The Banker’s Shabbos Dilemma


shabbos-tableBy Dovid Zaklikowski

Jews in Karlsruhe, Germany, were given the rights to live as equals and in relatively peaceful conditions from the late 17th century. The Jewish community thus flourished in this city, located on the Rhine River and a short distance from France.

Shmuel Straus, a banker in this city, enjoyed a happy life, free to spend his extra time raising his children, doing good deeds and studying Torah from his vast library of Jewish books. Shmuel earned just enough to support his family without any worries. He was known to be G-d-fearing and thus did all of his business dealings honestly.

Shmuel’s first business venture was to run a small bank, given to him by his father-in-law following his marriage. With a permit from the government, Shmuel would mainly exchange currencies and invest money for people. He owned a special coat with two large pockets, one where he would place account receivables and one for currency exchange.

One Friday morning, before going to the bris of his friend’s son, he put on the special coat he would wear on Shabbos, Yomim Tovim and special occasions, and transferred the wads of cash he’d ordinarily keep in his other coat. Following the celebration, he continued on his way to work as usual, changing money and accepting payments.

At midday, he stopped his work to assist in the preparations at home for the Shabbos. After his wife lit Shabbos candles, he put on his Shabbos coat, and bid farewell to his wife and small children and then headed to shul.

He suddenly realized that his pockets were still filled with wads of money from that day’s dealings. Shabbos was a special day for Shmuel, and he’d spend it in prayer, learning and precious time with his family. For the Shabbos meal, they would always have many guests. That Shabbos was no different. As he walked the quiet route back from the shul, he’d take the time to gather the words of Torah he would say at the Shabbos table. His guests would soon arrive with their families at his home.

Shmuel sat on the bench on the side of the road as he gathered his thoughts, when he suddenly realized that his pockets were still filled with wads of money from that day’s dealings.

Raised on the tradition of not carrying on Shabbos, Shmuel rooted in his place was sweating from the thought of having to carry the money. He could not bear the idea of using money that he brought home on Shabbos.

Sitting in the deserted street, he suddenly thought about the joy he’d have knowing that he did the right thing, and quickly unbuttoned his coat, dropping the wallets on the ground. A blanket of relief swept over him. He knew that he would have to repay many debts, and that his future was in doubt. However, his trust in G-d empowered him to make a decision that he knew was right.

That Shabbos was extra joyous for him. He felt that he passed the great test G-d placed in his way, and had prevailed triumphantly. His extra joy was a mystery to his family and the many guests who had been to his table before.

As the sun faded and the stars came out, Shmuel made Havdallah at the conclusion of Shabbos. His extra joy was a mystery to his family and the many guests who had been to his table before. Shmuel relayed to his family what had transpired on Friday night, thus revealing the reason for the joyous Shabbos. He also told them that it may be the beginning of a more difficult life. His wife accepted the will of G-d and assured the family that everything will turn out for the best.

The same night, Shmuel decided to check the route he’d used, hoping to find the wallets he’d dropped. He did! And as Shmuel opened the door to his home, the family breathed a sigh of relief, for the wallets were intact with the full sum of money inside them.

A few days later, the Minister of Finances of the Baden region heard about the trustworthy Straus bank, and entrusted Shmuel with a huge sum of money. The investment in the bank spread and many well-to-do people invested their money with Shmuel.

Today, Shmuel’s legacy lives on in Yerushalayim, where the Straus Courtyard, a place of Torah learning, stands in his name. His children sold Straus & Company in 1938 when they fled from Germany and relocated to California.

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