The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
In Ropwitz there lived a very wealthy Jew. One day he got into his carriage and rode to Medzibuz to visit Rabbi Israel.
They sat and talked of things that are in this world. But when it was time for the visit to come to an end, the rich man took a purse filled with gold and left it on the Master's table.
Rabbi Israel led the man to the door. There he said, "Is there nothing you wanted to ask of me?"
"No," said the rich man, opening the door. "I only wanted to make a visit. I only wanted to see the rabbi of whom all the world is speaking. And I desired to leave a small present."
The Master looked at the bag of money, and a smile came into his eyes. "And there is nothing I can do to help you?" he asked.
"What help should I need? Gold, the Lord be thanked, I have in great quantity. My children are grown, my daughters are happily married, and my grandchildren are in good health. No, Rabbi, I am not in need of help."
"If you will listen," said the Baal Shem Tov, "I'll tell you a story."
In a city not far from here, almost a hundred years ago, there lived two wealthy Jewish merchants. Their houses stood one next to the other, and as close as their houses were, so were their hearts. Each of these merchants had a son; the boys had been born on the
same day, and they grew up together like twin brothers, sharing their lessons and their games and every gift that was given them. When the boys were thirteen years old they swore eternal blood-brotherhood.
The time came for them to be married. The father of one of the boys found a bride for him in a city far to the west, and the young man went there to live. The father of the other boy found a wife for him in a city far to the east, and the young man went there to live. The boys were three hundred miles apart.
In the beginning, they wrote letters every week to each other. But as the ties of their new family lives began to grow around them, and their business affairs absorbed them, they wrote only once each month. And at last they wrote only once a year, and then they did not write at all to each other.
Both of the young men did well in their business, and became very rich.
But after that it happened to one of them that his affairs began to go against him. His ships were lost, his warehouses caught fire, his debtors cheated him, and within a short time he found himself in poverty. Then he remembered his childhood friend.
He took the last coins that were left him, to help him on his way, and he journeyed three hundred miles to the city where his friend lived. He saw that the house of his friend was two stories high, the doors were of black mahogany, the walls were of whitest marble brought from far-distant lands. He entered into the house. The walls were covered with beautiful paintings in golden frames; soft rugs covered the floors, and all manner of costly treasures stood in every room.
The master of the house came running to meet his childhood friend. He fell on his neck for joy, and hugged him to himself, and received him in every way as though he were a brother. "And tell me, how does it go with you?" he said.
Then the traveller answered, "I will tell you the truth. Even the clothes that you see on me, poor as they are, do not belong to me. I am in greatest need."
The rich man called his steward. "Make an account of all my possessions," he said.
When the steward brought him the account, the rich man said, "Divide it into two parts."
Then he gave half of all he possessed to his friend, and kept the other half for himself.
The traveller was overjoyed. He blessed his friend many times. And he took his share of the gold, rode back to his own city, and went into business once more.
This time he prospered. He became the wealthiest man in that city, and for many miles around. In order to hold all of his gold, he had built for himself a house three stories high, and it was built like a strong-house, and surrounded by a fence of pointed irons. The strong-house had no windows, and only one door, which was heavily guarded.
Far up in the farthest corner of this house he built a room of iron, and there he sat day and night, surrounded by his account books and his most precious treasures, occupied with his affairs.
"I have known misery and want," he said. "I shall never be poor again." And every week he became more rich, until he was the richest man in all that land, but still he drove himself to become richer, for fear of being poor.
His friend did not fare so well. From the time he divided his fortune, trouble came into his house. He was robbed by those whom he trusted, he did not have enough gold to meet his undertakings, and soon his house was taken from him, and he became even poorer than the other had been.
For many weeks he suffered starvation. Then he bethought himself of his friend. Joy came over him. "I will go to him!" he said.
He wrote a letter to his friend, saying that he was on his way. "I must come on foot," he said. And he thought, "Surely he will come out on the road to meet me." And he started on foot on the way, begging his food as he went.
Every step of the way he walked with joyous expectation, for at each turning of the road he thought he would find his friend come in a carriage to meet him. But day by day went by, and his journey was almost ended, and still he was not met by his friend.
He thought, "Perhaps he started on another road to find me, and not meeting me returned to his house, where he awaits me."
At last he came to the city, and came before the house of the rich man. He stood before it, and saw how strongly it was built, and saw the iron wall around it. He went to the gate and knocked. The door was not opened to him. But a guard looked through the hole, and saw him, and said, "No beggars are allowed to come into this place."
