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Rabbis and beggars alike avoided the home.

The Rusty Penny

The Rusty Penny

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Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812, founder of Chabad Chassidism) was raising money to ransom Jewish prisoners.

He went first to a city that was famous for its miser. It seems that this stingy man, despite his considerable wealth, was loath to share his blessings, no matter how worthy or urgent the cause. Rabbis and beggars alike avoided his home. Anyone who did unwittingly end up on his doorstep was offered a single rusty copper coin, which even the most desperate pauper would promptly refuse.

When Rabbi Schneur Zalman arrived in the town, the elders of the community graciously received him. But when he announced that he wanted to visit the house of the miser and wanted two rabbis to accompany him, he was met with serious resistance. The rebbe was adamant, however, and they finally acquiesced and gave him the escort he requested.

The next afternoon the three of them were standing in front of the miser’s mansion. Before knocking on the door, the rebbe turned to his companions and requested that they not utter a word, no matter what they hear or see. Several moments later they were sitting in the luxurious front room, and the owner was returning from his safe with a small velvet money pouch.

“Yes,” said the rich man. “A touching story indeed! Widows and orphans in captivity. Ah, the suffering of the Jewish people! When will it all end? Here, Rabbi, take my humble donation.”

To the miser’s surprise, the rebbe seemed pleased by the gift. He was actually smiling at him warmly as he put the coin into his pocket and said, “Thank you, Mr. Solomons. May G‑d bless and protect you always.” The rebbe then proceeded to write him a receipt, adding all sorts of blessings in a most beautiful script.

“Thank you again, my friend,” said the rebbe as he stood and warmly shook the man’s hand, looking him deeply in the eyes with admiration. “And now,” he added, turning to his two companions, “we must be on our way. We have a lot of collecting to do tonight.”

As the three rabbis walked to the door, the rebbe turned and bade his host yet another warm farewell. “You should have thrown it back in his face,” hissed one of the rabbis after they heard the door close behind them.

“Don’t turn around and don’t say a word,” whispered the rebbe as they walked down the path to the front gate.

Suddenly they heard the door opening behind them and the miser calling: “Rabbis, rabbis, please come back for a minute. Hello, hello, please, I must speak to you, please . . . please come back in.”

In a few minutes they were again sitting in the warm, plush drawing room, but this time the rich man was pacing back and forth restlessly. He stopped for an instant and turned to the rebbe. “Exactly how much money do you need to ransom these prisoners?”

“About five thousand rubles,” the rebbe replied.

“Well, here is one thousand . . . I have decided to give one thousand rubles; you may count it if you want,” said the miser as he took a tightly bound stack of bills from his jacket pocket and laid it on the table. The other rabbis were astounded. They stared at the money and were even afraid to look up at the miser, lest he change his mind.

But the Rebbe again shook Mr. Solomons’ hand, warmly thanking him, and wrote him a beautiful receipt replete with blessings and praises, exactly like the first time.

“That was a miracle!” whispered one of the rabbis to the rebbe as they left the house and were again walking toward the gate. Once more the rebbe signaled him to be still. Suddenly the door of the house again opened behind them. “Rabbis, please, I have changed my mind. Please come in once more. I want to speak with you,” Mr. Solomons called out.

They entered the house for a third time as the miser turned to them and said, “I have decided to give the entire sum needed for the ransom. Here it is; please count it to see that I have not made a mistake.”

“What is the meaning of this?” wondered the rebbe’s astonished companions after they had left the rich man’s home for the third time that evening. “How did you get that notorious miser to give 5,000 rubles?”

“That man is no miser,” said Rabbi Schneur Zalman. “No Jewish soul truly is. But how could he desire to give, if he never in his life experienced the joy of giving? Everyone to whom he gave that rusty penny of his threw it back in his face.”

