Rav Meir Halevi was a tremendous gaon and tzaddik, extremely knowledgeable in the entire Torah. For seven years at a time, he would focus his learning solely on halachic areas, followed by an additional seven years of learning kabbalah. He would repeat this cycle over and over; seven years halachah, then seven years of kabbalah.
Rav Meir had two sons, each a gem of Torah in his own right. One became a rav and posek, renowned for his wisdom in Torah learning, and the other became a Chassidic rebbe, the Chortkover Rebbe. Rav Meir would often quip that his elder son, the rav, was born during one of his periods of learning halachah, while the rebbe was born during the years that he learned kabbalah.
The Chortkover Rebbe, like his father, was an expert in all areas of Torah, and thousands of people would flock to his court to bask in his Torah. He was also visited privately by those who needed to pour out their hearts and seek his counsel. He would receive all petitioners with warmth and wisdom.
Anshel served as the Chortkover Rebbe’s gabbai. His job was to manage the waiting room, ensure that all visitors were seen in a timely and organized fashion, and enforce the hours that the rebbe was available to see petitioners. Smart, skilled, and highly capable, Anshel fulfilled his role perfectly. He knew what to say and when to say it, and was loved by all.
One afternoon, two businessmen came to see the rebbe, and they presented him with a heavy sack of gold and jewels.
“We are business partners, and have been close friends for years,” one of them explained. “Recently, we invested money in a very profitable venture, and we earned a massive return. However, the two of us have very different opinions as to how to apportion the money we earned. We have hashed this over many, many times, and we simply cannot see eye to eye on this matter.”
“Of course, we plan on going to bais din to settle our differences,” his partner continued. “However, we have been friends for many years, and neither of us wants to lose the friendship over something as silly as money. Right now, with the money so recently acquired, we are both so passionate about our positions, and we are afraid that we will be unable to remain levelheaded after the bais din issues a ruling.”
“I hear,” the rebbe said, stroking his beard.
“We decided to entrust you with the money for now,” the first man said. “We don’t want to seek arbitration until both of us have calmed down completely and can look at the whole thing much more objectively. Eventually, we’ll go to bais din, and then return here to collect the money and deal with it according to the psak we receive.”
“When do you plan on coming back for it?” the Chortkover Rebbe asked.
“Not before a year,” they responded. “We need at least a year to ensure that we will be able to accept any ruling from bais din rationally, with a calm and clear mind, to ensure that our friendship remains intact.”
“Alright, I will keep the money for you,” the rebbe agreed.
“It’s a tremendous sum,” one of the men informed him. “Please, keep it safe for us until we return.”
When they left, the rebbe looked thoughtfully at the heavy sack, wondering where to store it safely until the two men returned. In addition to his family and the loyal Anshel, there were hundreds of petitioners who freely entered his home, and it was imperative that he conceal the treasure properly to guard it from theft.
Wisely, he decided not to let his wife or children in on the fact that a tremendous treasure was hiding in their home. The less people who were aware of its existence, the safer the sack and its precious contents would be.
Lifting the heavy sack, he walked purposefully to a back storage room, which was filled with assorted paraphernalia as well as many seforim and Judaic artifacts. He found a good hiding place for the precious load, which he then concealed with various objects. Satisfied that the treasure was safe, he returned to his study.
Once or twice over the next few days, the rebbe found himself thinking about the treasure and hoping it was safe, but within a short time, he completely forgot about the entire episode. The treasure continued to wait patiently in its hiding place, waiting for its owners to reclaim it.
Many months later, the Chortkover Rebbe was sitting in his study when Anshel brought in the next people in line. Immediately, the rebbe recognized the pair as the businessmen who had entrusted him with their fortune.
“Rebbe, we have made peace between ourselves,” they informed him, smiling comfortably. It was clear that they were feeling much more at ease than they had felt the first time they had come to see him.
“Baruch Hashem,” the rebbe exclaimed. “I am so happy to see that your friendship has remained intact. What a beautiful thing shalom is!”
“Baruch Hashem,” the second partner agreed. He removed a document from his pocket and showed it to the rebbe. “This is the agreement that was drawn up by the bais din, and we plan to follow it to the letter. Can the rebbe please return the money we entrusted him with?”
