You have all heard of the famous Rothschild family of bankers, who were as much famous for their great wealth as for their great charitableness. The founder of this world-famous banking firm was Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who was born in Frankfort 214 years ago, in a very religious family, several members of which were rabbis. His father Amschel Moses Rothschild, who died a year after Mayer Amschel became Bar Mitzvah, had hoped that his son would be a rabbi. Instead, he became one of the world's greatest financiers, yet remained strictly religious and humble, and Jews everywhere could speak with great pride of him.
How did this young orphan, born in the judengasse (Jewish Quarter). in Frankfort become so successful and so wealthy? Well, there is a story current among Chassidim that reveals the secret of his unusual success. It's a heartwarming, story and you will be glad to read it here. The hero of our story, however, is his father Anschel Moses.
In a small town in Galicia, called Tschortkow, the Jewish community appointed a rabbi, who was known for his great scholarship and piety. His name was Zevi Hurwitz, and he was affectionately called Rabbi Hershelle Tschortkower. He was known as a saintly man, and many came to him for advice, or for a blessing. He tried to help everybody, and most of all the poor orphans and widows, for whom he collected special funds. In addition, moneys left in trust for orphans and widows were placed in his hands for safe-keeping.
Now, a rabbi with such responsibilities required a Shamash (a beadle). His duties included the running of errands for the Rabbi, accompanying him on his way, handing him a sepher (holy book) when the Rabbi was studying, taking care of the visitors who came to the Rabbi, and so on.
This was not a well-paid job, but Anschel Moses was a young man in his teens, whose personal needs were small. Not much of a scholar himself, Ansehel Moses was anxious to serve such a great scholar and rabbi as Rabbi Hershelle Tschortkower, and when the opportunity presented itself, he was very happy to become the Shamash, and he was treated as one of the Rabbi's family, enjoying their fullest confidence.
Soon, the time came when Anschel Moses had to think of getting married and raising a family. He married into a modest Jewish family in the nearby town of Sniatyn, where he went to live. His father-in-law helped him to open a small store there.
Several weeks, or perhaps several months, after Anschel Moses left the service of Rabbi Hershelle in Tschortkow, the Rabbi discovered a theft in his house, which upset, him very much. In the drawer of his personal desk he had kept a purse with five hundred gulden. This substantial amount of money belonged to orphans, widows and other people whose savings had been left in trust with the Rabbi. He discovered that it was missing on the night of Bedikas Chometz, the night before Pesach. For it was his custom to personally check in case some Chometz might have slipped in there. When he opened this drawer, all the way, he was shocked to see that the purse was not there. This was quite a fortune, which the Rabbi could not hope to replace. He thought of the poor people who had entrusted all their possessions in his care, and his heart was filled with pain. It pained him even more to think that there was someone in his own home who had stolen the money. The only other person who knew about it, or might have known that the Rabbi kept a large sum of money in that drawer, was Anschel Moses. The Rabbi had trusted him fully, and would never have suspected him of such a mean thing. Yet, there could be no other explanation. No doubt Anschel only wanted to borrow the money in connection with his marriage last winter, which he must have hoped to repay as soon as he was able to do so.
Having come to this conclusion, the Rabbi decided to tell no one about it, so as not to create a panic in the community, nor stamp anyone as a thief. He would have a talk with Anschel Moses and clear up the matter, and no one would know anything about it. So, on the first day of Chol-Hamoed he rented a carriage and went to Sniatyn to see his former Shamash. His trip aroused no surprise in the community, as it was not unusual, but it certainly surprised Anschel Moses to see his Rabbi in his humble store so unexpectedly. When the Rabbi remained alone with Anschel, he carefully told him why he had come to see him. He told Anschel of the missing money, but assured him that he did not suspect him of theft, G‑d forbid, but thought that perhaps he merely wanted to borrow it for a little while. Although this is also against the Din (Jewish Law), a human being sometimes gives way to temptation, and as long as he makes good the wrong, G‑d will forgive him. The Rabbi also assured him that he personally would also forgive him, and that no one would ever know about it. Had it been his own money, the Rabbi concluded, he would have done nothing about it at all, but as this money belonged to orphans and widows and poor people, whose whole existence depended on it, he had no choice but to come to see him about it.
As the Rabbi was talking to him, Anschel grew pale and frightened, and his eyes filled with tears. The Rabbi thought that Anschel was filled with remorse, and thought all the more of him that he did not attempt to deny the whole thing. Indeed, Anschel said not a word in self-defense. He merely opened his money-till and emptied all its contents. He counted it and gave it to the Rabbi. Then he begged the Rabbi to excuse him, while he went to get the rest of the money to make up the missing amount.
After a considerable while, Anschel returned. Still looking quite distressed, he told the Rabbi that all he managed to raise now was half of the amount, but he promised faithfully to make up the balance by installments.
