One of the very wise sayings in the Book of Ecclesiastes is:
Cast thy bread upon the waters, for you shall find it after many days…
Which means: Always be ready to do a good turn even if you don't expect a reward for it. For, some day, you will surely find your reward waiting for you.
The following story is a very good illustration of this saying, you will agree.
Bar Kappara, one of the Tanaim who lived at the time of Rabbi Judah Hanassi, was once walking along the seashore of Caesaria, when he noticed a shipwreck in the distance. As he stood and looked, he saw a man swimming from the wreck towards the shore.
The man seemed to be making good headway and was obviously a good swimmer. But as soon as he reached land, he almost collapsed with weariness. Bar Kappara went forward and gave him a helping hand. The man staggered ashore and begged him to assist him. Bar Kappara took him home, clothed him, fed him and offered him some money so that the man went away refreshed and encouraged.
Some years later, the Jews of Caesaria found themselves in a predicament with the local authorities and decided to send a petition to the Governor. They chose Bar Kappara to go and speak on their behalf.
Bar Kappara prayed to G-d to guide him aright and help him succeed in his important mission.
When Bar Kappara reached the Governor's palace, he asked for permission to see the Governor, having come on a very urgent matter. When his request was granted, he was ushered into the presence of the Governor. To his great astonishment, Bar Kappara recognized him as the same man whom he had once saved and helped on the shores of Caesaria.
"What can I do for you, my friend?" the Governor greeted him warmly, recognizing Bar Kappara as his onetime "friend in need."
Bar Kappara earnestly begged the Governor to use his authority in helping the Jews, on whose behalf he had now come to plead.
The Governor listened carefully and patiently to the story Bar Kappara unfolded before him and then said:
"I will gladly do this favor for you, my friend, because when I was in such a desperate position you helped me to the maximum of your ability without asking for or expecting any reward. Because of your unselfishness and kindness to me, I shall now help your suffering brethren at your request."
Bar Kappara had brought a large sum of money as a gift to the Governor from his fellow-Jews. The Governor, however, gave the money back to Bar Kappara, saying:
"Take this money back as a gift from me now. For although the sum of money you gave me was not as great as this, to me it meant everything at the time of my need. You may return to your brethren and tell them that I am helping them out of gratitude to you, and take my blessing with you."
Bar Kappara joyfully hurried back with the good news to his fellow-Jews who were anxiously awaiting his return.
Great was the rejoicing among them at Bar Kappara's good tidings, and they all acknowledged how true was the saying of King Solomon:
"Cast thy bread upon the waters for you shall find it after many days."