Yaakov always had difficulty with his livelihood, and so numerous times he was forced to relocate with his wife and young son, until ultimately settling in the small Ukrainian town of Sosov. His luck was no better there, and shortly after, he tragically fell ill and died.

Moshe Leib, the young son, abruptly deprived of the possibility of a peaceful childhood and a decent education, never stopped dreaming of the day when he might dedicate himself to his studies. Instead, he was forced to work in order to support himself and his mother.

One day, his mother acquired a huge sum of money that enabled him to quit working—but there was no one in the town to teach him, an uneducated lad, the basics of Torah. And so Moshe Leib, with the permission of his mother, left town.

His travels brought him to Nikolsburg, where a great school of Talmudic learning was established. But Moshe Leib did not know how to learn or where to begin. It would take someone special to assist him.

An Open Home

The Streets of Nikolsburg (Photo: Martin Daněk)
The Streets of Nikolsburg (Photo: Martin Daněk)
The home of the beloved chief rabbi of Nikolsburg, Shmuel Horowitz (1726-1778), known as "Shmelke of Nikolsburg," was always open. Many guests would enter daily and the rabbi and his wife would greet them all happily and assist them with their needs, be it with a kind word of advice or some food.

Young Moshe Leib found his way there, where he was welcomed and treated like a son. He joined the great academy the rabbi founded and became the rabbi's protégé. He continued living happily with the Horowitz family and took part in their activities and chores.

One day, the rabbi's wife removed her ring so that she could ritually wash her hands prior to eating bread. As she was washing, a known local robber and swindler swiped the ring and ran off. As she was unable to speak and call for help prior to taking a bite of bread, as dictated by Jewish law, the robber was able to make his escape. Once she took a bite from the bread, she shrieked that the robber just made off with her ring. "It is worth 100 coins!" she moaned.

The Robber Gives Charity

"Swiftly run after the man. Once you grab him, tell him that the ring is a present for him, but it's worth 100 coins and no less!" Seeing his wife's frantic distress, the rabbi told Moshe Leib, "Swiftly run after the man. Once you grab him, tell him that the ring is a present for him, but it's worth 100 coins and no less!"

Moshe Leib obeyed his beloved teacher and sprinted after the thief. His mission, he knew, was to relay the rabbi's message and nothing else. His youthful feet outdid the thief's, so it was only a short while before he caught the robber and told him what the rabbi said.

The robber was shocked. He was expecting the young lad to grab him, give him a good beating and force him to shamefully return the ring to the rabbi's wife.

Confused and dismayed by what Moshe Leib told him, the robber said, "If the rabbi is such a person, I do not want to take any of his property. I will return the ring."

Moshe Leib looked at him thoughtfully and said, "I think you are mistaken. For the short amount of time that I know him, I have come to learn that every word from the rabbi is significant and uttered with complete honesty."

Moshe Leib explained that the rabbi had not said those words in order to convince the robber to give back the ring. The rabbi meant every word he said. He would not accept the ring back—it was a present and belongs to the thief.

"Listen to me," said Moshe Leib, "take the ring, but don't sell it for less than 100 coins. And with the money, purchase jewelry for orphaned brides."

"Then the rabbi will be happy," he concluded.

The gravesite of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg
The gravesite of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg
Moshe Leib's words entered the robber's heart. He listened to the boy's advice and purchased jewelry for orphaned brides.

The town robber was a poor man who found it easier to rob others rather than get a job to support his family. He had never learned the value of money, because he never earned it.

But as he handed out charity for the first time in his life, the robber experienced an enormous satisfaction. He thought about what it would be like to earn a normal living, survive off his own money and regularly give charity.

The town robber took the lesson to heart. From that time on, he toiled to learn a trade and worked hard to earn an honest living. But what he most enjoyed was handing out his hard earned money to charity and keeping his door open for the hungry.

As for Moshe Leib, he not only grew in Torah scholarship and Chassidic warmth, but the powerful lesson he learned that day was embedded in him for life.

Postscript: Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sosov eventually became a chassidic master in his own right, especially renowned for his efforts to ransom Jewish prisoners throughout Eastern Europe. He is the founder of the illustrious Sosov dynasty.