Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk was once walking along with another man, when he heard a heavenly voice proclaiming a spiritual reward in the World to Come for whoever would help to relieve Rebbe Shmelke of Nikolsburg from the bitter opposition of his antagonists.

“Did you hear a voice just now?” Reb Elimelech asked. “No,” said his companion. “Well,” thought the tzaddik, “since only I heard it, it is clear that I am the one who ought to go to Nikolsburg.”

Arriving there, he asked Reb Shmelke for permission to preach in the synagogue in order to rebuke the congregation. Said Reb Shmelke: “What good can that do, when they never listen to any words of rebuke?” But his guest entreated him earnestly, so he finally gave his permission.

Soon enough, the synagogue was filled with people who were eager to hear the guest preacher. In the course of his sermon, Reb Elimelech proved to them by all manner of ingenious hairsplitting that there were ways and means of voiding various prohibitions specified in the Torah. This kind of teaching was very much to their liking.

“He’s telling us exactly what our rabbi had been telling us all along, but we didn’t want to take notice . . .”

At the end, he announced that he would preach again the next day, and almost all the townsfolk flocked to hear him. He ascended the pulpit, and proved to them—this time with valid reasoning—that not only was what he had taught them the previous day not correct, but that in truth it was forbidden to transgress not only those prohibitions explicitly set out in the Torah, but also the slightest prohibition ordained by the sages.

His heartfelt words aroused a feeling of repentance in the hearts of all his listeners. They wept, regretfully, and said to each other, “He’s telling us exactly what our rabbi had been telling us all along, but we didn’t want to take notice. We really ought to go to Reb Shmelke’s house and ask for his forgiveness!”

So they went to Reb Shmelke, and asked him for pardon, promising to heed his words from then on, explaining that the visiting preacher had shown them that Reb Shmelke had been in the right.

As for Reb Elimelech, he took his leave of Reb Shmelke and went on his way. A little way out of Nikolsburg, he was addressed by a voice from heaven: “Because you helped Reb Shmelke, whomever you will bless during the next twenty-four hours will be blessed.” . . . whom can I bless?

Reb Elimelech walked on, overjoyed at his gift—but deep was his disappointment when, after many long hours on the road, he had not encountered one solitary fellow Jew on whom to bestow his blessing. Heartbroken, he sobbed out his plaint to His Maker: “So You’ve given me a gift for twenty-four hours. But I cannot use it, because I have not met a single Jew. Tell me, whom can I bless?”

As he finished his prayer, he saw a woman walking in the fields, and ran over to her and immediately began to bless her. Seeing that the poor woman was taken aback, he tried to put her at ease. “Be not afraid, my good woman,” he said, “I am not a malevolent being.” Having reassured her, the tzaddik blessed her again, and she went on her way.

From that day on, all of her husband’s and her affairs prospered so much that they became extremely wealthy. They moved to a bigger city, where they conducted their merchandising on a grand scale. They concluded that without a doubt the unknown stranger who had blessed them was none other than the prophet Elijah, of blessed memory. The newly wealthy merchant became a great philanthropist, and instructed his servants that they could disburse charity on his account to the extent of one gold coin without even consulting him, although for larger amounts they had to ask him.

No sooner did his wife set eyes upon Reb Elimelech, then she took fright and fainted . . .

Many years passed. One day, Reb Elimelech and his brother Rebbe Zusya of Anipoli decided to travel about in order to collect money for the ransom of Jewish captives. Hearing that in a certain city there was a very generous magnate, they set out to visit him. His servants offered them a golden coin, which they declined. It was explained that for greater sums, they would have to ask the master directly. The guests were admitted to the room of the merchant, but no sooner did his wife set eyes upon Reb Elimelech than she took fright and fainted. The household was in turmoil.

When she came to, she told her husband: “Do you know who that is? It is Elijah the Prophet, who blessed me many years ago. Now he has returned; it must be to take back all the wealth that he gave us!”

“Do not fear,” said Reb Elimelech. “I am not Elijah, and I have not come to take away your wealth. I am just an ordinary Jew, except that it was G‑d’s will that my blessing that day was fulfilled.”

The merchant then asked: “How much do you need to ransom your captives?”

When they told him that they needed five hundred gold coins in all, he quickly fetched them the whole sum.

“We want to enable other Jews to have a share in this great mitzvah too,” they said, refusing to accept his offer. After he implored them to change their minds, they agreed to accept half the sum. Then, amid a warm exchange of farewells, they went on their way.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk (1717–21 Adar 1787) was a senior disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, successor to the Baal Shem Tov. “The Rebbe Reb Melech,” as he is affectionately referred to, was the acknowledged leader of the chassidic movement in Poland after the death of the Maggid in 1772. Nearly all of the great chassidic dynasties in Poland and Hungary emerged from his disciples and their descendants. His book Noam Elimelech is one of the most popular chassidic works of all time.

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

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