Weekly Chasidic Story #1383 (5784-40) 4 Sivan 5784 (June 10, 2024)

"The Unfortunate True Answer"

“I want to know the real reason the Jewish people are so persecuted and suffer so much,” insisted the King of Vienna. “If you don’t supply me with the true explanation, I will expel all the Jews from Vienna."

Connection: Shavuot

Story in PDF format for more convenient printing

The Unfortunate True Answer

This is a story that the holy Rebbe, Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, would tell every year on the festival of Shavuot, in the morning right before the public reading of the Ten Commandments

It happened shortly before 300 years ago. The king [kaiser] of Vienna was very fond of his Jewish finance minister and advisor, the tzaddik and scholar, Rabbi Shimshon-Meir Wertheimer of Vienna. One day, the king asked him, "We see that the Jewish people are persecuted more than any other nation, and that they have been sunk in exile for such a long time. Why? There must be a reason. Is there a particular grievous sin of theirs that caused this?"

Reb Shimshon told the king, "It's because of baseless hatred and jealousy. There is unceasing jealousy and hatred among the Jews themselves, and that's the reason they are punished so much."

The king refused to accept this explanation, "That isn't an honest answer," he insisted. I want to know the real reason the Jewish people suffer. If you don't supply me with the true explanation within three days, I will banish all the Jews from Vienna."

He then ordered R. Shimshon to leave his presence. The rabbi went home and that night before going to sleep he made a 'dream-request' [exceptionally pure Jews can focus on a question before going to sleep and pray for a response]. In the morning he awoke with an answer from Heaven: "Don't regret what you said. The reason you told the king is correct and true. Don't retract your words. You will see that in the end the king will believe it."

* * *

That same day, the king was hunting in the forest with his servants. They didn't hunt as a unit; every person found his own corner in the forest to pursue the wild animals. There had been a snowstorm the night before, so they knew the animals would be out roaming in abundance. After several hours of this sport, the hunting party began to return home, one by one.

Everyone assumed that the king had already gone home with one of the other servants. But as it turned out, the king was left behind, alone in the forest, and he didn't know how to get out.

The sun set and the king was still groping around the thick trees and through the heavy foliage, only now it was in the darkness. Gazing across a river, he saw lights burning. He understood that there must be a village there, so he removed his heavy winter coat and other outer garments, set them down on the ground and swam across the river.

Once he reached the shore, he knocked on the first house he encountered. The people of that house were suspicious and thought that the king was a thief or perhaps even a demon, and refused to let him inside.

The king dragged himself over to the next house and knocked forcefully. But the people there didn't want to let him in either. And so it went at each home the king went to.

After wandering for hours and knocking vainly on locked doors, the king finally came upon a dwelling where the door was slightly ajar. Excited, the king burst in, but when the householder saw the unannounced visitor, he was terrified. Perhaps this is an evil spirit or a demon, he thought to himself, and promptly threw out the threatening intruder.

The king was in despair; his situation seemed hopeless and inescapable. Already he was freezing from the icy water and the snowy weather, yet not one person in the whole village was willing to help him.

But then, he came upon one more house, and instantly noticed that the doorpost was adorned with a mezuzah. "The Jewish people are a merciful nation. Perhaps they will take me in," he muttered hopefully.

He knocked on the door, and was invited in. The homeowner stoked up the fire to warm him, gave him brandy to drink and fresh dry clothing, and served him cake and cookies. He prepared him a warm place to sleep over the heating stove, but the man complained that he was still cold, so the Jew lent him his fur overcoat to use as a blanket as well.

His wife wasn't happy with their guest. She kept telling her husband, "This man is a thief. Don't trust him. He is going to run off with everything that's of value in the house. He's going to steal your coat, too."

But he didn't heed her words and continued to help out the man, who unbeknown to him was actually the king. However, he did agree to stay up throughout the night. "I'll watch him carefully," he assured her,

In the morning, the king asked him: "Where am I?

"In a village far from Vienna."

"How far is it to Vienna?"

About four parsiot [approximately 16 kilometers or 10 miles]" his host replied.

"Do you know of a wagon driver that I can hire to take me there?"

"No need," the Jew informed him. "I myself am a wagon driver, and I'd be delighted to drive you to the capital."

"Thank you," said the king, "but not for free. Tell me how much I should pay you and I will so as soon as I arrive home."