“Certainly,” the rebbe said, perusing the document. He turned toward the door. “Anshel?”
Anshel stuck his head into the room. “Yes, rebbe?”
“There is a sack filled with gold and jewels hiding in the back storage room,” the rebbe told him, describing the location where he’d left the sack. “Please bring it to me. It belongs to these two men.”
Anshel hurried away to perform his rebbe’s bidding while the rebbe made small talk with the two businessmen. Five minutes passed, then ten, and Anshel still did not return. “He must be having some trouble finding it,” the rebbe excused his gabbai with a smile. “I must have hidden it well.”
In the storage room, Anshel moved a pile of accumulated items away from the corner that the rebbe had directed him to, coughing in the dust, but did not find the sack behind them. He searched more carefully, moving more things away, and still came up empty handed. Biting his lip, he began to turn over the entire room in the hope that he would find the sack elsewhere, but it had disappeared.
After twenty minutes, he returned to the rebbe, an apologetic look on his face. “Rebbe, I looked everywhere, but I could not find it.”
“You can’t find it?!” one of the businessmen asked in a panicked tone.
“I’m sure we’ll find it if we look carefully enough,” the rebbe reassured him, rising from his seat. “I’ll go look for it myself.”
The storage room, thanks to Anshel’s prior efforts to locate the sack, looked like a hurricane hit. Seforim and objects were strewn about, the shelves were emptied, and piles of paraphernalia littered the floor. The rebbe looked and looked, but did not find the sack.
As he walked back to his study, the rebbe found himself wondering what had taken Anshel so long to inform him that he could not find the treasure. A thought rose up in his mind. Perhaps he found it and taken it for himself? Quickly, he stifled the thought. Anshel was his beloved gabbai, loyal and trustworthy. He didn’t deserve to be judged that way.
“I feel terrible, but it appears that the sack has somehow vanished,” the rebbe told the two businessmen. “I will pay you back from my own money.”
“Absolutely not,” one of the men protested. “The rebbe is not obligated—.”
“I took responsibility for your treasure, and I must return it to you,” the rebbe said. “I’ll need a few days to put together the money, and hopefully in the meantime, we’ll find your original sack. Can you return next week?”
“Certainly,” the men agreed. “Thank you, rebbe.”
The rebbe sighed and called for his wife and children. “I am missing a very valuable sack of money,” he informed them. “It was in a hiding place in the back storage room, filled with gold coins and precious stones. Have any of you seen this sack? It is important that you try to recall anything you may have seen.”
None of his family members had any knowledge of the treasure, but they tried to brainstorm with him to figure out where it may have disappeared to.
“Did anyone besides you know about the sack?” his wife asked.
“No,” the rebbe replied. “I didn’t tell anyone about it.”
“Hmm,” she said thoughtfully, pursing her lips.
“The only person who knew about it was Anshel,” the rebbe said after a moment. “I told him about it today, when the businessmen came to claim it.”
“You told Anshel today?” his wife asked.
“Yes, I sent him to look for it,” her husband confirmed. “It took him close to half an hour to come back and tell me he couldn’t find it.”
The wheels of her brain began to turn. “You think Anshel took the money and hid it during that half hour?” she asked slowly. “That would be logical. Anshel must have taken the money!”
“Chas v’shalom,” the rebbe tried to protest, though in his heart, he had reached a similar conclusion. “We aren’t allowed to suspect a Jew like that!”
His words did nothing to stop the rumor from leaving the room. Some of the children, furious at the betrayal of their father’s gabbai, rushed to spread the news to their friends. Soon, the entire city was in uproar. Anshel, the rebbe’s trusted gabbai, was a thief!
Anshel, shocked at the accusations being hurled at him from all sides, denied the charges, but the rumors persisted. Soon, people began demanding that his home be searched. As a last ditch effort to save his name and his dignity, he hurried to the rebbe.
“They’re saying I stole the treasure,” he blurted, his face white. “I have never taken anything that did not belong to me. I am innocent! Now, they want to search my house! All I did was look for the treasure, which I could not find. I didn’t steal it!”
“I am not accusing you of stealing,” the rebbe responded calmly. “All they want to do is search your house. If you didn’t take it, you have nothing to worry about.”
