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The Banker's Shabbat Dilemma

The Banker's Shabbat Dilemma

A chilly day in Karlsruhe, Germany. Ezreen Photography
A chilly day in Karlsruhe, Germany. Ezreen Photography

Jews in Karlsruhe, Germany, were given the rights to live as equals and in relatively peaceful conditions from the late 17th century. The Jewish community thus flourished in this city, located on the Rhine River and a short distance from France.

Shmuel Straus, a banker in this city, enjoyed a happy life, free to spend his extra time raising his children, doing good deeds and studying Torah from his vast library of Jewish books. Shmuel earned just enough to support his family without any worries. He was known to be G‑d-fearing and thus did all of his business dealings honestly.

Shmuel's first business venture was to run a small bank, given to him by his father-in-law following his marriage. With a permit from the government, Shmuel would mainly exchange currencies and invest money for people. He owned a special coat with two large pockets, one where he would place account receivables and one for currency exchange.

One Friday morning, before going to the ritual circumcision, brit, of his friend's son, he put on the special coat he would wear on Shabbat, holidays and special occasions, and transferred the cash he'd ordinarily keep in his other coat. Following the celebration, he continued on his way to work as usual, changing money and accepting payments.

At midday, he stopped his work to assist in the preparations at home for the holy Shabbat. After his wife lit the Shabbat candles, he put on his Shabbat coat, and bid farewell to his wife and small children and then headed to the synagogue for the Friday night prayers.

He suddenly realized that his pockets were still filled with wads of money from that day's dealings. Shabbat was a special day for Shmuel, and he'd spend it in prayer, learning and precious time with his family. For the Shabbat meal, they would always have many guests. That Shabbat was no different. As he walked the quiet route back from the synagogue, he'd take the time to gather the words of Torah he would say at the Shabbat table. His guests would soon arrive with their families at his home.

Shmuel sat on the bench on the side of the road as he gathered his thoughts, when he suddenly realized that his pockets were still filled with money from that day's dealings.

A synagogue in Karlsruhe, Germany.
A synagogue in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Raised with the firm belief that it is forbidden to "carry on Shabbat" — transferring anything from the private domain (his home) to the public domain (the city streets), or vise versa — Shmuel was rooted in his place, sweating from the thought of having to carry the money. He could not bear the idea of using money that he brought home on Shabbat.

Sitting in the deserted street, he suddenly thought about the joy he'd have knowing that he did the right thing, and quickly unbuttoned his coat, dropping the wallets on the ground. A blanket of relief swept over him. He knew that he would have to repay many debts, and that his future was in doubt. However, his trust in G‑d empowered him to make a decision that he knew was right.

That Shabbat was extra joyous for him. He felt that he passed the great test G‑d placed in his way, and had prevailed triumphantly. His extra joy was a mystery to his family and the many guests who had been to his table before.

As the sun faded and the stars came out, Shmuel said the special prayer recited over wine at the conclusion of Shabbat. His wife held the special candle and the family passed around the special fragrance to soothe the soul upon the departure of the beautiful Shabbat.

His extra joy was a mystery to his family and the many guests who had been to his table before After saying the after-blessing on the wine, Shmuel relayed to his family what had transpired on Friday night, thus revealing the reason for the joyous Shabbat. He also told them that it may be the beginning of a more difficult life. His wife accepted the will of G‑d and assured the family that everything will turn out for the best.

The same night, Shmuel decided to check the route he'd used, hoping to find the wallets he'd dropped. He did! And as Shmuel opened the door to his home, the family breathed a sigh of relief, for the wallets were intact with the full sum of money inside them.

A few days later, the Minister of Finances of the Baden region heard about the trustworthy Straus bank, and entrusted Shmuel with a huge sum of money. The investment in the bank spread and many well-to-do people invested their money with Shmuel.

Today, Shmuel's legacy lives on in Jerusalem, where the Straus Courtyard, a place of Torah learning, stands in his name. His children sold Straus & Company in 1938 when they fled from Germany and relocated to California.

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
Adapted from a story in Hebrew by Zalman Ruderman.
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Menachem Posner February 14, 2017

RE: Tradition Thank you for pointing that out. We have edited that line a bit to be more clear. Reply

Anonymous February 14, 2017

That is a really good story thank you so much chabbad your stories are always full of inspiration Reply

Father of RLY Upstate NY February 6, 2017

BDE Three girls (z"l) killed walking home at NCSY Shabbaton in Utical NY Yes, it was 35 years ago this shabbas, Still looking for answers. Feb 6, 1981. From one sister... "Hi Jo. Yes, my older sister was killed by a drunk driver. She died a week before her 14th birthday, a month before I turned 11. She was at a youth group convention at the time. A group of kids were walking from the synagogue to their host homes. Three teenage girls were killed that night. It was pretty impactful throughout Upstate New York, as you can see from the memories being shared here." Ruth Leah Y , Pam R, Erica H. Maybe one of them forgot there was a penny forgotten in the pocket of her coat. Torah demands that "The man who collected sticks on the sabbath was executed." Maybe that is it. What do you think "Anonymous?" Reply

Anonymous brooklyn February 3, 2017

Tradition You wrote: 'Raised on the tradition of not "carrying on Shabbat" '

How come you call "Carrying" a tradition which means a minhag? Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, New Yor k May 21, 2013

Wow. This is an very inspiring story, I am proud to be who I am! Reply

Jeremy London, UK February 25, 2011

A better idea Now if it were me, I would probably have placed the wallets in a hollow tree or some place like that. Posting them home would be another possibility assuming one had the stamps and a bag. Just leaving the wallets in the street or public place, is too tempting for other people to commit a crime, which arguably is also a sin. Reply

Mark R Reston, VA December 24, 2010

complicated issue I don't know if there would be a right or wrong here.. On one hand, it was important to him to honor the rule of not carrying. On another hand, the long-term well-being of his wife and children were at stake, and if I understood the story correctly, most of this money belonged to his investors. So it is no so clear to me that God would have wanted him to drop the cash.

It seems he was putting his faith not so much "in God", but in his belief that God wants him to hold the non-carrying rule above the other considerations. Did God really want him to do that, who knows..? Reply

Debra Anne Rock Creek, BC, Canada December 22, 2010

Proud to obey... The Rabbi did the rigt thing, and G-d rewarded him for it. Knowing that the outcome could have been much different and led to hard times only strengthens our pride in him as he could of ignored the money reasoning that he had no choice but to carry it home. Reply

Zusel ben Shlomo Upstate, USA December 21, 2010

Normal behavior... Leaving money in the road is "not ordinarily useful" (see article above).

Keeping Shabbat? You never know. Reply

Yehuda Derick Justin Berold Cape Town, South Africa. December 21, 2010

Bankers Shabbat Dilemma I truely found this story very inspiring and Im proud to be Jewish... Reply

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