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The Loan

The Loan


Rabbi Shmuel Strashun (1794-1872), author of the Talmudic commentary known as Hagahot HaRashash, was revered not only for his brilliance in Torah scholarship but also for his devotion to the Jewish community. Among his many public activities, he managed a free-loan fund for the people of Vilna.

Rabbi Shmuel was very careful in keeping the accounts of this fund. He made certain that people repaid their loans as soon as they were due, else there would not be any money available for other people to borrow. He would mark every transaction carefully in his books.

A simple Jew once borrowed one hundred rubles for four months, promising to return it on the appointed day. Four months later, when the loan was due, he went to Rabbi Shmuel's home, but was told the rabbi was in the study hall. The man went there, and found Rabbi Shmuel deeply engrossed in a complex subject in the Talmud. The man laid the money in front of him. Rabbi Shmuel looked up, nodded, and went back to his studying. Certain that the rabbi had acknowledged his receipt of the money, the man went his way.

But Rabbi Shmuel had only nodded reflexively; his mind was totally concentrated on his study. He pored over the talmudic tome for a long time, turning pages back and forth. When he finished, he shut it and put it back on its shelf, oblivious of the money pressed between its pages.

Every week, Rabbi Shmuel would go over the account books to see which loans were paid up and which still had to be collected. When he came to the name of that Jew, he noticed that the loan was still outstanding. He summoned him and asked that he repay the one hundred rubles.

"But I already paid you!"

"You did not. It is written here that you still owe the money."

"I put the money on the table right in front of you!" the man insisted.

Rabbi Shmuel did not remember anything of the sort; he continued to demand payment. The man kept refusing, insisting that he had already paid. Finally, Rabbi Shmuel summoned him to the rabbinical court.

When word of the case spread to the Jews of Vilna, the man fell into public disgrace. How dare he stand up against the famous scholar? He was, in effect, calling him a liar!

The hearing took place. Both sides were heard, and the court ruled in favor of the poor man. It was one man's word against another's—there were no witnesses to the loan or the alleged repayment—and according to Torah rule, in order to obligate a person to pay money, absolute proof of the obligation is required. The poor person was only instructed to take an oath that he had repaid the loan.

But the poor man had no sympathizers in all of Vilna. He was considered a thief and a stubborn fool. His good name was ruined. People stopped talking to him. His son could not bear the disgrace and left Vilna altogether. Finally the man was even dismissed from his job. Still, he continued to insist that he had paid back his debt.

Time passed and Rabbi Shmuel needed to research the same tractate. He pulled the volume down from the shelf and opened it up, and discovered a sum of money—one hundred rubles. For a moment he was puzzled, wondering how such a large sum could have been misplaced there. Suddenly, it all came back to him. This was the missing money which the defendant had insisted he had repaid.

Rabbi Shmuel felt terrible. He had wronged a Jew. He had accused him falsely! Shaken to his core, he quickly summoned the man and said, "How can I possibly make amends for the anguish I caused you? I am prepared to make a public confession to clear your name. What else can I do to compensate you for your suffering?!"

The man stood before the rabbi. His face was gaunt, lined with the ravages of his ordeal. He said sadly: "My good name is already ruined. Even if you declare my innocence, people will not forget that I had once been accused of such a terrible thing. They might even think that you simply had pity on me and therefore decided to clear my name—despite my guilt. They will still consider me a liar and a thief. No, not even a public retraction would help me now. Besides, it would not bring my son back. He left Vilna out of shame."

Rabbi Shmuel was thoughtful for a long time. How could he help the broken man before him, the man whose reputation he himself had ruined? Suddenly, he had an idea. "Tell your son to return to Vilna, and I will take him as a husband for my daughter! This will certainly restore your good name!"

The man was overwhelmed. He had never dreamed of such a wonderful thing. That his son should marry the revered rabbi's daughter!

The engagement took place several days later. The cream of Vilna society took part in the affair. People could not stop talking about the amazing turn of events. "It must have been decreed from birth," everyone decided, "that this ordinary man's son was to marry the great rabbi's daughter. It came to be only through the mistake about the loan. How amazing are the ways of heaven!"

Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles. Rabbi Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
From the Hebrew weekly Shemu Vitachi Nafshechem
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Fro August 12, 2016

I have nothing to comment on the story just yet. It'll take some time for me to decipher the wisdom in it. I'm standing too much at a distance in regards to the content and context of the story to deem full understanding just yet...thank you for sharing... Reply

Anonymous April 17, 2015

A Travesty indeed! You can't hide a dead cat under a Persian rug without seeing a stain or a lump!
Likewise you can't hide the wrinkles or stains on a white tuxedo shirt; worn in the Bachelor party's after party, an hour before his wedding. Reply

Anonymous Australia July 12, 2013

"A simple man" what was his name? Reply

Anonymous Melbourne, Australia July 10, 2013

The Loan I feel sorry for the bride. Did anyone ask her what she felt about marrying this man? And did anyone ask him his feelings about marrying the Rabbi's daughter? I hope it ended happily for everyone! Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, CA July 9, 2013

