A Taste Of The Cold
The Gaon, Elijah Chaim Maizel, chief rabbi of Lodz, was always in the forefront when it came to charitable affairs. He would personally visit the homes of the wealthy people in his town and collect a large sum of money for the poor.
Once, during a very severe cold winter, the community needed additional money to purchase wood for the poor families in town. Many families were practically without heat and were dangerously sick because of the lack of funds. Rabbi Elijah Chaim undertook to personally visit the homes of the rich people in the town.
The first house he chose was the wealthiest person in the town, Kalman Puznanski. When the rabbi knocked on the door, the servant immediately notified his master that the chief rabbi was waiting for him at the entrance of the house. The rich man, clad in light house garments, immediately walked out to greet the Gaon.
But the Rabbi would not enter, he had some important matters to discuss with him and time was of the essence. The rich man waited while the rabbi began to discuss local politics as well as government affairs.
Finally, the rich man could not contain himself nay longer. “Rabbi,” he cried, “please come into the house. I am shivering and I’ll become deathly sick from this cold.”
But the Rabbi would not budge. “Now I will tell you the real reason for my visit,” said the Gaon. “Many poor families are also shivering from the cold, I came to you for a large donation to help the poor of our town.”
“You name the amount and I’ll give it,” said the rich man, nearly turning blue from the cold.
The Rabbi did so and the rich man agreed. When they were seated comfortably inside, the master of the house asked the Rabbi, “Why did you keep me so long outside, couldn’t you have told me the same thing inside this house where it is nice and warm?”
“Our Sages have a word for this,” answered the Gaon. “The satisfied people can never feel the pangs of the hungry people. I came to ask for your help in supplying wood for the poor people of our town. If we were seated comfortably in this warm house discussing this matter, you would never have realized the intense cold which these people are suffering from. But now that you had a taste of the cold, your entire attitude changed and you were willing to give nay amount to alleviate the suffering.”
The Money Was Not His
Once, a poor Jew of Lodz came to the Gaon, Rabbi Elijah Chaim and cried bitterly to him. “Rabbi,” he wept, “I am in trouble because I tried to do a mitzvah. I found a pocketbook in the street and because I tried to do the Mitzvah of returning a lost item. I am being punished.”
“The reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and one who does a mitzvah will not suffer punishment or injury,” said the Gaon. “Tell me your story.”
“A number of weeks ago, while walking on the avenue, I found a pocketbook containing 1,000 rubles,” said the distraught Jew. “The following day I read in the newspaper that a Polish Baron had lost a pocketbook of money and he offered 100 rubles to the finder as a reward for his returning it.
“I hastened to the Baron’s home and returned the pocketbook to him, waiting expectantly for the reward, which my poor family could surely use. The Baron was very happy when I returned the money to him and he began to count it. Suddenly, the Baron began to shout, “Thief, crook! Al Jews are thieves. Why did you steal the other 1,000 rubles I had in the pocketbook? I had 2,000 rubles and you only returned 1,000.”
Realizing that the Baron was seeking a way out of paying the reward, I decided to leave and forget about it. But the Baron stopped me and shouted that he was preferring charges against me for stealing. And, sure enough, the following day I received a summons to appear in court. I realize that my word will not stand up against the word of the Baron in court. For I ma a poor Jew and he is a powerful Baron. The trial is scheduled for next week and I am frightened as to the outcome.”
The Rabbi listened attentively and remarked, “You were punished because you were not sincere when you fulfilled the Mitzvah of returning a lost item. You merely returned it to receive the reward. Even it it’s the lost article of a Gentile, we are required to return it because the Torah commands us to do so. However, fear not, you will be helped. Have you an attorney to represent you in court?”
“Yes,” was the answer.
“Then send him to me and I will discuss the strategy of the case with him,” said the Gaon. The following day the attorney visited the Gaon who planned a course of action for him to follow.
When the trial began the Baron accused the Jews of stealing 1,000 rubles from his purse, while the Jew plaintively cried that he only found 1,000 rubles in the pocketbook. The Baron then began to describe the honesty of his family, the nobility of his position and his close ties with the king. Whereas, it was a known fact that all Jews were liars and thieves. The judges were overawed by his pronouncements and were nodding their heads in accord.
