Among the wealthy leaders of the Berlin community, where Rav Tzvi Hirsch Levin served as spiritual leader, was the famous Reb Daniel Yaffe. He was very prominent and influential and it was through his urging that Rav Tzvi Hirsch was chosen as rav.
Reb Daniel was the very model of what a Jewish communal leader should be. Despite his wealth and power, he remained a deeply religious, modest and generous man who followed the Shulchan Aruch to the letter.
However, there was one odd thing about Reb Daniel. He hesitated to talk about his past and never referred to it. The reason, which was only discovered later, was as follows:
A Horse Handler
Many years before, when he was only 16 years old, he had been a handler of horses in the city of Dessau. He was very unhappy with his work and always dreamed of going elsewhere to make his fortune.
He had a very good friend in those days, David, who shared his work but not his feelings.
“If only I could get to Berlin,” said Daniel one day as he sat with David in the fields, “I know that I would be able to make a great success of my life. There is an opportunity for an energetic young man there, I just know it.”
“Not me,” replied David. “I am perfectly content to work with the horses that I love. Besides, I heard from the maggid that seeing a white horse in a dream is a good symbol (see Berachot 56b), and I know that if I continue to work with the white horses I may eventually dream about one.
“In fact,” continued David, “I already had some luck yesterday. I brought two horses to the baron and he gave me money and this beautiful gold knife.”
Taking out a penknife from his pocket, David showed it to Daniel. Never had the latter seen anything so lovely.
“How beautiful it is! It must be worth at least five marks. If only I owned something like that I would be so happy.”
“Very well,” said David. “I am prepared to sell it to you for the price that you estimate it to be worth. Give me five marks and I will sell it to you.”
“I would be more than happy to make such a deal,” said Daniel, “but I have only a few coins in my pocket.
“If you will sell it to me now, however, I promise you that I will pay you back in installments within two or three months.”
“But you want to go to Berlin. How can I follow you there for my money?” asked David.
Tears appeared in Daniel’s eyes, as he knew that he had to have this money in order to get to Berlin.
“Very well, I will make you this deal. If you give me the knife, I promise you that all the money that I will make above 10,000 marks will be yours.”
“You are making fun of me,” said David. “All that you own in the world is worth only a few coins and here you are talking to me about thousands of marks.”
“I know, I know, but I have a feeling that the Almighty will bless me with a great fortune. When that happens you will have everything over 10,000 marks – if only you will sell me this penknife.”
David looked at his friend’s face and saw that this meant more to him than anything in the world.
“Very well,” he said. “I agree to your proposition.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you,” exclaimed Daniel, as he embraced his friend. “I promise you that you will never regret the decision that you have just made.”
On To Berlin
Daniel took the penknife and proceeded as quickly as he could to the great city of Berlin. There he set about with patience, diligence and determination to make his fortune. He went to school and learned to be an accountant.
At the same time he learned German and took other business courses. Armed with this knowledge, he became an accountant in a large business establishment and steadily climbed in the business world. He married a girl from a wealthy home and was able to open his own bank and discount house. He became a very wealthy man and the poverty-stricken young man who had handled horses in Dessau now became known as Reb Daniel Yaffe, one of the leaders of the Jewish community of Berlin.
David Remains Poor
And so the years passed and the bargain that had been made so long ago was completely forgotten, not just by Daniel, but also by his friend David. The latter’s life remained just as poverty-stricken as before. He saved a little money from his employment as a horse handler and went into business on his own. But everything that he touched seemed to fail.
Even his family was smitten with bad luck. He married and his children were all sickly. Every penny that he managed to save went for doctors and medicine. Even this was unable to save them and each succumbed to illness and died. David’s hair turned prematurely white because of his troubles and his one consolation was a daughter – Sarah – the one child who remained alive.
David and his wife watched over her day and night, for she was, literally, their very life.
Life was apparently destined to be one long road of suffering for David. But, though he did not know it, Providence was already decreeing a great change.
(To Be Continued)Rabbi Sholom Klass