Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi once said to one of his grandchildren: “Let me tell you about the simple faith of the Jews of Vohlyn (Ukraine).
“Many years ago, I was traveling home from Mezeritch after a period of study under the guidance of my master, the great Maggid. It was a cold winter night, and my feet had become immobilized by the cold. When we stopped at a wayside inn, the coachman had to carry me inside in his arms.
“The innkeeper, an elderly, G-d-fearing Jew, rubbed my feet with snow and spirits until the life returned to them. He asked me about the purpose of my journey, and I told him that I was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch. In answer to my questions, he told me that he had been operating this inn for close to fifty years, and that, thank G-d, he has earned a comfortable living from it.
‘Is there a Jewish community here?’ I asked.
‘No,’ replied the innkeeper. ‘We are the only Jews for many miles around.’
‘So you don’t have a minyan? What do you do on Shabbat and the festivals?’
‘To my sorrow,’ sighed the old man, ‘we pray without a quorum all year round. For the High Holidays, we close the inn for two weeks and travel to the city—a several days’ journey from here.’
‘But how can you live this way!’ I exclaimed. ‘How can a Jew go for months on end without a kaddish or borchu, without hearing the public reading of the Torah?’
‘What can I do? This is my livelihood. There is nothing for me to do in the city.’
‘How many Jewish households are there in the city?’ I asked.
‘About a hundred,’ he replied.
‘If G-d manages to provide a living for a hundred families,’ I said, ‘don’t you think He could find a way to provide for one more?’
“On that note, we parted company. I was given a room in which to rest, and the innkeeper went off to attend to his affairs.
An hour later, I heard a commotion outside. Looking out the window, I saw several carts and wagons piled high with bundles and crates, furniture and household items. The innkeeper and his sons were running about, tying down the bundles and settling the women and children into the wagons.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked the old man.
‘We’re moving to the city,’ he replied. ‘You’re right—this is no place for a Jew. A Jew needs a minyan, a rabbi, a community…’
‘But just like that, you’re going? Where will you stay? And what will you do for a living?’
‘We’ll find something. As you rightly pointed out to me, if G-d can take care of a hundred families in the city, He can surely provide for a few more souls…’
“Such was the faith and trust in G-d of these Jews,” concluded Rabbi Schneur Zalman. “I was but a young man at the time, but because I had told him that I was a disciple of the Great Maggid, he unquestionably acted on my advice. Without giving it another thought, he left behind an enterprise that had provided him with a comfortable living for fifty years and set out, that very night, to a place where he could better serve his Creator.”
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch (d. 1772), second leader of the Chassidic movement.
. A quorum of ten adult Jewish males required for communal prayer.