The Maharal’s Engagement
A large dowry is lost , but the Maharal did not despair
When the Maharal, Rav Yehudah Loew, was just 15 years old, he became engaged to Perela, the daughter of Reb Shmelke Reich of Worms, Germany. Reb Shmelke was very wealthy, and promised his future son-in-law a large dowry. Due to the young age of the chasan and kallah, the wedding would not take place for several years. In the interim, the chasan went to learn in the yeshivah of Premislau. Soon after the engagement, Reb Shmelke lost all his money. He had no way to feed his family, let alone provide the Maharal with the promised dowry.
When the Maharal turned 18, Reb Shmelke sent him a letter in which he wrote that since one is obligated to marry at 18, and he could not give him the promised dowry, he and his wife and daughter grant him full permission to break the engagement. The Maharal replied that he did not want to renege on his promise to the kallah. However, he could not get married without the dowry, but he instructed Reb Shmelke that if Perela did indeed find a different shidduch, she should go ahead with it, and only then would he be free to pursue other shidduchim as well. The financial situation in the Reich household worsened. Perela decided to open a small bakery shop to help support her family. Many years passed. The Maharal, who was called “Reb Leib the Bachur,” remained single and continued to thrive in Torah learning.
One day, ten years after the engagement was put on hold, a soldier entered Perela’s bakery and with his spear pierced a loaf of bread and took it. Perela ran after him in tears. She begged him not to steal the bread because she needed the money to support her destitute parents. The soldier answered that he was extremely hungry but had no money to pay for the bread. The only thing he could offer her was one of the two saddle cushions he was sitting on. The soldier threw the saddle cushion into the shop and galloped away.
Perela returned to the store and picked up the cushion. She gasped when she saw that it had burst open, revealing a large stash of gold coins hidden inside. She went back outside to look for the soldier, but he was already gone. She ran home to inform her parents. Immediately, Reb Shmelke sent a letter to the Maharal informing him that the wedding could take place at last because he finally had the money for the dowry. Reb Yitzchok Katz, the Maharal’s son-in-law, explained that because of this story, whenever people asked the Maharal to join a beis din to break up a shidduch for financial reasons, he always resisted. Instead, he would try to convince both sides that the shidduch should not be broken. If he was unable to persuade them to proceed with the shidduch, he would send them to a different beis din for a psak.