by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita
The following story, which took place in the Israeli city of Holon, stuns everyone who hears it. It makes people realize that there is a G-d in Israel, that there is a Judge, a judgment, and that a person can’t do whatever he wants.
A man once hired a carpenter to do some work in his home. He was a skilled craftsman who did particularly good work, and the man gave him the keys to his house, allowing him to work even when nobody was at home.
One day, while the carpenter was still in the home, the man arrived and made a serious accusation: He said that an expensive jewel belonging to his wife had been on a table in the hallway, and that witnesses had even seen it that very same morning. “Since no one but you has been here since then,” the man said, “we suspect that you stole it and we want you to give it back.”
Despite the vehement denials of the carpenter, the man continued to accuse him of the crime. When the carpenter refused to pay the man, he brought him to court.
Although we have known for a long time that secular courts are very poor at rendering fair decisions, many people were still stunned to hear how foolish their verdict was in this case. Based on witness accounts of having seen the jewel in the hallway that morning, the carpenter was ordered to pay the man its full value, namely 70,000 NIS. The injustice done to the carpenter was actually two-fold. First, it wouldn’t be easy to find such an amount of money to pay the man, especially for a craftsman who works hard for a living; and second, once people learned of the court’s verdict, he would have no clients left, since nobody would want to hire him, a carpenter now known as a sleazy thief who had the audacity to steal a precious jewel.
The second part of this story is that the carpenter was so affected by this incident that he died. But the story doesn’t end there. In fact it’s barely begun.
A few days after the carpenter died, the man’s wife opened her jewelry box and found her precious jewel inside!
It seems that she had forgotten that she placed it there herself, which is why she and her husband had been certain that the carpenter had stolen it. Now it turned out that all the accusations brought against the carpenter had been completely baseless.
The man’s wife was shocked by what had happened, and she asked a Rav how she could rectify things according to the Torah. The Rav advised her to gather a minyan and to go to the grave of the carpenter and ask forgiveness for everything that had happened to him. The woman agreed, but her husband objected, for he was afraid that once people heard that they had gone to his grave asking for forgiveness, it would be interpreted in the wrong way. Hence he refused.
And now we come to the last part of the story. Barely a few days later, the family of the man who had hired the carpenter was also sitting shiva for the man himself, who suddenly died.
Other than the obvious conclusion that there is a Judge and a judgment, there is another lesson to draw from this story. The Shelah writes that when Heaven decrees that a person should die, sometimes the defenders that he created by his merits and good deeds intercede for him, and he is given another chance. In our story, defenders had intervened on the man’s behalf, and Heaven decided to give him another chance. If he used it properly, he would have been forgiven and the decree against him annulled.
If he had agreed to the Rav’s suggestion and gone to the grave of the carpenter, it would have been possible for Heaven to forgiven him. Yet since he refused, the most severe decree was enacted against him.
In general, says the Shelah, in such a case a test is sent to a person in the form of a poor man who comes to ask for tzeddakah in a very rude way, enough to infuriate anyone. Even though he has already received tzeddakah, he returns a second and a third time, not content with what he has received. This is how a man is put to the test, says the Shelah. Will he explode and get angry with the poor man, or instead – and despite the natural disdain that fills him – will he show compassion and overcome his evil inclination?
Hence when we encounter such a poor man – one who can truly exasperate the average individual – we must understand that it is very possible he may have been sent from Heaven in order to put us to the test, to see if we will control our natural tendencies and treat him with kindness, in which case the decree that may have been enacted against us will be annulled.
This is important to remember when we hear constant requests for donations being made in synagogue, when representatives of devoted charity organizations that do marvelous work go from one synagogue to the next in order to reach the public with their uplifting words, their goal being to collect funds for orphans and similar causes.
Sometimes we may think, “How many times can these people ask for money? How many? Can anyone possibly think that the wallets of bnei Torah are filled with unlimited supplies of money?”
There are cases in which, because of such thoughts, we decide that we are not going to give. In our minds, we object to the people who come to collect tzeddakah, and we come to the conclusion that enough is enough – that we can’t give any more – and that we’re not giving this time. We must realize that by making such a decision, we may be sealing our own fate.
– Barchi Nafshi