How the Rabbis In Chelm Solved the Problem of the Stolen Money

My Friends, this is fiction. Any resemblance between Chelm and Kelm/Lakewood or between Yosef in the story and Yosef Kolko is intentional.

Meir Baal Hanais Chaluka Box Jewish Encyclopedia 1906Once upon a time in Chelm, Reuven, Shimon and Dina were students in a yeshiva who were given pushkas (charity boxes) to collect for Tomchei Shabbos (sabbath food). The pushkas had locks on the bottom. The only ones who had the keys were the teachers who were gabaoim (treasurers) for Tomchei Shabbos.

Nevertheless, a Reb Yosef  (Joseph) in one Yeshiva kept taking money out of Reuven’s Tzedakah box. When the story came out, Reb Yosef said, “I didn’t do it.” Eventually he had a new story.

Modeh ani. I did take the money from Reuven’s pushkah, but you should know he is no ordinary boy. He sat in my car and opened the bottom of his pushkah because he is no ordinary boy. He is a boy who desires nothing more than to have grownups steal from his pushkah. He has a magical way of opening his pushkah in front of you while you are driving a car and making the contents irresistible. He seduced me. I admit I should not have taken it. What can I say. I am not perfect but I would not have taken the money if he had not opened the tzedakah box. We are all humans and have a tayveh (desire) for money which we should resist. But have rachmunis (pity) on me. This boy is mamish eishes potiphar (just like the wife of Potiphar) and though my name is Reb Yosef, I am not Yosef hatzadik (Joseph the righteous of the Bible), any more than my uncle Yehudah (Judah) was like Yehudah in the Torah.

The Rabbonim (rabbis) of Chelm pondered this and concluded that collecting for Tomchei Shabbos is a great mitzvah (obligatory good deed) and they decided not to ban these pushkas. But geneivah (theft) is not OK. But Reb Yosef is a necessary worker in Chelm so they could not get rid of him. So they paskened (ruled) that if Reuven was expelled from Chelm everything would be OK again, nobody would ever again complain about thefts from pushkas, and that is what they did.

Shtetl Chagall Belarus Stamp- public Domain 1993However, they did not want people to lose confidence in Reb Yosef whose reputation was vulnerable to the accusations. So they also declared that no money was taken from Reuven’s pushka. Now, most people in Chelm were happy again.

But there were some feeble-minded, rebellious people who could not believe that the child was to blame for opening his pushka. So they were told that Reb Yosef was innocent. They argued back like kollel leit (advanced rabbinical students) memunafshach (either way, it doesn’t make sense). But the gedolim (great ones) replied, just because you did advanced study in kollel does not put you at our level. Besides, nine of us said it and it was whispered to us from the hanhalah (administration) like ruach hakodesh (divine inspiration). What’s more, Rav Yisroel, who is endowed with Torah Vodaas, says it, and he is a bigger talmid chacham (rabbinical scholar) than the rest of you.

But things got worse in Chelm when Shimon and Dina also had the chutzpah to go to beit din (rabbinical court)and declare Reb Yosef stole from their pushkas. Even worse, Dan, Yisacher and Zevulun went to rofim (healers) in town because they were sick  from the upset of having money stolen from their pushkas. And you know how it is, one rofei talks to another, and one boy talks to another, and one parent talks to another. Eventually these stories spread like feathers from a torn pillow case. After all, Jews are only human.

Some people in town began demanding that the chachomim (wise ones) admit there had been plague of tzedakah thefts and Reb Yosef should have been quarantined, not chas vicholilah (G-d forbid), imprisoned, just quarantined. But the chachomim explained that it would ruin Reb Yosef’s reputation if they put him under quarantine and it is a big mitzvah to help an old bochur (bachelor) get a shidduch (marriage match).

Then a baalhabos (layperson), Reb Dovid, caused a big balagan (controversy) because he publicly begged mechilah (forgiveness) of Reuven’s  father for accusing him of being wrong in trying to put Reb Yosef in quarantine. The chachmei chelm declared that it was chutzpah for a stam baal habos (plain layperson) to make out like he is a bigger anav (man with the virtue of modesty) than the gedolim of Chelm.

