During the time of the Baal Shem Tov, there was a certain town in which an edict was enacted to expel all the Jews. The people of the town came to the Baal Shem Tov and asked that he pray of their behalf.
Instead of praying, the Baal Shem Tov told them: “In your town there is an individual by the name of Yaakov the son of Baruch. Tell him in my name that he should go to the count to protest the decree.”
The emissaries returned to the town, and after an extensive search they did locate an old man who lived on the outskirts of the city by the name of Yaakov the son of Baruch. They told him, that he must travel to visit this count on the Baal Shem Tov’s behest and that doing so would nullify the terrible decree that hung over them.
Yaakov ben Baruch did not tarry. He immediately set off to visit this count, although he only spoke a broken Polish. When he arrived at the meeting with the count, the count stared at him for a long time and then instructed his assistant to take the man out of the palace and to execute him by pouring molten lead down his throat. However, the count declared that if he converts and abandons his Jewish faith, his life will be spared.
Yaakov adamantly refused to convert and announced categorically that he was prepared to die rather than abandon his G-d. When they opened his mouth to pour in the lead, Yaakov prepared himself to meet his maker and cried out the “Shema” with intense concentration. However, instead of feeling the lead on his throat, he instead discerned the sweet taste of honey.
Afterwards, when they brought Yaakov back to the count, the count asked him: “Do you recognize me?” When Yaakov answered in the negative, the count related the following episode from his life:
“When I was a child, I was abandoned and left starving on the streets like a dog. This old man had mercy on me though. He brought me into his home, gave me a bath, food and drink, and a place to sleep. During that time when I hung around his home, I heard the way that he taught children that the greatest delight is to sanctify G-d’s name through martyrdom. Now, I very much wanted to repay him for the kindness that he did to me. I knew that it would be infinitely greater to let him have this reward than to give him money.”
Obviously, the count gladly annulled the decree as well, in appreciation for the kindness that this man had shown him.
The lesson is twofold: All physical rewards do not amount to a spiritual one, and a small kindness done for a person from the goodness of one’s heart can have tremendous effects at some later time. No good deed is ever forgotten or goes unrewarded.