Three Telegrams

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Telegram envelopes
22 Feb 2007

A Lesson For the Children:

Shabbat had arrived in the city of Frankfurt. This was the year 5634 (1874). The palace of the well known wealthy man, Baron Rothschild, was filled with joy and excitement. The guest for this Shabbat was Rabbi Aryeh Mordechai of Porisov, a great and righteous Torah scholar, who was on his way to Eretz Yisrael. During the entire Shabbat the people of the house were in a good mood, many Torah insights were discussed, the singing was magnificent, and of course the Shabbat meals were fit for royalty. Everybody present enjoyed hearing Torah words from the great rabbi and talking to him about his plans for life in Eretz Yisrael. Soon after the end of Shabbat, when the Baron was talking to his guest, a servant appeared, holding a tray with several dozen letters that had arrived during Shabbat.

Rich men of the status of Baron Rothschild are involved in business with many Gentiles all around the world, and these men must therefore have up-to-date information available to them all the time. Outside of Eretz Yisrael, the mail service operates on Shabbat, and wealthy men usually maintained the services of a “Shabbat Goy,” a Gentile who would open any letters that arrived on Shabbat, read them to the master, and act according to his instructions or some sort of hint given by the master. But Baron Rothschild refused to do this. He would say, “On Shabbat I do not get involved with business. There is nothing that cannot wait for me until Shabbat is over!”

But once Shabbat had ended, Baron Rothschild would take the time to read his mail. Three letters stood out in color – these were urgent telegrams. The Baron looked at the telegrams, and he saw that they had all come from the same source – from the Russian government. He put the telegrams in sequence of the time they had arrived, and he read them. When he read the first one, his face took on a very surprised look. When he read the second one, his look changed to utter astonishment. When he finished reading the third telegram, his face filled with great satisfaction.

The Baron apologized to his guest for reading his letters, and then he started to explain. Several years before, he had built a large factory for manufacturing steel cables. At the time, there was a large demand for metals, and especially for steel cable. The Baron had invested a large sum of money in developing the factory and in manufacturing his first batch of cable. But evidently the price he had demanded was high, and a different company from another country had offered a much lower price for an equivalent product. The Baron did not want to sell at such a low price, since this would cause him a loss, and the cable was therefore “stuck” in his warehouses. His factory almost closed down because of the heavy losses.

But now the Russian government had suddenly decided to buy his product. In the first telegram, which had arrived Friday night, the government agent proposed to buy a large amount of steel cable at a low price (but still higher than that demanded by the competitor). Since he had not received any reply, the agent had evidently decided that the Baron was not interested in making a deal, and in the morning he offered a higher price. It did not occur to the Russians that the Baron had simply not read his telegrams on Shabbat. When they saw that he did not reply to the second telegram either, they sent a third telegram in the afternoon, offering a price almost twice what they had offered in the beginning.

“You can see,” the Baron told his guest, “how Shabbat provides a benefit to those who observe it, even in commerce. With the amount that the Russian government is now offering me, I can revitalize the factory, cover my losses, and even have a good profit.”

Rabbi Aryeh Mordechai left the Baron`s house completely amazed by the combination of Torah and wisdom, wealth, and fear of heaven that he had seen. Over and over during his life in Eretz Yisrael, he told the story of the Baron and his dedication to G-d and His Torah.

(Source: “Toratecha Sha’ashu’ai” page 292)

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.