The Rabbi was very happy at the way things had turned out. He had always thought that Anschel Moses was a good and honest soul, and now he was convinced of it. Happier still was he at the thought that those poor orphans and widows would not suffer any loss, for he was certain that Anschel would keep his word.
True to his word, Anschel regularly sent small amounts on account, until the whole five hundred gulden were fully paid. The Rabbi now could dismiss and forget the whole unpleasant affair. If he ever thought about it at all, it was only to admire the decency and goodness of the Jewish heart of a simple young man such as Anschel Moses, who so eagerly made amends for a mistake he committed in a moment of unusual temptation.
One day, as Rabbi Hershelle was bent over a sepher, deep in study, a special messenger arrived from the Police Chief of the town. The messenger told him that the Chief begged to be excused for troubling him, but he wished to see him urgently, and had sent a, carriage for him, which was waiting outside.
The Rabbi had no idea what the matter could be, but he put his trust in G‑d that it was not connected with any danger to the community, and he hastened to go with the messenger.
The Police Chief greeted him in a friendly manner, and asked him if anyhing had been stolen from his house recently.
The Rabbi replied that if the Police Chief was referring to a certain sum of money which was discovered missing in his house, it had already been recovered. The Police Chief looked rather surprised and wished to know the whole story, and how the Rabbi came by such a large sum of money.
"If you will promise not to take action against an innocent man, who has made good his mistake, I will tell you everything," the Rabbi said. The Police Chief promised, and the Rabbi told him the whole story about the missing money.
"You Jews are wonderful people," the Police Chief said admiringly. "I have never in my life heard anything like it!" Thereupon he opened a drawer and pulled out a purse, saying, "Do you recognize it?"
Now it was the turn of the Rabbi to be surprised, for this was the very purse that had been missing.
After enjoying the Rabbi's surprise for a while, the Police Chief rang a bell, and when an orderly appeared, he gave the order, "Bring them in!"
The next moment a country yokel and his wife were brought in, handcuffed together.
"Do you recognize either of them?" the Chief asked the Rabbi.
"I am afraid I do not," the Rabbi answered, still mystified by the whole thing.
"Well, I suppose you are busy with your books, and do not notice the cleaning woman that comes to clean your house. It does not matter. A full confession has been obtained," and after ordering the two prisoners out, the Chief began to unfold what had happened:
The woman had been cleaning the Rabbi's house before Passover, when she chanced upon the purse with the money in the Rabbi's desk. She stole the purse and brought it to her husband. Afraid to use the money at once, they buried it in their barn. A drunkard, however, will out, and so the yokel could not resist using the money to buy himself a drink. He went to the buried treasure, and took out one gulden, and went to the inn. When the innkeeper asked him where he got a silver gulden, the yokel told him he had found it. The next day he came back with another silver gulden, and the third again. This made the innkeeper quite suspicious, and he reported it to the police. The yokel was arrested, and, after several lashes, confessed the theft. The purse with the money was recovered, except for the three gulden which the yokel had spent on drink.
"Take it, it's yours," the Police Chief said with a smile, still unable to make out that Jew Anschel, who not only failed to clear himself of a suspicion, but even paid for a theft committed by someone else.
The Rabbi's heart was now filled with happiness to overflowing. He lost no time in making another trip to Anschel Moses.
"Reb Anschel, please forgive me," were the Rabbi's first words after greeting his former Shamash, with tears in his eyes. "Why didn't you tell me that you had not taken the money?" he demanded to know.
Anschel told the Rabbi that the plight of the poor orphans and the Rabbis own distress had touched his heart. If he had denied that he had taken the money, and offered to help, the Rabbi would not have accepted his sacrifice, for truth to tell, he had to pawn everything he possessed to raise what he could, and then saved every penny to make up the rest, knowing that the Rabbi could not otherwise raise the money. The Rabbi embraced Anschel, and blessed him with great riches that he might always help the poor and needy of his people.
"Here is the money you so kindly paid out of your pocket. Go back to Frankfort where you will have better opportunities to do business, as well as to do good works. May G‑d be with you and with your children for generations to come."
The blessing of Rabbi Hershelle Tschortkower came true. Anschel Moses Rothschild became a successful merchant and money-changer in Frankfort. His son Mayer Anschel Rothschild succeeded even on a larger scale. He had five sons, each of whom settled in a different financial capital of Europe, and their wealth increased from generation to generation. A grandson of Mayer Anschel, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, head of the House of Rothschild, who lived in France, especially did much to help his brethren in various colonizing enterprises, which earned him the name of Hanadiv Hayadua, the Famous Benefactor. He lived to a very ripe old age, and died in 1934 in Paris, at the age of ninety.