The town of Berdichev was buzzing with the news of the death of a certain very wealthy Jew. The townspeople, however, didn’t shed a tear, for this man, who had been so blessed in his life, shared not a penny of his great wealth.
The Chevra Kadisha (burial society) planned to compensate the community for his miserliness; they would charge the man’s heirs a high price for the burial. When they presented their demands to the man’s children, they were shocked at the sum, and insisted that the case be heard by the rabbi of the town — none other than the saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.
When the heirs and the representatives of the Chevra Kadisha appeared before Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, they were surprised to see the depth of his grief at the passing of the rich man. He not only ruled in favor of the heirs, but he said that he would be sure to attend the funeral.
Of course, when the news spread throughout the town that the Rabbi would be attending, every other Jew made certain that he would be there as well. As a result, the entire town closed up and every able-bodied man and woman came out to accompany the deceased to his final rest. Needless to say, they were full of curiosity as to why this stingy man was receiving so much respect.
When the funeral was over, people approached the rabbi and asked the reason for such a show of honor to such a person. “No one knew him as I did,” was his reply. “Everyone took him to be a miser, but I came to discover his true character through three legal cases which I was called upon to decide. If you have the time, I will tell you about it.
“The first case concerned a wine merchant who acted as an agent for all the other merchants in the town. They would give him the money to purchase the wine, and he would receive a commission for his trouble. Well, once, just as he was about to go to make his purchase, he realized that the money was missing.
“The shock of losing the money of so many others affected him so badly that he went into shock and passed out. A doctor was summoned, but the poor man could not be revived. Suddenly a man stepped out of the crowd and announced that he had found the missing money. The merchant was instantly revived by the good news.
“Not too long after, another man came forward and said that he had really found the lost money, but he had succumbed to his evil inclination and kept it. When he heard about the person who had claimed to have found it and had in actuality parted with such an enormous sum in order to save the life of a stranger, his conscience troubled him. Now, he wanted to return the money to the generous donor.
“That man, however, refused to accept it. He didn’t want to relinquish his mitzvah of saving a person’s life. The culprit insisted that I hear the case and make a ruling. My decision was that the donor — the man whose funeral we just attended — was not required to accept the money.
“The second time I met him was when a man came to me with a similar demand. He wished to repay a generous benefactor, but the benefactor refused to accept the money. In this case, a poor man had fabricated a story to placate his wife while he would be away in a distant town trying to ‘strike it rich.’ It so happened that he had no money to support his family and he told his wife to go to a certain wealthy man in the town and demand payment every week for a fictitious ‘salary.’
“She innocently went and asked for what she thought was her due, and the rich man, understanding the delicacy of the situation, paid her for many months. When the husband returned, having succeeded in making his fortune, he insisted on repaying his benefactor. He, however, replied that his business was solely with the wife, and he had nothing to do with the husband. Again, I ruled in his favor; he was entitled to keep his mitzvah.
“Finally, the third time I met him was after a very wealthy man who had gone bankrupt asked this man for a loan. ‘Who will be your guarantor?’ the rich man asked.
“‘My only guarantor is G-d Al-mighty,’ he replied.
“With a smile, the rich man said, ‘He is a Guarantor I can really trust!’
“When the day arrived for the man to repay his loan, he failed to appear. Several months later, however, he did come, begging forgiveness for his lateness. ‘You owe me nothing,’ the rich man answered. ‘Your Guarantor was very honest, and He paid me very well with a large, unexpected profit. Therefore, you owe me nothing.’
“Again, the recipient of his largesse appealed to me, but I, once again, ruled in favor of the deceased. He was not required to accept repayment of his loan, if he refused to do so.
“So, my friends, you see, your assessment of the deceased was very wrong. He was no miser. On the contrary, he was a great and saintly person who practiced the giving of charity on the highest level — that of giving quietly, with no fanfare and no public acknowledgment. Just as the deceased stood in my court and accepted my verdicts three times, he is now standing before the Heavenly Court, accompanied by his mitzvot, which are testifying to his saintliness before that highest court.”