This is a story of two men who lived not far from each other in one city. Their homes were close, but their actions were very far apart. One was very righteous, while his neighbor was completely evil. The time came when they both died, as it happens during the same night. The next morning thousands of people from the city came to mourn the righteous man. They were led by the rabbis of the city, who were followed by a huge crowd of people who had gathered to weep for their great loss. At the same time, very few people from the evil man’s family gathered for a simple and rapid funeral. The two processions met at the entrance of the cemetery, and they both stopped to recite the kaddish.
Suddenly, the sounds of horses and frightening trumpet blasts were heard, and the streets of the city were filled with large numbers of rioting Gentiles. In their great fear, the Jews fled in all directions. The participants of both funerals put the caskets down at the side of the road and ran to the nearby forest. They hid among the trees until the rioters left the city and quiet had returned. Then all the mourners returned in order to continue with the interrupted funerals.
They were all happy to see that the rioters had not harmed the two caskets which had been left along the road, and each group went to its “own” casket to continue the funerals. However, they did not notice that the caskets had been reversed. The casket of the evil man was at the head of the procession of the large crowd, led by the prominent rabbis, while the righteous man was accompanied by the small group mourning the evil man.
The only person who noticed that there had been a switch was a pious man. He tried to tell the people about the mistake, but nobody paid any attention to him. They all thought that he had imagined the error. His grief knew no bounds. A funeral is the last honor a man receives in this world, it is the final satisfaction that the soul of a dead person can have. Why did this evil man deserve such a glorious funeral? And even worse – why was the righteous man punished this way? How had he sinned, that he deserved such a simple burial, without a eulogy and with very few participants?
The pious man was very depressed and sad for the rest of the day because he had not been able to prevent the terrible situation. Then, at night, the righteous man who had died revealed himself in a dream. He said, “I saw how upset you are. But you should know that this was not an accident. It was heaven’s decree that the two caskets should be reversed, so that I would be buried in a simple and almost shameful way. Why? Many years ago it happened that a certain man became angry with the rabbi of our city. He cursed the rabbi and shouted at him, and almost chased him out of the synagogue. I was there at the time and could have prevented this, but I preferred to curl up in my own corner and wait for the incident to blow over. And for this sin of allowing a Torah scholar to be insulted I was punished at my funeral.
“And I assume you also want to know why the evil man deserved such a great honor at his funeral. One time, he prepared a large feast for the governor of the city. In the end, the governor did not come and the banquet was cancelled. What did the man do? He invited all the poor people of the city and gave them a free meal. Even though this was a one-time act that he had not planned in advance, the Almighty always pays a just reward for any action. And the man was rewarded for his noble act.”
This demonstrates the principle that “All your actions are recorded in a book” [Avot 2:1]. A person will receive what he deserves for every good or bad deed, even if it is the opposite of the way he usually acts.
Source: Rashi, Sanhedrin 44b. Email email@example.com with reactions and suggestions for stories. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.