The Magid Reb Pinchas of Kuritz despised falsehood and haughtiness and he loved honesty. He would usually say, “Arise very early in the morning to pray before the sun fills the world with its rays and people arise to begin the day with deceit and falsehood.”
Once during a cold wintry morning, he heard a group of congregants discussing the devious ways of the Satan, how he uses every trick to entice the poor innocent person to sin. Noticing the Magid, they gathered around him and asked him his opinion.
“Do not dislike the Satan because he entices people to sin, but only because he is dishonest and he does his nefarious work undercover,” replied the Magid. “We never notice him approaching a person and saying, ‘Commit the following sin!’ Instead he tells the person to observe mitzvos like hachnassas orchim. Then when the person is about to issue an invitation, he will say, ‘Don’t invite this person, he does not keep Shabbos.’ Or he will point to a poor merchant and whispers to you, ‘Look at that hypocrite, he does not have a kosher home. He eats treif; is a mitzvah to complain about him to the government.’
“Only yesterday I had an encounter with the Satan,” continued the Magid. “As is my custom I arose very early and went to the mikvah. Suddenly I noticed the Satan standing in front of me. ‘It’s very cold outside,’ the Satan said in a very solicitous tone. ‘Better stay in bed until the sun is out and warms up the countryside. You can’t bathe anyway, because the water is frozen solid and you would commit a sin by endangering your life.’
“If it is so cold outside, why were you outside all night?” I asked him. “I immediately arose and dressed and walked outside toward the mikvah. It was frozen solid. I broke the ice and jumped into the water. Lo and behold, there, standing in front of me was the Satan, with a happy smile. ‘Congratulations,’ he said. ‘You are indeed a holy person, a saint, there is none like you anywhere.’
“Get away from me,” I shouted. “Now you are attempting to make me feel haughty, another one of your underhanded ways of making me sin.”
The Honesty of the Congregation
In his young years Reb Pinchas visited many towns and cities. He never remained in one place too long. When questioned as to why, he replied, “I could never find a town that had honest people.” He then related an incident that occurred to him when he agreed to accept the position of rav in a little hamlet after having been told that all the inhabitants of the town were pious and honest people.
One late Friday afternoon, an Orthodox traveler arrived in town. He rented a room in the town’s only hotel to stay over Shabbos. He had with him a large sum of money, which as a good observant Jew he could not carry on Shabbos and as a cautious and experienced traveler, was afraid to entrust it for safekeeping with the hotel manager. So he inquired as to where the rav of the community lived and he immediately visited his home and asked him, to keep the money until after Shabbos.
While the stranger was discussing this matter with the rav, several prominent members of the community were present in the house. In front of all the people, the traveler gave the rav the money.
After havdallah on Motzaei Shabbos, the traveler visited the rav’s house and asked him for his money. Imagine his shock and amazement when the rav denied ever receiving it. Left with no recourse, he called the rav to a din Torah.
The rav appeared in court, accompanied by all the prominent people who had been present in his house when the plaintiff deposited the money with him. After being duly sworn in, they testified that they had been in the rav’s house when the plaintiff paid him a visit and that they were sure he had not given the rav any money or valuables.
“As a matter of fact,” one of the witnesses testified, “all I recall is that the visitor merely came in to ask where he could find lodging for Shabbos and our good rav directed him to the hotel he stopped at. At no time was any money given over.”
As soon as the last witness had left the chair, the rav ascended the witness stand and dramatically drew from his pocket a bulky wallet containing the fortune which the traveler claimed.
The judge was astounded and he asked, “What are you doing?”
‘Your Honor,” replied the Magid, “my purpose was to show what dishonest scoundrels the leaders of my town are. They are all thieves and perjurers and I am now tending my resignation as rav of the town.”