#108 (s5760-08/17 MarCheshvan))
The Rashash was very careful in keeping the accounts of this fund. He made certain that people repaid their loans as soon as they were due, else there would not be any money available for other people to borrow. He would mark every transaction carefully in his books.
Once, a simple Jew, a baker, borrowed one hundred rubles for four months. On the day when the loan was due he went to the Rashash's home with the money, but was told the rabbi was in the beis midrash [study hall]. The man went there, and found the Rashash deeply engrossed in a complex subject in the Talmud. The man laid the money in front of him. The Rashash looked up, nodded, and resumed his study, without interrupting. Certain that the rabbi had acknowledged his receipt of the money, the man went his way.
But the Rashash had only nodded automatically. His mind was totally concentrated on his study. He pored over the gemarah tome for a long time, turning pages back and forth. When he finished, he shut it and put it back on its shelf, oblivious of the money pressed between its pages.
Every week the Rashash would go over the ledgers to see which loans were paid up and which still had to be collected. When he came to the name of the baker, he noticed that the loan was still outstanding. He summoned him and demanded that he repay the one hundred rubles.
"But I already paid you!"
"You did not. It is written here that you still owe the money."
"I put the money on the table right in front of you!" the man insisted.
The Rashash did not remember, but trusting his meticulous records, he continued to demand payment. The man kept refusing, insisting that he had already paid. Finally, the Rashash summoned him to rabbinical court.
When word of the case spread to the Jews of Vilna, the man fell into public disgrace. How dare he stand up against the famous scholar? He was, in effect, calling him a liar!
The hearing took place. Both sides were heard and the scholar's story held more weight. The judges postponed their decision for a later date, hoping that the man would admit that he had not paid back his debt.
The poor man had no sympathizers in all of Vilna. He was considered a thief and a stubborn fool. His good name was ruined. People stopped talking to him and would no longer consider his children for marriage prospects. Finally the man was even dismissed from his job. Still, he continued to insist that he had paid back his debt. His son, a promising young scholar, could not bear the disgrace and left Vilna altogether.
Nearly a year passed and the Rashash needed to research the same tractate. He pulled the volume down from the shelf. As he was leafing through the pages, he discovered a sum of money-one hundred rubles. For a moment he was puzzled, wondering how such a large sum could have been misplaced there. Suddenly, it all came back to him. This was the missing money which the defendant had insisted he had repaid!
The Rashash felt terrible. He had wronged a Jew. He had accused him falsely! Shaken to his core, he quickly summoned the man and said to him, "How can I possibly make amends for the anguish I caused you? I am prepared to make a public confession to clear your name. What else can I do to compensate you for your suffering?"
The man stood before the rabbi. His face was gaunt, lined with the ravages of his suffering. He said sadly, "My good name is already ruined. Even if you declare my innocence, people will not forget that I had once been accused of such a terrible thing. They might even think that you had pity on me and therefore cleared my name. They will still consider me a thief and a liar, and insolent for opposing you. No, not even a public retraction would help me now. Nor would it bring my son back, who left Vilna out of shame."
The Rashash was thoughtful for a long time. How could he help the broken man before him, the man whose reputation he himself had ruined? His heart was pounding. Suddenly, he had an idea. "Tell your son to return to Vilna, and I will take him as a husband for my daughter! This will certainly restore your good name!"
The man was overwhelmed. He had never dreamed of such a wonderful thing. That his son should marry the revered rabbi's daughter!
The engagement took place several days later, and the wedding within the month. The cream of Vilna society took part in the affair. The Rashash paid all the expenses. People could not stop talking about the amazing turn of events. "It must have been decreed from birth that this ordinary man's son was to marry the great rabbi's daughter," they marveled. "It came to be only through the mistake about the loan. How amazing are the ways of heaven!"
[Translated and freely adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Shemu Vitachi Nafshechem #203. You may distribute this e-mail as long as full attribution is given, including Ascent's email and internet addresses, as in the heading.]
Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed,
and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org
websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.