The Reward

by Tuvia Bolton 

Yehoshua Benyamin was a poor chossid who lived in Russia over a hundred years ago. He had been blessed with a large family, and he loved them all very much.

That’s why it pained him so much that he had to struggle so hard just to feed them. Usually he took any odd job he could find, but sometimes things were slow. There were not always jobs available, and his debts kept growing.

“The flames leapt from house to house. In minutes the whole village was ablaze.”
Finally, the grocery store gave its last warning. No more credit. Either Yehoshua had to pay up his bill, or forget about getting any more food.

Then the landowner said he wanted all his back rent or else Yehoshua and his family would be thrown out.

To make things worse, the young man who had been teaching his children Torah announced that if he didn’t get his back pay, he was quitting.

Then came the fire.

No one knows exactly how it started. Twenty houses burned down. The flames leapt from one house to the next. In minutes the village was all ablaze.

Yehoshua’s house was spared, but all his belongings were ruined. Many of his friends’ homes were totally destroyed. His spirits were at an all-time low!

Of course Yehoshua prayed every day. In those days, who didn’t pray? But now he felt he really HAD to pray. He poured out his broken heart to G-d and begged Him for a miracle… only a miracle could save him! Deep down, he felt sure G-d wouldn’t disappoint him.

And the miracle happened!

Sort of.

It was Friday, just an hour before Shabbos. Yehoshua was walking slowly home after another fruitless week of searching for work, when he noticed a wallet lying in the mud by the side of the road. He bent down and picked it up. There was no identification. Only a bunch of papers and… three hundred rubles! It was a small fortune. G-d had answered his prayers!

The money would save him! He could pay his debts and even have money left over! Then suddenly he stopped.

“What am I thinking? Have I lost my mind?Surely this belongs to someone! How could I take the money? It’s a commandment… a Mitzvah… to return something that’s lost!”

Then he thought, “One minute! If I don’t take the money someone else will. The owner probably gave up on it anyway. I could just take the money and throw the wallet back on the ground. After all, the money was as good as gone!”

Then he had another idea. “Maybe I’ll USE the money and then LATER I’ll give it back.”

Yehoshua was very confused. His poverty made it hard for him to think straight. He felt guilty about keeping the money, but at the same time he couldn’t come up with a good reason not to. It was clearly a miracle from G-d to put it in his hands.

In the depths of his confusion, he realized that he couldn’t possibly come to a clear decision. So he decided to just wait. He hid the wallet in his house, and resolved to make up his mind after Shabbos.

That night, he arrived in shul worried and confused, with three issues still on his mind. How to pay his debts, what to do about the wallet, and how to forget about it all until Shabbos would be over. On Shabbos you’re not supposed to worry about money.

As troubled as he was, Yehoshua couldn’t help notice one of the wealthier townspeople, Reb Pinchas Leib, sitting in a back corner. He also looked like he was trying hard not to be sad.

Yehoshua walked over and asked him what was wrong. At first Reb Pinchas, who was usually a good natured and talkative person, just tried to shrug it off, as if there was nothing the matter.

Yehoshua insisted that he should tell him what was bothering him. “Was it the fire?”

“Ahhhh! I’ll tell you the truth,” said Pinchas Leib with a heart-breaking sigh. “Oy, the fire. Yes, my house was badly damaged, but I accept that. It was the hand of G-d. What I can’t get over is my wallet. It had a lot of money in it. But more important than that, it was full of papers! All my valuable papers that I saved from the fire. Those papers are my real fortune. Somehow I lost it! I don’t know how. I know it’s Shabbos, but… well… I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Don’t worry!” Yehoshua cried with excitement. “Pinchas Leib, my dear friend, I found your wallet! It’s in my house. I found it before Shabbos!”

Pinchas Leib couldn’t believe his ears. He jumped up, hugged Yehoshua with joy, and thanked him over and over again at least twenty times.

Immediately after Shabbos, Reb Pinchas went to Yehoshua’s house. When he saw his wallet he was so happy that he gave Yehoshua the three hundred rubles as a reward. But Yehoshua refused to take it! He had gotten used to the idea of not keeping the money, and decided that the Mitzvah itself was enough of a reward.

