Rabbi Shmuel Strashun (1794-1872), author of the Talmudic commentary known as Hagahot HaRashash, was revered not only for his brilliance in Torah scholarship but also for his devotion to the Jewish community. Among his many public activities, he managed a free-loan fund for the people of Vilna.

Rabbi Shmuel was very careful in keeping the accounts of this fund. He made certain that people repaid their loans as soon as they were due, else there would not be any money available for other people to borrow. He would mark every transaction carefully in his books.

A simple Jew once borrowed one hundred rubles for four months, promising to return it on the appointed day. Four months later, when the loan was due, he went to Rabbi Shmuel's home, but was told the rabbi was in the study hall. The man went there, and found Rabbi Shmuel deeply engrossed in a complex subject in the Talmud. The man laid the money in front of him. Rabbi Shmuel looked up, nodded, and went back to his studying. Certain that the rabbi had acknowledged his receipt of the money, the man went his way.

But Rabbi Shmuel had only nodded reflexively; his mind was totally concentrated on his study. He pored over the talmudic tome for a long time, turning pages back and forth. When he finished, he shut it and put it back on its shelf, oblivious of the money pressed between its pages.

Every week, Rabbi Shmuel would go over the account books to see which loans were paid up and which still had to be collected. When he came to the name of that Jew, he noticed that the loan was still outstanding. He summoned him and asked that he repay the one hundred rubles.

"But I already paid you!"

"You did not. It is written here that you still owe the money."

"I put the money on the table right in front of you!" the man insisted.

Rabbi Shmuel did not remember anything of the sort; he continued to demand payment. The man kept refusing, insisting that he had already paid. Finally, Rabbi Shmuel summoned him to the rabbinical court.

When word of the case spread to the Jews of Vilna, the man fell into public disgrace. How dare he stand up against the famous scholar? He was, in effect, calling him a liar!

The hearing took place. Both sides were heard, and the court ruled in favor of the poor man. It was one man's word against another's—there were no witnesses to the loan or the alleged repayment—and according to Torah rule, in order to obligate a person to pay money, absolute proof of the obligation is required. The poor person was only instructed to take an oath that he had repaid the loan.

But the poor man had no sympathizers in all of Vilna. He was considered a thief and a stubborn fool. His good name was ruined. People stopped talking to him. His son could not bear the disgrace and left Vilna altogether. Finally the man was even dismissed from his job. Still, he continued to insist that he had paid back his debt.

Time passed and Rabbi Shmuel needed to research the same tractate. He pulled the volume down from the shelf and opened it up, and discovered a sum of money—one hundred rubles. For a moment he was puzzled, wondering how such a large sum could have been misplaced there. Suddenly, it all came back to him. This was the missing money which the defendant had insisted he had repaid.

Rabbi Shmuel felt terrible. He had wronged a Jew. He had accused him falsely! Shaken to his core, he quickly summoned the man and said, "How can I possibly make amends for the anguish I caused you? I am prepared to make a public confession to clear your name. What else can I do to compensate you for your suffering?!"

The man stood before the rabbi. His face was gaunt, lined with the ravages of his ordeal. He said sadly: "My good name is already ruined. Even if you declare my innocence, people will not forget that I had once been accused of such a terrible thing. They might even think that you simply had pity on me and therefore decided to clear my name—despite my guilt. They will still consider me a liar and a thief. No, not even a public retraction would help me now. Besides, it would not bring my son back. He left Vilna out of shame."

Rabbi Shmuel was thoughtful for a long time. How could he help the broken man before him, the man whose reputation he himself had ruined? Suddenly, he had an idea. "Tell your son to return to Vilna, and I will take him as a husband for my daughter! This will certainly restore your good name!"

The man was overwhelmed. He had never dreamed of such a wonderful thing. That his son should marry the revered rabbi's daughter!

The engagement took place several days later. The cream of Vilna society took part in the affair. People could not stop talking about the amazing turn of events. "It must have been decreed from birth," everyone decided, "that this ordinary man's son was to marry the great rabbi's daughter. It came to be only through the mistake about the loan. How amazing are the ways of heaven!"