Zevulun was a good Jewish merchant in the land of Babylonia whom G‑d had blessed with riches, much land and other valuable possessions. Most precious to him, however, was his son Naftali, who at a very early age showed that he was gifted with a brilliant mind and with the will to learn. Zevulun decided to send him to Jerusalem, where he would study under the guidance of one of the great sages of Israel.

Father and son loved each other dearly, and they felt the hardship of parting very much when the time came for Naftali to leave for the Holy Land. They clung to each other, and tears rolled down their cheeks. Their hearts were heavy, as if they knew that they would never see each other again. Finally, they could not delay the separation any longer. Very earnestly Zevulun blessed his young son, and sent him off on his way to Jerusalem.

Naftali had a pleasant trip, and arrived safely at his destination. His father had arranged everything, so that he could immediately begin his studies under the guidance of the great sage Rabbi Eliezer. He immersed himself completely in his studies, and was thus able to get over the pain of parting from his father.

Back home in Babylonia, misfortune soon befell the one he loved and revered most. His dear father took sick, and the doctors told him that there was no chance of his recovery. Zevulun longed desperately to see his beloved son before he died. Yet his appreciation of learning and his deep piety held him back from sending for Naftali. Instead, he used the brief spell of life still granted him to settle all his affairs. He made out his will in a manner worthy of a man of his greatness of mind and heart. He gave a large part of his wealth to various charitable institutions to care for the sick and to support synagogues, schools and hotels for the poor. Having thus taken care of this important matter, he appointed his old slave Samura sole heir to all his possessions: his great treasure of gold, silver and precious stones; his estates; his ships and his merchandise that were spread over the far-flung corners of the earth. Samura was to be the exclusive owner and master over this huge wealth. There was, however, one clause in the will which read that Samura had to permit Zevulun’s son, Naftali, to select one object from all his possessions for himself. Zevulun had this mysterious testament duly signed and witnessed. Soon afterwards, his pure soul left him and returned to its divine creator. As befitted such a great man, his burial was an impressive affair in which not only the population of the city but friends from far and near paid homage to the departed.

Very surprised, however, were the friends of Zevulun when his will was officially opened, and the strange arrangement of the inheritance was made known. In vain they searched for the motive of Zevulun’s disregard for his young son whom he had loved so much, and who was so industriously studying Torah under the guidance of the famous sage in Jerusalem. This was certainly not the proper reward of the youth’s love of Torah. Zevulun had lost his wife soon after Naftali’s birth, and there was no one else on whom the merchant should have bestowed his love and wealth other than his worthy son. Yet the will of a dying man must not be changed. And Zevulun had made sure that there was no doubt as to the legality of his testament. While Naftali concentrated on his studies, ignorant of the double misfortune that had befallen him, the old slave Samura inherited Zevulun’s wealth and property.

Samura had been a faithful and industrious servant to Zevulun ever since the day he had come into the house of the kind merchant as a young boy. He had learned much from his master’s wisdom and nobility, and he possessed a sufficiently strong character not to become spoiled by the sudden turn of fortune in his favor. Instead of living a life of extravagance and luxury, as his newly found wealth would have permitted him, he spent his time and efforts in cautious investment and furtherance of the business. He did not waste a single penny. He dismissed all lazy and careless servants, and employed only able men to act as his representatives in his worldwide dealings on land and sea. He built new storehouses and warehouses, and purchased ships and vehicles to carry his trade to the distant corners of the earth. Thus his huge business thrived as never before.

Meanwhile, as we have said, Naftali studied unceasingly, as he knew his beloved father wished him to do. Zevulun had amply provided for all his needs. He had bought him a house and had left sufficient funds to pay for his son’s expenses. So Naftali enjoyed his learning in a carefree atmosphere of comfort and leisure. His knowledge increased, and he became one of the most promising young scholars to whom the world of learning looked with great hope.

One day a man knocked at the door of Naftali’s study. Interrupting his studies, the young man reluctantly opened the door. To his surprise, he was greeted by a fellow countryman from Babylonia who had brought him a letter. “I have been asked to wait for your signature and reply,” he said.

Naftali opened the sealed message, and was deeply shocked when he read the news that his beloved father had passed away. Tremors shook his body. His knees trembled, and he fell to the ground unconscious. The messenger quickly lifted the young scholar from the floor and loosened his garment. Slowly, Naftali recovered consciousness. He cried bitterly at having been absent from his beloved father’s deathbed. If his father was destined to die, at least he, his only son, could have made his last hours happier and his death easier with his presence. Sadly he tore his clothes and sat down on the ground to mourn for his beloved parent who had been both father and mother to him.

After a while, Naftali recovered somewhat from the initial sorrow and pain. Yet more shocking news was waiting for him. When he again opened the fateful letter to read fully the long message from his father’s friend, he found out about the mystifying details of Zevulun’s testament. But it was not the loss of the wealth which troubled him so. He was terribly upset at the thought that he must, somehow, have given cause for his father’s strange action. “I cannot understand why I have been abandoned by my dear father. He must have had only contempt for me, if he put me thus to public ridicule and shame. It must surely be my fault to have estranged my father’s heart at the time when his death was near. How could I have lost my dear father’s love forever?”

Sitting thus shaken by pain and sorrow, the door opened and his great teacher, Rabbi Eliezer, entered the room to comfort him in his mourning. Silently, he sat down by the side of his heartbroken pupil. After a while he tried to console him, and pointed out that it was G‑d’s decision to take his father’s soul to heaven. At least he, Naftali, had inherited the huge wealth of his father, and would be able to carry on the charitable work for which Zevulun had been famous.

At his words, Naftali began to cry. He showed his teacher the letter, that he might see for himself the double loss that had come to him. Rabbi Eliezer took his time in reading every phrase of the fateful letter. Having finished, he put it aside and thought for a while. Naftali expected to see the great sage’s face saddened by the same disappointment that had filled him when he read the bad news. But to Naftali’s great surprise, a happy and joyous smile lit up the scholar’s face, and his wise old eyes beamed at him.

“Blessed is G‑d, who gave wisdom and understanding to His servants,” he exclaimed fervently, and then turned to the astonished Naftali: “My son, be happy and joyful, for truly pleasant is your lot. Your father’s love and care reaches even beyond his grave. Know that the very will that you thought had deprived you of your father’s love and possessions proves his infinite concern and tender care for you. In his wisdom, he protected and made safe his huge wealth for you.”

Naftali did not immediately grasp what had given Rabbi Eliezer this idea. But when his teacher asked him to whom, according to the Jewish law, belonged the possessions of a slave, light dawned on him. “To his master, of course,” replied Naftali.

“Well, now do you see why your father made those strange arrangements? During the years of your absence, servants and managers might easily have done great harm to your inheritance. Knowing Samura’s capabilities and good character, your wise father made him temporary heir, so that he would take proper care of the possessions until your return. Then, as provided by the clause in the testament, you would choose the slave as the one object that you select for yourself. Automatically, all of Samura’s possessions will be yours, according to the law.”

Great indeed was Naftali’s joy over this legitimate interpretation of his beloved father’s will. He embraced Rabbi Eliezer gratefully, and thanked him for his help and consolation. His wise teacher blessed him and left him with the customary wish: “May G‑d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Thirty days later, Naftali arrived in Babylon and legally succeeded to the huge wealth of his father by selecting Samura for himself. In appreciation of the good slave’s services, he freed him and made him manager and adviser, with full powers to carry on as if the business were his own. Thus, Zevulun’s wise will had indeed completely cared for and protected his beloved son beyond the grave.