Rabbi Tuvia Bolton – Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim – Kfar Chabad Israel
It was a cold miserable December day when Shmerel the Rich Miser of Breditchev died. It wasn’t nice to say, but everyone was glad to be rid of him, and glad he died on a day when the weather provided the perfect excuse not to attend his funeral.
So you can imagine how surprised and disappointed everyone was when the Rabbi of the city, the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Breditchev announced that he was going to the funeral and wanted everyone else in the town to attend.
They bundled up in their warmest clothes and dutifully complied but afterward they asked the Rabbi for an explanation. How could a man that was such a recluse and a miser merit such a funeral?
“True, he kept to himself.” He answered “But that is certainly no sin. And you should know that his reputation as a miser was undeserved. Perhaps once or twice he didn’t give as generously as he could have, and people started saying he was stingy. But he was a remarkably generous person.
I know this, because three times various people complained about him, and brought him to trial, and each time I was the Judge.
“Complained? Trial?” murmured the crowd “What is so good about that?” someone said aloud.
The Rabbi continued, “The first time was about twenty years ago, and the man who brought him was blazing mad.
It seems that a certain businessman lost a leather pouch in the marketplace containing over two thousand golden coins that he was going to invest in merchandise. Most of the money was borrowed, so he was really under pressure. At first he was afraid to advertise it and searched alone feverishly for a half-hour. But when it didn’t turn up he became desperate, confused, started moaning loudly, fell into a swoon, and passed out right there in the middle of the market place! This, of course, attracted much attention. A doctor arrived and announced that the man’s life was in danger, and when he revived him, our hero feebly mumbled “Two thousand guilders…brown leather pouch….Oy! Oy!” And almost fainted again.
Suddenly someone stepped out from the crowd and announced, “I found exactly that amount of money a few minutes ago! Here! Look! What I found wasn’t in a leather pouch, but maybe someone stole it from you and it fell from their pocket. I was just on my way to take it to the Rabbi to ask him what to do with it. You’re in luck my friend!” Whereupon he gave the bewildered businessman the money, and disappeared in the crowd before anyone could even notice who he was.
But one man did notice; the real thief! He was holding the money, and when he saw the “finder” pay from his own purse, it shook him to the depth of his soul.
Here he was so selfish that he was willing to make others suffer, and this person was willing to suffer, just to help.a complete stranger.
He began to think deeply, decided to change his life, and after a few days he appeared at the door of the “finder” with the money. But he was in for a surprise: “Sorry my friend” was the reply. “I gave that money because that is what G-d wants. I don’t want the money you stole.”
The thief had no recourse but to bring him to me for trial, and I decided in favor of the defendant; the thief must give the money to charity and stop stealing, but the “finder” didn’t have to accept it if he didn’t want to. And that “finder” was none other than our Shmerel the “miser”.
A few years later came the second case. Someone in Breditchev told his wife that he was going on a business trip for a month. But he really intended to desert his family and never return again. He gave his wife enough money to last a week, and said that she should go to Shmerl the Miser, who owed him a large debt, when she needed more. Which, of course, was a lie.
After a week she went to Shmerel’s house, knocked on the door, and asked for some of the money that he owed her husband. At first Shmerel didn’t understand what she was talking about. But after a few seconds he figured it out. He told her to enter, gave her a nice sum, apologized for “forgetting” and told her to return whenever she needed more.
Meanwhile, her wayward husband wandered around for five years, until he managed to get himself into really big trouble. His life was in danger, and he and swore to G-d that if he lived he would repent. Miraculously he escaped, repented and returned home, expecting the worst. But he was amazed to see his wife healthy and even happy to see him. “Why, Shmerel paid me the money every month just like you said he would.” She explained.
But when he went to Shmerel and demanded that he accept repayment Shmerel refused to accept. “I don’t owe you anything” He insisted. “I gave the money of my own free will. If you want, take me to court.”
The case came before me and I decided, as before, that Shmerel had no obligation to accept the money, but the man should give it to charity if he so desired.
The last case was the simplest. A fellow named Isaac needed to borrow a large sum of money for a business deal but couldn’t obtain it, for the obvious reason that he had no guarantors. The man had a bad reputation, and no one trusted him. When he had almost lost hope, he remembered that one potential loaner sarcastically told him to try Shmerel the miser so he decided to try his luck.
Shmerl received him cordially, invited him in and asked him to sit down. But when he heard what he wanted and asked who his guarantors were, all Isaac could say was, “G-d Almighty is my only guarantor”. Shmerl thought for a while, and finally decided to give him the loan, being that he had the best guarantor possible.
The loan was to be repaid in a year’s time, but Isaac didn’t show up on time to pay it. In fact, he only turned up five years later with the money. But he was amazed when Shmerel refused to take it back! Shmerel clamed that as soon as the year was up, he unexpectedly made an extraordinary profit from one of his investments which he considered to be G-d keeping His end of the deal. “If you want to repay someone,” Shmerl said, “then repay G-d, not me. You can give the money to charity.”
“The man eventually came to court and pressed charges, but I, as before, refused to force Shmerl to accept the money. So you can see that you were wrong about Shmerl. All he cared about was doing what G-d wants and making people happy.”
One of the commandments in this week’s section (22:24) is to loan money to poor people. The Rambam tells us (Hil. Matnot Aniim 10:7) that this is the highest type of charity, because it gives the recipient a feeling of self worth and allows him to maintain his dignity.
So G-d does to us, He gives us a loan. Although everything is His and he creates the entire world and all that’s in it (including each of us) constantly, nevertheless He “loans” us our talents our senses and our very lives in order that we work and “repay” Him and still have the feeling of self-achievement.
This is the secret of true “Simcha” or Jewish joy, Like Shmerel the miser who was happy just to do the will of HaShem and make others happy.
And that the reason that Charity is so important; it simulates what the world will be like when Moshiach arrives. People will no longer be crazy for money or selfish things, but only for doing what G-d wants; making the world into a perfect place.