The Joy Of Fulfilling A Mitzva
The Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer), one of the great gaonim in his generation, always preached and practiced charity and kindness towards his fellow man. His door was always open to the poor and the needy for help and advice.
Once, on a cold wintry day, in the city of Pressburg, the Chasam Sofer was studying the Talmud with his two sons when he heard an urgent knock on the door.
“It must be a poor man seeking alms,” he remarked to his children as he opened the door. Imagine his surprise when he saw the leading member of his congregation standing at his door, looking like a beggar.
“Do not be surprised at my appearance, Rabbi,” he said. “I am in great trouble, and I need your help. I would like to talk to you privately.”
Motioning to the man to enter, the Chasam Sofer told his children to leave the room while he made the merchant comfortable. “What happened to you? Why are you looking so sad?” he asked him.
“A terrible misfortune has happened to me,” he said in a crying tone. “I was a very wealthy man, and as you know I became a banker. But through a series of misfortunes, I lost all of my money and now I am penniless. I have practically become a beggar.”
“Do not lose faith in G-d,” answered the Chasam Sofer, while pity welled up in his heart. “You still have your good name; people will remember all the charity you have given, and they will surely give you a helping hand. G-d may have taken your money only temporarily to test you.”
“It isn’t my money, which I am worried about,” cried the banker, “but about the money of others, the widows and orphans who trusted me. It is also gone. I will have to sit in the debtor’s prison.”
“No! No!” cried the Chasam Sofer, “it will never happen that the most charitable man in the community, its leader and banker, will sit in prison.”
Loans Him Money
The Chasam Sofer began to think of ways and means to help this unfortunate man. Suddenly, his face brightened. He approached his closet and removed a small bag of coins, which he had been saving for a dowry for his daughter.
“In this bag are 100 gold coins,” said the Chasam Sofer. “I am giving this to you as a loan. Now go immediately to the city of Leipzig, and the first piece of merchandise you see, purchase it with these gold coins. And may the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob be with you and make you prosper.”
But the banker was reluctant to accept the money. He knew that the Chasam Sofer was not a rich man, and it must have taken him a long time to accumulate this money. “Rabbi,” he said, “I cannot take this money for I cannot promise to return it to you, and if I lose this money too, then I will also cause you grief.”
“The help of G-d comes momentarily,” replied the Chasam Sofer. “Do you think I would give you this money if I was not certain that G-d will see to it that you make good and will return it to me very soon? You must never lose faith and trust in G-d. Remember, go to Leipzig, and the first merchandise you see be sure to purchase.”
After much urging, the man took the money. “How can I ever thank you, Rabbi, for all the good and kindness you are showing me?” he asked.
“In the Name of G-d, you have nothing to thank me for,” answered the Rabbi. Remember that there is also a law prohibiting too much appreciative talk because it is compared to interest. So depart immediately, and may G-d bless you.”
Meets An Old Friend
The following morning the merchant banker traveled to Leipzig and entered the trading market. He wandered around until he suddenly heard a voice call him. It was a merchant friend whom he had not seen for many years.
“It must be a stroke of luck that made me meet you here,” the friend said. “Only today a boatload of coffee arrived for me, and I haven’t the time to take care of it to sell to the local merchants. I have a big deal pending out of town. Will you take care of it for me? You can pay me in three months. Only give me 100 coins as a binder. I know you for many years, and I trust you. I’ll sell it to you for the amount it cost me as long as I don’t lose anything on the transaction.”
The banker remembered the admonition of the Chasam Sofer to enter into the first business deal he saw, so he agreed. He signed the necessary papers and gave him the deposit.
The blessing of the Chasam Sofer came true. Within a week he sold all the coffee at a tremendous profit that helped him recoup all of his former losses. Before he returned to his town of Pressburg, he purchased a beautiful incense (besamim) box, as a gift of appreciation for his Rabbi, the Chasam Sofer.
A Gift For The Rabbi
Returning home he immediately visited the Chasam Sofer, returned the 100 gold coins to him together with the beautiful box, and expressed his gratitude for the aid he received from the rabbi.
The Chasam Sofer looked the box over carefully and exclaimed, “What a beautiful box! Never have I seen anything as beautiful as this!”
The merchant was glad that the Rabbi enjoyed his gift, and he beamed in happiness.
The Chasam Sofer called in his two children and said, “Have you ever seen anything as beautiful as this box? Our friend here is giving it to me as a gift for a small loan, which I had given him.”
The children were amazed. It could not happen that their father, the holy rabbi of the city, was now accepting a bribe from a person. For surely it was considered similar to interest, which is prohibited by the Torah. But they respected their father, so they remained silent.
Turning to the merchant, the Chasam Sofer said, “True, the besamim box is the most beautiful piece of workmanship I have ever seen, but I cannot accept it. It would be compared to accepting interest on my loan, which our Torah strictly forbids. If you would have given me this box before I gave you the loan I would have gladly accepted it from you.”
The merchant realized he had done something wrong by nearly causing the holy rabbi to commit a sin, so he was crestfallen as he took the box and departed.
The two children could not contain themselves any longer. “O, honorable father,” they said, “will you please explain your behavior? At first you were overjoyed at seeing this gift and then you returned it. Why were you so joyful in the beginning if it was prohibited?”
The Story Of His Rabbi
“Let me tell you a similar story which occurred to my sainted rabbi, the Gaon, Rabbi Nathan Adler.” The Chasam Sofer said, “Once he had to travel out of town on a matter of importance. It was during the winter months, and the highways were covered with snow. He took me along with him as a companion, for I was one of his best pupils.
“Suddenly, in the middle of the road, the coach became stuck in a deep rut. Try as he would the driver could not move the wagon. He then decided to walk over to the nearest farm and borrow a pair of extra horses to pull the wagon out of the rut. Thirty minutes later I suddenly noticed my sainted rabbi jump out of the wagon and begin to dance with joy.
“‘Rabbi, why are you dancing?’ I asked in wonder at his strange behavior.
“‘Don’t you see what is happening?’ he joyfully pointed a finger towards the driver who was now approaching with two oxen to harness to the wagon.
“But before the driver could harness the oxen to the wagon, the rabbi advised him that it was prohibited according to the Torah to harness two differ-ent types of animals – a horse with an ox. The driver had to return to the farm and borrow two horses instead.
“‘Tell me, Rabbi,’ I also asked my master. ‘Why were you dancing with joy when you saw the driver about to commit a sin?’
“‘Don’t you realize this is the only time in my life I was able to fulfill the mitzva of the kilai behaimos (mixing of animals) and I shouldn’t be happy?’ he answered. ‘All my life I am enclosed in the beth hamidrash and I never will have such an opportunity to observe this mitzva. The reward for observing these mitzvos is immeasurable. Therefore I rejoice.’”
The Chasam Sofer concluded: “These words from my sainted Rabbi, which I had heard over 40 years ago, became ingrained in my memory. I often wondered when will I have the zechus (the merit) to observe the mitzva of ribbis (of not accepting interest). For who would dare offer a rabbi interest? But now G-d gave me the opportunity of proving it and I came through with flying colors. Shouldn’t I, too dance with joy?”
So highly did our gaonim value a mitzva that they danced with joy for being given the opportunity to fulfill it.
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Page last updated - 06/16/2006