27 Iyar 5781 / Sunday, May 09, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bamidbar
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Vayikra: Stealing From a Widow    

Vayikra: Stealing From a Widow

Once, a widow had assumed the “arrendeh” for an inn that was managed by her late husband. She was a capable woman, and able to successfully manage the business...


Parshat Vayikra
"If a person sins inadvertently by expropriating [for personal use] something that is sacred to God" (Vayikra 5:15).
"Do not mistreat a widow or an orphan. If you mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will hear their cry" (Shemot 22:21).
* * *
During the times of the Baal Shem Tov, it was a common practice for the local Poritz (the governor of estate lands) to grant an “arrendeh” - a privileged contract to perform services for the estate, such as milling grain, or distilling liquor, or even collecting taxes. Although such an arrangement could be quiet profitable, it could also be quite precarious. The Poritz could change his mind at a whim, and discontinue the arrangement without notice.
Once, a widow had assumed the “arrendeh” for an inn that was managed by her late husband. She was a capable woman, and able to successfully manage the business, providing a modest income for herself and her children.
All was going well, until a man, known as Reb Faivel, approached the Poritz to transfer the “arrendeh” to him. Reb Faivel was known as “Reb Faivel Haandler,” because he was always eager to “handle” for a profitable business deal. He had a silver tongue and was able to convince the Poritz that he could better manage the Poritz’s affairs than the widow, and thus earn a better income for the Poritz. The Poritz readily agreed to transfer the lease.
When the widow heard the news, she began to cry, "My livelihood! He's stealing my livelihood. What will my young children eat?"
The whole village was in an uproar. All agreed that the underhanded ploy of Reb Faivel, to enrich himself and thus take the income of a widow and her family, was an outrage and that such an act would not go unpunished. The local town folk suggested the widow present her dilemma to the Baal Shem Tov and ask for his assistance.
The widow promptly traveled to Medzibusch and was able to arrange an audience with the Baal Shem Tov. He listened carefully as the widow tearfully described her plight. He then said: "Don't worry. I will speak with this man – Reb Faivel. I am sure there is a misunderstanding. With God’s help, all will work out in the end."
The Baal Shem Tov sent a message to Reb Faivel, who soon arrived to discuss the matter. The Baal Shem Tov learned that indeed Reb Faivel intended to assume the management of the inn. Despite the Baal Shem Tov’s efforts to dissuade Reb Faivel from doing something inappropriate for a God-fearing man, he could not change Reb Faivel's mind. After all, as far as Reb Faivel was concerned, business is business. What right did the Baal Shem Tov having trying to mix into his personal affairs?
Reb Faivel left the Baal Shem Tov's house. As he mounted his horse, he yelled through the open window: "I'm going to take the widow's "arrendeh," and we will see what God is going to do to me."
The Baal Shem Tov put his head in his hands and wept.
Reb Faivel decided to expedite the matter. The moment he returned to his village, he brought the Poritz a large purse of coins. "I'm ready to rent the "arrendeh" from you as we agreed. Here is the agreed sum of money to finalize the arrangement."
The Poritz, pleased to receive such a well-paying guest, sat down to write the contract to hand over the "arrendeh" to Reb Faivel.
Suddenly, Reb Faivel grabbed his head, turned to the Poritz and said, “I suddenly have a terrible headache." The Poritz helped Reb Faivel sit down.
As the Poritz picked up a pen to continue writing the contract, Reb Faivel winced and moaned in pain.
"My head is killing me! I can't take it. Please help me lie down for a few minutes.”
The Poritz quickly called his servants to help Reb Faivel.
Suddenly, Reb Faivel turned pale. His eyes began to bulge, and he began frothing at the mouth. The Poritz panicked! "What kind of a mad man am I doing business with? Get him out of my house!” he yelled to his servants.
The servants grabbed Reb Faivel by his hands and feet and quickly carried him to his home, depositing him at his doorstep like a sack of potatoes. His hands and legs were paralyzed. His tongue was swollen and he could not speak – he could hardly utter a sound.
Reb Faivel’s family did all they could to help him. They called the best doctors, but Reb Faivel remained paralyzed and unable to speak.
Reb Faivel’s family came to the Baal Shem Tov and begged that the tzaddik cure him. The Baal Shem visited Reb Faivel and he began to recover. The family later hired a non-Jewish sorceress to cure Reb Faivel, so the Baal Shem Tov refused to visit him again.
Reb Faivel was never able to utter more than a few words.
And so it was.
Tzvi Meir Cohn attended Yeshiva Hadar Hatorah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after completing his university studies in Engineering and Law. While studying at the Yeshiva, he discovered a deep connection to the stories and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. His many books about the Baal Shem Tov can be found in the Breslev Store. He can be contacted at howard@cohnpatents.com.

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