It was not uncommon for Rabbi Yehuda Ben-Attar (1655-1733), chief rabbi of Fez, Morocco, to receive visitors of all sorts, seeking his wise counsel. Many local Muslims would consult with the rabbi on personal matters and ask him to arbitrate their business dealings. But when a Muslim businessman showed up having traveled all the way from distant Tunis, it was an anomaly indeed.

The visitor was extremely wealthy and had many holdings in his hometown, including a partnership with a Jewish fabric dealer. The wealthy Muslim would provide the money for the fabric dealer to buy various textiles. He would then sell them, and share the profits with his benefactor. Their partnership remained harmonious for many years, and both men prospered.

Over time, complete trust developed between the two, and the magnate would deposit large sums of money with the fabric merchant with no written contracts or records of any sort.

One day, the businessman deposited a substantial sum, and the fabric dealer, who had never handled such vast amounts, was blinded by temptation. He calculated that it would take 10 years of ordinary business for him to earn such a sum of money.

Several weeks passed, and the wealthy man came to pick up his share of the profits. The fabric dealer welcomed him graciously. As soon as the guest was seated and served a glass of tea, the host spoke. “I am surprised, my dear partner. It is already a few weeks that I have not been working on your behalf, as I am waiting for a deposit. Where have you been?”

At first, the businessman did not understand. Then he thought his partner was joking with him. But it soon dawned on him that he had fallen into a trap.

His mind raced as he contemplated his next move. He sorely regretted having trusted the merchant so much that he hadn’t even recorded the transaction; now he would be unable to take legal action.

Suddenly, an idea popped into his head. Like many citizens in Morocco, he had heard about the great and pious Rabbi Yehuda Ben-Attar. “You know what,” he said to the fabric merchant, “swear to me in the name of Rabbi Yehuda Ben-Attar that you did not receive any money from me in the past few weeks, and that you do not have any money of mine.”

At first, the fabric merchant was shocked. He tried to excuse himself with all sorts of ruses, but the wealthy businessman continued pressing him to swear. Realizing that his continued refusal was tantamount to admitting guilt, he paled and shook with fright as he took the oath, especially when he mentioned the name of Rabbi Yehuda. The wealthy man was highly disappointed and left the home of his erstwhile partner, knowing that he had no further recourse.

Time passed and the thief’s pangs of guilt were replaced with feelings of joy.

Now, he was richer than he had ever hoped to become, and he threw a party for all his friends. As the wine flowed like water, he recounted how he had struck rich in a “good deal” and that his strong business acumen and good fortune guaranteed that he would have enough for the rest of his life.

As the evening wore on, he went to the cellar to fetch some fine wine. The cellar also served as his warehouse, in which he stored his fabrics. There were also barrels of oil, lumber, and adhesive materials there. Standing in the cellar and inspecting his great wealth gave him untold joy.

When he returned to the party with his wine, he forgot the candle he had brought with him. Soon the strong smell of smoke filled the house. Before he had a chance to look for the source, pillars of fire were coming from the cellar. The candle had fallen on a bolt of fabric, and in a short time, there was no trace of any merchandise.

“I came to honor the holy rabbi, to tell this story and express my gratitude,” continued the rich businessman who had traveled all the way to Fez to see Rabbi Yehuda Ben-Attar. “I am certain the ruin of my ex-partner is because he used your name to swear falsely.”

The visitor took out a purse full of money and tried to give it to the rabbi as a token of his gratitude and admiration. But Rabbi Yehuda, who worked as a silversmith and never took any public funds for himself, declined the gift. “Firstly, I don’t take gifts from people. Second, I cannot benefit from money coming as a token of thanks for the downfall of another, however deserving he may be of Divine punishment.”

Rabbi Yehuda directed him to the charity director in Fez, and the money was distributed among the poor.