I n a small village between Kitov and Kossov lived a Jewish family who, despite their poverty, were a happy, contented lot.

Although they sufficed with very little — subsisting on bread and root vegetables, and fish and meat only on Shabbos and Yom Tov, they were instilled with simple emunah by their father, Zanvil Stein. Zanvil was not particularly learned, but whatever he had learned from his parents — also simple villagers — he conveyed to his children: some passages of tefillah, parshas hashavua, a bit of halachah relating to the yearly cycle, and pure faith in the Creator and His servants, the tzaddikim of the generation.

Zanvil eked out a living by managing a small tavern. He spent most of his time and energy involved in drinks and those who imbibed them. Each morning, he thanked Hashem for granting him the day before, which had ended in health and peace and enough money to sustain his family and purchase more drinks to continue maintaining his business.

Because money was so tight, every purchase for Zanvil, from a sack of potatoes to a few kilos of grain, became a series of endless calculations — was it absolutely necessary? And if so, where could he buy it for less money? It wasn’t stinginess on Zanvil’s part, but rather an effort to stretch every kopeck to be able to provide for his family.

There was only one thing that Zanvil absolutely refused to scrimp and quibble over: the wages of the melamed to whose home his oldest son Zechariah walked every morning. Zanvil well remembered his own childhood, and how his father had done the same for him. He had paid the melamed his wages on time, even when he had to borrow money to do so, or scrimp on his own food. Although the village melamed was not one of the geonim of the generation, and any Jewish bochur from the big city could probably outdo him in Mishnah and halachah, it was enough that he filled the children’s heads with yiras Shamayim and emunah and a bit of Torah as well. The main thing was that they would grow up to be good Jews and remember that there was a barrier between them and the gentiles of the land, and that that barrier was infinitely high, reaching up to the World to Come.

YET ALL TOO SOON, those days of tranquility came to an end. In the neighboring village, a young gentile had opened a sophisticated whiskey distillery and undercut his competition. While the farmers guzzled their drinks at Zanvil the Jew’s tavern, those longtime clients heard about the new watering hole, and soon they were gone. No one expressed any gratitude for the fine way Zanvil treated them over the years, nor did they remember the sales on credit, or even the reluctant erasure of debts. They all ran to the new tavern and left Zanvil’s till empty and bereft.

The hapless Jew could not withstand the mountain of debts that suddenly piled up in the empty tavern. He tried to find other sources of income, but nothing succeeded. After two years of this struggle, he fell ill with grief — and never recovered. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 674)