My friends, I have to apologize to you, because I do not know the end of this story. I am told that in our times, the end of the story will be told by children and fools. In Chelm, nobody believes the children, and nobody can agree on who the fools are.

My friends in Chelm, you, unlike me, have the power to write the end of this story. It’s OK by me if your ending ruins a good story. I am moichel (forgiving). However, it is not in my power to be moichel for the children whose pushkas were plundered. That is a cheshbon (account) between you and them which must be settled before yom kippur.

All rumors to the contrary, I know that you people in Chelm are very smart. But to solve the pushkah thefts you will have to stop being oiberchachomim (clever ones) and start being erlich yidden (honest Jews).

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4 thoughts on “How the Rabbis In Chelm Solved the Problem of the Stolen Money

  1. “any more than my uncle Yehudah was like Yehudah in the Torah.”

    Mamash the truth. Yehudah in the Torah desired grown women.

    • I hadn’t even thought of it, but you make a very good point. I was thinking of Yehudah saying “She is more in the right than me.” But your observation also applies to that.

  2. Lehevei yadua, the following story of CHACHMEI CHELM is true , The city exists, and it is IR shekula Chachomim, nothing has changed, and they live happily forever after. And now hear the rest of the story.

    The TROUBLE SHOOTERS OF CHELM & How they solved the Pushkele problems and more.

    Here is how the CHACHMEI CHELEM tackle problems of Biblical proportions, and there have been many.

    Once upon a time in Chelm, one of the residents came came up with a brilliant idea, how to be mesameach on Purim with Yayin yesamach. On the Chodesh of Adar, everyone is to bring along one cup of wine to Shul and pour it into a barrel situated next to the entrance. Since Chelm happened to be an IR shekula Chachamim, kulonu nevoinim, vekulonu yodim et hakol, each one in his own chelemer mind decided to pour into the barrel, water instead of wine and thought to themselves, who would know, a few cups of water even halacha-wise would be oisgehalten. It is poshut botel beshishim, velo kol shekein botel beelef. Coming Purim, the gabay sees a barrel ful of water, and was ovad eitzos, went over to the more deasra and said gevald, the whole barrel is bou mayim ad nofesh and the wine changed to makat mayim, and there is no wine to be seen. The Rabbi thought to himself, Yom Tov is here, what shall we do. Vehair Chelm novaycho!

    In order to understand how they solved this quandry, we must first preface some of the other problems that surfaced in Chelm. Since it was ir shekulo chachamim, they all expected Shishi for an aliya, they all expected to get leber (liver) from the butcher lekoved Shabbos, but there was not enough to go around. There is only one shishi per parsha, and one liver per chicken or per cow, this was a very critical issue and the city of chelm was going on wheels. Ad shebo pikech echad that had the soultion, and that happened to be none other than the Dayan of Chelm. Before the laynen of the Parsha, he went up to the Bimah and declared, RABOISAY, from today on we declare the whole Barrel in front of the Shul Kulo Yayin venahapochi mimayim leyayin, and you can even get (sheker) I mean shikkor from it kedos vekadin, ad delo yada ben baruch mordeche lebodig bein baruch ata Beer, veyotze kedei choivosoi, vatzonach al haaretz beyom Hashishi! Shishi tartei mashma. And from today on, we declare the whole laynen SHISHI, and the whole chicken or beheima as liver, vatonach kol haaretz.

    And as for the problem of Pushke colecters at hand and I do not mean colesters nor horse feathers, they sent out a message:
    Passhegen haksov lehinosen das bechol medina umdina galui lechol haamim velihyos asudim layom haze.
    Horotzim rochvei harechesh Haachashtronim yotzi mevoholim udchifim kidvar Chelemer Dayan vekekele kahal, vehadas nitan kocho lassos mehayom vahala, and thus should solve the molectors problem.

    Fon der pishkele schmekt men, und fon der schmekele pisht men, nothing more and nothing less. With thus there were no more issues of neither Sholem al Yisrael nor al Yisrael Sholom. A guten Purim.

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