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. I first posted this story 7/8/13. But it came to mind again because Reb Yisroel of this story reappeared recently in the Five Towns with the same chochmos.

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).


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

  1. I am reminded of the story of Humpty-Dumpty. If the Rabbanim & mental health practitioners(on their payroll) ever had their shells (AKA kelipot) shattered, then all The King’s horses and all The Kings men could not put them together again

  2. This is an excellent and enlightening analogy and post. I hope you will find more opportunities to circulate it.

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