But the traveller said, "Your master is waiting for me. I am his boyhood friend. Tell him I have come." The gate-keeper laughed.
However, the ragged traveller hammered so long at the gate, and was so insistent in his plea, that the keeper at last went up to his master, in the iron room in the farthest corner of the house, and said:
"There is a poor beggar at the gate who says he is your boyhood friend. He will not go away, but wishes to speak to you."
Then the rich man thought, "If I allow him to come in to me, and speak with him, my heart will become softened, and I will give him money. Perhaps I will even divide my possessions with him. Then I will fall into poverty once more. For see what has happened to him, who was foolish enough to give away half of his possessions! He has become a beggar! Have I not had enough of poverty in my life? No, I will not risk it!"
And he said to the keeper, "Send him away."
The keeper went to the gate and said to the man, "My master does not know you."
The generous friend cried, "But you do not understand! He does not understand! Tell him it is his brother—!"
All day he cried outside the gate.
He was weak from the long journey, and from hunger, and his heart was broken. He saw that he was about to die.
"I will not die here under his gate," he said. "It will bring dishonour upon him to have a beggar die under his gate." He summoned his last strength, and dragged himself away. Not far from the house of his friend, he fell in the street and died.
A few months passed. The rich man became sick, and also died.
The souls of the two men came together before the Almighty and stood to be judged.
The generous friend was given leave to come into heaven. But the share of the other was hell.
Then the generous friend cried, "I cannot go into heaven without him, for we vowed eternal brotherhood. Let me rather go down to hell with my friend, than remain in heaven alone."
The Almighty said, "Hell is the lot of one, and heaven is the lot of the other. But you, who are doomed to enter heaven, if you do not agree with this judgement, then be yourself the judge, and say what should be done with your two souls."
The generous soul said, "It is not right to condemn my friend only because I died in poverty. Surely there was some mistake when he refused to admit me into his house, perhaps his servant did not make him understand that a beggar asked bread of him. Almighty God, send both our souls back to earth. Let me be born in poverty, and grow up to be a beggar. And let him again be the wealthy man. Let me come to him, and beg for bread."
So it was ordained.
They were born again, one poor, one rich, and they lived in far separate places. And when the poor boy was grown, he was a beggar on the roads.
Once he came to a great city. He came before a costly house. And he thought, "I will go into that house, and ask to see the master, and beg bread of him."
As he went up to the door, a pedlar passed on the street. "Beggar," the pedlar laughed, "spare yourself the trouble of knocking on that door. Everyone knows
that the master of that house has never given away so much as a crumb of bread to a bird."
Yet the beggar knocked.
He came into a great empty room. He saw the master of the house standing in the middle of the room. He went up to him and said, "I am starving. Give me a crust of bread."
The man looked at the beggar, and laughed out loud. "Every child in the street knows that I never give alms," he said. "You are foolish to come here to beg."
But the wanderer, though he did not know who he was himself, or who the rich man was, began to beg with all the passion of his soul, as though his life, here and hereafter, depended on a crust of bread from the hand of this rich man, and from no other.
He fell on his knees, and his eyes were wild as with fever. "Do not send me from you empty-handed!" he cried. "Do not let me starve!"
The rich man became angry. He shouted at the beggar, "Go away!" But the beggar would not go. Then the rich man seized him by his shoulders and lifted him to his feet. Their faces came close to each other, and for an instant they saw into each other's eyes.
"Give!" cried the beggar, with his last breath. The rich man slapped his hand across the beggar's mouth.
The beggar was already weakened by hunger, and strained by the wild passion that had taken possession of him. The cord of his life was ragged, and hung on a single thread. And the blow snapped that thread in two. The beggar fell down lifeless.
The Baal Shem Tov stopped talking, for he had finished telling the story.
Then he looked at his visitor and said, "And have you still nothing to ask of me?"
The wealthy man could hardly breathe. "I am that wealthy man!" he gasped. "Rabbi, what shall I do?"
"Take all that you possess," said Rabbi Israel, "and sell it for gold. Take all the gold with you, and go along the road. Whenever you meet a poor man, or a needy one, say to yourself that he is of your dead friend's family. Give away all the gold that you possess to the great family of poor people that your friend has left in this world, and when you have given away all that you possess, beg, and give what is given you to those more needy than yourself. Give, and love those to whom you are giving."
The rich man listened to the words of Rabbi Israel. Then he went out, and left his carriage, and began walking along the road.