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.”