In the small town of Tschortkow in Galicia (Poland) there lived a learned and saintly man called Rabbi Hershelle Tschortkower.
He was busy night and day, for he never refused his help to those who needed him. Some people sought his advice; others his blessing. And then there were the poor widows, orphans, sick people, and old ones who needed money for their daily bread. He was forever collecting money for those who were unable to help themselves.
One day Rabbi Hershelle Tschortkower decided that he needed an assistant, for there was too much work for him to do alone. So he hired a shamash (secretary) to share his responsibilities. Anschel Moses Rothschild, who was then a poor young man, was happy to accept this job. The Rabbi and the shamash became dear friends.
But, after a few years, Anschel Moses decided to get married. He went to live in the nearby town of Sniatyn, where his father-in-law opened a store for him. The Rabbi was happy about the marriage, but he was sad to see his shamash leave, for he had been a faithful, devoted assistant.
Several months later, on the night before Passover when a solemn search for leaven is conducted in the Jewish home, a terrible thing happened. Rabbi Hershelle Tschortkower was examining the drawers in his desk, when he discovered that his purse with five hundred guldens was missing! That was money that had been collected to help orphans, widows and others in need.
The Rabbi pulled out the entire drawer and checked the desk more carefully. Then he pulled out the rest of the drawers to search them again. He looked under the desk and behind the desk, but the purse was not to be found. The Rabbi's heart was filled with pain. It took a long time to collect all that money, and now he had no way of helping unfortunate, helpless poor people.
Then he began to feel even more sad, for he suddenly realized that the only one who had known about the purse was Anschel Moses. The Rabbi had always trusted him; but who else could have taken the money? There was no other explanation.
Yet the Rabbi found it hard to believe that Anschel Moses might be a thief. Perhaps, thought the Rabbi, there was an explanation for the whole thing. Maybe Anschel Moses had borrowed the money when he went to Sniatyn to get married. Maybe he was already planning to return it? The Rabbi decided not to tell anyone about the missing money. He did not want to embarrass Anschel Moses, or let people know that he even suspected him. He decided to travel to Sniatyn to discuss the matter with Anschel Moses and give him an opportunity to clear up the matter.
Immediately after the festival, the Rabbi hired a wagon and went to visit Anschel Moses. Anschel Moses was very pleased to have such an honored visitor. Then the Rabbi told him the reason for his visit. The Rabbi said that he was sure Anschel Moses had only meant to borrow the money, and he was sure would return it now. G‑d would forgive him for his wrongdoing, and no one would ever know about it. If it had been his own money, the Rabbi said, he would not have been so concerned, but this was money collected for people who otherwise might starve or suffer hardships, G‑d forbid. And he himself had little money, so the stolen money had to be found immediately.
As the Rabbi spoke, Anschel grew pale and frightened, and his eyes filled with tears. He went to his money-box, emptied it, and without a word gave all the money to the Rabbi. The money was counted, but it was only half of the total sum. With deep regret, Anschel Moses promised to give the rest of the money to the Rabbi as quickly as possible.
The Rabbi was both relived and saddened. Anschel had not said word in self-defense. He had offered no excuses for his conduct. The tears in his eyes were proof of his shame and guilt. That made the Rabbi sad. He was happy, however, that Anschel Moses had realized his mistake and was returning the money.
The Rabbi thanked Anschel Moses. They shook hands and embraced, and the Rabbi said that everything was forgiven and forgotten.
During the next few months, Anschel Moses worked longer hours than ever and saved his money carefully to repay the Rabbi. The Rabbi realized that Anschel Moses was an honest and fine young man who had indeed deserved his trust and respect. Anschel Moses had made a mistake, but he was eager to make amends.
One morning, there was a loud knock on the Rabbi's door. He was surprised to see the Chief of Police standing there. The Chief asked the Rabbi to come with him to the Police Station on some important business. A horse and carriage were waiting in front of the house.
The Rabbi was very puzzled. He was afraid that there might be a serious problem. He prayed to G‑d it should not be connected with any danger to the Jewish community.
The Police Chief brought the Rabbi to his office and in a very friendly way asked him if anything had been stolen from his house recently.
The Rabbi who had never spoken to anyone about the missing money was completely surprised. He told the Police Chief about the missing purse, but assured him that the one who took it had since returned the money. It was a young man who was getting married and needed the money. He really only meant to borrow it. The Police Chief asked a few more questions and he looked very bewildered by the entire story.
"You Jews are a wonderful people," the Police Chief said with respect and admiration. "Never in my life have I heard of anything like this!"
Then he opened the drawer of his desk, pulled out a purse and handed it to the Rabbi. Do you recognize it?" he asked.
It was now the Rabbi's turn to look bewildered. This was certainly his missing purse, but how did it come here? The door opened and a police officer brought in a handcuffed peasant woman.
"Do you recognize her?" asked the Chief of Police. The Rabbi shook his head. "No, I'm afraid I don't," he answered, still mystified by the happenings.
"Well, I suppose you are busy with your work and do not notice the cleaning woman who comes to clean your house. Anyway, it does not matter. She has confessed." And then the Chief of Police told his story.
When the woman was cleaning the house before Passover, she happened to find the purse. She took it to her house and buried it in the garden near a tree.
A few days later, she took some golden coins and went to buy new clothes. Then she decided to stop working, for now she had plenty of money. A week passed, and she took some more guldens to buy new boots and shoes. The neighbors became suspicious and reported it to the police.
It didn't take long for them to catch her. They found her digging in the garden, and when she was opening the purse, the police arrested her. There were only four coins missing. "Here you are, Rabbi," said the Chief of Police with a friendly smile.
"But you know," he said, "I just can't understand what you said. Why did that young man pay for the theft when he was not guilty? And why didn't he explain to you that he was not at fault?"
The Rabbi shook his head. This was something he could not explain.
The next day the Rabbi traveled to Sniatyn. He rushed out of the wagon, ran up to Anschel Moses, and tearfully asked his forgiveness. "Why did you not tell me that you were innocent?" asked the Rabbi in a trembling voice.
Anschel Moses explained that the sadness and worry of the Rabbi had deeply touched him. He knew that if the truth were told, and he offered to help, the Rabbi would have refused to accept it, knowing that Anschel Moses was far from a rich man. So Anschel Moses and his wife gave everything they owned to the Rabbi, and for many months they saved every penny to complete the missing amount.
The Rabbi embraced Anschel Moses and blessed him to have great riches so that he might always be able to help the poor and needy of his people. "Here is the money you so kindly paid out of your pocket. Go to Frankfort, Germany, where you will have a better chance to succeed in business, as well as to do good deeds. May G‑d be with you and your wife and children for generations to come."
The blessing of Rabbi Hershelle Tschortkower was fulfilled. Anschel Moses became a successful merchant and banker in Frankfort. His son, Mayer Anschel Rothschild, was even more successful. His five sons settled in different capitals in Europe, and they carried on their banking business in partnership and their wealth increased from generation to generation.
A grandson of Mayer Anschel, Baron Edmund de Rothschild of France, head of the House of Rothschild, earned the name of Hanadiv Hayadua -- "The Famous Benefactor." He helped many Jews in many different ways. He died in Paris in 1934 at the age of ninety.
So this was the secret of the Rothschilds' success -- the unselfish generosity of an ordinary man, a man who gave charity without letting anyone know of his great sacrifice.