Reb Meirke of Mir, one of the disciples of Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch, once interrupted a journey in order to enter an inn to say his prayers. While he was there, a whole caravan of wagons arrived, full of itinerant paupers with their wives and little waifs. Reb Meirke saw one man in their midst, of old and venerable appearance, whose face bespoke a rare purity of mind. As he watched him closely, the innkeeper’s wife placed bread and other food on the table. While the other poor folk all grabbed their slices to allay their hunger, this particular old pauper walked deliberately over to the water basins and examined a dipper carefully to see of it was suitable for netilat yadayim, the Jewish ritual washing of the hands before a meal. Before washing his hands, however, he took up the slice of bread over which he was due in a moment to say the blessing of Hamotzi — and immediately laid it down. He took instead some other bread that was there, recited the blessing over it instead, and sat down to eat.

Why did he not eat that slice of bread?

The paupers all left the inn soon after, and this old man left with them. But throughout his prayers and his evening meal, Reb Meir could not stop thinking about that aged beggar. Why did he not eat that slice of bread?

He had to find out. He approached the landlady and asked, “Excuse me, but when did you bake that bread?”

“Why, yesterday or the day before,” she replied.

“And do you recall,” he continued, “whether you remembered at the time to separate the tithe of challah from the dough?”

“Woe is me!” exclaimed the woman. “I forgot to take off the tithe!”

It was now clear to Reb Meirke that his old man was divinely inspired. He immediately harnessed his horses and made haste to catch up to that ragged crew. He found them soon enough, but his man was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is that old man who was with you?” he asked.

“Why should you ask after that crazy old fellow?” they answered. “He tagged on to us a few weeks ago, and he travels wherever we travel, and he sleeps wherever we sleep. But he behaves as if he was out of his mind. Nearly every day he leaves us for a while, and stands alone for some time among the bushes in the forest. And once, in midwinter, when he saw a lake frozen over, he broke the ice and went for a dip in that freezing cold water.”

When Reb Meirke followed the direction in which they pointed, he came upon this strange man standing under a tree, entranced in his thoughts, his face burning like a brand.

Rebbe, bless me!” Reb Meirke exclaimed.

The pauper asked him for a copper coin, and then gave his blessing.

When in due course, Reb Meirke again visited Lechovitch to see his rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai, and told him the whole story, the tzaddik said: “How fortunate you are! For the man who gave you his blessing was none other than the saintly Rabbi Leib Sarah’s!”

This same Reb Meirke once lost his way while traveling alone through a forest. As evening fell, he spotted a house with a stable next to it, and on entering the house found no one at home but a woman who was busy cooking.

He saw at once that they were a gang of murderers...

“Is there room here to lodge for the night?” he asked.

“Most certainly,” she said.

But when the owners of the house returned later that night, he saw at once that they were a gang of murderers. Nor was he at all reassured to overhear the women telling them: “We have a very worthwhile guest...”

There was no chance to escape; every door and every window was locked. He soon found himself in a quiet corner, weeping over his final confessions to G‑d with the honest tears of a man who is nearing his end.

When they had finished their crude meal, they pounced on him from all sides and bound him hand and foot, ready for the slaughter.

“Open up, there!” a raucous voice suddenly snarled at the window.

The murderers were so alarmed by the insistent battering on the shutters that they were afraid to oblige. But the cold was bitter outside. The impatient callers broke down the door, and a noisy crowd of sturdy Russian merchants, who had also lost their way, burst their way in.

In a flash they gathered what was going on before their eyes. A couple of them unbound the poor victim, while the others seized the murderers and trussed them up. At daybreak they lifted them on to their wagons and drove off to the nearest town, where they handed them over to the local police.

“You won’t believe this,” they said to Reb Meirke, “but we often take this road, and know it well. In fact, we have never lost our way around these parts. But today, for some strange reason, we somehow got mixed up and strayed from the highway, until we landed here. It is clearly the hand of G‑d, so that we should be able to save you from death.”

When Reb Meirke next visited Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovich, no sooner had he appeared in the doorway than his rebbe said: “It is all because of you that I couldn’t sleep that night. But thanks to the fact that you once gave a coin to Rabbi Leib Sarah’s and received his blessing, those merchants lost their way and arrived out there just in time to save you.”

Translated and adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin, and other oral sources.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch (?–15 Tishrei 1810), a disciple of Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin, known for the fervor of his prayers. Exceedingly charitable, particularly toward the poor of the Land of Israel.

Rabbi Leib Sarah’s (1730–4 Adar 1796) was held in high esteem by the Baal Shem Tov. One of the “hidden tzaddikim,” he spent his life wandering from place to place to raise money for the ransoming of imprisoned Jews and the support of other hidden tzaddikim. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, asserted the possibility that Rabbi Leib Sarah’s and the Shpoler Zeide were the same person.

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