R’ Eliezer Lippa was a simple but devout Jew who lived in the town of Taranow in Galicia. He was not well versed and didn’t know the meaning of most of his daily prayers, but he always davened with the minyan and he was scrupulous to say Amen, after every blessing of the Chazzan, and to respond Amen, Yehey Shemi Rabboh in the Kaddish, and to respond to the Borchu. He never conversed about worldly matters in the Shul and he accorded the sages and Rabbi their due honor.
R’ Eliezer Lippa was a laborer who knew many trades, but he is most well know to us as a water carrier. He worked hard, and managed to make a decent living, as he had four steady customers, who were well-to-do merchants and paid him above the average rate for his services.
Once, the Baal ShemTov, before he had revealed himself to he world, arrived in Taranow. For all practical purposes he was as he appeared, a simple itinerant, but with a gift for telling stories. He used to congregate with the other laborers and tell them stories from the Talmud and he also related to them how much Hashem was pleased with the sincere prayers and straightforward faith of ordinary Jews.
One day, R’ Eliezer Lippa was guiding his wagon with its full barrel of water through the center of town when he spotted his friend and fellow water carrier R’ Zalman Dov along with some other men, gathered around a ragged itinerant (the Baal ShemTov) and listening intently with heads inclined to catch his every word.
R’ Eliezer Lippa, his interest sparked, went over to join the circle of listeners. The Baal ShemTov was telling the story of a wealthy man who lived in the days when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem still stood.
“The wealthy man was taking a fattened ox to the Temple for a sacrifice. It was a massive beast, and when it decided, for reasons of its own, to stop still in its tracks, nobody was able to convince it to walk further towards their destination. No amount of pushing and whipping could make that animal budge”
“A poor man, who was on his way home was watching the scene. In his hand was a bunch of freshly pulled up carrots, with the green stalks still attached to the bright orange roots. Wanting to be of help to the hapless ox owner, he held to carrots to the muzzle of the ox and when it began to nibble, he pulled them away and thereby led to animal to their destination at the Holy Temple.”
“That night the owner of the ox had a dream. In his dream he heard a voice which called out, ‘The sacrifice of the poor man, who gave up the carrots which he was bringing to his impoverished family, was a more desirable sacrifice than your fattened ox.'”
“The wealthy man brought a large fattened ox for a burnt offering. He was so joyful at being able to bring such an animal that he also brought a sheep for a peace offering an made a huge feast for him family and friends. He also distributing the proper gifts from his sacrifices to the priests. His joy was so intense that he held back nothing.”
“The poor man on the other hand, in his poverty had only a few carrots to bring home for his family. What were his carrots compared to the fatted animal of the wealthy man?”
“Nevertheless”, said the Baal ShemTov, “Hashem desires the heart. Any Mitzvoh a person may do, whether great or small, simple or difficult, is judged by how it is performed. A Mitzvoh done for Hashem’s sake, with great simchah and purity of heart, is very precious to the Creator. Hashem cries out to the angels, ‘Look at the mitzvoh my son/daughter has done!’ Hashem, from his place in the heavens saw that although the wealthy man had offered much, the poor man had offered much more.”
R’ Eliezer Lippa’s mind knew no rest. How he longed to be able to do a mitzvoh like the poor man in the story; with pure intention and a joyful overflowing heart. The weeks passed and still R’ Eliezer Lippa knew no peace for the desire to be able to do such a mitzvah tortured his heart.
One day, as R’ Eliezer Lippa was delivering water to one of his wealthy customers, he had an idea, an idea so perfect, so that his whole being became flushed with a great sense of pleasure and relief. R’ Eliezer Lippa’s four wealthy customers provided him with half of his livelihood since they paid him far more than the going rate for a barrel of water. On the other hand, his friend R’ Zalman Dov supplied the town’s four shuls which paid him half price for their water. “I can switch four of my customers for four of his”, thought R’ Eliezer Lippa. “Four wealthy homes for four synagogues.” He was anxious to serve Hashem by providing the water for that the congregants would wash their hands with. Certainly the mitzvoh was of more value than the profits he would give up.
He went home and told his wife about the story of the Baal ShemTov, and how doing a mitzvoh with joy is like bringing a sacrifice in the Holy Temple even though it no longer stands. His wife readily agreed to the idea, as did R’ Zalman Dov who sorely nethe extra income. The deal was stuck and the transfer of customers was made. No one but R’ Eliezer Lippa and his wife knew what had happened and they were overjoyed at the prospects for their new “business”. There were days when even R’ Eliezer Lippa’s wife went to the river to participate in the mitzvoh of “drawing the water for the synagogues”.
The whole while they would concentrate on the mitzvoh of preparing the water for the congregants to wash their hands with before prayers, and their joy was boundless. For they understood that Hashem desires the heart.
According to some, the story continues. In the merit of the mitzvoh which R’ Eliezer Lippa and his wife performed, they were blessed with children, for she had formerly been barren. Those children grew to be luminaries who lit up the Jewish world and inspired tens of thousand to return to Hashem in Teshuva and to serve Him with joy.
Those two sons were R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk and R’ Zusia of Anipoli, two of the principal students of the Baal Shem Tov’s successor, the Maggid of Mezeritch.