To the town of Shchedrin there arrived a messenger, sent by the leading rabbis of the day, to raise money for a worthy cause. A meeting was convened by the town’s elders to discuss how to aid the guest in his holy mission.

At the meeting it was suggested that the messenger be accompanied in his door-to-door visits by a respected member of the community. This way, those who would give only grudgingly to a stranger might be more generous in the presence of someone they knew and respected.

All faces naturally turned to Reb Peretz the mill-owner, who neatly fitted the bill: learned, pious and wealthy, he was by far the most prestigious burgher in the room.

Reb Peretz, however, was not quite as enthusiastic. “Listen,” he finally said, “I was thinking: how much will we collect by knocking on the door of every small-time shopkeeper and wagon-driver? I know this town. I estimate that we will raise, at most, eighteen silver rubles. I’ll tell you what—I’m ready to contribute the eighteen rubles myself, if you’ll exempt me from this ‘honor’ . . .”

Present at the meeting was the town’s rabbi, Rabbi Shaul DovBer Zislin. At this point, Rabbi Shaul DovBer interrupted. “Reb Peretz,” he said, “you just explained something that was puzzling me all evening. I was wondering: why was this meeting called? Surely the dear Jews of Shchedrin are charitable souls, who will give whatever they can to a worthy cause. Why didn’t the messenger simply go about his rounds, raising the money?

“I’ll tell you why. When our friend came to town, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) was frantic. Hundreds of mitzvot were about to be performed in Shchedrin! Never mind the eighteen rubles that will be raised—considering the sums of money that the yetzer hara deals with, this is a mere pittance. But the mitzvot! Yankel the water-carrier, Shepsel the innkeeper, Mina the laundress, and hundreds of others, are going to joyfully give their hard-earned pennies to aid their brethren in distress. What work awaited the yetzer hara! He must now finagle his way into the heart of each of Shchedrin’s precious Jews and seek to dampen their generosity, to convince them to reduce their contribution or to refuse the messenger altogether, G‑d forbid.

“Then the yetzer hara had an idea. Call a meeting! Yes—call a meeting of Shchedrin’s influential householders, a meeting to aid the messenger in his holy mission. At this meeting, it will inevitably be suggested that Reb Peretz accompany the messenger to stimulate an even more generous response. Now, the yetzer hara’s job will be much, much easier—all he has to do is to convince Reb Peretz to give the eighteen rubles himself . . .”