When he was quite young, the famed Mayer Anshel Rothschild had an opportunity to meet Prince Wilhelm of Germany in the Frankfurt Jewish Ghetto. He impressed the prince first when he refused to take a silver coin which he had not earned, and instead gave it to charity. He further impressed the prince by giving him a very informative guided tour of the Jewish ghetto, peppered with stories of the constant hardships that the Yidden experienced. Deeply moved by the experience, the young prince paid Mayer Anshel handsomely for the tour, and Mayer Anshel accepted, saying that he had earned it this time.
Feeling true friendship, the prince stretched out his hand to Mayer Anshel offered him a high government position upon Wilhelm’s ascendancy to rulership, if he would only accepted the prince’s religion.
“That is completely out of the question; I will never give my up religion for anything in the world,” replied Mayer Anshel.
“So let it be, but if you ever need a favor from me, you are always welcome to come and see me and I will gladly help you,” said the prince.
“And should you ever need a favor from me,” said Mayer Anshel, “Feel free to come and see me in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt.” Amused by the unlikely offer, the young prince left the ghetto in his luxurious carriage.
Many years passed. Mayer Anshel married and over time became a very successful banker. He opened his own bank and he acquired a name for honest and expert banking. He was also appointed as financial advisor to Prince Wilhelm (although he remained a loyal Yid.)
Despite his great wealth, his family lived modestly as before.
When the war with Napoleon broke out, Napoleon won many victories, and he sought to rule the entire Europe. Napoleon was at the doorstep of Frankfurt, and Prince Wilhelm, now the ruler, was in a difficult position. First he sent his family to safety, and then when he saw the war going sour for him, he started to plan an escape for himself and searched for safe hands in which to keep his treasures.
It was late at night when he arrived under cover at the home of Mayer Anshel, requesting to take advantage of an offer made many years earlier, that he can ask any favor of Mayer Anshel if he so needed. Mayer Anshel received him immediately despite the late hour, and agreed to guard the treasures of his old friend during his absence. With that Wilhelm was gone, to flee for his life from the advancing Napoleon. Mayer Anshel hid the treasure so that no man would ever discover it.
A few short days later the French army entered the city and announced a great reward for whoever can identify the whereabouts of the King Wilhelm’s fortune. Soon after an important French general paid a visit to Mayer Anshel’s home. He said that there was reason to believe that Mayer Anshel knew the whereabouts of Wilhelm’s treasure. At first Mayer Anshel completely denied having any such knowledge; but when the threats became serious, and they began to drag Mayer Anshel away, he decided to give them what they wanted.
He showed them a hiding place where three million gulden were hidden, and their joy knew no bounds. Immediately it was announced that the treasure of the King Wilhelm was in Napoleon’s hands.
Meanwhile, Mayer Anshel gathered his family and explained to them that it was his own fortune that he had turned over to the French, and not that of the ruler. He did this because he believed that keeping one’s word was important above all, and since he gave his solemn word that he would guard the treasure, so he did. After the war he would return Wilhelm’s treasure in full.
Boruch Hashem, he suffered no loss as a result, and he was soon able to rebuild his business with even greater success than in the past.
After Napoleon suffered losses to the Russians, the leaders of the European countries began to return to their former reign. When Wilhelm returned, although he heard that the treasure had been discovered, he still wanted to meet up with Mayer Anshel. Unfortunately, Mayer Anshel had just passed away, and his son came to the king instead.
Devastated over the recent loss of Mayer Anshel, Wilhelm said that he completely forgave the treasure which had been found in the Rothschild possession.
“What are you saying,” asked Mayer Anshel’s son, “the treasure was not discovered; my father gave away his entire fortune in order to protect yours.”
Dumbfounded the king said, “If so, then you deserve to keep my treasure for giving away yours in its stead.”
“Never mind dear Wilhelm, Hashem has paid us back manifold and it would our greatest pleasure and our father’s strict wish that we return to you what rightfully belongs to you.”
And so it was, the treasure was returned, to the king’s boundless gratitude.
From his youth, Meyer Anshel’s legendary honesty and devotion were apparent. First he refused to accept a coin which he hadn’t worked for, and redirected the money straight to charity. Even as a young child his devotion to remaining a Yid was way stronger than a desire for power. The real test came when a lot of someone else’s money was at stake, but his promise was also at stake. He could have easily given away Wilhelm’s money and he would have completely understood and not been angry with him as we saw at the end of the story, but not honest Mayer Anshel. If he gave his word, than it must be kept at ALL costs. What a tremendous kiddush Hashem he made at that time. He was clearly connected to Hashem, much more than to his money.