The Man Who Stopped the Wedding Procession

By Asharon Baltazar,

Urged along by rushed drivers, the long caravan made considerable headway toward Dukla, Poland, carrying Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel and his family, who were on their way from Opatow to the wedding of their firstborn son—a momentous occasion indeed!

Day and night they traveled, without stopping to rest, as time was of the essence. So when the carriages ground to a sudden halt, it was clear something was amiss.

A man stood in the middle of the road, arms outstretched, paying no attention to the angry outbursts. “You’re delaying the rebbe’s journey,” someone shouted from a window. “I know!” cried the man. “I am here because I wish to speak to him!”

Upon hearing the man’s words, the rebbe left his carriage and approached him. “What is bothering you?” The man blinked tears from his eyes. “I lease an inn from a local poretz, and the business… it’s bad. Customers don’t come in as often as they once did, so I haven’t been able to earn much this past season. My debt to the poretz has ballooned, and I have no way to pay it.”

The rebbe returned to his carriage, retrieved a bag filled with gold coins intended for the wedding expenses, and handed it to the innkeeper. But the man shook his head. “I don’t ask for money,” he said. “I need a blessing.” “Which blessing?” “Birchas Kohanim!” said the man, his eyes alight.

The rebbe raised an eyebrow. “But I’m not a Kohen.” “Didn’t the rebbe once say he had been a Kohen Gadol in a prior life?” replied the man knowingly. Head inclined in silent concentration, the rebbe thought for a while. His eyes twinkled as he looked up and smiled. “You want Birchas Kohanim? First I have a story for you.”

“A wealthy man once invited me to his wedding. I agreed to stay for the chuppah, but once I was there the host pressured me to stay longer, and I remained for the duration of the evening. Noticing my discomfort at the time wasted, a few of the guests decided to put together an impromptu skit.”

“Into the wedding hall marched a troop of costumed guests, one dressed as a local poretz, another as a Jewish innkeeper. There were also some as advisors, a minister, and a king. The one dressed as the Jewish innkeeper kept his eyes down. He had amassed a large debt, and the local poretz had dragged him to court. The court case played out before us.

“I have been fair to him,” boomed the poretz. “I treated him with dignity, but over the years he has accumulated a sizeable debt. I think it is only fair that he and his family work off their debts on my estate.”

The Jewish innkeeper defended himself by saying that a dry season had affected his business. He fully intended to repay the debt when business picked up.

After both parties had presented their arguments, the advisors began to choose sides. Some supported the poretz, while others were sympathetic to the Jewish innkeeper who could not control how many people frequented his establishment.

Upon further discussion, the majority of the advisors supported the Jew’s claim. Emboldened by his victory, the innkeeper turned to address the minister:

“Not only should the poretz leave the inn in my hands, but I also demand from him the expenses of running such an unprofitable business!”

The minister didn’t know how to respond to the Jew’s claim, so he delegated it to a higher authority—the king himself. But the king, too, was lost for a solution. He approached me with the dilemma, trusting that I, a recognized rabbi, would provide an unbiased judgement.

One look at the pitiful innkeeper told me everything I needed to know. “What he says is true!” I declared. “The poretz knowingly leased a location that cannot turn a profit, and he is liable to pay for all the innkeeper’s expenses.”

The mock trial reached its end, and I was left wondering why Hashem had shown it to me.

The rebbe looked warmly at the man who had stopped him en route to his son’s wedding, his voice trembling with excitement. “And now I know why! The story I’d been a part of in jest has repeated itself in actuality. And so I declare you innocent and debt-free! You will see, the poretz himself will pay your losses. Here’s my brocha: May He bless you with wealth, and may He guard you from damages…”

The innkeeper returned home and had barely finished relaying the good news to his wife when loud, abrupt knocks prevented him from saying another word. Two men, messengers of the poretz, stood impatiently at the door. “Come quickly,” they announced. “The poretz is waiting for you.”

The innkeeper’s wife burst into terrified tears. “Don’t worry,” managed the innkeeper. “We have been blessed. Hashem will take care of us.” With that, he set off to the poretz’s estate.

“Where did you disappear to?” barked the poretz before the innkeeper had a chance to catch his breath. “I went on a small trip,” replied the innkeeper. “I haven’t disappeared anywhere.”

“I’ll tell you why I was looking for you,” sighed the poretz, his expression softening. “Recently, I was involved in something quite shady. The court has sentenced me to ten years in prison, and I’m reluctant to believe I’ll make it out alive. This is where you come in. I’d like to transfer my entire estate and all my assets to you. If I do, by some miracle, make it out, I’ll take back half of what I gave you.”

Reeling from the unexpected development, the innkeeper quickly agreed to sign a contract stipulating the poretz’s condition. Just as the Rebbe promised, he not only owed the poretz nothing, he had gained a vast estate and immense wealth as well.

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