The Final Hershel Ostropolier Story
Outwitting The Dishonest Innkeeper
The farmers of the city of Minsk suffered a bad year. Drought and pestilence took their toll and now that the holidays were coming up, many families didn't have enough money to purchase food. Appeals for help were made in various towns, and the money began coming in to help the poor Jews of Minsk.
In the town of Medzibozh, the surprising sum of 100 gold pieces was raised. The townspeople chose Hershel Ostropolier to deliver the money, for the highways and hotels were infested with thieves and dishonest rogues who would waylay any persons carrying far less than that amount. Hershel Ostropolier was known for his quick and agile mind, and he could be trusted to outwit any thief.
After traveling all day, Hershel had to stop at a small hotel on Erev Shabbos. Inquiring around, Hershel found that there were very few people who could be trusted, including the hotelkeeper.
"Now where can I keep the money over Shabbos?" wondered Hershel. "I cannot keep it in my room, for this innkeeper would be sure to take it, especially when he has such an unsavory reputation. I will therefore abide by the dictum of the Talmud that advises us that the best hiding place of money is in the earth (Pesachim 31b, Bava Metzia 42a).
Hides The Bag Of Money
With this thought in mind, Hershel went out behind the hotel. He looked cautiously about him and then, convinced that no one was looking, he dug a hole and concealed the money in it. However, he-did not know that the hotelkeeper was watching his every move through the window.
No sooner had Hershel left than the hotelkeeper came out of the house and dug up the money. Saturday night, after Maariv, Hershel went out to his hiding place and lo and behold, he saw that the money was missing
ďIt must be the hotelkeeper, for he was the only one who saw me come in laden with bags, and he must have surmised that some of them contained money," thought Hershel.
Seeks Advice from The Hotelkeeper
Approaching the hotelkeeper, Hershel said, "I have heard it said that you are a wise man who can give good advice. I was passing through here to the big city of Warsaw and was carrying two bags of gold. One was filled with 100 pieces and the other 200 pieces. Since I am a stranger here and donít know a soul, I decided to conceal the bag with 100 gold pieces in a hole in the ground. I still carry around with me the bag with the 200 gold pieces, but I find it a great burden. Please, advise me what to do. Shall I keep it with me, shall I bury it in the same hole with the other gold, or shall I ask a person to hold it for me? Perhaps you know of an honest man in town to whose care I could entrust it?"
The hotelkeeper didnít hesitate a moment as he replied with cunning, "Take my advice, don't entrust your money to anyone because it is possible that he might even deny that you ever gave it to him. Also, I counsel you not to look for a new hiding place, but to bury your gold in the same hole with the other bag."
Returns to The Hiding Place
The thief thought to himself, "It is clear that this poor fool doesn't yet know that the bag of gold is missing. Therefore, the best way to get his second bag is to return the first bag to its place, because if I don't do that he will be afraid to bury his second bag there. In that way I'll get both bags."
Hershel was fully aware that the hotelkeeper would follow such a course. Therefore, he said to him, "Thank you for your good advice. I will do as you bid me and will bury the gold as soon as I change over from my Shabbos clothes."
No sooner had Hershel left him to go to his room than the hotelkeeper went in great haste to put the first bag of gold back in its place. Hershel waited a while to make sure that the hotelkeeper had enough time, and when he casually strolled outside to the place where he had hidden the moneybag he quickly dug up his money and joyfully departed from the hotel.
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