A popular teacher, musician and storyteller, Rabbi Tuvia Bolton is co-director of Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel, and a senior lecturer there.
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Marvin Finkelstein Flushing February 4, 2016

The offensive use of the term nefesh for soul When a person does something to save a life that overrides a Halachic prohibition it is called "pitkuach nefesh"; hence taking care of one's health if often looked at as acting like an animal.
It is to be remembered that on Shabbat we say "nishmas kol chai tevorach et shemkah, hashem elokanu". This means that on Shabbat animals are elevated to a neshamah.
Let us refrain from using that offensive term for the soul when a person either takes care of their health of saves a life. Reply

Anonymous Usa February 1, 2016

Every Jew wants to perform all the Mitzvot with Joy and Happiness, it's only the animal soul that burdens him with negative thoughts. Reply

Anonymous UK February 1, 2016

Love Giving is a wonderful experience and there is no greater benefactor than HaShem. A penny is equally valid as a donation as is one million pounds, it is not what you give it is the heart felt meaning in giving and the heart felt response in receiving. Reply

Anonymous Mesa, AZ February 1, 2016

The Rusty Penny This is a wonderful story of faith, compassion, and appreciation for receiving Most people do not realize that when someone does not give as expected, it might be because this "someone" might not have had the opportunity or the blessing to have had the love and respect a human being deserves. B"H Reply

Marvin Finkelstein Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY February 1, 2016

Overscrutiny blocking true gratitude I often purchase kosher food for outings with a friend.
Whenever it comes from the wrong store, the store is open on Shabbat but the food has the hecsher from the Vaad Rabanim, it was rejected and all the money I had spent was not appreciated.
If only, there had been a person truly in need in our vicinity, I could have given the food away.
It is great to have fresh food, kosher food from a Shomer Shabbat place, and all the other gastronomic amenities.
But, being over scrutinous and causing a person of limited means to lose all that was spent, is this truly being kosher? Reply

Yosef Levin Palo Alto November 22, 2013

More accurate This story was printed in Talks and Tales I believe when I was a kid. the end of the story was that a poor man came to him for a donation and he happened to only have a penny but wanted to give, so he gave him the penny. When the man threw it in his face he swore that he would never give another penny until someone accepted that one. Reply

Erin Hogue Joplin, MO. November 30, 2012

Great story! Thanks for sharing:) Who knows if he was really a miser at all. Maybe there was a time when all he had to give was the rusty penny and it was thrown back in his face. I would have maybe reacted the same way. Who knows...Shabbat Shalom everybody:) Reply

Deborah drums pa November 28, 2012

Deborah G What an inspiring story what great moral teachings. thank you! I especially love the addition insight giving by 'Rusted Penny'. Thanks to all. Reply

Mariam Bahawalpur December 14, 2010

spirit It is the spirit of giving as well as of receiving,that matters.Indeed a beautifully written article.Very very deep thought. Reply

Barbiels Independence, KS January 18, 2010

A wonderful story...it shows the proper response of the receiver (no matter if insulted by the gift) as well as the giver. Reply

Rivka November 8, 2009

misers A miser never lives to have the joy of living. only G-d can make a miser change his mind, and that is just what he did Reply

Judy Resnick Far Rockaway, NY March 29, 2009

To the Numismatist The coin of this story was not a United States one cent coin. This story took place somewhere in Europe, sometime in the late 18th century. It was a similar coin of little worth: a kopek, a zloty, or some other coin of the lowest value of that country. In addition, it was probably dirty, possibly oxidized and greenish, maybe even bent or scraped. Understand that "rusty penny" is not a literal translation but meant to express the idea of a battered coin of small value. It appeared to represent the giver's lack of respect for the recipient: giving not only the least but also the worst (like handing a beggar a moldy crust instead of a fresh slice of bread). But it was worth something, and when the Alter Rebbe recognized that, it made all the difference to that miser. Reply

n November 1, 2008

only pennies made during wwII rust - they were nade of steel. i was a numismatist. Reply

Chaim Brooklyn, NY September 19, 2006

Rusty penny I heard the story with somewhat more educational moral. This miser had become rich and wanted to give charity and decided that what better act of gratitude to Hashem than to give the first penny he had earned. But then of course everybody threw it back at him. He decided that he wouldn't give anything until someone finally accepted that "first" penny of his. When The Alter Rebbe accepted it, and showed such serious gratitude, the miser suddenly changed into the person who he really was. Reply

Ariel Shemen Dobbs Ferry, NY August 3, 2005

Breaking the Shield I have actually heard that story before but with a diffrent plot line somewhat. It was before the Alter Rebbe had gotten his prostigue and he was traveling with two other sages of the age. But after the miser gave all the money, to explain the "miracle" that just occured the Alter Rebbe replied that "Once you crack the covering, once you have punctured it somewhat, the peeling process becomes completely effortless." Nonethless I believe that I wouldn't be the first to be uplifted greatly from that story, from one version to another. Reply

H. Hudspeth July 21, 2004

Warning These teaching stories are downright addictive! :) Reply

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