugh jumped up and down on the plank, causing Reb Zusha to tumble into the mud

The next morning Reb Zusha awoke, as usual, well before the light of day. As he did every morning, he first went to the town mikvah to immerse himself in preparation for the day’s holy work. The night had been a rainy one in Anipoli, and the streets of the town had already turned to rivers of mud. In order to get from one side of the street to another, one had to cross on narrow planks that were laid across the flowing mud.

As Reb Zusha was crossing in the direction of the mikvah, a man whom he didn’t recognize, a guest in town, was coming towards Reb Zusha from the other side. When he saw Reb Zusha, gaunt, almost emaciated, dressed in rags, without a tooth in his mouth, the stranger yelled out, “Tramp!” and with a hearty laugh jumped up and down on the plank, causing Reb Zusha to tumble into the mud.

Reb Zusha didn’t say a word. He calmly picked himself out of the mud and continued on his way to the mikvah, while the stranger sauntered off into the distance, chuckling merrily the whole way as he reenacted his clever maneuver over and over in his mind. When he arrived back at the inn where he was staying, he couldn’t help but brag to the innkeeper about his amusing prank. But the innkeeper didn’t laugh so quickly. He asked the guest to describe the tramp whom he had catapulted into the mud. Upon hearing, he clapped his hands to his head and cried out in anguish, “Oy vavoy! Do you know what you did? That was not just some itinerant. That was the rebbe, Reb Zusha!”

Trembling, the guest struck his breast and said, “Oy vey, what am I going to do now?”

Now it was the turn of the guest to cry out “Oy vavoy,” for Reb Zusha was known to all as a holy tzaddik. Trembling, the guest struck his breast and said, “Oy vey, what am I going to do now? What am I going to do!”

“Don’t worry,” exclaimed the innkeeper, regaining his composure. “Listen to me. I know just what you should do: Reb Zusha spends many hours every morning in prayer. When he is finished, he goes into his private room next to the synagogue. There he opens the window, and anybody can see how he thrusts his head out and calls toward the heavens, “Master of the World, Zusha is very hungry and desires to eat something!” So, I’ll prepare some cakes and some schnapps for you to take to him. When you hear him call out, go in immediately with this gift, offer it to him and beg his forgiveness. I’m certain that he will forgive you wholeheartedly.”

That morning, like every morning, after the prayers, Reb Zusha went into his room, opened the window and called out, “Master of the World, Zusha is very hungry and desires to eat something!” The attendant, upon hearing Reb Zusha, held his ground and clasped his folded arms together even tighter, waiting to see what the outcome would be. “Let the Master of the World bring him his cake this morning,” he huffed to himself.

Suddenly the door to the synagogue opened, and a man holding a large plate of cakes and a bottle of schnapps came in and made his way to the room of Reb Zusha. He went straight in, put the cakes on the table, and then fell to the floor in grief, begging the tzaddik for his forgiveness (which he was quickly granted).

Then the attendant came to understand that it really was the Master of the World who brought Reb Zusha his breakfast every morning.

Adapted from, the website of Nishmas Chayim Yeshivah in Jerusalem, of which Rabbi Binyamin Adilman is the rosh yeshivah. He is also the author of a very interesting, but sporadically published, weekly Parashah sheet, B’oholei Tzaddikim.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli (?–2 Shevat 1800) was a major disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov. The seemingly unsophisticated but clearly inspired Reb Zusha is one of the best-known and most beloved chassidic personalities.

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