One time, Rav Chaim found it necessary to go with one of the communal leaders to the home of a wealthy man in order to collect money for a respected leader of the town who had secretly fallen on bad times. The man, whose whole life had been one of wealth, had suffered severe business reverses and only a great sum of money could restore him to financial health.
Entering the house of the man to whom they had come for money, Rav Chaim and his accompanying companion were welcomed and brought into the living room. There, Rav Chaim explained the purpose of his coming and asked the man for 500 golden ducats.
Who Is The Man?
“That is a very large sum,” said the host. “Tell me, for whom is the money?”
“I cannot tell you his name,” replied Rav Chaim, “but please believe me that he is a distinguished and most honorable man.”
“Not for a moment do I doubt that, Rebbe,” replied the host, “but it is just that I am thinking of the enormous effort that you will have to go through. You are only asking 500 gold ducats from me and I understand that you must raise even more than that. I would like to spare you some of the effort and I am prepared to give you 1,000 ducats if only you will tell me who this unfortunate person is.”
Rav Chaim’s companion heard these words and thought that in order to get such a large sum it might be better to reveal the name of the man but Rav Chaim shook his head:
“The man for whom we are collecting was himself a man who gave charity with an open hand. Now that his fortune has taken a turn for the worse, he himself needs help but I cannot – under any circumstances, reveal his name.”
The host grew more stubborn and said, “It is quite obvious from the Rav’s words that this man is among the most important and respected men in town. The least I can do, then, is to offer to give you half of his needs but I must, after all, know to whom I am giving such a large sum.”
Rav Chaim’s companion turned to him and said, “This is a generous offer we may never find elsewhere. Perhaps we should reveal the name on the condition that the money be given immediately and that it be solemnly sworn that the name will not be revealed outside this room.”
Rav Chaim would not be moved, however, and he said quietly but firmly, “I appreciate the generous offer but the honor and dignity of the man we are talking about is worth far more than the sum of money he is in need of. Even were you to give the entire money at one time I will never shame the man by revealing his name.”
The forceful words of Rav Chaim made a great impression on the host. He lowered his head and asked the Rav to accompany him to the next room. When they were alone, the host suddenly burst into tears and in a choked voice said:
“My Rebbe and teacher, I must tell you something. I, too, have suffered terrible business losses recently, and I am left penniless and in debt. I was afraid to tell anyone, however, for fear that if the word spread, I would be forever mortified and shamed.
“When you came to my house today for another man who had suffered my fate, I wanted to see if you would reveal his name. It was not any evil thought on my part that moved me to insist on your telling me the name of the man. I was only testing you to see if I could trust you with my secret.
“I see now that I can trust you with any secret and now I, too, turn to you and cry out for help. I am today a pauper and if you do not find some way to help me you will doom me to become a beggar who goes from door to door.”
Rav Chaim never revealed the conversation with this man. Soon after he had collected money for the first man, he again went out and gathered funds for this one, too. Both eventually were able to stand on their feet again. It was only after the death of Rav Chaim that the host who had been helped by him revealed to all the greatness of the scholar. This was the way of charity in times not so long ago.