Mayer Anshel Rothschild, the patriarch of the famous Rothschild family, became very wealthy as a young man. His wealth is attributed to the following story.
Before his chasuna, Mayer Anshel was an attendant in the home of Reb Tzvi Hirsh of Chortkov. One year before Pesach Mayer Anshel got married and moved to a neighboring town where he opened a small store where he did quite well for himself.
The evening before Pesach in the Rov’s house, bedikas chometz was under way, and the Rov entered his private study. He checked the entire room and then reached for his keys to check one drawer for chometz which was always locked. In this drawer was always kept a sum of five hundred gold ducats, for his daughters’ dowry, as she was soon to be married. To his horror, the Rov found that the drawer was empty of the money. The household immediately cast suspicion on Mayer Anshel who had only recently started his own home, and opened a successful store. At first the Rov wouldn’t hear of their claims, but after a while he gave in with a heavy heart and traveled to his former attendant to tell him about the missing money.
When the Rov arrived at Mayer Anshel’s home, the latter welcomed the Rov with great respect. They sat down and the Rov told Mayer Anshel about the unfortunate loss of money and that his family members suspected Mayer Anshel of taking the money. Quickly Mayer Anshel confessed to taking the money, and resolved to return the entire sum as soon as he can.
“Right now I only have two hundred ducats which I will give you immediately and the rest I will return to you as soon as I get the money which will hopefully be quite soon.”
The Rov returned home relieved and sure enough the rest of the money was soon returned to the Rov.
Meanwhile something totally different was taking place. The local maid who was hired in the Rov’s home to help with the pre-Pesach cleaning saw the locked drawer. Her curiosity got the better of her, she found the correct key and discovered the drawers contents. The temptation was too strong and she took the purse of money home that evening. At first, she hid the purse by burying it in the garden, but then she told her husband about it. After a while he decided to start using the money slowly (so as not to attract any undue attention, for they were known to be extremely poor) on his drinking habit. So one evening he arrived at the bar with his drinking friends and announced that a full round of drinks were on his account. People were surprised, but took him up on the offer. When it came time for paying he produced one gold ducat. The bartender was surprised but said nothing.
When this conduct repeated itself a few times people became curious as to where he got a nonstop flow of gold coins, so while he was good and drunk one evening, they got him to reveal the secret of the stolen money from the Rov. Needless to say, the police were summoned and he and his wife were forced to return the money. When the Rov was summoned by the police he was asked if he recognized the purse to which he responded yes. When asked if he recognized the gentile woman (who had taken the money) he again said yes. The money was returned to him and he happily returned home.
Although he was happy to discover who the real culprit was, he was also sad that he suspected an upright man, and more so he was impressed at how Mayer Anshel admitted to a wrongdoing that he never committed.
Quickly the Rov set out to Mayer Anshel to beg forgiveness and to return his money to him.
“Why did you admit to committing something that you were not guilty of,” cried the Rov to
“When I saw your anguish at having lost the money, I knew that if you went back empty handed everyone would become depressed. So I gave you my life’s savings, sold and mortgaged everything to be able to return your money to you, and to restore the joy to your household.”
The Rov begged forgiveness from Mayer Anshel, and blessed him that Hashem should grant his family with great wealth for generations to come. The blessing was fulfilled, and Mayer Anshel became a very wealthy banker.
In this story Mayer Anshel showed that money did not control him. He showed that he can be trusted with utilizing money for the right purposes. He did this by giving away all of his money to pay for something that was not at all his doing. He could have easily told the truth and sent the Rov home, but his Rov was more important than his own financial standing. By wrongly parting with his money to help another, it was evident that honesty and good ethics had no competition by Mayer Anshel.