Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Yisro, Moshe's father-in-law, upon coming to join the Jewish nation
during their sojourn in the desert, came upon a scene that he found
inexplicable. Moshe sat, while multitudes of people stood before him,
waiting to receive his advice on matters of Torah law. It was obvious
to Yisro that Moshe, with Hashem's approval, had to delegate
authority - he could not carry the burden of judging an entire nation
on his own.
"Now heed my voice, and I shall advise you,
and may G-d be with you. You will be a
representative of G-d... And you shall discern
from among the entire nation men of wealth,
G-d fearing men, men of truth, who despise
money... And they shall judge the nation at all
While Yisro listed four separate requirements for the leaders and
judges, in the end Moshe was only able to satisfy one of the
"And Moshe chose men of wealth from among
all Israel..." [18:25]
Of all the four qualities, perhaps the most novel is that of "Men who
despise money." What does it mean to despise money? Targum
Onkelos understands it to mean that they despise the very idea of
accepting money from others. Ramban says that they despise
improperly obtained money. It is not hard to imagine why "men who
despise money" is a highly unusual quality!
My step-grandfather writes in his memoirs the following amazing story
about his paternal grandparents. R' Yaakov, his, grandfather, was one
of the rare individuals upon whom one could confidently confer the
title "men who despise money." He writes:
Grandfather Yaakov and his brother Yonta were engaged in heavy
physical work. They specialized in draining swamp land to produce
additional crops. In the cold months, grandpa worked for a brewery
in Ponadel, which was operated by a Jewish innkeeper. Grandpa was
a devoted Lubavitch Chassid, and was scrupulously honest in all his
dealings. He was married to Nechama, who came from a learned
family in Dvinsk. The family lived modestly, always having enough to
eat and to help less fortunate neighbours. Grandma was a frugal
manager, and made the most of what grandpa earned.
Grandma came from Dvinsk, from a family that produced a famous
scholar and rabbi. Her cousin, R' Meir Simcha Ha-Kohen, was the
gaon of Dvinsk. Grandma was described to me by a local resident as
the most righteous woman in town. He still remembers her going to
the synagogue carrying a large prayer book with wooden covers
under her arm. She was very charitable, making sure that others had
the necessities to celebrate the Shabbos. In the summer, she would
pick wild raspberries that grew around the cemetery fence. She would
process the juice and store it for the winter, when she would provide
it as a home remedy for the sick. Today we know that raspberries are
high in vitamin content, and could indeed help as a home remedy.
My father told me that she would go and clean up the hekdesh, a
shelter for homeless wayfarers usually in a mess. Once, he said, there
was a man in town who was dying from an advanced stage of
syphilis; no one would come near him but grandma, who nursed him
in his agony. In her old age, she fasted two days a week.
Grandpa was a man of great honesty and integrity, as illustrated by
the following story, that I call "The Dowry." My grandparents oldest
child was a daughter, Sara Malla. In those days, when a girl reached
sixteen she was already referred to as a kallah maid (a bride girl),
and the hunt was on for a suitable husband. It was customary for the
bride's parents to provide a dowry, a sum of money to start the
couple in their new life. A suitable husband was found for Sara Malla,
and the agreement called for a 200 ruble dowry.
As the time approached for the completion of the marriage
arrangements, my grandparents had only been able to get together
170 rubles toward the 200 ruble dowry. This is where things stood
when a strange thing happened. Grandpa worked for a brewery run
by the local innkeeper. Each day, when he finished his work, he
would stop at the inn and discuss with his boss what was happening
at the brewery.
On the day of this event, the shtetel was alive with people. It was the
market day, when the peasants from the surrounding area came to
town. They sold their produce, bought provisions, and settled in at
the pub to regale themselves with beer and vodka. This day, as well
as all other days, grandpa came in to see his boss. The town was
abuzz, and in the inn there was drinking and loud laughter. As
grandpa left the inn and walked on to the town square, lo and
behold, he saw a small sack on the ground. He bent down and
picked it up. He was surprised how heavy it was. He opened it up,
and what do you think he found? Thirty gold rubles! There was no
name or identification as to who owned it. The square was a public
place, and since there were no identifying marks, according to both
Jewish and Russian law, he was entitled to keep the money.
At this stage, you would guess what was going to happen with that
money. Just the right amount to complete Sara Malla's dowry! But to
grandpa, when it came to honesty, there were no shadings. It was
either black or white. He returned to the inn, found his employer, and
told him of what he had found. He requested that the rightful owner
be found, and the sack be returned to him. Without further comment,
he left for home. When the family was having their evening meal,
grandpa casually told of what had taken place that day.
Well, grandma was very pious, and was in constant touch with G-d.
Among the other things she prayed for was the completion of the
dowry, so that her daughter could get married. When she heard
grandpa's story, she felt sure that Hashem had heard her pleas, and
had so neatly sent just the right amount. The dowry would be
complete, and her daughter's wedding would take place. She made
this known to grandpa in no uncertain terms. She called him a fool,
and accused him of throwing Hashem's gift away. He kept protesting
that it was not his money. It was not his money.
Time for completing the dowry passed, and the match could not be
completed. The deal was off. Weeks later, a young man by the name
of Moshe, from a good Ponadel family, approached grandpa in the
synagogue. He said he heard that Sara Malla was no longer spoken
for, and that he would like to be considered as a suitable husband.
When the two families got together, grandpa asked what dowry was
expected. "I came to ask for your daughter," Moshe replied, "that is
dowry enough for me." The rest of the story is there for all to see.
The young couple were married, and enjoyed a fruitful life together.
Moshe was a devoted husband and father. He was very respectful of
my grandparents, and if you asked my father and his siblings, they
would have told you that he was the pillar of the family. [Morris
Silbert, Family History and Other Stories, p. 3-6].
Perhaps, indeed, there do exist rare individuals whose vision is not
blurred by the allure of money, even when it is most desperately
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.