Latest update: July 7th, 2013
Our Sages tell the story of a very rich man, who as he grew old began to worry about his future.
“What good is all my wealth?” he asked, “if I may soon have to leave it behind me.”
He approached the Sages who advised him to give charity and, if possible, to give it to a person who no longer has any hope. In this way his kind deeds would serve as a good advocate in the World to Come.
Seeks A Hopeless Man
The rich man then set out to find such a person. Traveling out of town he passed by cemetery and saw a dirty, unkempt man sitting in the dirt. Approaching this man he gave him 100 gold coins.
The man looked up at him in amazement. “Why do you give me this money?” he asked. “Why don’t you give the money to the poor people in town?”
“Because I had made a vow that I would only give my money to a person who has thrown away all hope and who is in terrible despair,” answered the rich man. “You seem to be just such a kind of a person.”
“You fool!” shouted the poor man angrily. “Do you for one moment think that I have lost hope in this world? Or that I still don’t believe that G-d will help me? I trust in G-d that he will help me for he has ‘pity over all his creations’. Take back your money, you fool!”
“Is this the reward I receive for trying to help you,” asked the rich man. “Not only did you not accept my money but you also insulted me.”
“Because you would make it appear that I have lost faith in G-d. Only the dead forsake G-d,” retorted the poor man.
Buries His Money
Not knowing what to do, the rich man decided to bury the money near one of the graves. This way, he figured, he would be giving the money to people who have lost all hope.
Many months passed and the wheel of fortune turned. The rich man suffered many misfortunes and he became a very poor man. One day he remembered the money that he had buried near a grave and went to dig it up.
However, one of the cemetery caretakers saw him and had him arrested on charges of stealing from a grave, which was considered a very serious offense. He was brought before the chief magistrate of the city.
Poor Man Becomes Magistrate
Now it happened that the chief magistrate was the unkempt man the rich person had seen sitting in the cemetery many years before. His father has been chief magistrate and upon his death the city elders appointed him to his father’s position.
When the man was brought before the chief magistrate, the magistrate recognized him but said nothing about it.
“Do you know that your deeds are punishable by death in this city?” said the Chief Magistrate.
“No, my Lord,” answered the distraught man. “I never intended to open a grave. I was only digging for the money which I had hid in that spot many years before.” He then went on to relate his entire experience at that time.
The magistrate relented and said, “Don’t you recognize me?”
“How can a servant recognize his master?” answered the man.
“I am that same man to whom you tried to give money, thinking that I had thrown away all hope from this world. Fear not, I have never forgotten your kind deed to me.”
He then descended from his bench and embraced the poor man. He ordered the money dug up and turned it over to him and invited the man to his home to be his guest. He also gave the bewildered man more money, sufficient to sustain him for the rest of his life.
Therefore, does the Psalmist say, “The L-rd raises the meek and elevates the poor.”
The Rich Who Appear As Poor
Shlomo HaMelech (Mishlei 13:7), said, “There is he who makes himself (who appears to be) rich, yet has nothing; and there is he who makes himself poor and yet has great riches.”
The section of Eretz Yisrael that belonged to the tribe of Asher was famous for its supply of olive oil; it was produced virtually as if it had gushed from a well.
Once the city of Laodiceans sent an agent to Yerushalayim with instructions to purchase a million dinarim worth of oil.
In Yerushalayim, he was told to proceed to Tyre. At Tyre he was told to go to Gush Chalab, a city bordering the land of Asher. At that city he was directed to the house of a prominent merchant who dealt in oil.
Entering the fields of the merchant, he saw a man digging around his olive trees.
“Are you the person who can supply me with a million dinarim worth of olive oil?” he asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “But you will have to wait until I finish my work.”
The agent sat down to wait. Meanwhile, the proprietor continued digging. When he had finished his work, he tied his pack onto his back, as did his worker, and started for home. On the way he saw a stone lying in the path. He bent down and pushed it aside.
The agent, watching his behavior, thought to himself, “Could this man, who appears so poor, have so much oil to sell? Surely, the people in the town were making fun of me.”
When they reached the merchant’s home, a female slave brought hot water for him to wash his hands and feet and a golden bowl of oil to dip them in afterwards. After they had eaten together, the merchant measured out before him the million dinarim worth of oil.
“Do you need more oil?” the merchant asked.
“Yes,” answered the agent. “However, I don’t have any more money on me.”
“That’s okay,” said the merchant. “Buy it now and I will go with you to your city for the money.”
He then measured out another 180,000 dinarim worth of oil. There was so much oil that they had to hire every horse, mule, camel and beast of burden they could find to carry it all.
When the agent neared his city, all the people turned out to meet him to compliment him on his good service in securing so much oil.
“Don’t praise me,” said the agent, “but him, my companion, to whom I owe 180,000 dinarim. You could never tell by looking at him that he is one of the richest men, in oil, in Israel.”
Thus do the truly rich appear humble and unassuming.
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