“My dear friend, I found your wallet!”
Reb Pinchas pleaded and argued.

It didn’t help. Yehoshua stood his ground. He wouldn’t take a penny.

Now he really needed a miracle. His children were hungry. And the rent was due!

Suddenly he thought of the Rebbe! Why hadn’t he thought of it earlier? He would travel to the Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, to ask for a blessing, or at least for advice. Either one would surely help!

Two days later he was in Lubavitch, standing before the Rebbe pouring out his heart about his troubles with the landlord, the grocery store, and the tutor. But the Rebbe seemed to ignore all this.

“Is there anything good that had happened to you recently?” the Rebbe asked.

Yehoshua was dumfounded. He couldn’t figure out what the Rebbe meant… something good? Suddenly he remembered the wallet.

“Excellent,” said the Rebbe. “You have nothing to worry about! In the merit of returning the lost item you will be repaid ten-fold! Meanwhile, if you are offered a job of being a chazzan, a cantor, take it.”

He thanked the Rebbe gratefully and backed out of the room. But when he was alone he thought, “A chazzan? I’m not a cantor! I’ve never been a cantor in my life. Who would want me as a cantor?”

Two days later, when he arrived back home, a carriage was waiting in front of his house. Out stepped two respectable looking Jews who came straight over to Yehoshua and asked him if he would come to their town to be the cantor for Rosh Hashana! They even offered him an advance of twenty rubles (about two months’ wages).

“Me?” he thought. “A chazzan? I’m no chazzan! Sometimes people say I have a nice voice, but...” then he remembered the Rebbe’s words. “OK, I’ll do it!” They were very happy.

Yehoshua practiced seriously to be ready to lead the prayers on the awesome days of Rosh Hashana. When the time arrived, all his troubles and his broken heart proved to be his biggest asset. The crowd, who had enough troubles of their own, was moved by the simple sincerity of his prayers. They even invited him back for Yom Kippur with a raise in salary… which they also paid in advance.

“Sure enough, there it was under the large brown rock!”
After Yom Kippur, the head of the community thanked him over and over again. “Unfortunately,” he apologized, “I couldn’t find you a carriage to take you home. It seems they have all been hired by travelers. So please accept this money to pay for an extra night or two in the hotel, if you need it. I hope you don’t mind trying to find a carriage on your own. I haven’t come up with anything. I’m sorry. Please forgive me for not making proper arrangements.”

The next morning Yehoshua realized how bad the situation really was. Literally every carriage was gone. Someone suggested that he speak to an old man who had once been a carriage driver several years back. Perhaps for the right price, he might be willing to take the job.

Yehoshua headed for the old man’s house, a ramshackle hut on the outskirts of the town. When he got there and opened the door he realized that he had come for nothing. The old man was totally blind, and was lying sick in bed, scarcely able to breathe! It seemed like he was dying.

Yehoshua turned to go.

“Ehhh? Is that you, Alexi?!” the old man called weakly. “Did you call the priest? Is he coming? I don’t think I’ll last much longer.”

The old man seemed to think that Yehoshua was someone else. In order to calm him down a bit, Yehoshua answered, “Yes, yes, the priest is coming.”

“You know, Alexi,” the old man wheezed in half a whisper, “you know I have no children. There is some money… I want you to have it. It won’t help me where I’m going. It’s buried in the back yard under the large brown rock. I stole it from a Jewish passenger over twenty years ago. Go and take it. I only used some of it. As far as I know, the Jew isn’t even alive any more. Heh heh!”

Yehoshua left the old man, ran outside into the yard, pushed over the rock and sure enough, there was the wallet.

Quickly he put it in his pocket. Then, fearing that Alexi would return any moment, Yehoshua ran back to town as fast as his legs would carry him.

No sooner did he arrive back than he heard a man calling him, “Hey mister, need a carriage? My ride just cancelled on me! Where do you want to go? I’ll give you a good price.”

In a day’s time he was back home.

When he arrived, he told his wife the entire story and showed her the wallet. Together they opened it. It was packed full with notes in large amounts! Eagerly Yehoshua and his wife counted it. It was three thousand rubles, exactly ten times the amount he had returned to Reb Pinchas! Just as the Rebbe had said.