"Alright," said the Jew. "The standard charge is firtzig furtziger ('four forties'.")

"Agreed," stated the king, "as long as I can wear your fur coat along the way. I'm still freezing."

The wife whispered to her husband, "You see, I told you; he's a thief. I'm warning you: he won't pay you the 40 40's, nor for the whiskey and pastries. And he will keep your coat, and then he'll kill you."

But once again, the host did not heed his wife's counsel. Instead, he harnessed his wagon, and they set out for Vienna.

* * *

When they arrived in Vienna, he asked the king, "Where do you want to go in this large city?"

"Bring me to the king's palace," the king replied.

The Jew was afraid to do so. "I might get into trouble for bringing you there."

"Don't worry," the king assured him. "It will be fine. Soon I'll explain everything."

When they arrived at the palace, the king quickly jumped out of the wagon, and without a word ran up the stairs to the entrance, still wearing his benefactor's coat.

The Jew sat there in his wagon, startled. "Oh, no! My wife was right. The man is a crook. He didn't pay me, and he stole my coat."

Not many minutes later, someone tapped him on his shoulder, saying, "Come with me. The king wants to see you."

Now he was even more frightened. What trap did his 'guest' lead him into? But he had no choice; the king had called for him, so he had to obey.

He was escorted to the king's chambers. The king saw that the rural Jew was overwhelmed by the immense wealth and beauty. He calmly asked him, "Do you recognize me?"

"No, not at all," the Jew said, surprised at the question. Since the king was wearing his crown, sitting on a luxurious throne, and surrounded by servants, he appeared totally different than he had just a few minutes earlier, when he was riding in the wagon.

"I'm the person who you helped last night, after I was lost in the forest. I'm the one you drove here. I didn't tell you before - because I knew that you wouldn't believe me - but I am the king of Vienna, and you helped me. I want to reward you. You asked for 'four forties', but I want to give you much more. Tell me what you want, and I will give it to you."

The Yid was silent, still stunned.

The king understood, and explained a little more: "I will give you whatever you ask, because you helped me in a time of need. Consider wealth, honor, whatever you want. Ask, and I'll give it to you."

The Yid remained quiet.

"If you aren't going to tell me what you want, I will just give you the four forties that you asked for, and that's all," the king exclaimed, about to lose his patience.

Finally, the Jew spoke up. "I am a wagon driver, and also a merchant. As I drive around the towns, I bring along some wares to sell. But I have a problem. Wherever I go, there's another Jew who goes to these places too, and he sells the same type of trinkets as I do. He's taking away my livelihood. I would like to ask of the king that this man should be prohibited to go to the cities where I go."

The king shouted, "Fool! I wanted to give you endless wealth. If you would have accepted my offer, you wouldn't even consider the person who's competing with you. But you are so jealous; you aren't capable of seeing past him."

* * *

The next day the king summoned Rabbi Shimon-Meir. "How right you are, my dear friend. The reason the Jews suffer is indeed because of their undying hatred and jealousy of each other."

[May it soon cease to be so. Absolutely so! - YT]

Rabbi Biderman concludes:
The Premishlaner would tell this story each year on Shavuos because the laws governing behavior bein adam l'haveiro ('between Jew and Jew') are a primary aspect of the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai (i.e., seemingly even more so than those bein adam l'Makom ('between Jew and G-D').

Source: Compiled and freely adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the Hebrew SipureiTzadikim.walla.com (May 12, 2021), and the English translation by XXX XXX of teachings of HaRav Elimelech Biderman (Torah Wellsprings, Shavuos 5777/2017).

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shimshon-Meir Wertheimer of Vienna (January 17, 1658 - August 6, 1724) served as chief rabbi of Hungary and Moravia. Subsequently he became the Finance Minister and advisor of the Kaiser of Vienna, King Leopold I, and after of Kings Yosef I and Charles VI, entrusted with all the financial secrets of the country. Rabbi Shimshon used his great influence at court to benefit his oppressed Jewish brethren, and with his great wealth he supported the poor and needy. He took great pride in his Judaism, and he fought against those who told malicious lies about the Jewish people and their traditions. His piety and kindliness made him beloved by all Jews. [From Chabad.org (except for one sentence from Wiki) - see there for an extraordinary miracle story featuring Rabbi Wertheimer. Much of the bio on Wiki is also worth reading.]

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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