Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) or the Chasam Sofer, as he has come to be known, was one of the great leaders of his generation. His scholarship and vast knowledge on almost all subjects was legendary and his rulings were acknowledged as halacha by all. Even today, many of his responsa are required reading for those pursuing semicha.
It has been said that the gaon and great Chassidic leader, Rav Chaim of Sanz, would speak of the Chasam Sofer with a reverence that he reserved for few others.
One day, as the Chasam Sofer was sitting in his home in Pressburg, teaching his two children, a knock was heard at the door.
“That is probably a poor man who has come to pour forth his trouble and seek help,” thought the rav.
He was surprised, however, to find not a pauper, but the wealthiest man in the city, the head of the Jewish community standing before him. Worse, the man looked as pale as a ghost, his face ashen, as if he were suffering from some terrible burden.
“Come in, come in,” cried the Chasam Sofer to his distinguished guest.
“Thank you, Rav Sofer,” muttered the man. “Forgive me for disturbing you but I have a vital matter to discuss with you, and I would appreciate if we could do so privately.”
The Chasam Sofer saw that something was seriously amiss, so he asked his sons to leave the room. Once they had left, he asked, “What appears to be the matter?”
“Rebbe,” the communal leader cried out, “I am ruined!”
The Chasam Sofer stared at him in amazement, “Ruined? What do you mean?”
“I am an unfortunate man. An unbelievable series of business reverses have struck me and I have lost a fortune in a short period of time. Now I have nothing left, and I have no choice but to gather up a pack and go from house to house like an ordinary beggar. I have lost everything, both my money and my honor; what am I to do?”
“Why do you speak so?” asked the Chasam Sofer. “Though your money may be gone, the great and wonderful deeds that you have done, and the vast sums you have given to charity, all stand as permanent reminders of your goodness and you will remain honored by all.”
Other People’s Money
“You do not understand, Rebbe,” said the man with a heavy sigh. “Had I lost my own money I would have accepted my lot without a word. But I have also lost the money of poor people, of widows and orphans who trusted in my business sense. I can only do one thing now and that is to declare bankruptcy which will destroy my name and honor.”
“No,” cried the Chasam Sofer. “You cannot do such a thing. The head of the community of Pressburg cannot do such a thing. Let me think for a moment.”
For several moments the Chasam Sofer paced the floor, deep in thought. Suddenly, his face lit up. Going over to his desk, he opened one of the drawers and reached inside. Withdrawing a small box, he opened it and removed a small bundle.
“Here, take this. Inside you will find a hundred gold coins. I have been keeping it for my daughter’s dowry but I want you to take it until the Almighty helps you stand on your feet again.”
“No,” protested the man, who knew how meager the Chasam Sofer’s own resources were. “I cannot take this from you.”
“Please, do not argue with me. If I did not think that you were the kind of man who would repay me I would never give you the money that I set aside for my daughter.
“I want you to take it and go to the Leipzig fair tomorrow. Once you are there, buy the very first merchandise that is offered you and the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov will be with you and give you success.”
“How can I thank you for the great favor that you have done for me?” asked the man.
“Please, I beg of you not to thank me! You know that our Torah forbids even the interest that is given for a loan by words of thanks. I will be forced to take the money back if you thank me.”
The next morning the man arrived bright and early at the marketplace and began walking about, looking for a profitable business transaction.
As he walked, he heard a familiar voice. Looking about, he saw an old friend, someone whom he had not seen in a very long time.
Rushing over to his friend, he embraced him and greeted him with warmth.
“What a stroke of luck,” the friend said. “You are just the man to help me out.”
“What do you mean?” asked the communal leader.
“I will explain,” said his friend. “Yesterday I purchased a large amount of coffee and there is no doubt that there is a very large profit to be made from it. I find it impossible, however, to handle it because something very important has come up and I must go away. Please, if you are willing, I will sell you the coffee for what I paid for it and the profit can be yours. I am even willing to accept promissory notes if you do not have the entire money now.”
The communal leader hesitated for a moment because the total amount was very large and what would he do if he found it impossible to pay later?
He remembered the words of the Chasam Sofer, however, and said to himself, “I must buy the first merchandise offered me and this is it.”
“Very well,” he told his friend. “I am willing. I will sign notes and the deal will be completed.”
“Wonderful,” cried his friend. “I will have everything ready in a moment.”
Soon, the deal was completed, and the coffee was now the property of the communal leader of Pressburg. The words of the Chasam Sofer proved to be prophetic and he made an immense profit from it. He was saved. All that remained was to buy the Chasam Sofer a precious present for his wonderful kindness.
(To be continued)