He was a poor Jew of Vilna, who died in May 1865. For thirty years he begged in the streets, a little wooden bowl in his hand. Everybody in the town was familiar with his cry: “Remember the poor, the widows, and the orphans!” During that time, Slizgol collected 90,000 rubles; but he never kept a single kopek for himself. He took care of the sick, whom he tended with his own hands; he paid for the schooling for destitute children; he divided the food given him among the needy. His nights were spent in making snuff, which he sold for his own living; and whatever remained from this modest source of gain, after providing for his wants, he gave to the poor. He was alone in the world; but, on the day of his funeral, all the shops were shut, and the greater part of the population of the town followed his bier.
(Spiritist Society of Paris, June 15th, 1865)
(Evocation) – A. Very happy, and having reached, at length, through long effort, the height of my ambition, I have been in your midst, since the beginning of the meeting. I thank you for thinking of the poor beggar who will do his best to reply to your questions.
Q. A letter from Vilna has informed us of the leading peculiarities of your life. The sympathy that these have excited in our minds has prompted the desire to converse with you. We thank you for coming at our call, and we shall be interested in learning your position in the spirit-world and the motives that decided the character of your last existence.
A. Let me, first of all, say a word in reference to the surprise that has been expressed – not here, nor by Spiritists, but elsewhere – at the imposing proportions of the manifestation of respect and sympathy that accompanied, to their last resting-place, the mortal remains of the poor beggar whose charity had won for him an appreciation, so unusual, on the part of his fellow-townsmen. I am not saying this for your sake, dear teacher,
nor for you, esteemed medium, nor for you, true and sincere spiritists, but rather, I am speaking to all those who are indifferent to the teaching. There is really nothing in such a fact that should create astonishment. The practice of kindness makes, even on the minds of the most materialistic, and impression that never fails to manifest itself by marks of respect; even those who do wrong in their own persons pay homage to goodness in the person of another.
Let us now direct our response to your questions, since coming from you, do not arise out of curiosity, but rather, are formulated solely for the purpose of general instruction. I now haste to reply, as briefly as may be, to your question concerning the causes that decided the choice of my last existence.
Several centuries ago, I lived on this Earth with the title of King, or, at least, of a Sovereign Prince. Within the limits of my power – narrow in comparison with the States of the present day – I was the absolute master of the lives and fortunes of my subjects. I was their tyrant, or, to speak more correctly, their torturer and their executioner. I was imperious, violent, grasping, and sensual; you may imagine what was the fate of the unhappy people subjected to my sway. I employed my power to oppress the weak, and I imposed taxes on every sort of industry and of labor, on all passions, and on all sorrows, for the pampering of my vices. I carried my greed to the extent of establishing a tax on begging; no starving wretch could hold out his cap to the passers, but I took from him the greater part of the alms that had been thrown to his misery. I did even worse; in order not to lessen the number of beggars among my subjects, I forbade the wretched recipients of charity to give, to their friends or relations, any part of the pittance left to them by my exactions. In a word, I was utterly pitiless for suffering and misery.
I lost, at length, what you call “life,” in horrible torments; my death was a subject of terror for all those who, on a smaller scale, imitated the atrocities of my rule. I remained a wanderer, in the spirit-state, for three centuries and a half; and when, after this lapse of time, I had come to understand that the aim of incarnation is something very different from that which my gross and obtuse senses had caused me to pursue, I obtained – by dint of prayers, resignation, and regrets – the permission to undertake the task of enduring, in a new earthly life, the sufferings I had inflicted on others. I obtained, also, the permission to add, of my own accord, to the moral and physical tortures of the life I had chosen. Thanks to the higher spirits who gave me their help, I persisted in my resolve to suffer with patience and to devote myself to doing good.
Since then, I have been enabled to accomplish another existence, which, through its abnegation and charity, has redeemed the cruelty and injustice of my past. I was born in poverty; left an orphan very early, I learned to shift for myself at an age at which a child is usually supposed to be incapable of acting with discernment. I passed my life alone, without love, without affections; and I had to bear, in my childhood, the brutalities I formerly wreaked upon others. You have been told that I devoted the whole of the money I collected by begging to the relief of my fellow-creatures; such was the case; and I may add, without vanity, that I often imposed on myself very severe privations, in order to increase the amount of good which the charity of the public enabled me to do.
