Rav Shmuel was a member of the beis din of the town of Horodna during the time of Czar Nicholas I when unfortunate children were being snatched away by the czar and his agents to serve for 25 years in the army.
He wept daily for these children, but did not content himself with sorrow alone. He turned his home into a refuge for those who managed to evade the clutches of kidnappers. He fed and supported them from his own pocket. He also taught them and arranged for other hiding places for them.
Such a man obviously possessed a rare kind of saintliness and his general character is indicated by the following story.
The town of Horodna was fortunate in that its rav was the great gaon Rav Binyamin Brodah, one of the great scholars of his time, who also possessed wealth and business acumen.
Because of his double portion of gifts, he was quite often called upon to hold large sums of money for litigants and other people until their particular situation was settled. Rav Brodah’s reputation for honesty was such that the money could not have been put away in a safer place.
One particular day, as he sat with Rav Shmuel discussing a very complex and important problem, a woman was ushered into the room.
It appeared that she and her husband were getting a divorce and a sum of money was in dispute, which she now turned over to the rav for safekeeping.
“Here are 1,200 rubles that I ask you to hold for us until the divorce is settled in two days.”
Rav Brodah took the money, counted it carefully to make sure of the exact amount and said: “Very well. Be here the day after tomorrow and we will arrange the divorce.”
Where Is The Money?
After the woman left, Rav Brodah and Rav Shmuel returned to their problem. They analyzed it and discussed it until they finally reached a solution. Rav Shmuel then took his leave.
Rav Brodah returned to the question of the woman. He wanted to put away the money but to his horror – he could not find the bag! He looked in his pockets, in his books on the table, under chairs, in cracks, everywhere. It was nowhere to be found. Where could it be? He went over everything he had done. There had been, after all, only two people in the room. Could it be? – Of course not! Rav Shmuel would not have touched money that was not his.
Very perturbed, he told her the whole story with a sinking feeling in his heart.
“Perhaps the woman took the money back,” said the rebbetzin, “and you were so engrossed with Rav Shmuel you did not notice it.”
“Impossible!” exclaimed Rav Brodah. “The money was left there and only Rav Shmuel could have taken it.”
“And I tell you,” the rebbetzin said, “that I know that Rav Shmuel is a man of honesty and a tzaddik. You cannot suspect him.”
Nevertheless, Rav Brodah could find no peace of mind. The day after tomorrow, the couple would be coming and the money would not be there. After all, 1,200 rubles was not a small sum even for him. Putting on his overcoat, he left his home and went directly to the home of Rav Shmuel.
“I am afraid that I have come on an unpleasant errand,” said Rav Brodah. “The money that was brought by the woman today is missing. Since only we two were in the house we are both suspect. The only thing for us to do is to take an oath that we did not steal the money.”
Rav Shmuel could not believe his ears. Did Rav Brodah suspect him of taking the money? Tears came to his eyes as he said:
“Not once in my life have I ever taken an oath and I will not do so now. I will attempt as far as I can to repay the woman her loss but I will not take an oath.”
Rav Brodah could not look Rav Shmuel in the face. Was his refusal proof that he had taken the money? Rav Brodah’s heart was heavy as he returned home.
Six Hundred Rubles
The following morning, Rav Shmuel appeared before Rav Brodah and said, saying: “I have here half of the money that was taken. Here is 600 rubles, all that I was able to raise.”
The rav was shocked. Rav Shmuel was known as a pauper, destitute. Where in the world could he have gotten the money? The suspicion was strengthened that – hard as it was to believe – Rav Shmuel had taken the money.
“Take the money,” said Rav Shmuel, “it is all I have. The main thing is that I do not wish to swear an oath.”
Rav Brodah shook his head sadly.
“No, that is impossible. Either return all the money or take an oath and be absolved entirely.”
Rav Shmuel’s face darkened, his body seemed to sag, and he walked away. The following morning, early, he appeared again, saying: “I will not swear an oath. I have gotten the last possible money I could get – another 200 rubles. More than this it is impossible to get. I beg of you not to make me take an oath. Here is a total of 800 rubles and I beg you to please loan me the other 400 and I will pay you back when I can.”
Rav Brodah saw that nothing would move Rav Shmuel and he silently nodded assent. That day, when the couple arrived, he took 400 rubles from his own pocket, added it to the 800 of Rav Shmuel, and gave it to them. The couple walked away satisfied, but the pain and disillusionment remained with Rav Brodah. Never had he ever been so shocked and disappointed. Rav Shmuel, whom he had always admired and considered a tzaddik – a thief?
That Friday, as was his usual custom, Rav Brodah began sweeping his room in honor of Shabbos. Moving aside the large candlestick that stood against the wall, his heart jumped. There was the money! Now he remembered. He had put the money there temporarily till he finished with Rav Shmuel.
Tears came to his eyes and his heart stabbed with pain. He had suspected Rav Shmuel unjustly. He had caused him aggravation and pain. He rushed off to Rav Shmuel’s home. When he got there, however, he was surprised to see that the door was locked and the place looked bare. Knocking on a neighbor’s door he was told:
“Rav Shmuel sold his house, his furniture and his books and has moved to a small apartment on the outskirts of town.”
Rav Brodah was stricken. Now he knew where Rav Shmuel had gotten the 800 rubles. He had literally sold all that he had. What had he done?
Hurrying to the new apartment, he saw a hovel in danger of collapse, and this was where Rav Shmuel was living.
Rushing inside, he burst into tears and cried: “Woe unto me that I see you this way. It is all my fault. I suspected you unjustly and in reality you are just and I am the sinner. Forgive me. I beg you, for the terrible thing I have done.”
“I forgive you totally and more – I owe you thanks for putting me in the category of those who are suspected unjustly,” was Rav Shmuel’s response.
Rav Brodah succeeded in buying back Rav Shmuel’s house and from this house Rav Shmuel did his wonderful work with the poor children – the victims of Czar Nicholas’ kidnappers.