Jr. Jewish World / Just 4 Kids!
February 3, 1998 / 7 Shevat, 5758

Zeidy Zalman tells a tale "Of vengeance and riches"

JOSEF TOOK A DEEP BREATH and fixed his yarmulke so it rested precisely in the center of his head. He then looked into the bathroom mirror and smiled.

"If I must say so myself, I do look quite convincing, don't I," he asked himself. Few, Josef assured himself, would ever be able to tell he was not the person who he seemed to be.

And that was quite important, indeed. What would happen in the next few minutes would either make or break Josef. If he believed in G-d, he would have most certainly prayed to Him at that moment.

"Yes," the tired voice of the legendary Chacham Tzvi answered. "Please come in."

"Rebbe," Josef began. "I have just finished writing a sefer (religious work) and would like to print it. But before I do so, I would like a letter of endorsement."

"I'm truly sorry," the sage replied. "But I simply don't have the time now."

Josef, not taking "no" for an answer, was determined. He insisted that the process would only take a few moments.

"Very well, let me see your sefer," the sage, who was known as a kind spirit, said. The Chacham Tzvi then proceeded to carefully read through the manuscript. Finding nothing objectionable in it, he gave Josef the letter he requested -- a piece of paper that would almost certainly guaranteed the book would become a bestseller.

"Silly old rabbi," Josef muttered under his breath at the first moment he could. "Silly, silly old man."

And with the priceless letter in his possession, Josef put Step Two into motion. He swapped the manuscript he had shown the great sage, for one that questioned the very foundations of the Jewish faith. If all went well, unsuspecting Jews would be tricked into purchasing -- and reading -- trash.

When news of the revised contents came to the Chacham Tzvi's ears, his emotions quickly to turned from shock to anger. But much more intense were the feelings of remorse. His name would, no doubt, now be the impetus that would cause harm to Jews the world over. The sage immediately ordered Josef to refrain from publishing his endorsement. He demanded the letter be returned at once.

When Josef heard about the saint's demands, he merely laughed. "Too late, dear rabbi. Tomorrow I'll begin the printing," he told the sage's messenger, who had brought Josef the message.

Not wasting any time, he took a drastic measure. He immediately arranged that a fire be set at the publisher's warehouse. And the next evening, as Josef no doubtedly slept peacefully dreaming about all the money he would soon be raking in, every last copy of his book burned. Not one remained.

A vindictive sort, Josef knew who to blame for his troubles. He immediately ordered a "hit" on the sage.

The one "hitman" he could find to do the dastardly deed, was the town nebbish. He was an elderly bachelor whom most had predicted would never amount to much. He really had nothing to lose by "bumping off" the sage. Indeed, with all the money Josef had promised him, he reasoned, he had only to gain. After the "hit," he fantasized, he would be able to buy a large house and convince a starry-eyed woman to marry him. Life would finally begin to be good.

Josef's directions were detailed. The "hitman" was to wait early in the morning at the edge of a certain bridge on the edge of town. As the sage made his way to the morning prayers (Shacharis) before sunrise, he was to be thrown over the bridge. With the area isolated, nobody would ever find out.

The next morning, like clockwork, the Chacham Tzvi approached the bridge. But try as he might, the "hitman" couldn't bring himself to murder the sage. On the third day, the Chacham Tzvi stopped to talk to the bachelor.

"What's the matter with you, son? You've been acting very strange for the past three mornings."

This was the perfect moment. This is my chance, he thought.

But he just couldn't do it.

"Rebbe," the "hitman" replied as he began to break down crying. "I'm ashamed to admit that I was prepared to murder you; but only because I desire money and materialism and honor so, so much. However, each day when I steeled myself to do this crime, one look at your face, which shines with righteousness, was enough to stop me. But I assure you, Rebbe, it was only the money that led me even to consider such an act."

The sage smiled kindly at him. "Because you were able to withstand such a terrible sin, despite the great financial loss on your part, I will give you a blessing that not only you, but for many generations, your descendants will be wealthy."

MANY YEARS LATER, a Polish Jew was accused of committing a horrendous crime. Despite his pleas of innocence, a court found him guilty of murder. The one chance he had for his life to be saved, was to plead for clemency directly to Franz Joseph, the emperor of Austria, who also ruled over Poland. However, the man's pleas fell on deaf ears. The court's death sentence was confirmed.

The man's parents were distraught and turned to the sainted Sanzer Rav for help.

"There is only one person who could perhaps influence Franz Josef, and that is the philanthropist, Baron Rothchild. Let us call on him and ask that he intercede on your son's behalf."

"But Rebbe," came Rothchild's reply, "I have decided never to visit the emperor more than once in three months. It is, after all, not befitting my dignity and importance."

"Listen, Rothchild," the Sanzer warned him in no uncertain terms. "I'm a direct descendant of the Chacham Tzvi who gave the blessing that provided your family's wealth. Just as my ancestor could give this blessing of wealth, so too can I take it away. Maybe it would be wise to reconsider your position."

Rothchild's efforts saved an innocent man's life, just as his forebear saved the Chacham Tzvi's. The Rothchild family remains wealthy to this day, one of the richest families the world over.


© 1998, Jewish World Review