The Gaon, Rav Eliyahu Chaim Maizel, the chief rav of Ludz, loved his fellow man. He treated every person as an equal; whether Jew or a Gentile and when a matter of dishonesty came before him he bent all of his efforts to apprehend the culprit.
Once a Polish man entered the Gaon’s study and asked him for help.
“Rabbi,” he pleaded. “I am in terrible trouble and I believe only you can help me.”
He then told the following tale: “I am an old resident of Ludz. When the Poles revolted against Russia I was in the front of this uprising. Secretly I was the treasurer of this ill-fated movement. When the revolution was quelled I managed to escape with ten thousand rubbles. I changed my name and hid the money in the cellar of my home. I was afraid to deposit it in the bank for fear that it would come to the attention of the government.
“I guarded the money well knowing that some day this money would be put to good use. Every so often I would descend into my cellar and count the money. This I continued to do for many years until recently when I discovered it missing.
“Oh, Rabbi,” he began to cry, “you don’t know the pain I have been suffering since. All the tears I have shed.”
Rav Eliyahu Chaim interrupted him. “Do you suspect anyone of stealing this money?”
Suspects Jewish Carpenter
“I trust the Rabbi will forgive me,” he said. “But near me is a Jewish carpenter whom I hire from time to time to do some repair work for me. He is a very poor person. His wife and children would usually walk around in torn and tattered clothes and they always seem to be on the verge of starvation. Suddenly he became very rich; he and his family now sport new wardrobes and they are buying expensive furniture.”
“Did you ask him where he secured the money?” Rav Eliyahu Chaim asked.
“Yes,” answered the man. “He claims that a distant relative died and left a fortune to him. But even his neighbors do not believe him and they have advised me to enlist your help in this matter.”
Rav Eliyahu Chaim promised to look into this matter and told the man to return the following day.
When the man left the house the Gaon summoned the carpenter. When he arrived Rav Eliyahu Chaim greeted him cordially and said, “I have heard that you have become a rich man. However, I feel hurt that you never came to visit me even once as do the other rich people in town.”
The carpenter was crestfallen. “You are right,” he said, “it was an oversight. I should have told you about it sooner.”
“I understand that you inherited your fortune from a distant relative. Is that true?”
“True,” answered the erstwhile pauper. “He was a very wealthy man.”
“But isn’t it strange that he had no other heirs and you never mentioned him before,” said Rav Eliyahu Chaim.
The carpenter paled and he remained silent. Rav Eliyahu Chaim was then convinced that the story was fabricated. Leaning over to the carpenter he whispered to him. “It has been told to me that you are passing counterfeit money. I summoned you for your own benefit. For you know how strict the government is in these matters. They hang counterfeiters.”
The carpenter’s face turned white. “Surely the Gentile’s money was counterfeit and now I will be the scapegoat,” he thought to himself.
“I will tell you the truth,” said the carpenter in a trembling voice. “I really did not inherit the money. I found it near my home and I suspected that it might have belonged to a neighbor, a Polish Gentile. But as long as he did not say anything I took the liberty of using it. I never dreamed that he would be a counterfeiter.”
“Listen to me,” said Rav Eliyahu Chaim sternly, “Rush home and bring me the money you still possess. I may still be able to help you.”
The carpenter obeyed him and he soon returned with the money, which he turned over to the rav.