The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
Often when he had to ride to a distant village Rabbi Israel would stay overnight at the house of the tavern-keeper, whose child he had saved from the evil eye of the paritz. Usually Rabbi Israel journeyed in his own little wagon; but it sometimes happened that he rode upon the stage-coach. The driver was named Chayim, and Chayim was fond of a drink. Just before the tavern there was a very steep hill. When a wagon had to go up that hill, the horses sweated and the drivers swore and lashed their whips, and often those who sat in the wagon had to get out and help the horses drag it up the hill. But Chayim was like no other driver on the road. Chayim made his horses run up the hill, one two.
Only, before he performed this feat, Chayim needed a drink. Every time he came to the hill he stopped his horses, took a bottle out of his pocket, and swallowed a good drink for himself. Then he said to those who were in the wagon, "You had better do the same!" and he offered them the bottle. And Rabbi Israel would drink with him, for when men drink together they are friendly to each other and their joy is purest worship.
When the horses reached the top of the hill, Chayim needed another drink, and for this he would go into the tavern.
So every day Chayim drank in that tavern, and every day he owed the tavern-keeper more money.
"Some day I'll pay you!" he swore, "even if I have to pawn my soul!"
'We live only once!" Chayim would say. "Here's life!" And who could deny him?
Once when he was very joyous it happened that Chayim fell off his wagon and broke his neck and died.
Then all the Jews in that region were sorrowful; for there had never been so fine a driver as Chayim on the road. But the tavern-keeper was more sorrowful than any of the others, for Chayim owed him a great deal of money.
A few years later Rabbi Israel passed that way, and stopped with his old friend the tavern-keeper. Rabbi Israel came in his own wagon, and as was his custom, himself took care of his horse. At night he went out to the stable to feed his horse, and while he was in the barn he looked around him to see how many beasts the tavern-keeper had in his barn this year, whether fewer or more than before. And he saw that the tavern-keeper was prospering. He looked at one horse after another, he patted their flanks, and rubbed them with his palms. Then, as he understood the language of birds and beasts, he talked with them for a moment.
As he went along the stalls, he saw one little horse that was trying to come near him, pulling at his halter, and tossing his head up and down, and calling to the Rabbi.
Rabbi Israel went up to him, and passed his hand along the nose of the horse. Then he listened to the horse.
Afterwards he went and got oats out of his own sack, and gave them to the horse. And he got a pail of fresh water for the animal. Then he went into the tavern, but quickly returned to the barn. And this time he poured a little whisky from a bottle into the horse's pail.
When the Rabbi was back in the tavern he said to the landlord, "Do you know what, sell me that little horse you have in your barn, the one that is smaller than all the others."
The tavern-keeper answered, "Master, you know that I would gladly give you anything I possess. Take one of the other horses. Take two of the other horses. They are fine horses, and worth more than the small one."
"But it is just that little horse that I would like to have," said the Baal Shem Tov. "I have taken a fancy to him. Tell me, why would you rather give me two better horses, than sell me this one."
"It is only because of the hill," said the tavern-keeper. "You know the steep hill there in front of the house? He is the only horse that can pull a wagon up that hill all by himself. When he comes to that hill, lit he pulls like three horses instead of one."
Rabbi Israel softly laughed. And he said no more about the matter.
But an hour afterwards, he said to the tavern keeper, "Tell me, are you prospering here?"
"With God's help," said the man.
"Do many people owe you money?"
"Well here and again they owe me money. When they can, they pay."
"Let me see the papers you have from those who owe you money," said the Baal Shem Tov.
The tavern-keeper did not understand what he could want with such things; nevertheless he went and brought the papers. The Baal Shem Tov looked at them one after another.
At last he said, "Will you give one of those debts over to me?"
"Take whichever one of them you choose," said the landlord.
Then Rabbi Israel took one of the papers from the bundle, and returned the others to the inn-keeper. The inn-keeper looked at the name on the paper the Rabbi had chosen, and he laughed out loud. "What do you want with this one!" he said. "Can't you see it is the debt of Chayim the coach-driver? He has been dead for three years, Rabbi! You'll never get any money out of him!"
"Nevertheless, I want you to give his debt over to me," said the Rabbi.
The tavern-keeper handed him the piece of paper. The Baal Shem Tov took it and tore it to bits and threw it into the fire.
"Go and look to your little horse in the stable," said the Baal Shem Tov to the tavern-keeper.
The man scratched his head, because he could not understand what was happening. But he took a lantern, and he went to the stable and looked for his little horse, the one that pulled up the hill like three horses pulling together,
The little horse lay dead.
Rabbi Israel said to the tavern-keeper: "Do you remember, now, that Chayim swore he would pay his
debt to you? When he died, his soul could not come into heaven until he had paid his debt. So his soul entered into the horse, and in order to work out his debt he laboured like three horses together. Tonight he begged me to help him. He spoke to me, and I saw that it was time for his soul to be released."
The tavern-keeper marvelled more than ever at the wisdom of Rabbi Israel.