(a Yiddish folktale)
One Sabbath morning a man named Lev went to synagogue to pray. As he was entering, he noticed a glittering mountain of gold standing in the corner of the courtyard. Now Lev was poor, and every day he worried about how he would feed his family. A mountain of gold would change all that, but this was the Sabbath; touching money was forbidden on the Sabbath.
Lev bowed his head and walked inside.
That evening Lev returned to synagogue to pray once again. And once again he walked past the mountain of gold. “If it is meant to be mine, it shall be mine,” he said. “I will not violate the commandment to honor the Sabbath.”
The next day was Saturday. After the sun had set, Lev returned to the synagogue courtyard to see if the gold was still there, but in its place he found just one ruble remained. “So it was meant to be,” he said as he picked up the coin. “This is my gift from God.”
As he was walking home, he passed a local merchant, a wealthy man, who was heading to the dock. “Excuse me,” Lev said, “I don’t like to trouble you, but I wonder if you are leaving on a journey soon?”
“I am,” said the merchant. “I’m traveling to the East this very day to purchase rugs and jewels.”
Lev wanted with all his heart to buy his wife something beautiful. “Please,” he said, “take this ruble and buy something special for my wife. Something pretty …” he said. “It would mean a great deal to her to have a treasure from the East.”
The merchant agreed. What harm could it do? He would buy a trinket for the poor man, and perhaps God would reward his good deed.
That afternoon he set sail. He spent weeks traveling, buying rugs and jewels and other goods, and at long last he was about to board his ship to sail home. When he put his hand into his pocket, he felt the ruble there. “Ah, I’ve forgotten …” he said. But now he had no time to search for a treasure.
He looked around. There on the docks sat a beggar. Beside him was a cat for sale. “I will pay you one ruble for the cat,” the merchant said.
Naturally the beggar agreed, and so the merchant picked up the cat and together they boarded the ship.
The ship set sail, but as they crossed the ocean, a ferocious storm rose up. The ship tossed and rolled, and the sails were ripped to shreds. The rich man was terrified, and he held the cat to his chest, for he feared not only for his life but because he had endangered the life of this helpless animal.
The storm lasted for hours. At last the ship was blown to shore on a tiny island. The merchant was greatly relieved to feel his feet touch land, but even as he stepped off the gangplank he was surrounded by mice — dozens and dozens of mice, scampering everywhere.
When the cat saw the mice, he leaped from the merchant’s arms and gave chase, killing a dozen or more while the others fled to safety.
The inhabitants of the island ran up to the merchant, surrounding him and cheering. “You have saved us with your wild animal!” they cried. “Please, tell us. How much do you want for the mouse chaser?”
The merchant thought a while. “A bag of gold will do,” he said, and the people happily paid him.
When the ship was repaired, the merchant sailed home, and just as he had promised, he went to see Lev.
“Tell me,” he said to Lev, “where did you get the ruble you gave me to buy a gift for your wife?”
“I saw a mountain of gold in the courtyard near the synagogue,” Lev said, “but it was the Sabbath, so I could not take it. When I returned at the end of Sabbath, only one ruble remained. I confess, I took it.”
The merchant poured a pile of gold from his sack onto Lev’s table. “Was the mountain this high?” he asked.
Lev shook his head. “Higher,” he said.
The merchant poured more coins onto the table. “Was it this high?” he asked.
“Higher still,” Lev said.
And so the merchant poured all the gold coins he had been paid for the cat. “Was it this high?” he asked.
“Exactly,” Lev answered.
The merchant was amazed, for he could see the hand of the Creator in everything that had happened. “God must have wanted you to have the ruble,” he said to Lev.
“So I thought,” Lev answered.
“And so, it must be God who wishes you to have this gold.”
From that day on Lev and his family were wealthy and always observed the Sabbath, giving thanks for the blessings of this world. And to show his gratitude, Lev always made sure to give back to those who had given him so much, especially his dear wife.