The chassid was puzzled. For weeks he had looked forward to his trip to Lublin, so that he could once again spend Shabbos in the presence of his holy Rebbe, the Chozeh.
These visits to his Rebbe had always given nourishment to his soul and sustained him during the long months when he was forced to tend to his far-flung business affairs. But now, as he sat among the hundreds of other chassidim crowded around the Chozeh's table, instead of experiencing his usual feelings of blissful contentment his mind was filled with a nagging doubt that refused to leave him.
At this particular Shalosh Seudas meal, the Chozeh was expounding upon the pasuk "Hashem makes poor and makes rich" (Shmuel I, 2:7).
"In one moment," the Chozeh explained, "Hashem makes poor, and Hashem makes rich."
While the Chozeh continued to unravel mystery upon mystery in his discourse, the chassid - who happened to be a very successful businessman - remained stuck at this one point in the drasha.
"Make poor in one moment?" he wondered to himself. "How is that possible? I, for instance, have diverse business dealings in towns and villages scattered throughout Poland. If one of my stores in Warsaw should suddenly flounder, G-d forbid, well, don't I have plenty of other enterprises that could still flourish? Even if Hashem should cause a war to break out, chas v'shalom, surely it would take more than one moment to destroy all of my wealth."
The chassid was so absorbed in his thoughts that he didn't even notice that the Chozeh had stopped speaking and that there was now silence in the room. All eyes were upon this one chassid - including the penetrating eyes of the Chozeh.
"In one moment," the Chozeh thundered, for of course, the Chozeh could read the chassid's thoughts.
The chassid looked up and suddenly realized he was the center of attention.
Seizing the opportunity, he asked, "But how is it possible to make poor in one moment?"
"Go your way and you will see," the Chozeh replied.
After Shabbos, the chassid returned home. As he reached the outskirts of the Jewish section of his town, three stars were already shining brightly in the night sky and lights began to glow in the windows of his neighbors' homes. Although he knew that he should hurry on to shul so that he could daven Ma'ariv with his usual minyan, this time the chassid decided to tarry for a moment.
Because the chassid's many business concerns forced him to travel a great deal, he was sometimes asked by Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors to conduct an occasional business transaction in Warsaw or Lublin or wherever his travels might take him. Even the town priest would sometimes ask the chassid to perform some small transaction on his behalf, and the chassid would agree for the sake of maintaining peaceful relations between the Jewish community and the rest of the town.
The chassid had performed such a transaction during his trip to Lublin, and in his pocket now sat a certain sum of money that belonged to the priest. Seeing that the lamps were lit in the home of the clergyman, the chassid decided to save himself some time by dropping off the cash now.
"It will only take a moment," the chassid reasoned, "and then I can go daven."
The priest received the chassid cordially and thanked him for performing this small service on his behalf. But no sooner had the money exchanged hands than the chassid was suddenly seized with a powerful, inexplicable urge to abandon his faith-and to become baptized!
The chassid fell to his knees and begged the priest to perform the ceremony at once. The priest, however, was no fool.
"You liar! You scoundrel!" the priest shrieked. "I've befriended you for fifteen years, and this is how you repay me? By mocking me?"
The priest tried to throw the chassid out the door, but the chassid would not be turned away. He persisted with his pleadings until at last the priest began to relent.
"I will baptize you on one condition," the priest said. "To prove you are serious about abandoning your faith and your entire former way of life, write me out a deed of sale conveying all your property to me as an absolute gift."
The chassid readily agreed. Paper and pen were brought and the man quickly wrote down every store and field and factory that he owned, down to the very last shoelace. He signed his name to the document with a flourish and sealed it with his signet. The man then deposited the deed into the outstretched hand of the priest.
At the very instant that the document left the chassid's hands, the madness that had seized him departed. Shocked by what he had almost done - and saddened by what he had actually done - the chassid fled from the priest's house and ran as fast as his legs would take him to the security of the beis medrash. There he collapsed into a corner, his body still trembling from fright at what had almost happened.
"My wealth is gone, but at least I still have my soul," the poor man said to myself. "Baruch Hashem, at least I did not lose my soul in that one moment of madness."
As the chassid muttered these words to himself, he realized that what had just happened to him was no accident. As the Chozeh had promised, the man had now seen for himself how it was possible to become a pauper in just one moment. The poor man was seized with a terrible regret that he had doubted the truth of the Chozeh's words, and he resolved to return to Lublin at once.
"It is good that you have resolved this difficulty in your mind, and that you now understand how Hashem can make poor in one moment," the Chozeh said to the contrite chassid, upon his arrival in Lublin.
"But, Rebbe!" the man cried out. "I've lost everything. How am I to live? I'll be forced to wander like a beggar in exile. Now please help me understand how Hashem makes rich in one moment."
"Go your way," replied the Chozeh, "and may Hashem help you see this, as well."
The chassid left the Chozeh and wearily made his way back home. When he reached his town, he was alarmed to saw dark clouds of smoke hovering above it. He ran to see what had happened, but as he approached the outskirts of the Jewish quarter his path was blocked by a large crowd of people.
"What's happened?" he asked one of the townspeople.
"A fire broke out in the priest's home just a little while ago," the other man replied. "The whole house went up into flames in an instant."
Everything that the priest had owned, including the chassid's deed of sale, had been turned into soot and ashes. Now that the chassid's deed of sale no longer existed, the chassid was once again a wealthy man.
"Yes, it's true," the chassid said to himself as pondered upon this second sudden change in his fortune. "Hashem can make poor and make rich in a moment. No situation is so sure or so hopeless that it can't be changed in the blink of an eye."
Reprinted with permission from "Yated Neeman", a weekly Jewish newspaper.