Some three hundred years ago, in the city of Vienna, capital of Austria, there lived a famous rabbi, Rabbi Samson Wertheimer. (Rabbi Samson Wertheimer was born in Worms in 1658 and died in Vienna at the age of 66. Through his great friend, Samuel Oppenheimer, the great financier, Rabbi Samson was presented to the royal court and, together, they were of great assistance to King Leopold the First. Later, after the death of Oppenheimer, Rabbi Samson took over his post, which he kept also during the reign of King Joseph.)

This rabbi was renowned not only on account of his riches and high government position, but also on account of his wisdom and fine character. He was King Leopold’s Finance-Minister, and was entrusted with all the financial secrets of the country. He also supplied much of the war material for the army in the great war with Spain at that time.

Rabbi Samson used his great influence at court to benefit his oppressed Jewish brethren, and with his great wealth he supported the poor and needy. He took great pride in his Judaism, and he fought against those who told malicious lies about the Jewish people and their traditions. His piety and kindliness made him beloved by all Jews.

At that time a certain bishop (who was surely a direct descendant of the wicked Haman) won the king’s favor. The bishop could not bear to see the king giving so much honor to, and having so much faith in, a Jew. He tried all methods to place Rabbi Samson in the king’s disfavor. Try as he would, the bishop could not find any excuse to cause the king to mistrust him.

The bishop once came to the king and said: “Your majesty, there is a Jew whom you have trusted with all the wealth of the kingdom. Do you know if he is faithful and honest? Maybe he enriches himself at the king’s expense? Do you know if he has earned his wealth honestly?” The king replied: “I certainly do have faith in him. Have you any proof that he has cheated me?”

“I have no doubt whatsoever that he cheats you”; continued the bishop, “but I also have a way to prove to your majesty that my accusations are not groundless. I bribed a bookkeeper of your Jewish finance minister, and he gave me a copy of his books. I didn’t believe my eyes when I saw what a huge amount of money he has amassed! Let the king ask him how much he is worth and see what he answers you. If his answer will conform to the amount written in his books, then I will also admit that he is an honest man. But if he states a sum less than that mentioned in the books, then you know that he is a swindler. The king may then give him over into my hands, and you can rest assured that he will receive his just punishment.”

“Very well! I am willing to try out your test,” the king answered. “You will then see that all your suspicions are groundless . . .”

“One condition, I would ask of your majesty,” the bishop went on. “If it will be proven that Wertheimer has lied, he must be burnt alive, and, meanwhile, your majesty can have the furnace heated, so that the death sentence can be carried out immediately . . .”

The king allowed himself to be influenced, and the furnace was prepared. Meanwhile the king gave orders to his hangmen that, if a person, no matter who it may be, should come to them and ask in the king’s name: “Have you carried out the king’s order?” they should straight away grab him and throw him into the furnace without any questions!


The bishop left the palace in high spirits, rubbing his hands gleefully at the thought of ridding himself of his Jewish enemy, Wertheimer.

The king then had his Finance Minister Rabbi Samson Wertheimer brought before him. He did not tell him that this was a matter of life and-death, but just started a friendly discussion with him. The king led the conversation up to the point where the king asked him about his personal welfare and inquired if he was satisfied.

“Praised be the Almighty, I cannot complain,” the rabbi answered humbly.

“Do you receive suitable pay for your devoted service? About how much is your personal wealth, my good friend?” the king asked matter-of-factly.

“The king has to be told an exact amount, and that is difficult to estimate on the spot . . .”

“I don’t mean to the exact gulden,” the king interrupted. “How much are you certain of, that you have no doubts about?”

Rabbi Samson Wertheimer thought for a moment and then mentioned a certain amount.

The king could hardly restrain his astonishment and anger. Rabbi Samson had mentioned an amount roughly one-tenth of the amount he was supposed to own, according to the books. It looked as if the bishop was right. His trustworthy and reliable finance minister had apparently fooled him!

The king then told him to go to the furnace and ask the hangmen if they had carried out the king’s orders.

Rabbi Samson went to carry out the king’s order, not dreaming that he was going to a certain death.

On the way he met a Jew who was very pleased to meet him. “Worthy rabbi, today my newborn son is eight days old. I have to carry out the holy mitzvah of circumcision, and I cannot find another mohel. I beg of you, Rabbi, please come with me and perform the ceremony . . .”

In addition to his many qualifications, Rabbi Samson Wertheimer was a mohel. He was always happy to carry out this great mitzvah, and never charged any money for it. Now Rabbi Samson was at a loss what to do. “The king sent me on an errand; how can I delay? I am obliged to carry out his order . . .”

