/ posted 17 Cheshvan 5760)
GUEST FOR THE FISH
Because the fish was so large it was very expensive, but she could well afford it. Her husband, who was a noted scholar and leader of the community, was also quite wealthy.
She herself was an exceptional woman. And as the daughter of Rabbi Meir of Constantine and granddaughter of the famed Rabbi Yaakov Emden, she well appreciated the delight and importance of a Torah atmosphere on Shabbat. Seeing her purchase energetically thrashing around in her basket, she joyfully thanked G-d for enabling her to enhance the Shabbat table in such regal fashion, and she prayed:
"Ribono Shel Olam - Master of the Universe, You granted me this extraordinary fish in honor of Your holy Shabbat. Please also grant me a suitably pious and learned guest that he too may enjoy this fish tonight."
That afternoon, a carriage pulled up in front of their door and a distinguished-looking Jew alighted. No one knew who he was, but it was clear from his features and his deportment that here was a true Torah personality. Her husband welcomed him heartily, and with respect and deference invited him to stay for Shabbat.
The guest, who chose not to reveal his identity, was none other than the holy Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch. While R. Yitzchak definitely enjoyed the Shabbat with his scholarly host in the luxurious setting, the whole time, night and day, he was nagged by puzzlement. What was the reason for the striking chain of events that led him to spend the Seventh Day so far from home? Surely it was not just to have a pleasurable Shabbat. What was he supposed to accomplish here?
After the Third Meal, the holy Rabbi retired to his room to rest for a bit, but his feeling of unfulfilled purpose gave him no peace. He decided to ask a "query by dream." Before he lay down, he composed his mind carefully and focused on his dilemna: "May Heaven inform me why I have been sent to this town. Where are the hidden sparks of holiness that I am supposed to elevate? What must I achieve?"
When he awoke, he had his answer, revealed to him in his sleep : "There is no special task for you to fulfill here, nor anything to rectify. But on Friday morning the lady of the house purchased a large fish in honor of the Shabbat, and on her way from the marketplace she had prayed for a worthy guest for the special meal. She is a true tzadkanit [exceptionally righteous woman] in her own right, and also the descendent of many generations of outstanding Torah scholars, so her request was granted. As nobody in this generation is more worthy than you, you were "instructed" from Heaven on Friday to arrive here for Shabbat"
After Havdalah and the Melava Malka meal, Rabbi Yitzchak made his departure. The host and his sons escorted him out to his carriage. Much to their surprise --and certainly at variance with accepted custom of the pious), their distinguished holy guest requested of them that they call the hostess out for the farewell too.
When she arrived, he said to her, "Please Rebbetzin, be careful with your prayers. I was a great distance from here, but because of your prayer yesterday, I was compelled to travel all this way to spend Shabbat with your family. It was delightful and I am honored to have met you all, but please don't do it again!"
[Translated and freely adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Sipurei Chassidim - Torah #173. You may distribute this e-mail as long as full attribution is given, including Ascent's email and internet addresses, as in the heading.]
Biographical notes (in order of mention]:
Rabbi Yaakov Emden-the 'Reivetz' (1697-1776) a leading rabbinical authority, son of R. Zvi Hirsch Askenazi (the Chocham Zvi), and the compiler of the Beis Yaakov siddur.
Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch--a leading kabbalist in his generation and father of R. Yechiel Michel Zlotchov (1731-1786), a major disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, who first went to the Besht as a boy with his father.
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of
Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He
has hundreds of published stories to his credit.