A Lesson For the Children – The customers filled the small store at the edge of the town of Radin. They preferred this store over others nearby which sold similar products because the owners of this store were Rabbi Yisrael Meir of Radin, known as the “Chafetz Chaim,” and his wife. Jews and Gentiles alike knew how honest the rabbi was, and they were sure that nobody would try to cheat them in their purchases. In addition, it was a great honor to be able to help support such a famous and prominent scholar.
Many of the products in the store were sold by weighing them on a scale. We can note for our young readers that a balance scale has two arms. The product being sold is put on one side, and weights are put on the other side. The merchant adds enough of the product so that the two arms are at the same height, and this shows that the proper amount of product has been weighed. Every morning Rabbi Yisrael would carefully inspect his weights to make sure that they had the proper weight. If part of the weight had been rubbed away (so that its weight had decreased), the rabbi would immediately throw it away and replace it with a new one. Otherwise, he feared that he would be guilty of stealing, since he would have been paid for a full weight, while the customer would receive less than he should.
One day, Rabbi Yisrael entered the store at noon. As usual, it was full of customers, and his wife served them. Rabbi Yisrael looked all around, and suddenly he saw that there was a small amount of salt in the balance. He realized that somebody had bought some salt, and that some of the salt had been left in the balance when it was transferred to the bag. The rabbi was very upset. “What have we done? Our customer paid for a full kilo of salt, and he received less than this! We have stolen from one of our customers!” The Chafetz Chaim measured the amount of salt that was left in the balance, and he decided that even though it was not very much, worth only a few pennies, it was still significant and must be returned to the customer. The problem was how to find who the customer was.
So the rabbi and his wife started to investigate the matter. Who had bought salt that morning in the store? After all, the store had been full of customers all the time! After a great effort, including consulting with other customers who were in the store, the rabbi’s wife remembered a Gentile woman from a nearby village who had bought some salt a short time before. They were able to determine that the woman had come from a village named Kujnitza, about forty kilometers away from Radin. Evidently, she had come to Radin to take part in the weekly regional market.
The rabbi did not hesitate. He immediately paid two messengers to rush to the market and try to find the woman who had bought salt in the Chafetz Chaim’s store. The two men asked everybody they could find in the market, including the merchants and all the villagers that they could find. But they did not find anybody who could help them.
There was no alternative left. The next day, the Chafetz Chaim hired a wagon, put a sack of salt in it, and went with it to Kujnitza. After a trip of several hours, he arrived at the village and began to ask anybody who would pay attention to him who was the woman who had bought salt in his store the day before. But since he was not able to get an answer to his question, Rabbi Yisrael measured out packages of salt equal to the amount that he had found in the balance, and he distributed them free to every family in the village. At the end of the day, the rabbi returned home with an empty sack, but he was absolutely sure that the “victim” of his “theft” had received what she had lost.
And this shows us how careful the Chofetz Chaim was not to take any money that did not belong to him.
Source: “The Chofetz Chaim – His Life and Work”. Reactions and Suggestions for Stories – email firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.