As sayings and proverbs go, there are many that by right of habitual repetition assume to guide our daily existence. Their value to us in a reminder to be cautious and e consciously aware of our own dealings with others and ourselves. The burden of memory often straining our ability to manage long lists of should’s, would’s and could’s. Meyer Rothoff was such a type of person that carried around a full roster of things ‘to do’s’ atop an even more burdensome stack of ‘still waiting to be done’s’. It might have been that he was an inwardly ambitious fellow? Or equally, one that felt unduly responsible for events that for others would have been written off to God’s will on a bad day or worse! The hoof print of that old Scratch, that Christian demon. If a wheel fell off a cart on the road that ran along his farm then there was Meyer taking responsibility to unload all its contents and remounting the irksome item. If a mule through a shoe having wandered onto his own plot of land then Meyer would lead the animal to his shed and fire up the hearth. To his way of thinking such behaviors brought good fortune to those that were ever ready to treat their neighbors with such charitable kindness. “You reap what you sow!“, being Meyer’s favorite saying.
Though his plot lay the furthest from the Stetl word began to slowly spread of his unexpected generosity. Though the members of this small community were no more parsimonious in their dealings than any other of their sort, business after all was business! The Jew’s traditional stock and trade! It was a matter of long held custom that a profit should be acquired in all dealings. If not, then how could one hope to survive? With another Jew this would be a fair and honorable as laid down in the holy testaments. With the Goyim this became whatever the traffic was foolish enough, or desperate enough, to bear. “Caveat emptor“, as those long ago age old scourges of the temple used to say. If the bottle containing spirits needed filling better a little bit of water to dilute the vended wine, Meyer’s practices even among those within the community though fully appreciated by some infuriated many more others. Some making special side trips to bait the trap of the outward appearance an unexpected breakdown of an already damaged cart. Or foster the replacement of a sickly portion of their livestock, making the animals demise appear as an act of God and a heavy branch. Though he was not wealthy, in all these cases Meyer rewarded each deceit with the expected service or animal. “No good deed going unpunished!“, some of those opportunists would snidely chuckle.
One day a representative of the Czar happened to find himself traveling through the Pale and riding along that stretch of road that crossed Meyer Rothoff’s plot of land. The soil was soft from the rains the night before from a stretch of ground that had been affected by the stream’s overflow. The magistrate’s horse unexpectedly threw a shoe and his aide de camp noticing Meyer’s shed rode over to summon help. “The horse of his majesty’s representative, Czar of all Russia’s, has thrown a shoe just yonder!“, the man declared to Meyer. “And this local Jew is willing to fix it!“, Meyer replied. When the job was complete. The magistrate nodded at his subaltern who toss as small leather pouch of coins to the peasant. Meyer then bowing politely but then immediately returning the purse to the hand that tossed it. “Sire. I cannot take payment for what I have often felt obligated to offer others in the spirit good will.” “Is this truly a Jew, or some misplaced member of our own countryman?“, the magistrate replied dumbfounded And then the two riding off. All things in any small community being equal it was soon the talk of the community that Meyer had done a service for the Tzar’s agents but had refused any payment. “What sort of Jew is this man who violates the understanding with the Goyim which the rest of us take for granted?” “How can he really be one of their own?“, some pondered. “Perhaps a spy!“, another said. Those that had previously taken advantage of Meyer with their tricks not were unsure if their previous perfidies might had been noted. Might they now be marked for punishment? “Was this all part of a larger plan to figure out which group of Jews to eliminate as part of an upcoming pogrom?“, the rabbi nervously lamented “What could they do to avert this coming destruction?“, many now feverishly cried in lament. The entire community, in fearful sympathy with the local Rabbi’s logic, now demand that any and all that had taken advantage of this Meyer’s generosity must now immediately return its equivalent plus a half more as a show of their righteous repentance. And then, despite those initial thoughts of many to the contrary, Meyer Rothoff from that point on had immediately become the wealthiest Jew in that village.
And as a Jewish proverb states, “Charity is the spice of riches!” And as the saying’s go, “Now doesn’t that beat all?“