My death was peaceful; for I knew that I should obtain the recompense of my abnegation, and I am rewarded, in truth, beyond my most sanguine aspirations. I am very happy to be able to assure you, from my own experience, that, while it is true that “he who exalts himself shall be abased,” it is equally true that “he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Q. We beg you to tell us the nature of your expiation in the spirit-world, the length of time that elapsed between your death and the period when your fate was modified by the effect of your repentance and of the good resolutions that you had formed, and the cause of the change that took place in your ideas in the spirit-state?
A. You recall to my mind very painful images! How horribly I suffered! But I do not complain; I only remember! You wish to know in what my expiation consisted; listen to the recital of it, in all its horror!
Having been, as I told you, the torturer and the executioner of all around me, I remained for a long, long time attached by my perispirit to my decaying body; and I felt, until its putrefaction was complete, the gnawing of the worms that were devouring it! When, at last, I was delivered from the bonds that had attached me to the instrument of my punishment, I was subjected to another, even more terrible. After the physical suffering I endured, the moral suffering overcame me. This was lengthier than the first. I was brought into the presence of all the victims on whom I had wreaked my cruelty. Periodically, and under the action of a force greater than my own, I found myself face to face with all my evil deeds. I saw, physically and morally, all the sorrows and sufferings that I had caused to be endured. Oh! Friends, how terrible is the constant sight of those whom we have wronged! You have a slight example of this, among yourselves, in the confrontation of the assassin with his victim.
Such is, in short, what I suffered for two centuries and a half; until God, taking pity on my grief and my repentance, and solicited to that end by the guides who assisted me, permitted me to undertake the life of expiation of which I have told you.
Q. Had you any special reason for choosing to be born as a Jew in your last incarnation?
A. I was advised to do so by my guides. The quality of a Jew added another humiliation to my life of expiation, for Jews are generally despised, and, especially, Jewish beggars.
Q. In your last existence, how old were you when you began to put in practice the resolutions you had taken in the spirit-world? How did the thought of doing so arise in your mind? While you were practicing charity in that way, and with so much abnegation, had you any intuition of the cause that had led you to adopt such a life?
A. My parents were intelligent, but very poor and avaricious. While still very young, I was deprived of the affection and caresses of my mother. My grief for her death was all the deeper because I was entirely neglected by my father, who was absorbed in his desire of gain. My brothers and sisters, all older than myself, seemed to be quite unaware of my sufferings. Another Jew, moved rather by selfishness than by charity, took me onto his house and taught me his trade. He recouped himself, largely, from the proceeds of my labor (which often exceeded my strength), for that I cost him. After a time, I threw off this yoke, and worked on my account. But whether I was working or resting, the remembrance of my mother’s caresses followed me everywhere; and the older I grew, the more deeply that remembrance became engraved in my memory, and the more sadly did I miss her care and affection.
Soon, I remained the only one of my name; death carried away every member of my family in the course of a few months. It was then that the way in which I was to pass the rest of my existence began to be revealed to me. Two of my brothers had left orphans. Moved by the remembrance of what I had suffered, I wished to preserve the poor little creatures from a childhood such as mine had been; and, as my labor was not sufficient to keep us all, I began to beg, not for myself, but for them. But I was not to be allowed the consolation of succeeding in my efforts; the poor little things left me forever. I saw clearly what they had lacked; it was their mother. I therefore determined to implore the charity of the public for the unfortunate widows who, unable to maintain themselves and their children, impose upon themselves privations that send them to their grave, leaving poor little orphans who remain abandoned to the same torments that I myself had endured.
I was thirty years of age when, in the prime of strength and health, I began to beg for the widow and the orphan. The beginning of this work was very painful to me, and I had to bear many a humiliating taunt. But when it came to be seen that I really divided among my poor pensioners all that I collected in their name, when it was known that I added to this the surplus of my labor, I acquired a sort of consideration that was not without its charms.
I lived for over sixty years, and never did I fail in the task I had taken upon myself. Nor did any inner consciousness ever led me to suppose that a motive, anterior to the life I was then living, was the mainspring of my action. One day, however, before I began to beg, I heard these words, “Do not, unto others, what you would not that others should do unto you.” I was much struck with the wide moral reach of these words; and I often found myself supplementing them, thus, in my own mind: – “But do unto others, on the contrary, whatever you would that they should do unto you.” Sustained by the remembrance of my mother and of my lonely and neglected childhood, I continued to walk in the path that my conscience told me was the one for me to follow.
I bring this long communication to an end by repeating “Thank you!” I am not yet perfect; but, knowing that evil leads only to evil, I shall again devote myself to doing good, as I have done already, knowing that I shall thus prepare for myself a harvest of happiness. SZYMEL SLIZGOL