Right outside the very back corner of a cemetery in Krakow, next to where the Chief Rabbi from the mid seventeenth century Yom Tov Heller is buried, is a modest grave with a headstone upon which always has stones lovingly placed. The grave marker reads, “Here lies Yossele, the Holy Miser.” You may have heard about Yossele the Holy Miser. He lived in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Krakow, Poland in the mid-seventeenth century and was clearly the richest Jew in town. He lived alone in the largest house for blocks. He was called “the miser” because he was notorious for being stingy with his money, never contributing to the charity collector’s fund. He was the town “meanie” and children would walk by his house and spit on the sidewalk saying, “that’s where the horrible Yossele the Miser lives!” And then they would continue to walk on the opposite side of the street.
People tried over the years to get Yossele to be a part of the community by pleading with him to give just a little bit. He always refused and was likely to slam his door in your face. They appealed to him by using logic, guilt, coercion, and more guilt but to no avail. Then Yossele got sick and everyone knew that he would soon die. Beryl the town collector made one last appeal. “Listen Yossele, I want to give you a final opportunity to prove to the town that you have a beating heart in that chest of yours.” Shoving his way into Yossele’s house, Beryl continued, “I will accept a charitable gift, of only 200 rubles, today and I will let everyone know that you are a changed man, what do you think?” Yossele needed no time to think, he didn’t care about what people thought of him. With the door still open, Yossele started to push Beryl back, “No! I will not give even one coin to you, Beryl. Now, get out of my house!” Beryl could only think of one thing to say, “That’s it Yossele, don’t expect anyone to do anything charitable for you. You shouldn’t even expect a decent funeral when you die.” And Beryl fell into the street with a final push from Yossele’s extended, bony arm. “I’ll bury myself!” Yossele exclaimed.
Well, it so happened that Yossele died that Sunday morning in his sleep, in bed. And true to Beryl’s word, no one bothered to take care of his corpse. Yossele’s body lay there all day Monday, then Tuesday, then it was Wednesday. By early Thursday morning Yossele’s neighbor found pity in his heart and while it was still dark he buried Yossele just outside the back of the town cemetery in a grave, by moonlight. He put up a sign that simply said, “Yossele the Miser.”
Rabbi Yom Tov Heller was sitting in his study Thursday morning, the same day that Yossele was buried, studying an obscure Kabbalistic text by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, a teacher of Rabbi Chaim Vital, when the door burst open. In slid Yankel, a town person known for having to resort to panhandling since losing his livelihood. He said to the rabbi, “As you know, I‘ve been without a job for a few years now, and I am finding that I just can’t make things work for my family. Can you spare a few kopecks?” Rabbi Heller was intrigued. He said, “I’ve been here for many years as the rabbi and only today I’m hearing that you’ve been short of cash? Why today?” Yankele, scratching his beard answered, “For years I’ve been receiving an envelope under my door every Thursday morning that had the exact amount of money I needed for that Shabbat and the following week, but today there was nothing and I didn’t know what to do.”
The rabbi searched in his desk and took out an envelope and gave it to Yankel. Yankel thanked the rabbi and left. Just as the door closed behind the panhandler, in came Moshe the Water Carrier. “Rabbi, I need your help. If you can just spare a ruble or two I would be so grateful. It’s for Shabbat.” Rabbi Heller asked Moshe the same questions that he asked Yankel and received strikingly similar responses.
All day people were in and out of the rabbi’s house with the exact same request for charity and the exact same answers to his questions. It was obvious. Yossele the Miser, that stingy man who never lifted a finger to help another, had been secretly supporting the whole town for decades. Every single person that came to Rabbi Yom Tov told the same tale, that they received an envelope every Thursday morning. When they woke up it had been slid under the door and contained the exact amount that they needed for the week.
Through Rabbi Heller’s investigation, it turned out that every person that received the Thursday morning envelope had, at one point, met with Yossele in his home. Each one related the same story. They were invited for tea, Yossele asked some personal questions about who was in their household and how much money it took to make it through a week, and upon hearing the amount, Yossele grew upset. He would yell at them for being nothing but beggars and cheats and he would throw them out of his house, never to talk to them again. The very next Thursday morning an envelope would start to appear under the door, every Thursday without fail.
That evening, at the evening prayers, Rabbi Yom Tov gathered everyone and told them, “We have done a horrible thing. We have committed a grievous sin. Yossele, that miser that we all showed nothing but our contempt, has fulfilled one of the highest levels of charity there is. He has been supporting this town for more than 50 years and what did he get in return? We must pray! We must pray to Yossele that he forgive us!”
As the fervor of prayer grew to incredible heights Rabbi Yom Tov fainted and collapsed on to the floor in front of the holy ark. He was out for only a minute, and as he regained consciousness he sat up and said, “I saw Yossele. He is in heaven and he was glowing. He told me that he only wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of giving charity in secret and because of that, we always had his forgiveness. He said that we should all go home”
Rabbi Yom Tov Heller commissioned Simcha the Stone Cutter to carve a special headstone for Yossele to mark his poorly marked grave, just outside the cemetery. The Rabbi also made the town promise, a promise they would indeed fulfil, to have his body buried alongside of Yossele when his soul eventually leaves his body. And this is why the great Rabbi Yom Tov Heller, a righteous and learned man, a giant in Talmud and Kabbalah is buried next to the grave that says, “Here lies Yossele, the Holy Miser.”