“And I have been sent by the King of Kings!” the Jew persisted. ‘The sacred mitzvah of circumcision can certainly not be delayed! I will not leave you, dear rabbi, until you grant my wish . . .”

The rabbi, seeing that such a great Mitzvah came his way, did not hesitate too long, and went with the Jew.

The house was already filled with guests. Rabbi Samson was greeted with great honor and joy. After the ceremony, a meal in honor of the mitzvah was served, and wine was drunk, with everyone expressing good wishes for a healthy life.

As soon as Rabbi Samson drank a glass of wine he felt slightly dizzy; he lay down for a while and soon fell asleep. No one wanted to awaken the honored guest . . .


That night, the bishop could not sleep. He had heard that the king had sent his Jewish finance minister to his certain death. He also had heard that the king had confiscated Rabbi Samson’s possessions; the bishop was in the seventh heaven. “I must go personally and make sure,” the bishop thought. “I will still manage to see the Jew’s bones burning in the furnace . . .” and with a devilish smirk on his face he went to the furnace . . .

“I have come to see with my own eyes if you have carried out the king’s orders!” the bishop remarked gaily.

“Aha! We are waiting for you . . .” the hangmen answered. They grabbed hold of him and started dragging him towards the furnace . . .

They took little notice of the bishop’s protests and cries . . . they stopped up his mouth and threw him into the furnace . . .


Meanwhile, Rabbi Samson woke up and hurried home. It was already after midnight, and he felt disturbed at having to leave the king’s order until the next day.

He found the house in an uproar . . . his family were worrying about him because all his possessions had been sealed by the king’s servants and they felt that they were all in great danger . . .

In the morning, straight after morning prayers, Rabbi Samson hastened to carry out his king’s command . . .

“Yes! We carried out our orders to the letter,” the hangmen replied. “You should have seen the bishop tremble . . . but it served him right . . . I always knew he was a false person . . .” one of the hangmen remarked with a smile.

Rabbi Samson remained standing, unable to understand what had happened. He ran to the king and became even more bewildered when he saw the king looking at him, as if he, Rabbi Samson, were a ghost . . .

Rabbi Samson excused himself for having been unable to carry out the royal command the same day, due to a most urgent matter, and he was forced to postpone it till the following day. He hastened to reassure the king, however, that his command had been carried out, and the bishop had been burned according to the king’s order . . . On the other hand, he could not understand why the king had confiscated all his property that he, Rabbi Samson, had so honestly earned . . .

The king suddenly broke out into uncontrollable laughter. He laughed and laughed until he could hardly remain standing. He then embraced Rabbi Samson and pressed him to his heart, and continued to laugh joyfully, tears coming to his eyes.

Rabbi Samson regarded the king in amazement and waited patiently until the king would come to himself.

Finally the king told him the whole story about the bishop’s accusation, and what a remarkable escape the rabbi had enjoyed from the certain death that the bishop had prepared for him, but had himself suffered.

“I am now assured that you are a religious, G‑dly man, whom your great G‑d has saved from a certain and unearned death,” the king said earnestly. “But tell me, why did you deny the truth and not admit the full amount of your riches?”

G‑d forbid!” Rabbi Samson replied. “I would not tell the king a lie. When the king asked me how much I was sure I possessed, I could not state the amount in the books. That was not definitely mine. Only yesterday I had this amount, and today the king confiscated everything . . . The only certain possessions that I have are those that I have donated to charity . . . they cannot be taken away from me. I am used to giving a tenth of my earnings to charity, and therefore that is the amount that I stated . . .”

The king was extremely pleased with Rabbi Samson’s explanation.

“There can be no question any more of confiscating your properties,” the king remarked, beaming. “I grant you them once more, with pleasure. Please tell me how I can repay you for the unpleasantness I caused you so unnecessarily?” the king asked.

“The king has already sufficiently rewarded me, with his trust and friendship,” Rabbi Samson replied. “Even so, I would like to ask a favor of his majesty: I would like to build a large synagogue in Vienna, where my devoted brethren would be able to come to serve G‑d.”

Rabbi Samson’s wish was granted and a great synagogue was erected in the capital, known as “Rabbi Samson’s Synagogue.”

Rabbi Samson lived out his years in Torah study, charity and good deeds, and he accomplished a lot of good both for the Jews and for the country. Before his death he willed a large part of his possessions to charity: this “Wertheimer Fund” existed till the first World War, and gave much help to charitable causes.