Latest update: July 12th, 2013
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.
“Let me give you advice,” said Rav Eliyahu Chaim. “Never take other people’s money. It is a terrible sin, regardless if one were a Jew or a Gentile. This money was never counterfeit but I am doing this to save your soul.”
The following day the Gaon returned the money to the Gentile who thanked and blessed him profusely.
The Stolen Sweepstake Ticket
Once a poor person came before Rav Eliyahu Chaim and complained that a certain merchant stole many thousands of rubles from him.
The Gaon interrupted him, “If you want to summon him before me to a Din Torah then I must stop you, for I can not hear only your side. He has to be present when you make your charges against him.”
“No,” cried the poor person. “Unfortunately, I have no evidence to present against him. I only came to you for advice. Do you have a way to recover the money from this thief?”
“Very well, tell me the full story.”
“I am a very poor person and I have marriageable daughters, but I do not have a penny to my name. I thought of the sweepstakes, perhaps G-d would be kind to me and permit me to win some money. So I scraped together a few rubles and I purchased a sweepstake ticket.
“Last week the merchant came to me and congratulated me on winning a free ticket on the next sweepstake. ‘While this ticket didn’t pay off.’ he said, ‘perhaps the next one would be the lucky one.’ He then requested I return the ticket I was holding and he gave me another one in exchange.
Ticket Wins 40,000 Rubles
“The following morning I read in the papers that my first ticket had won forty thousand rubles. You can just imagine my anguish. So I rushed over to the merchant and began to shout, “Thief, crook! Give me back my ticket for I know that I won forty thousand rubles.’ Of course he denied my allegations and he told me that his son-in-law bought the ticket.
“Now, Rav Eliyahu Chaim,” pleaded the poor man, “what can I do? Surely you in your wisdom will devise a way to secure the money, which is rightfully mine. You will save my life.”
“Don’t worry,” said the rav, “I’ll see what I can do.”
After he left the rav summoned the merchant to appear before him. Coming straight to the point the rav said, “A poor man came to me and said that you stole a sweepstake ticket from him. But I cannot believe that such a prominent and honorable person as you would do such a thing.”
“May the rav be blessed,” answered the merchant. “I am glad that you realize that I would never do such a thing. It would ruin my reputation in town.”
“True,” replied Rav Eliyahu Chaim. “I could never believe such a thing.”
Suddenly the rav clapped his forehead and said, “I just reminded myself of something important. Do you have a pen and paper?”
The merchant took out a pad from his pocket and wanted to tear out a page but the rav stopped him saying, “It isn’t necessary to tear anything, give me your entire pad. I’ll find an empty spot on one of the pages.”
Saying this, he took the pad and began to leaf through it as if he was looking for a blank page. While turning the pages he came across many entries with the names of people who bought sweepstake tickets and of the money they paid and won. On the last page he saw the name of the poor person who had been in his office earlier and alongside of it was the sum of forty thousand rubles won.
“Aha!” shouted the Gaon. “You are a thief. You stole forty thousand rubles from this poor person. Return the ticket to him immediately or I personally will press charges against you!”
The merchant’s face turned various colors and he was forced to admit to his thievery. He returned the ticket to its proper owner who collected the grand prize.
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