Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another Person's Money

Although a certain milkman who lived not long ago, Rav Betzalel Hachalban, zt”l, was very poor, it seemed that he hardly noticed. Even as he did his work he was always absolutely immersed in Torah. In addition to knowing Shas, gemara, Rashi, and Tosafos by heart, he possessed profound yiras shomayim. A certain talmid chacham once found Reb Betzalel clearly preoccupied with a deep question while he held a sack of money in his hands.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked Reb Betzalel.
The milkman answered, “I am considering whether the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah of a large sum of money is one big mitzvah or a separate mitzah per perutah returned. If the latter is true, I stand to fulfill thousands of mitzvos with this one deed….”
The talmid chacham pointed out another option. “Perhaps you are not obligated to return the money at all. I don’t see any clear siman.”
Rav Betzalel was appalled at this possibility. “But according to my calculation, I can fulfill many thousands of mitzvos when I return this aveidah. I will return it regardless. How can I possibly enjoy money that some poor unfortunate lost and mourns? If you are correct, I will lose out on so many mitzvos and gain absolutely nothing!”
“But if you are not obligated to return it, why not keep it?” asked the talmid chacham. “After all, you are so poor.”
“How am I poor? I have bread to eat in the morning and at night, and I even dip my bread in salt water. Is that the life of a truly poor man?”
“But you could have butter with your bread!”
Rav Betzalel was horrified. “What kind of taste would butter have if it was bought with money that is causing another Jew pain?”
When the talmid chacham understood how much this meant to Reb Bezalel he took a completely different track. “But maybe we can find some kind of siman after all...”

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