“I should let them into my home?!” Anshel began to cry. “How could you suspect a G-d fearing man who has served as your right hand for so many years?! Alright, let them search my home!”
His home was searched, and the treasure did not turn up, but the shame Anshel endured continued to intensify. People whispered about him in the streets, his children were mocked, and he was shown blatant distrust wherever he went.
The shame became so difficult to bear, that one day, Anshel left home and didn’t return. He hadn’t even bid his wife and children goodbye.
When the Chortkover Rebbe heard that his gabbai had run away from home, he was stricken with a feeling of tremendous remorse. After all, he had implied to his wife that perhaps Anshel had taken the money, and he hadn’t stopped the rumors before they took a life of their own.
I am guilty, the rebbe realized. He could not concentrate on learning or davening. I am guilty of suspecting a Jew, not giving him the benefit of doubt.
When Pesach came around, the rebbe’s house was given a thorough cleaning, and during the course of emptying out the storage room and putting it back together, the sack was found. The rebbe immediately called the two businessmen and returned their treasure to them.
“I must find Anshel,” he declared, unable to forgive himself for having suspected an innocent man. “Immediately after Pesach, I am going to search for him, and I will not return until I find him.”
After Pesach, the rebbe began his journey. He went from town to town, posing as a maggid. In each town, he would ask permission to speak to the community and would then deliver three separate lectures. The first was usually sparsely attended, but when people heard how talented the maggid was, they hurried to attend the second lecture. The third one always claimed the biggest audience.
The rebbe would conclude the third lecture with a short story. “There was a rav who suspected a member of his kehillah of committing a crime. The man, who was innocent, could not handle the shame and ran away from home. The rav is still looking for man he wronged, and he can never forgive himself for this terrible sin. If only he would have had proper ahavas Yisroel, he would have never done such a thing! Until today, the rav is suffering from remorse!”
He would conclude by admonishing the people to steer clear of this mistake, and to offer their fellow Jews the benefit of doubt before jumping to harsh conclusions.
The Chortkover Rebbe would repeat this in every town he went to, at the end of his third lecture, hoping against hope that Anshel would be in the audience. Each time, he was disappointed anew. For three years, he was away from home, visiting town after town in the guise of a maggid, hoping to meet Anshel.
Then, one day, after three long years, a man stood up in the back of the bais medrash at the conclusion of the rebbe’s third lecture. “Chortkover Rebbe, I forgive you with a full heart,” the man announced and then fainted.
The Chortkover Rebbe’s face drained of all color. Abandoning the podium, he rushed to Anshel’s side to try to revive him. Someone poured water over Anshel, who opened his eyes, saw the rebbe, and promptly fainted again from the tremendous pain of his experiences.
“Please forgive me,” the rebbe pleaded hoarsely when Anshel was finally conscious. “Please forgive me for falsely accusing you of such a crime. It was wrong, completely wrong, and I cannot move on until I have your forgiveness.”
“I forgive you,” Anshel repeated. “I forgive you with a full heart. It wasn’t you, but rather my own sins, that caused me to deserve this shame and anguish. If I were a better person, Hashem would have never allowed me to go through this.”
“Thank you,” the rebbe whispered. “Thank you. But oy, how will your poor wife and children ever forgive me, for the pain and shame, as well as for the anguish and loneliness caused by your absence? Oy, how will I ever atone for this terrible sin?”
He placed his hands on Anshel’s head and closed his eyes. “I must pay you back for the suffering I caused you,” he stated emotionally and blessed him with the brachah of Birchas Kohanim. When he finished, he added, “May you only see success in all your endeavors, and may you find favor in the eyes of everyone who meets you. And, since I falsely accused you of stealing a tremendous sum of money, may Hashem bless you with tremendous wealth of your own, for all your generations.”
Anshel and the Chortkover Rebbe traveled back home together, united by their experience and determined to improve their ahavas Yisroel to ensure that such a thing would never happen again.
True to the rebbe’s blessing, Anshel’s business ventures flourished and he became one of the wealthiest men of his generation. He is the patriarch of the famed Rothschild family, known for their wealth and philanthropy.
Have a Wonderful Shabbos!
This story is taken from tape # A401