Everyone Loses in this Tale This tale actually defiles the basic lessons of the Talmud showing that the heart of men is not good and redemption i unforgiving and not possible.The wronged man gave many valid reasons why the Rabbi's declaration of apology would be discounted by the townspeople. And, when the Rabbi extended his most valued offering of his daughter in marriage, the man's opinion of the townspeople was validated; the town still felt it a hollow gesture. There is no lesson of redemption in this story. This flies in the face of Hashem and what the Talmud tries to teach us about true tzedekah, to say nothing about the inequality of a pre-arranged marriage. This tale repeatedly says that there is nothing the Rabbi can do to make amends and that the wronged man knows that well. That being the case, the tale has no possibility of moral redemption in it. Even though the story is fiction, the core value of the story remains the same; it serves to insult the values of men and the amazing intentions of Hashem. Reply

Anonymous USA July 9, 2013

The Loan I suppose that everything that needed to be said, it is written in all the comments. guessing from the results two were right, and maybe two were wrong. Who knows? Only the actors, and author of the story knows better. One could never truly know what is in the heart and mind of a person unless one speaks to the actors at play. And since that would never happen, the best thing to do is come to our own conclusion according to what Torah teaches us in such respect. We all make mistakes at one point or another in our lives. Some are very bad, some are not so bad. Only confessing our wrongdoings to Hashem, blessed be He, could we atone for our sins. He is the Righteous Judge. There are those who could hurt us with their words and behavior. I believe that payment comes with every action. Measure for measure. Reply

Anonymous October 28, 2011

mistakes can happen by anyone In my opinion neither of them were at any fault. we can't expect anyone to pay attention around when they are serving the almighty or praying. neither was that good man who repaid his dues on time. He assumed that since he was seen by the rabbi keeping the money his repayment was acknowledged.

But I feel it was a "less" of a test to these both and "more" of a test to others around. Just because the creditor was a great rabbi so why just blindly listen to him. it is possible that he being a human "may" have made a mistake. Why should the debtors name be spoiled and he be thrown out of the job when there was no proof except the rabbis statement. on the contrary instead in place of the rabbi if some other ordinary person was there then the debtor would have suffered far less.

Amazing how the world just listens and each one takes their own judgement without finding facts. Reply

Anonymous mumbai October 28, 2011

great story I really feel bad for the unnecessary misunderstanding between two really good persons. I wish such a thing should not happen to anyone again as to cause serious hurt to themselves. But one thing i just realized as the old saying goes...

"What ever happens, happens for good"

(it is only our incapability and limited strength that we can't perceive such complicated matters. after all, all are not wise. Totally natural.) Reply

Mr. Chuck Link July 8, 2011

I am amazed... the tension created with this story. If I say I like it will people be upset for my narrowmindedness? If I say I don't like it will people be uspet with me for not realizing it is just a wisdom story. Thanks for all that I learned from the story. Reply

Anonymous calgary, ab August 11, 2010

What the story fails to accomplish is just who it was that did the 'great' deed. It was the daughter, not the Rabbi.
Actually the Rabbi had no right to infer that his daughter's hand was a done deal. She had not yet agreed. Reply

Marian Kann Herndon, VA, US via May 21, 2010

Poor Accounting Practices Whenever a mistake is made there should be some reflection on how to prevent smilar mistakes in the future. Here we have a simple solution. When repaying money one should always ask for a receipt. The Rabbi should give a receipt to all those repaying money in the future. As for his new family members, he should look after them, pray for them and help them. Reply

Anonymous via August 24, 2007

The Loan Remember, this is a "teaching story" illustrating the proper treatment of a debtor with positive and negative examples, from which many nuances can be derived. (As teaching stories are often apocryphal, the snide comment from Jerusalem re: Chabad totally misses the point.) Compressed into a memorable bit of drama are many of the evils to be avoided in fiduciary relationships, evils which are possible even in the best-intentioned activities. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and the wrong thing for the right reasons are both to be avoided, and this story takes those two situations to an almost ridiculous extreme to stimulate thoughtful consideration: what would YOU do, and why, if you were a character in this story. The deeper you dig into stories like this the more you get from them, so don't cheat yourself by taking them at only face value. Reply

Ronald Klein jerusalem, Israel April 17, 2007

a travesty! What a story! I sure hope it is fiction and not based on something which actually happened. The absolute arrogance of this Rabbi to ruin the life of a simple man, due to his sheer narcissism, not for once entertaining the thought that he could make a mistake in his accounting practices. And then to use the lives of his daughter and his victim’s son to assuage his guilt and embellish his public image. If the people of Chabad think that this story is something to be proud of, then they should carefully examine their ethics. Reply

N D Negin London, U.K. February 12, 2007

She agreed!! You can be quite sure that both the son and daughter agreed to the match - it is a Jewish law that they must be asked. I think it's a great way of turning a tragedy into joy. We can learn that mistakes and misunderstandings happen, and we should always be open to forgive and put things right again..... Reply

Kevin Gilad Benyamin Smith August 23, 2006

I wonder... ...what the rabbi's daughter had to say about that marriage? : ) Reply

cheryl via August 22, 2006

there is always a heirarchy even in the most religious stories.
what a shame - and to marry off two people as though they are only useful to right a wrong- what am i to learn from this story? Reply

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