The Wanderer: Chapter 3| January 10, 2023
Sack on his back, forbidden to taste hot food even once during the three years of exile, Reb Meir set off into the unknown
Shortly after Freida’s passing, the money was discovered in another part of the house. Apparently, some of Reb Meir’s grandchildren had visited the day the money went missing, and they had lugged the entire bundle of money out of the study during their play and left it somewhere else. Freida had been innocent all along. She just did not have the strength to speak up for herself. And instead of taking her silence as an overwhelming fear of speaking to others, Reb Meir and the others had understood it as an admission of guilt.
Reb Meir was beside himself with grief. He traveled to the holy Rebbe Meir of Premishlan, the great tzaddik who lived in his city. The great tzaddik informed Reb Meir that he had only three options to cleanse himself of the terrible sin: He could either accept upon himself a terrible sickness for three years, die an unnatural death immediately, or undergo three years of galus — wandering.
At first, Reb Meir thought it would be easiest to accept the pain of three years of sickness. He chose that and went home, shaking terribly in fright at the agony he knew would soon come upon him. Sure enough, the sickness came out of nowhere, forcing him into bed. His very bones screamed in pain as sickness ravaged his body, causing him to almost lose his mind from the unbearable pain. He sent a message to the great tzaddik; he had changed his mind and would go through three years of wandering instead.
Sack on his back, forbidden to taste hot food even once during the three years of exile, Reb Meir set off into the unknown.
Reb Meir soon discovered an entire world that he had never known before — the hard, bitter life known to those who are forced to wander from the comfort of home to provide for themselves and their families. The first few weeks were the hardest. His body was not used to the harsh elements, and he found himself repulsed and brokenhearted sleeping side by side with beggars and wanderers on the hard floor of people’s homes, or, more often, inside shuls. His tastebuds screamed in protest at the cold food he ate from the hands of strangers, and the affront to his ego and sense of kavod was torturous for him to handle.
“You need to accept things as they are and see the good in your situation,” said Levi, a homeless widower who had befriended Reb Meir, as they tried to warm themselves by the fire in a shul.
“Good? There’s no good in my situation.”
“No? You’re alive, aren’t you? The cold you feel, and the pain in your heart, are also reminders to thank Hashem that you are still here to experience life….”
“You’re right, I suppose. I don’t even deserve this much.”
“Why are you so pessimistic, Meir?”
“Because of the things I’ve done, Levi. I’m a wicked man. I’ve done terrible, terrible things….”
“But you won’t tell me what exactly you did, right?”
“Right. You’d never look at me the same if I told you. Trust me.”
“It could be worse, you know.”
“No, it couldn’t be.”
“Sure, it could. We may be wanderers, but we’re still bnei haMelech. And in the Melech’s family, no matter our lot in life, we are still deserving of love and respect.”
The door to the shul opened and a woman carrying sacks of blankets and food came in. Snow blasted into the shul from the open door behind her. She left the gifts on the floor and then disappeared, shutting the door behind her as another freezing blast of winter wind tore through the room.
“See?” Levi pointed.
Reb Meir nodded, but as he rushed to see what foods had been brought and to snatch a blanket for himself, he cried inside. What had become of him? He missed his comfortable bed, a steady roof over his head, his family, and the comforts of being an extremely wealthy man. He had turned from the giver into the taker. It was a life that could crush the pride of those who lived it, and he felt like he would break.
But as time went on, he began to slowly accept his new situation. After a year had passed, he no longer cringed when he saw his reflection in the window of the shops he passed, or when people dropped coins in his hand without sparing him a smile or even the words, “Hello, how are you?” he no longer felt a stabbing pain in his heart. He was humbled, and perhaps broken at the same time.
He sat one day, eating at a rickety table together with his companion, Levi. Silence filled the air. There was not much to say. Not much really happened over the course of their days. The only thing that gave any excitement, any warmth to their weary bones, were the words of Torah they shared with each other. Levi had never really had the opportunity to learn, so it was usually Reb Meir who shared inspiration from Chazal with his friend.
“Levi…” R’ Meir put down his fork. “What’s the purpose of having wealth?”
“To enjoy it. Oh, and to give to others if you are able.”
“The opposite. To give to others is the most important thing. Reb Nosson of Breslov taught that one should ask for wealth, not so that one can live lavishly, but so that one can have the incredible mitzvah of giving a lot of money to the poor.
“Listen to this, Levi. The midrash tells us of a righteous couple who once lost every single penny they had. The man was working in a field, when Eliyahu Hanavi, disguised as an Arab, appeared to him.
“Six years of wealth will be heading your way! When do you want this wealth? Now, or when you are at the end of your life?”
“Leave me alone! You must be some sort of sorcerer, or one who uses dark magic to predict such things. I want nothing to do with you.”
“No, I insist you respond to me!”
“Eliyahu would not relent, and after the third time, the man finally said he would ask his wife. His righteous wife said that they would take the money now. The man relayed his answer to Eliyahu Hanavi.
“The man was astounded by Eliyahu Hanavi’s startling response.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 944)
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