Once there was a wealthy man, named Yankel, who fell upon hard times. Slowly his lot grew worse and worse. Finally he was forced to borrow two thousand rubles, all he could manage, just to keep his remaining belongings from being repossessed by his creditors. Not knowing what he could do next, he went to see his Rebbi for advice. The Rebbi greeted him warmly, and informed him that he must immediately donate two thousand rubles to a particular local charity. Now, Yankel had implicit faith in the Rebbi, so he gave him the two thousand rubles, that he had just borrowed. The Rebbi took the money, and immediately ushered Yankel to the door with thanks, and sent him away.
The next day, Yankel's creditors came and dispossessed him of all his worldly goods. That evening, he went back to the Rebbi, and demanded to know what was going on; how it was that he could ask for Yankel's last two thousand rubles, and then send him away without a word of explanation. Surely the Rebbi knew of Yankel's own unfortunate predicament, and of his own great personal need for those borrowed rubles.
The Rebbi invited Yankel to sit down. Then pouring two glasses of schnapps, he said "I'll tell you a tale; I'll teach you a parable. And I hope you will listen with both ears, so you can understand my meaning on more levels than one. Like the good life, my story is about much more than money and the commerce of earthly possessions."
"Once there were two partners, who each year would scrape together all their money, a substantial sum, and travel to a trade fair in a distant city. There they would buy merchandise, and take it back to sell in their own district. One year, on the way to the fair, they happened to pass through a spectacular flowering meadow. "Let us stop here, and postpone our journey for a time, to praise the Holy One and His beautiful creation," one partner said. "Such a reminder is always well-taken, in any of the four worlds," his companion replied. "How simple it is to find the Divine Presence in the midst of great beauty, and how seldom it is that we remember to stop and take notice." And with that, the two partners set down their loads in the grass beside the road.
In a short time, the partners had both fallen asleep, and it was late afternoon before they awakened. They hurriedly resumed their journey, and arrived just at sunset in the city of the trade fair. The next morning they began to purchase their goods, but found that their money had been lost or stolen. They could do nothing but journey back to their homes ruined, with little hope for their future.
Then, as they passed the meadow where they had rested before, they were again struck by its particular beauty, and decided to stop and rest a while, before continuing their long journey home. After sleeping for a short time under a tree, the first partner suddenly awoke to find their lost moneybag, laying in the tall grass beside his head. He woke the other partner, and joyfully showed him their lost money. Then he unexpectedly proceeded to empty out half the money, and put it into his pocket. The rest he tossed in the bag to his partner, saying "I wish you well, my friend. Our partnership hereby is dissolved. I have nothing more to do with you or your affairs." And with that, he got up, and set off down the road.
This first partner's fortune grew worse and worse. In a short while, his half of the money was gone, and he was soon reduced to sleeping under bridges, and begging for food. The second partner, however, took his share back to the trade fair, and returned home with a load of valuable goods. With each succeeding year, he grew more and more wealthy. Then one day, the first partner came begging, in his rags, to the door of the now-very-wealthy second partner.
It had become the beggar's custom to never look up, but to always keep his eyes fixed on his feet, from the shame he felt for his poverty. For this reason, he didn't see the face of his old friend, from whom he was now begging. The wealthy man, however, recognized his old partner at once. He handed him a ruble, and said nothing but "If you come back tomorrow, I'll give you ten more." That night, the incredulous beggar conferred with his fellow beggars, under the bridge, and was advised to return the next day, to see what the wealthy man would do.
So the next day he returned, and was given the ten rubles, as he had been promised. As the beggar had still not looked up to recognize his old partner, the wealthy man said to him "Come back tomorrow, and observe the Sabbath with me. I promise you will be well fed." That night, as he slept under the bridge, the other beggars went through his pockets and stole the ten rubles the rich man had given him, along with some small change that had already been his own. So all the next day, the poor beggar had nothing to eat. "But at least," he thought to himself, "I will be well fed tonight."
So when afternoon came, the hungry beggar went to the bath house, to wash and prepare for the Sabbath. While he was in the water, his clothes, rags that they were, were stolen; and he was forced to beg the bathhouse keeper for something to wear. "Isn't it enough that I should allow you to bathe for nothing?" the proprietor shouted. "Now you come begging to me for clothes, as well. Out with you!"
So now, with no clothes, the beggar could not possibly go to the rich man's home for the Sabbath, as he had intended. Seeing no other possibility open to him, he crept away to the cemetery to hide, until he could think of what to do next.
Meanwhile, the wealthy partner became worried that his guest had not appeared, and he sent his servants out to look for him. Searching everywhere, but not finding him, they were at last returning home. Then, as they were passing by the cemetery, they heard singing; and going in, were surprised to find the beggar they were seeking. He was stark naked, dancing and singing among the tombstones.
Surprisingly, the naked beggar greeted the rich man's servants civilly and sanely, so together with this strange fellow, they returned to their master's home. There the man of great wealth revealed himself to his old partner, and had new clothes brought out for him. He had his accountant draw up half of his vast belongings, and he signed them over to the amazed beggar. "Now," he said, as he poured them each a glass of schnapps, "you owe me two explanations. One for why you so suddenly broke off with me that day, when you found our lost money in the meadow; and one for why my servants found you singing and dancing naked, in the cemetery today."
"I had a dream, while I was sleeping in the meadow, just before I woke to find our money," the beggar replied. "In the dream, I saw myself discovering our lost money, laying there in the grass beside my head. And in my dream I saw that, at that very moment, my fortune was at the top of the great wheel. I knew that from there, I could go no way but down. It is written that each person is responsible for their partner's debts and liabilities; so not wishing to drag you and your fortune down with me, I had no choice but to dissolve our partnership. And then today, as I was sitting naked in the cemetery, with all my possessions, even my last thread, stolen, I realized that my fortune had surely reached the bottom of the wheel, from whence it could go no way but up again. When I realized that, I could not restrain myself from singing and dancing."
"And so Yankel," the Rebbi continued, when he had finished telling the story. "When you came here yesterday, I could see that you were on the downhill side of fortune's wheel, nearing the bottom. Those two thousand rubles, that you had borrowed to preserve your last belongings, would only have slowed the wheel, staved off your descent, and prolonged your misfortune. Without that money, you have already hit bottom; and beginning today, your fortunes are on the upswing. May it be a long and happy climb for you. And may it be soon, that you finally learn to lift your fortune free of the wheel, to follow the higher purpose of your own soul."