In a village in the province of Volhyn, there lived a miller with his wife. He was a very honest man and gave alms generously. His wife assisted him in this pursuit. While they were still young people, they had no children. Ten years after the wedding they continued to be childless, so the miller considered leaving his wife. At that time, a husband could divorce his wife if she bore him no children. But he loved her and didn't want to leave her. So they went to consult their Hasidic rebbe. In those days, one traveled with a wagon and ox, so it took 48 hours to reach the rebbe. The wife prepared many good things on the way. As they went, they spoke about how with God's help the rebbe would give them his blessing and how they would afterward, God willing, have a boy. They both understood that whatever the rebbe tells them to do they will do exactly. The coachman stopped at two taverns to devour some provisions. And the miller told everyone how God would help them conceive a child, and once they had their child, they would be recognized for who they truly were. They reached the rebbe's house at dawn on Thursday. The couple were not well off, but were devout, and for this reason welcomed guests in the rebbe's home. They spent a day with members of the rebbe's household. And as Friday came early the next morning after a night of celebration, the miller and his wife were escorted by the rebbe's assistant into the cheder. The rebbe, an extraordinarily handsome man with a clever face and honorable demeanor, asked his guests to sit down and give their request. They told him the truth of the matter, that ten years had passed since their wedding and they still had no children. The rebbe smiled heartily and asked the man how he made his living. The miller replied that he labored hard and earned his livelihood respectably, that his wife was good to him, and that they didn't want a divorce. The rebbe smiled and answered "divorce! Why should you have to divorce? You will have a child this year by the will of God. Above all, take a rest, don't work so hard, celebrate the sabbath with me." Then the rebbe gave the assistant an order. The rebbe's wife should befriend the young wife and the young man prepare himself in the bathhouse. Thus, the sabbath was a very special one. The couple were truly in heaven. And on Sunday morning, before they bid farewell to the rebbe, the young man asked him for some last advice. "Rebbe, a small serpent has made its way into the outer room of my house. It bothers no one, but my wife and I fear it at times." The rebbe consoled him, "don't be afraid of the serpent. It is very possible that this is your luck. But beware of it." Joyfully they said goodbye to the rebbe. They came home at peace, and the miracle was done. Within a year they had a child. And the child brought them incredible success. The mill improved. Many gentiles came from the surrounding villages to purchase grain, resources were plentiful. And the child grew, and the serpent grew as well. And truly a wonder, the child and the serpent became friends. It would wind its way around the child, he would laugh with joy, and the parents were no longer concerned. But once it happened that the child stepped on the serpent, and in a fury, it quickly turned and bit him. The child soon died. When the miller witnessed this misfortune and his wife fainted from grief, he chopped of the serpent's tail with an ax and it disappeared from the house. They held a funeral for the child, and the miller and his wife were left hapless once more. Business went poorly, so the miller recalled the rebbe's advice, to beware of the serpent. Incredibly distraught, he went again to see the rebbe, this time at once, without his wife. He arrived there a miserable man and told of the misfortune that had befallen his child. The rebbe attentively heard him out and gave him some more advice. "First, forget the child, he must be forgotten. You are worthy, you will have another child. But your situation must improve, that is to say, the serpent, I told you, was your luck and you didn't need to chop off its tail. But it's lost. Still, there is something that can be done. You must go into the forest," the rebbe said, "you need to find the serpent and take him back to your home." Then the miller asked, "holy rebbe, where can I find the serpent?" The rebbe answered him, "you will find it quickly. It has no tail after all, you will notice it. Go search in the forest." The miller traveled at once to the forest. He went into the thicket, searched and rummaged and quickly gave up the thought of ever finding the serpent. Then suddenly, he noticed it in a hole, lying ashamed and lonesome. The miller ran up to it with delight and bent over with humility, then, using words one uses to speak to a serpent, he implored it to come home. He shared his anxiety and bitterness, that his livelihood was completely lost, that he needed the serpent to return. "Come to me, come, I will forgive you! I beg you!" All the same the serpent let him plead for a long time. But in the end, it gave in and consented. It began to turn back on its belly and the miller, overjoyed, left with the serpent by his side. Halfway through their journey the serpent stopped and said to the miller, "no, my friend, I can't go with you. I can't see your suffering, since you said yourself that I am your luck. And if I return to your home this luck will shine, as your life improves you will in no time remember the child you lost. I will never forget my tail. You have injured me permanently. It's better that you go your own way, alone, we will both be better for it." And before the miller could answer, the serpent was already on the way back to its den.
Copyright Nicholas Heskes 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016