A person should always strive to do good, for one good deed alone may assure him the rewards of Gan Eden. As Rabi Yehudah HaNasi would say, “One may acquire Gan Eden in a single hour while another may acquire it after many years [over a lifetime] ” (Avodah Zara 10b).
Years ago in the town of Koritz there lived a Jewish tailor who made a special effort to violate every precept of the Torah. No respectable Jew would deal with him.
One day the tailor died and, as was the custom at the time, the gabbai of the town called upon the people to attend the funeral of a fellow Jew. But no one would come.
The gabbai then approached the home of the Gaon Reb Pinchas. Imagine the gabbai’s surprise when the Gaon took his cane and started out for the funeral. When the gabbai next visited Rav Yakov, and told him that Reb Pinchas was attending the funeral, he expressed surprise.
“I must see why Reb Pinchas is attending the funeral of such a sinner,” he said and he too started out for the funeral.
When the people of the city saw these two pious rabbanim attending the funeral of the sinner, they all began to follow the entourage. Eventually, the entire city turned out to pay homage to the tailor.
On the way home from the funeral, the crowd surrounded Reb Pinchas and demanded to know why he had attended.
“I will tell you the reason,” said the Gaon. “Two months ago I was trying to raise hachnassas kallah funds. I finally succeeded in raising sufficient money to arrange for the wedding. But at the last hour, the chassan backed out. He said he had been promised a new suit by the bride’s parents and unless he received it, he would call off the wedding.
“In desperation the kallah turned to me for help. As I had already approached every resident of the community for money, I had no choice but to turn to the tailor for help. That night I entered his home and told him the story. He gave me a ruble. But as I started to leave he called me back and said, ‘Rebbe, if I give you all the money for the entire suit, will you promise me a place in Olam Habah?’
“‘Yes,’ I said. He then gave me fourteen rubles and I was able to perform the wedding ceremony. Now that I heard that this tailor died I decided to attend his funeral and see the results of his charity.
“Would you believe it,” continued the rav, “over the coffin I saw a shining halo of a suit and malachim waiting to escort it into Gan Eden. Thus, you can see how great the mitzvah of tzedakah is. One mitzvah alone saved this man and assured him a place in the next world.”
Hospitality To Strangers
Being hospitable to travelers is one the cardinal mitzvos of our Torah. The Talmud tells us: Rabi Yehuda said, “Hachnassas orchim is greater than even welcoming the presence of the Shechinah” (Shabbos 127a). Rabi Yochanan said, “Hospitality to strangers is as great as the early attendance at the Beis Hamedrash,” and Rabi Dimi of Neharea said it is even greater than the early attendance at the Beis Hamedrash.
Every community in the small towns in Europe would have a gabbai whose duty it was to assign travelers to various homes for Shabbos. When a stranger would arrive in town he would seek out this gabbai who would then place him in one of the well-to-do homes.
One Friday, very late in the afternoon, a merchant entered the town of Altuna. As the gabbai had already exhausted all of the host’s homes, he was in a quandary as to where to send the poor man for Shabbos.
“You better see Rav Yonason Eibschitz,” he said. “Perhaps he may have a place for you. Although he himself has already taken more of his share of people, he may have a suggestion.”
They both went to the Gaon’s home where, as usual, there were more than a dozen guests and absolutely no place for another person.
“Tell me, gabbai,” asked the Gaon, “does Reb Lazer have any guests for this Shabbos?”
“That skinflint,” snorted the gabbai, “he is the wealthiest man in town and yet he will never allow a stranger to enter his home. He is too sick to entertain guests, he claims.”
“I have a plan,” replied the Gaon. Calling the merchant over to him, he said, “If you will follow my instructions to the letter I can assure you that this wealthy miser will welcome you with outstretched arms.”
The merchant immediately went to the rich man’s home and knocked on his door.
A servant came out and offered him a penny.
“I want no charity,” firmly declared the merchant. “I came to see Reb Lazer.”
“What can I do for you?” queried Reb Lazer, as the merchant was escorted into his room.
“I can’t talk to you with all these people around,” said the visitor. “Have you a private room somewhere around?”
They withdrew to a secluded corner of the house.
“Say Reb Lazer,” said the merchant, looking apprehensively around, “what could you offer me for a diamond as large as an egg?”
“I can’t say offhand,” replied the wealthy man, his eyes bulging with expectation. “Stay with us over Shabbos, rest up a little and then we’ll talk business.”
“I hate to impose upon you,” remonstrated the visitor considerately. “You have expected no guests and it wouldn’t be fair either to you or your wife. Besides, I left my Shabbos clothes in the hotel.”
“Never mind,” assured the host. “There is plenty to eat in the house and plenty of rooms. And as to clothes, you may put on one of my suits.”
All Shabbos the stranger was entertained in the most generous manner. The host saw to it that he did not leave the house all day for fear that somebody else might approach him.
When Shabbos was over, Reb Lazer broached the matter of the diamond with his guest. “Now,” he said, “let me see the it.”
“Did I ever say I had a diamond?” replied the stranger, as he rose to go. “I just wanted to know what you could offer me for a diamond of such a size in case I happen to find one.”
And with that, he took his leave.