The attorney for the defense then arose and asked the Baron, “Sir, will you swear to the fact that you lost 2,000 rubles and not 1,000?”
“Surely,” answered the Baron, and he swore to that fact.
“Your honors,” said the attorney, addressing the judges, “Now that the Baron has sworn to this fact we cannot doubt the oath of so prominent a personage as the Baron. However, if my client, the Jew, was a thief he would not have returned even 1,000 rubles. For no one knew that he had found the pocketbook. Therefore, it stands to reason that this pocketbook does not belong to the Baron and the Jew should be permitted to keep it. To decide otherwise would be calling the Baron a liar!”
While the Baron’s face grew livid with rage, the judges were forced to agree. They realized that the Baron had lied but how could they dare to accuse him of it. They, therefore, awarded the 1,000 rubles to the Jew.
He Returned It According To The Din
Once, a woman entered the study of Rabbi Elijah Chaim and began to cry bitterly, beating her breast. “I came from out of town, form Bialistock, to purchase merchandise for our store, which my husband and I operate. I had with me 10,000 rubles, our life savings, and I lost it in your town, If I do not find it we will be ruined and I will commit suicide!”
“G-d forbid,” shouted the Gaon at her, “You must never entertain such terrible toughs. Our city of Lodz is an honorable community. It is inhabited mainly by pious Jews who abide by the precepts of the Torah. I will order the Rabbi of every synagogue to announce from his pulpit, this Shabbos, about your money and to demand its return, whether it was lost or stolen. You have nothing to fear, it will be returned to you in fact. Now go home and don’t worry, G-d will take care of you.”
The Rabbi continued to comfort her and she left for home in a happier frame of mind.
The Gaon did a she promised. He caused the announcement to be made in every synagogue in Lodz. The following day, a poor Jew, a porter, entered the Rabbi’s study.
“Rabbi,” he said, “I have heard the announcement about the lost money and I wish to report that I found it. However, I come to asked you if, according to the actual din of the Torah, I am required to return this money to her! I ma not interested in kindness or charity but only in the Halachah. You see, I am very poor and I find it very difficult to support my wife and children. Therefore, this money would be a G-d send to me.
“Now, I have heard that there is a law,” continued the poor porter, “that if the owner loses all hope of recovering the money (Miyaish), then this money becomes public domain. Therefore, I am not required to return this money. I am too poor to engage in good deeds or charity, I only want to act in accordance with the din of the Torah.”
“In order not to be accused of taking sides, I will present this question to one of our great Gaonim of our generation,” answered Rabbi Elijah Chaim. “Leave me your name and address and I will call you when I receive his answer.”
Sends Case to Rabbi Spektor
The following day he sent a letter, describing the case to the Chief Rabbi of Kovno, Rabbi Yitzchok Elchanan Spektor, who was considered one of the greatest Gaonim of the generation.
He received back the following answer: “According to the Halachah, the law of Yiush renouncing and losing hope of recovery, does not apply to a woman. For our Sages of the Talmud (Gittin 77b) stated that the possessions of a wife belong to her husband. Therefore if she lost the money, it wasn’t in her province to renounce it inasmuch as it belongs to her husband. Therefore, the money must be returned to her.”
Rabbi Chaim summoned both parties of the case to his study and he showed them the reply from the Gaon, Rabbi Yitzchok Elchanan. Upon reading it, the porter took out the pocketbook containing the money and turned it over to the Rabbi.
The rabbi counted the money and after ascertaining that is it was correct he turned it over to the woman.
The woman was overcome in the joy and she took out 1,000 rubles and said to the porter, “Here, take his as a reward for your honesty. You can never realize how you practically saved my life.”
But the porter turned it down saying, “I’m sorry, but I cannot accept it. I lost the case against you fair and square. If, according to the Torah, I was required to return the money to you then I am not permitted to accept any reward. I have fulfilled the commandments of the Torah.”
Of such caliber were our ancestors who lived according to our Torah.
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Page last updated - 08/17/2006