Saved by Leeches

by Menachem Posner,

Melava Malka story: When a woman approached der heiliger Ruzhiner for a bracha, the answer she received was confounding… and lifesaving.

There was once a couple who lived in Poland, near a large Chassidishe community. The wife was a firm believer in Chassidus; a woman of simple faith, she was a great admirer of Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin, known far and wide as der heiliger Ruzhiner

Her husband, on the other hand, was a skeptic. He had a hard time accepting that Hashem plays an active role in human affairs, and he certainly did not believe in the koach of a tzadik.

Over time, it happened that the husband accumulated a large debt to the local poretz and had nary a penny to his name.

As the due date for the debt drew nearer, the wife pleaded with her husband to consult with the Ruzhiner, but he would hear nothing of it. As time passed, and their prospects remained pitifully slim, he finally relented: his wife could travel to the rebbe, but he preferred to stay home.

When she arrived, the good woman was dismayed to see a large crowd of Chassidim, all hoping for advice or a bracha. Unable to speak to each one individually, the rebbe sent messages to the visitors via his gabbaim.

The wife waited patiently alongside another woman, whose husband (a faithful Chassid) was deathly ill. At last, the gabbai came out with the rebbe’s missives. To the woman whose husband was ill, the rebbe had advised not to allow anyone to visit his chamber, and the woman whose husband was in debt was told that her husband should be treated with bankes and piavkes (blood-sucking leeches and hot cups, then common folk remedies).

Could it be that the rebbe or his staff had mixed the two women up, and sent each of them the message intended for the other? The woman brushed aside her doubts and hastened home. Her only question was how to convince her husband, the stalwart cynic, to subject himself to leeching and cupping, which were as painful as they were bloody.

Indeed, after hearing what had happened, the husband laughed bitterly. “See?” he said, “You spent all that time and money to visit your rebbe, and he gave you the most useless advice. How are leeches going to bring us the funds we so desperately need?”

It was the dreaded morning, the day the debt was due to be collected, and there was barely a penny in the house. Left with no alternative, the husband heeded the gentle words of his wife and allowed her to apply the leeches to his body.

As he lay on his bed, blood oozing from the many sores that the leeches had created, the poretz’s agent came to the door. Seeing the man lying there in obvious pain, the officer took pity on the poor fellow, who was clearly in no state to raise the monies needed.

“Sir,” he reported to his master, “I have been to visit the poor Jew, and he is in a terrible state. I would advise forgiving the debt. He has no money to speak of, and it does not seem that he will be in better shape any time soon.”

Suspecting that the agent had been paid off, the poretz decided to see the situation for himself before letting the debtor off the hook. Upon arrival, he saw that the man was bedridden and appeared to be in even poorer health than the agent had described. Feeling sorry, he declared that the entire debt was wiped clean.

One can only imagine that the cynical husband was a cynic no longer.When retelling this story to his son, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadigur, the holy Ruzhiner concluded that the miraculous turn of events was entirely due to the pure emunah of the wife.

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